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AROUND THE STATE

Vatican ruling upholds merging of 2 parishes

SYRACUSE (AP) -- A Vatican panel has upheld the merger of two churches in Central New York, but congregants in one parish are seizing on language in the decree to bolster their appeal of the closure of their church building.

The March 11 ruling upholds the merger of Holy Trinity Parish into St. John the Baptist Parish.

Bishop Robert Cunningham, a Buffalo native who announced the decision to close Holy Trinity in December 2009, said the church building was underused and the cost of maintaining it had limited the parish's ability to meet the needs of its neighborhood.

The Vatican decree concluded that an appeal by Holy Trinity parishioners has "basis both in law and in fact."

"It means the church was improperly closed," said Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

The Diocese of Syracuse, however, said the three-page order from the Congregation of the Clergy does not force it to reverse direction and reopen Holy Trinity.

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Ex-cop who shot self loses $5 million award

NEW YORK (AP) -- A state appeals court has thrown out a verdict that awarded $5 million to a former New York City police officer who accidentally shot himself in the knee.

Anderson Alexander claimed he shot himself in 2002 while leaning back in a faulty chair in Brooklyn's 73rd Precinct. He retired after undergoing several surgeries.

The 2008 jury found the city was negligent despite testimony that nothing broke on the chair.

A lower court had declined to throw out the verdict. But last week, the Appellate Division overruled that judge.

Attorney Matthew Naparty said Alexander is evaluating his options.

Tort Division Chief Fay Leoussis said the suit was without merit and the city's Law Department is pleased the appeals court agreed.

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Skippy raccoon freed from peanut butter jar

RONKONKOMA (AP) -- A New York raccoon found itself in a sticky situation over the weekend.

For eight hours on Sunday, the scavenger sat with its head inside a peanut butter jar while perched atop a Long Island utility pole.

The unusual sight brought out dozens of curious residents on a Ronkonkoma street. Children quickly nicknamed him Skippy.

Newsday said Debbie Sullivan spotted the raccoon outside her house at 7 a.m. She called Suffolk County police, the Town of Islip and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. They all said little could be done.

The raccoon's ordeal finally ended around 3 p.m. when a crew from the Long Island Power Authority came to its rescue. The jar fell off as they used a pole to grab the animal.

Skippy quickly scampered off.

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DA says landscaper sold tainted mulch

OCEANSIDE (AP) -- Prosecutors on Long Island have charged a landscaper with mixing hazardous materials into the garden mulch he was selling to customers.

Victor Liotta was released without bail following his arraignment Monday on several environmental charges, as well as scheming to defraud. He could face up to four years in jail if convicted.

Nassau County prosecutors said Liotta Brothers Recycling Corp. sold wood chips being marketed as "100 percent shredded hardwood." But undercover officers who bought the mulch last year found it included unauthorized construction waste.

Prosecutors claim some of the wood was stained, chemically treated or glued. They said other debris included plastic chips, floor tiles, rags, sheet metal and rubber.

Liotta's attorney, Marc Gann, said he had not seen the DA's evidence but considered the charges "much ado about nothing."