Review Category : National News

College Student Distributes Holiday Cards to Philadelphia’s Homeless

iStock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) — One college student has launched a holiday card drive for the homeless after being inspired by volunteering at a shelter.

Ali Boettlin, 21, a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, collected 2,000 cards, surpassing her original goal of 500 in just a few weeks.

“To the people that help me out, I’m just so grateful,” Boettlin told ABC News. “We often forget that people are good and this is the perfect reminder. For the people that I’m helping, I have seen the homelessness firsthand and it’s a battle. No one wakes up and chooses to be homeless. I’ve always donated the basic needs — the toiletries, the shampoos, toothbrushes. This time I’m thinking out of the box a little bit while doing something to make them smile.”

Boettlin has volunteered at the Hope Rescue Mission in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, with her mother, Marijo Smith, and stepfather, Jim Smith, who serves as the shelter’s development director. After working with homeless men and receiving cards from her mom in the mail, Boettlin decided to begin her project “You’ve Got Mail.”

Robert Turchi, executive director at Hope, told ABC News that Boettlin has “a huge heart for those in need.”

“Ali’s compassion for others doesn’t stop at just feeling sympathy for them in their hardships, she looks for ways to alleviate the weight of those hardships through her kindness,” Turchi said. “Individuals facing homelessness certainly suffer physically, but for many, the emotional suffering is even more painful. Feeling alone and hopeless cuts deeper than feeling hungry and cold. A kind gesture, such as Ali’s encouragement card project, can be that light in someone’s day to keep them striving and hoping for a better tomorrow.”

In November, Boettlin asked her Facebook friends for holiday-themed cards, and soon, her inbox was flooded with people offering to help, she said.

“I had people I knew, people I’ve never spoken to before and people I haven’t spoken to since grade school,” Boetllin said. “I said, ‘If you have cards, here is my address.’ I’m not turning down any, so it’s been really great.”

In honor of the “You’ve Got Mail” initiative, Boettlin and friends recently hosted a card-making party where she met Libby Aulenbach with Thirty-One Gifts, an Ohio-based company that sells bags and accessories.

Aulenbach donated 65 bags to Boettlin that contained blankets, scarves and toiletries.

Boettlin will distribute the cards and bags to homeless people on the street and at a local shelter.

Boettlin hopes her project reminds others that they can make a difference in someone’s life.

“I’ve conducted interviews with some of them and I put together a video for Hope,” she said. “Just listening to their stories, their health caves in, or get a divorce and lose their way. You pass them on the street and don’t know. The biggest thing is just to listen because everybody has a story and from that story, you can find out how to help.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Colorado DA on Reopening DNA Portion of JonBenet Investigation

iStock/Thinkstock(BOULDER, Colo.) — The Boulder, Colorado district attorney offered some more insight into the announcement he made this week that prosecutors are looking into using new testing technology to review DNA evidence in the unsolved 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

“DNA is an area of forensic science that is really changing month-to-month and as a result when you had test that was done five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, you want to make sure that you’re checking back in and using the latest techniques on the things that are tested,” DA Stan Garnett told ABC’s Denver affiliate KMGH/7News.

“We have an obligation on every case to make sure that we’re doing up to the date analysis so that the evidentiary of the case is thorough and as sound as possible,” Garnett continued. “We’re going to do that in Ramsey as well.”

Garnett and Boulder Police Chief Greg Testa announced Tuesday that they and their teams met with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation shortly before Thanksgiving about conducting further DNA tests on the Ramsey case and other cold case homicides using the latest technology.

Garnett said Wednesday that he has “always felt that the Ramsey case is not really a DNA case” but they “want to make sure.”

JonBenet was found dead in the basement of the Ramsey family’s Boulder, Colorado, home on Christmas Day 1996. This year marks the 20th anniversary of her mysterious death. The case remains an open investigation and no one has been charged in her murder.

The family has always maintained they had nothing to do with JonBenet’s killing. Her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, and their son Burke Ramsey, who was 9 years old at the time of JonBenet’s death, were exonerated in 2008 by then-Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy. Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006.

Lacy claimed at the time that touch DNA testing done on the waistband of the child’s long johns when compared with unknown male DNA found in her panties, proved the suspect was an unidentified male. Unlike more traditional forms of DNA found in blood or saliva, touch DNA comes from skin cells.

But her exoneration letter, which was made public on July 9, 2008, recently came under scrutiny after a joint investigation by The Boulder Daily Camera and Denver’s KUSA-TV/9News said it found the DNA results were not as clear cut as Lacy concluded they were.

ABC News 20/20 last month obtained the test results and laboratory notes regarding the 2008 DNA testing Lacy ordered in the Ramsey case, which was conducted by a private Virginia-based forensic laboratory called Bode Technology.

In the notes, the lab concluded that a “partial DNA profile” obtained from samples taken from JonBenet’s underwear and long johns “contains a mixture” of DNA — JonBenet, an unknown male and, in one sample, a third unidentified person. Therefore, the lab said, these DNA sample results “should not be considered a single source profile,” according to the documents obtained by 20/20. The Bode reports never use the word “match.”

But Lacy doesn’t mention those details in her 2008 letter to the Ramseys. Instead, Lacy wrote, “The match of male DNA on two separate items of clothing worn by the victim at the time of the murder makes it clear to us that an unknown male handled these items.”

When Lacy spoke to ABC News in October ahead of the Daily Camera’s publication, she said she did not believe she misrepresented the report and explained her reasoning behind the exoneration letter.

“Here’s what I was doing with the exoneration letter,” Lacy said at the time. “I was trying to prevent a horrible travesty of justice. I was scared to death that despite the fact that there was no evidence, no psychopathy and no motive, the case was a train going down the track and the Ramseys were tied to that track.”

Lacy said she has taken criticism for her decision to write the exoneration letter in the past.

“I’ve withstood worse than this,” she said. “And it’s nothing compared to what the Ramsey family has gone through targeted as suspects in their own daughter’s murder.”

Lacy also told ABC News that during a walk-through of the Ramsey home in the days after the murder, an indentation in the carpet was spotted just around the corner from JonBenet’s room on the second floor.

“It was a butt print. We all saw it. The entire area was undisturbed except for that place in the rug,” said Lacy, who was then the chief deputy district attorney heading up the Sexual Assault Unit under then-Boulder County DA Alex Hunter. “Whoever did this sat outside of her room and waited until everyone was asleep to kill her.”

Garnett said he anticipates the same articles of clothing that were sent to Bode for testing in 2008 would be retested again, but he added, “I don’t anticipate that there’s going to be any dramatic developments from this next round of testing.”

Watch the full story on ABC News 20/20 Friday, Dec. 16, at 10 p.m. ET

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Texas Fetal Burial Rule: With Just Days to Go, Costs and Implementation Remain Murky

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — In just four days, Texas is set to implement a new rule that could have far-reaching effects on women who have abortions or miscarriages while at a hospital or clinic in the state.

But leaders in two industries possibly affected by the implementation of the rule, funeral homes and medical waste facilities, say they are still trying to figure out how or if they will be involved.

Starting on Dec. 19, the Texas Health and Human Services Department will require medical providers, including hospitals and abortion-providing clinics, to ensure fetal or embryonic material is buried or otherwise interred if a woman has an abortion or miscarriage in a medical setting. Women who have a miscarriage or abortion at home are exempt from the rule.

While a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of multiple abortion providers says the rule is “unconstitutional,” a court has yet to strike it down, leaving medical providers just days to find a way to be in compliance with the rule. Experts say it’s likely many will have to turn to either funeral homes or medical waste facilities.

The new rule requires fetal material to be interred either through burial, entombment or other methods. It cannot be put in a sanitary landfill even after cremation. Currently, medical providers like hospitals or clinics often use medical waste facilities to dispose of fetal material, which is generally incinerated or put through another disinfecting process before it goes to sanitary landfills.

But relying on medical waste facilities or funeral homes to take on this added task of interment may be difficult, according to experts.

Medical Waste Facilities Largely Unequipped to Bury Fetal Material

Officials for the National Waste & Recycling Association, a trade association that represents private-sector U.S. waste and recycling companies, said that after seeing the wording of the final rule, they had thought medical providers would turn to directly to funeral homes or crematoriums rather than medical waste facilities to dispose of most embryonic and fetal material, as they do now.

“The way our members were looking at it, we didn’t think we’d be handling the material anymore,” Anne Germain, director of waste and recycling technology at the National Waste & Recycling Association, told ABC News.

Germain pointed out that medical waste facilities have virtually no ability to parse out items in medical waste bags they pick up from clinics or hospitals. Additionally remains from incinerators or other disinfectant centers cannot be easily interred or buried.

Additionally, she said that medical waste facilities who are members of the National Waste & Recycling Association usually partner with a crematorium or funeral home if they currently have to bury or inter remains from medical waste.

“Our expectation was it wasn’t practical to follow any sort of treatment [such as incineration] with interment,” Germain said. She said they believed that task of burial and interment would mean involving the “death care” industry, such as funeral homes.

Two local medical waste facilities in Texas contacted by ABC News said their current incinerators don’t allow them to inter material. Instead, they said when material needs to be buried or interred they work with a funeral home or other crematorium.

“You can’t go to a normal incinerator, which is not set up to collect the ashes for interment,” an owner of a medical waste processing facility in Texas told ABC News. “There are incinerators right now that don’t take the ashes out of that and bury them. You now have to get a crematorium — so there will be an increased cost.” The owner said he did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the rule.

Joe Kappil, general manager at Gamma Waste Systems in Houston, said his company always partners with funeral homes, which often have their own crematoriums, if any material needs to be interred.

Regulations Unclear for Funeral Homes

However, it’s not as easy as assuming the funeral industry will take over the role of medical waste facilities in disposing of fetal tissue, particularly given current state regulations, according to industry experts.

Current regulations state that funeral homes in Texas will assist with the burial or cremation of fetuses after 20 weeks’ gestation or if they reached the weight of 350 grams, when a fetal death certificate is issued.

But prior to 20 weeks’ gestation, the regulations are murky, offering no guidance, said Michael Land, spokesman for the Texas Funeral Directors Association.

In the past, Land said funeral directors often provided their services at no charge for a fetal death post 20 weeks’ gestation or over 350 grams. But given the new rule, Land said funeral directors are concerned about the number of cases they will need take on and said they will likely not be able to offer discounted rates for these cremations or burials.

“It’s almost going to have to go into effect to let us figure it out as things progress,” Land said of the new rule.

Jim Bates, the director of Funeral Consumer Alliance of Texas, said he is concerned that current state regulations are not clear enough to include fetal material at all and argued that funeral directors should avoid disposing of that material until the regulations are clarified especially for fetal material prior to 20 weeks’ gestation.

Bates said if funeral directors start to dispose of fetal material on a larger scale once the rule is implemented, he will consider filing a complaint either with the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which licenses funeral homes and investigates to ensure compliance, or another state regulatory body.

The regulations “do not apply to fetuses, period,” he said. Instead, he thinks they only apply to people with a birth and death certificate.

The Texas Funeral Service Commission has not responded to repeated requests for comment and clarification from ABC News.

Costs Could Soar

The estimated costs medical providers will face to bury or inter this tissue are also difficult to estimate.

In the preamble to the rule, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission wrote that it believes the cost increase to health care facilities to be “minimal” and that if these facilities were not already cremating and burying the remains, the cost of burial would be offset by elimination of the cost of using a landfill. Overall, it “determined that the annual cost per facility would be approximately $450.”

But calls to medical waste facilities and funeral homes put estimated costs far higher.

“I believe it could it range from $450 upward to $1000 [per cremation or burial] depending on the funeral institution,” Land said.

Kappil said that the price could vary greatly depending on the city.

“If I had to estimate how much more it would cost to inter remains after incineration, would estimate $500 per [medical waste bag,]” Kappil said for the increased cost in Houston specifically.

David Brown, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said if these increased cost estimates are accurate, the rule will likely result in patients bearing the brunt of these increased costs as medical facilities charge more for treatment, despite the fact that the preamble also states that “there should … be no undue [financial] burden placed on a woman seeking an abortion.”

“Health insurance doesn’t cover funeral expenses and most abortion care isn’t even covered by insurance,” Brown said. “Abortion care in any event is provided by nonprofits. … There’s no fat to cut. It’s all going to be passed on to patients.”

When asked for comment regarding the costs, the Texas Health and Human Services Department referred ABC News to its preamble, as paraphrased above.

The department did not respond when asked if it anticipated whether funeral homes or medical waste facilities would be primarily dealing with fetal material.

Dr. Nina Suresh and Dr. Gillian Morris contributed to this story. Dr. Gillian Morris is a resident physician in pediatrics at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. Morris is a family medicine resident physician at Brown University/Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Both are residents in the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Snow, Ice, Brutal Temperatures to Grip the Midwest and Northeast

ABC News(NEW YORK) — An Arctic front bringing frigid cold temperatures, snow and ice is sweeping across much of the country.

Thirty U.S. states, from California to Maine, were under winter weather alerts Thursday morning, and temperatures are expected to drop throughout the day and hit the teens in some northeastern cities by Friday morning. The wind chill, or “feels like” temperature, will make it feel 20 to 30 degrees colder, according to forecasters.

ABC News meteorologists are also monitoring a winter storm coming from the west that is expected to bring rain, snow or ice to much of the country. The storm pummeled Portland, Oregon, Thursday with snow and ice and triggered two avalanches near the Hoodo ski resort.

“The snow is over in Portland, but icy conditions could cause a messy morning commute,” said ABC News senior meteorologist Max Golembo.

The storm is expected to hit Minnesota by early afternoon Friday and settle in the Northeast on Friday night through Saturday. It could dump up to 10 inches of snow in areas from Minneapolis to Detroit and parts of the Northeast.

“Even places like New York City and Boston could see 1 to 3 inches of snow Friday night,” Golembo said.

On Thursday, parts of northern and central California are under flood warnings with heavy rain expected in the afternoon through Friday morning.

“San Francisco will get heavy rain this afternoon and evening,” Golembo said. “Los Angeles will get the heavy rain tonight into Friday morning.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Accused Church Shooter Dylann Roof Showed ‘Tremendous Hatred’ and ‘Must Be Held Accountable,’ Prosecutor Says

ABC News(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — Dylann Roof showed “tremendous cowardice” and “tremendous hatred” when he gunned down nine helpless worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in June 2015, the prosecution said Thursday in its closing arguments for Roof’s federal death penalty trial.

Roof, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners during a Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Roof, 22, allegedly entered the church armed and “with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs,” according to the federal indictment against him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams began the prosecution’s closing arguments by describing church as a sanctuary, “a place of fellowship where old friends met at a Bible study,” local ABC affiliate WCIV reported. Williams said hatred doesn’t have a place in such a venue, according to WCIV.

But nonetheless, Roof felt hatred and targeted the church, Williams said, according to WCIV. “It was a cold and calculated hatred that had been developing for months … that had been seeking out the most vulnerable people to target,” Williams said of Roof, WCIV reported. “He sat there with them and he waited until they were at their most vulnerable.”

Williams continued: “When they stood to pray, when they had their eyes closed … in those actions we see exactly who this defendant is. … A man whose actions show him to be a man of tremendous cowardice, shooting them when their eyes were closed, shooting them when they were on the ground.”

Williams said that Roof believes black people are a problem for America and that he thinks society should go back to a time that was “one of the most dismal and shameful in this country’s history,” referring to slavery, WCIV reported.

Williams pointed to Roof’s manifesto, in which he said Roof identified himself as the one who had to act, according to WCIV. “We’ve seen in these writings a racist retribution,” said Williams. “[Roof] literally wants there to be a race war.”

Next, Williams spoke about the steps Roof took to prepare for his deadly rampage, according to WCIV. Roof worked to find “the most vulnerable people to attack,” Williams said, WCIV reported, saying Roof scouted out the church. Roof considered a black festival, but ultimately decided against it because of the security, Williams said. So instead, he turned to a church, Williams said, according to WCIV, and began stockpiling ammunition.

On June 17, Roof drove to the church, taking a route he’d practiced before, Williams said, WCIV reported. The church he chose, Emanuel AME, was at the top of a list of possible targets, Williams said, according to WCIV.

“That tells you the depth, the vastness of his hatred,” Williams said, WCIV reported.

Williams then asked how someone could shoot a person on the ground. “The answer, in part, is because he thinks they’re less than human,” Williams said, according to WCIV.

And the worst part of Roof’s hatred, Williams said, is that he carried out his attack in a church, WCIV reported. Roof drove for 90 minutes to Charleston, then sat outside Emanuel AME for 28 minutes before going inside, Williams said, according to WCIV. He was “planning and preparing for what he was about to do,” Williams said. Then he loaded his gun and went inside, Williams said.

For 40 minutes, Roof sat with his victims, laughing, before eventually opening fire, Williams said, according to WCIV. “For every round he fired, for every person he killed, he must be held accountable,” Williams said, WCIV reported.

Williams then pointed out that each victim was shot repeatedly, according to WCIV. “Shooting round after round after round shows … immense hatred,” Williams said, WCIV reported. He commended the bravery of those who faced Roof as he fired, including victim Tywanza Sanders, who tried to draw Roof’s attention away from the other people in the church, Williams said, according to WCIV.

During his video “confession,” Roof laughed over and over, Williams said, WCIV reported, “and that shows just how vast that hatred was [as well].”

“This defendant’s hatred was overwhelming… it was horrifically violent,” Williams said, according to WCIV.

But Roof’s nine victims triumphed over his hatred, Williams continued, WCIV reported. “[Roof] thought it would spread his message of hate, but that message was stopped by their goodness.”

He added: “That church was a sanctuary because these good people created a sanctuary. And this defendant’s hatred has no place in that sanctuary.”

Williams concluded by asking the jury to find Roof guilty of every count, according to WCIV.

The defense will speak next.

The 33 federal counts against Roof include hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death. If convicted, Roof faces the death penalty.

Roof has pleaded not guilty.

He also faces a state trial, set for early next year, in which he may also face the death penalty.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

‘Affluenza’ Teen’s Father Guilty of Identifying Himself as Officer

WFAA/North Richland Hills PD(NEW YORK) — Like his son, the father of infamous “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch is in trouble with the law.

WFAA, ABC’s Dallas affiliate, reports that a Tarrant County, Texas, jury found Fred Couch, 51, guilty of a misdemeanor of false identification of a peace officer in a 2014 case involving police in the affluent Dallas-Fort Worth suburb the North Richland Hills.

Couch — whose teenage son, currently in custody, caused a fatal car accident in 2013 that killed four people and severely wounded another — pleased not guilty to the aforementioned charge on Tuesday, his trial’s first day of testimony.

According to WFAA, the elder Couch told North Richland Hills officers who were responding to a disturbance call that he was a reserve police officer in the town of nearby Lakeside.

And to make matters worse, police said they found on him a “Lakeside Police Search and Rescue” badge on him.

He faces a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, WFAA reports.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

‘Extremely Dangerous’ NC Inmate at Large After Escaping Police Custody, Carjacking Vehicle

Fayetteville Police Dept.(NEW YORK) — An armed and “extremely dangerous” North Carolina inmate is at large after escaping a hospital’s emergency department and carjacking a vehicle, following a struggle with a deputy Wednesday night, police said.

“Edward Moore Jr., 39, escaped from custody of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office this evening while at CFVMC. Call 911 if you see him,” tweeted the Fayetteville Police Department, referring to the Cape Fear Valley Hospital.

A subsequent tweet read, “Moore was an inmate of the CCSO Detention Center for bank robberies. He is EXTREMELY dangerous. Call 911 with any info or 483-TIPS.”

Edward Moore Jr., 39, escaped from custody of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office this evening while at CFVMC. Call 911 if you see him. pic.twitter.com/RFVpyU7j9J

— Fayetteville Police (@FayettevillePD) December 15, 2016

Moore was an inmate of the CCSO Detention Center for bank robberies. He is EXTREMELY dangerous. Call 911 with any info or 483-TIPS https://t.co/Y59CCRWdia

— Fayetteville Police (@FayettevillePD) December 15, 2016

Moore — who was incarcerated for bank robberies at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center, according to police — was being treated at the hospital when he escaped custody of the officer.

He assaulted the deputy, managed to get the deputy’s Taser and then escaped through the entrance while still wearing an orange jumpsuit, police said.

The vehicle he carjacked outside the hospital, a Buick, was located in Fayetteville but he remains on the run.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Home Depot Employee Plays Role of Santa Claus to Replace Girl’s Lost Doll

Joe Raedle/iStock/Thinkstock(HANFORD, Calif.) — A Home Depot employee in California played the role of Santa Claus to replace a beloved doll the young girl lost in the store.

Tyson Manuele, the manager of a Home Depot in Hanford, California, first met Adrianna Escamilla, 6, and her mom, Rosamaria Jaramillo, last month as they frantically searched his store for Adrianna’s beloved doll, Katy.

Adrianna was returning items to Home Depot with her family when she placed her doll in a shopping cart and then lost the doll when the shopping cart was misplaced.

“We realized she was missing before we even left Home Depot,” Jaramillo told ABC News. “We asked the Home Depot employees and looked everywhere, through all of the carts and shelves.”

Jaramillo said her family left the store that day without Katy, a doll Adrianna carried with her everywhere. They returned the next few days to provide a description of the doll again to employees and search themselves, all to no avail.

“After going there for about three days, I told her, I said, ‘It might be that a little girl needed Katy,’” Jaramillo said. “We kept going back to the store because we needed to give her closure.

“I was worried she was going to get sick over it,” she said of Adrianna.

Manuele said his staff also searched high and low for the lost doll. When it was clear the doll was nowhere to be found, Manuele decided to take action.

“I am very lucky to work for such a great company as the Home Depot who encourages all employees to give back and do the right thing,” Manuele said. “It’s just what we do here.”

He added, “I got all the family’s information because I was determined for Adrianna to have a happy Christmas.”

Jaramillo recalled getting a call from Manuele out of the blue to find out exactly what type of doll Adrianna had lost. He then told Jaramillo he wanted to surprise Adrianna with a new doll.

“It just touched my heart to the point that I cried,” she said. “For him to take the time to go out a buy a doll and spend money and help my daughter, it’s not his responsibility but he went out of his way.”

Manuele, the father of a 22-year-old daughter, purchased the new doll — a near replica of Katy — with his own money. He and his wife, Stefini, also wrote a letter from Santa Claus to Adrianna.

“It had been a while since I went doll shopping so it brought back a lot of fond memories of Christmases past,” Manuele said. “I bought her the best one I could afford because every child should have the best Christmas possible.”

Jaramillo brought Adrianna and her twin sister, Lillyanne, back to the Home Depot a few days later to be surprised with the new doll.

“She was just tickled to death that Santa was there at Home Depot,” said Jaramillo, who described Adrianna as “thrilled” by the new doll. “We always tell her that Santa sees everything.

“For her to know that Santa knew she lost her doll and that he brought a doll with him to Home Depot when he went to buy his tools, it just really gave her a sense of Christmas and that there is a Santa,” she said.

Manuele described the moment as “emotional,” too.

“It reminded me a lot of seeing my own daughter open her gifts on Christmas,” he said. “I was very thankful to Adrianna and her family for allowing me to re-live those special times.”

He added, “My only hope was that she would like the doll and believe Santa had gone out of his way to help her personally because what better Christmas present could there be.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Dylann Roof Federal Trial: Key Points From Government’s Case

Purestock/iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — The government has laid out its death penalty case against Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old accused of killing nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Roof, who is white, is accused of shooting and killing nine black parishioners at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Roof allegedly entered the church armed and “with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs,” according to the federal indictment against him. The parishioners welcomed Roof into their Bible study group, according to the indictment, after which Roof allegedly drew his pistol and opened fire.

The 33 federal counts against Roof include hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death. If convicted, Roof faces the death penalty. Roof has pleaded not guilty.

Here are some of the key points from the government’s case ahead of Thursday’s closing arguments.

Survivor Felicia Sanders

Felicia Sanders, a survivor of the shooting, was the government’s first witness. When Roof opened fire that June night, Sanders said she clutched her granddaughter tight and told her to play dead.

“I could feel the warm blood flowing on each side of me,” she said.

“I was just waiting on my turn,” she added. “Even if I got shot, I just didn’t want my granddaughter to get shot.”

Amid the chaos and the bloodshed, her youngest son, Tywanza Sanders, stood up and confronted the assailant: “Why are you doing this?” he asked, according to Felicia Sanders’ testimony.

“And he told our son, ‘I have to do this because y’all raping our women and taking over the world,'” Felicia Sanders said. “And that’s when [the gunman] put about five bullets in my son.”

Felicia Sanders then tearfully recalled watching her son die.

“We watched him take his last breath,” she said. “I watched my son come into this world, and I watched my son leave this world.”

Gruesome Photos

Investigators showed pictures from the gruesome scene at the basement hall where the shooting happened. The images showed bodies with numbers labeling what investigators believe was the order in which they were shot. The images also showed streams of blood. Many of the victims were under the rickety tables. Some Bibles were still on the tables.

Roof’s Video ‘Confession’

In a video interview of Roof conducted by an FBI agent shortly after he was captured and played in court, Roof laughed as he admitted to the shooting.

He also said he used a .45-caliber Glock to do it, according to the video. “I didn’t say anything to them before I pulled it out, not even one word,” Roof says of the gun in the video. “I mean, they reacted after I shot them.”

Asked in the video when he decided to do the shooting, Roof say, “I can’t tell you.”

Roof’s voice was mostly monotone during the interview, though it was often punctuated by laughter.

“I am guilty,” he says, laughing.

Roof said he did not expect to survive the shooting because he expected police to respond to the church and shoot him. Once he escaped, he said he spontaneously decided to go to Charlotte, North Carolina, because he didn’t want to go home to Columbia.

After an agent tells him he killed nine people and asks how he feels, Roof responds in the video in a monotone voice, “It makes me feel bad.”

Roof’s Journal of Racist Language

Testimony also addressed letters Roof wrote to his parents and a journal he kept with racist entries — all found in his car after he was apprehended.

In a note to his mother, Roof apologized and said he loved her, and he wrote, “Childish as it sounds I wish I was in your arms.”

In the journal, Roof degrades African Americans and Jews, and a state law enforcement agent on the witness stand read the racist entries aloud. Some jurors leaned on their hands as they read the journal entries on monitors and appeared shocked.

Families of the victims were quiet, some wrapped in colorful blankets to stay warm in the cold courtroom.

Roof wrote that he was not raised in a racist place. He also wrote that after reading a Wikipedia entry about the Trayvon Martin case, it was obvious to him that George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot Martin, was in the right, and he was never the same again.

Roof also wrote that one of his only regrets is that he was never able to fall in love.

Roof’s Note Listing Churches

Roof had a handwritten note in his car with the names of several churches on it, according to testimony from a former South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agent who processed Roof’s car after the shooting.

Besides the note listing churches, notable items in Roof’s car included a Confederate flag, a burned American flag, a gun, an empty box of ammunition and a laser attachment for a gun that helps with accuracy.

Survivor Polly Sheppard

Polly Sheppard was the government’s final witness. One of the deadly rampage’s three survivors, Sheppard said she initially thought the gunshots were an electrical problem. But then Felicia Sanders screamed that it was a gun, Sheppard said. Sheppard said she saw Roof shoot Rev. Daniel Simmons, then she ducked under a table.

She told the court that she listened to the gunshots ring out as she hid. She said she saw the casings bounce and roll across the ground, and watched as Roof’s boots came closer and closer. When Roof got to the tables, he told her to shut up as she was praying out loud, she said.

Then she said Roof asked her if she was shot. She told him no, she said, and he replied that he wouldn’t shoot her. “I’m going to leave you alive to tell the story,” Sheppard said Roof told her.

Sheppard’s emotional 911 call was also played in court.

The Defense

Defense attorney David Bruck said in opening statements that Roof committed the crime but the trial involves understanding “who this person was and why on earth he would want to cause so much grief.”

“He did it,” Bruck said of Roof. “… You’re probably wondering, so what we are doing here? Why does there need to be a trial? … The practical reason is that the government has asked for the death penalty after conviction, and because of that, we have a procedure to go through.”

Bruck said the jury must “go deeper than the surface with this awful crime.”

“Among the elements of the crime are racial hatred. In considering that issue, ask yourself where this extraordinary degree of racial feeling came from. … How much sense does this crime make? Does it make any sense at all? And if not, what does that tell you?” he said.

After the prosecution rested its case, Roof told the judge that he did not want to testify, and the defense called zero witnesses before it, too, rested.

Closing arguments are slated for Thursday, then the jury will begin deliberations.

Roof also faces a state trial, set for early next year, in which he may also face the death penalty.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →