Review Category : National News

Dylann Roof Faces Sentencing in Federal Death Penalty Case

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — Dylann Roof’s fate will soon be back in the hands of the jurors who found him guilty of killing nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The sentencing phase of Roof’s federal trial, in which he could face the death penalty, is set to begin Wednesday.

Roof, 22, has said he intends to represent himself for the sentencing phase of the trial, although U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has said he does not support Roof’s decision. Roof told Gergel last week he will make an opening statement but said he has “no plans whatsoever to call witnesses” during the sentencing phase.

The government plans to call more than 30 witnesses, mostly survivors and victims’ family members, to testify in the sentencing phase. Survivors Polly Sheppard and Felicia Sanders, who testified during the guilt phase of the trial, are expected to testify again.

Roof appeared in court Monday at a sealed competency hearing, wearing a prison jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled. The hearing was sealed, Gergel said, because of the risk of jurors’ being exposed to new information through the press or social media. Gergel said he would release information from Monday’s hearing in 10 days, after Roof is sentenced.

“This is an incredibly sensitive moment in this trial,” Gergel said.

After Monday’s “day-long” competency hearing, according to a court filing, Roof was found to still be competent to stand trial and to self-represent. Roof asked that the sentencing phase be delayed by one day, and begin Wednesday instead of Tuesday; his request was granted by the court.

During the sentencing phase Roof cannot approach the jury, the witness stand or the bench, Gergel wrote in an order. Roof’s standby counsel will sit in the first two seats at the defendant’s counsel table closest to the center aisle and Roof will sit in the third seat, Gergel ordered.

Roof, who is white, was convicted last month of shooting and killing nine parishioners at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. The 33 federal counts against Roof included hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death.

Roof 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 drew his pistol and opened fire.

In a video interview of Roof played in court, Roof laughed as he admitted to the shooting. He also said he used a Glock 45 to do it, according to the video. “I didn’t say anything to them before I pulled it out, not even one word,” Roof said of the gun in the video. “I mean they reacted after I shot them.”

In the defense’s opening statements during the guilt phase of the trial, attorney David Bruck told the court, “He did it … 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.”

“Our society does not order the death penalty if there are reasons to choose life,” Bruck added. “You’re going to want to understand who this person was and why on earth he would want to cause so much grief.”

Roof also faces a state trial in which he may again face the death penalty.

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Officer Put on Leave After Incident Following Fight Between High School Students

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(ROLESVILLE, N.C.) — A North Carolina school resource officer has been placed on administrative leave after appearing to slam a student to the ground following a fight between two female students.

The incident took place at Rolesville High School at about 7:10 a.m. Tuesday, when a fight broke out between two female students, according to police.

A video of the incident surfaced that appears to show a female student being slammed to the ground by a school resource officer identified as Ruben De Los Santos.

The officer was placed on administrative leave while an investigation is being conducted, according to a statement by the Town of Rolesville Police Department.

“We will work diligently to review any and all pertinent information so that we provide an accurate account of the events,” the Rolesville Police Department said in the statement. “We ask the community and all members involved to be patient while we investigate this matter.”

Desiree Harrison, the mother of 15-year-old Jasmine Darwin, who was involved in the incident, said that her daughter has a concussion and no longer feels safe at Rolesville High School, ABC affiliate WTVD reported.

An eyewitness said Darwin was thrown to the ground after trying to break up the fight between two other students. Police have not confirmed that information, but Darwin’s mother gave the same account, WTVD reported.

Lisa Luten, a spokesperson for Wake County Public Schools, said they are aware of the situation.

“We are in the process of working with Rolesville Police Department to gather all of the details around this incident,” Luten said.

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Chicago’s Record Violence Spills Into 2017 with 28 Shot on New Year’s Day

iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) — The record-setting violence Chicago saw in 2016 extended into the New Year — with 28 people shot in the city on the first day of January alone, according to data from the Chicago Police Department.

The first shooting of 2017 happened at 1:05 a.m. Sunday, when two men were taken to the hospital after one man was shot in the chest and the other in the back in a drive-by, according to the Chicago Police Department.

Three men were killed in the shootings. Of those shot, five victims were women and three of the victims were minors.

The last shooting of the day occurred at 10:55 p.m., when three men were shot while standing on the street in another drive-by shooting, according to the data.

Chicago saw 3,550 shooting incidents and 762 murders in 2016, which works out to an average, per day, of more than 9.7 shootings and more than two murders. The 20 shootings on New Year’s Day are more than twice the daily average from 2016.

Shootings have reached a record level since police began tracking them in 2011, rising nearly 50 percent over last year and nearly doubling since 2013.

The police department did not immediately comment about the New Year’s Day shootings and the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shooting Incidents in Chicago on New Year’s Day:

1:05 a.m.: Two men were injured in a drive-by shooting. A 21-year-old was taken to the hospital in “unknown condition” after he was shot in the chest, and a 19-year-old was transported to the hospital in stable condition after he was shot in the back.

1:41 a.m.: A 23-year-old woman was sitting in a car when she was shot in the back in a drive-by shooting. She was taken to the hospital in stable condition.

2 a.m.: Three people were shot while attending a house party when an unknown gunman entered the home and opened fire. A 20-year-old man was shot in the left hand and was taken to the hospital in good condition. In addition, a 31-year-old woman was shot in the chest and a 33-year-old man was shot in the back. Both were taken to the hospital in stable condition.

2:13 a.m.: A 22-year-old man was grazed by a gunshot wound on his eyebrow. The victim told police that he heard shots and felt pain. He was taken to the hospital in stable condition.

2:15 a.m.:
A 29-year-old woman was on a sidewalk with several friends when an unknown gunman across the street fired shots. She was grazed by a bullet in her left leg and was treated by emergency responders on the scene, but refused further treatment.

2:20 a.m.: A 26-year-old woman was exiting her car when she was shot in the left arm in a drive-by shooting. She was taken to the hospital in good condition.

2:30 a.m.: A 24-year-old man was walking into a home when a gunman in a black sedan shot him in the right leg. He was taken to the hospital in stable condition.

3:46 a.m.: Three men were shot in the same location, where police found a 19-year-old with a gunshot wound in his lower back. Two other victims were found at a different location but told officers that they were shot in the same place the 19-year-old was found. One of the victims, age 21, was taken to the hospital in critical condition after suffering a gunshot wound to his throat. The other victim, age 20, sustained a gunshot wound to the left shoulder and was taken to the hospital in stable condition.

3:55 a.m.: A 26-year-old man was sitting in a car when three men exited another car and fired shots at him. The victim was grazed in the head but was transported to the hospital in good condition.

4:25 a.m.: Two men were pronounced dead at the hospital after a police investigation discovered that they had been shooting at each other inside of a business. A 38-year-old man sustained gunshot wounds to his chest and right leg, while an unidentified man sustained multiple gunshot wounds to his right side.

5:30 a.m.: A 52-year-old man was in his home when a bullet penetrated his window and struck him in the right leg. He was taken to the hospital in good condition.

5:53 a.m.: A 39-year-old was pronounced dead on the scene after police found him lying on the ground with multiple gunshot wounds to his body.

11:16 a.m.: A 27-year-old man was driving and felt pain after hearing gunshots, he told police. He was taken to the hospital after sustaining gunshot wounds to his left shoulder, both hands and his buttocks. Two persons of interest have been taken into custody for questioning.

12:06 p.m.: A 15-year-old boy was walking in an alley when he heard gunshots, he told police. He sustained a gunshot wound to his right leg and was taken to the hospital in good condition.

1:40 p.m.: A 17-year-old was walking on a sidewalk when he was shot by a gunman in a black Nissan with up to three other men inside. He was transported to the hospital in stable condition.

2:35 p.m.: A 19-year-old transported himself to the hospital in serious condition after he suffered gunshot wounds to his back and left leg. He told police he was getting into a car when two men in a passing vehicle began to shoot at him.

3:30 p.m.: A 31-year-old man was standing on the sidewalk when he was shot in the hand. He was transported to the hospital in good condition.

7:28 p.m.: A 16-year-old was standing on a corner when he was shot by a gunman in a sedan. He was transported to the hospital in good condition.

9:40 p.m.: A 48-year-old woman was inside her apartment when an unknown gunman fired shots through her door. She sustained gunshot wounds to her buttocks and both of her legs and was taken to the hospital in stable condition.

10:55 p.m.: Three men were on the street when all three were shot in a drive-by shooting. A 26-year-old man was shot multiple times and taken to the hospital in critical condition. A 31-year-old man sustained a graze wound to his head, and a 19-year-old man was shot in the buttocks and right arm. Both were taken to the hospital in stable condition.

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Emu Roams the Roads of a Small California Community

ABCNews.com(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — A lone emu has been looking more like a road runner, roaming the streets of the central California community of Valley Springs.

The flightless running bird was first spotted some time last last week, according to ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento, California.

Word of the bird traveled fast and numerous residents have since said they have witnessed the emu roaming around and even stopping traffic in the area for the past few days, KXTV reported. However, no one seems to know where the bird — which is native to Australia — is from, the station added.

On Tuesday, KXTV reporter John Bartell went on a mission to track down the elusive emu.

“I can honestly say as a reporter I’ve been on many wild goose chases,” Bartell said, “but this is the first time I’ve ever been on a wild emu chase.”

Bartell first caught up with Valley Springs resident Charles White who told him that the large bird showed up late last week. White said that at one point, the emu had been “sleeping by my son’s house.”

“He just roams around,” White added. “We don’t know if it’s a male or female, but we named it George.”

Another resident told Bartell that the emu actually walked onto his driveway and “almost came into my garage.”

Bartell eventually spotted the emu on Tuesday walking down a road in the town and stopping traffic for a little while.

KXTV reported that numerous people, including Bartell, filed a report with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office about the emu on the loose.

The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and Calaveras County Animal Services did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests Tuesday for comment and information on the origin and whereabouts of the big bird and whether it’s been corralled.

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Massive Manhunt Continues for Escaped Rhode Island Inmate

iStock/Thinkstock(CENTER FALLS, R.I.) — A massive manhunt continued Tuesday for an inmate who escaped a maximum security prison in northeast Rhode Island over the weekend, according to federal and state officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

James Morales, 35, escaped from the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Center Falls, Rhode Island, this past Saturday, Dec. 31, around 6:45 p.m., Massachusetts State Police said in a wanted poster released Tuesday.

Officials said Morales broke out of the prison by climbing a basketball hoop to reach a rooftop, cutting through a fence and then climbing through razor wire, reported ABC affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston.

Morales had been in federal custody for the “theft of numerous firearms from the Worcester Army Reserve Armory in 2015,” and he is wanted “for an alleged violent and brutal sexual assault of a child,” Massachusetts State Police said.

Morales “may have suffered significant lacerations during his escape,” according to Massachusetts State Police. Authorities noted that he was last seen wearing “gray sweatpants, a gray sweatshirt and black sneakers,” and “had a beard at the time of the escape and has balding/shaved brown hair.”

Morales also has a “large tattoo of an eagle on the left side of his neck” and “additional tattoos on his chest, arms and hands,” Massachusetts State Police added.

Jamie Hainsworth, U.S. Marshal for the district of Rhode Island, said at a news conference this afternoon that law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels were working “around the clock” to catch Morales.

“Mr. Morales has the potential to be dangerous and could be armed,” Hainsworth said. He urged anyone who encounters Morales not to approach him and to instead call 911.

Hainsworth also asked anyone with information to please call a hotline established by the U.S. Marshals Service at 1-800-336-0102.

While Hainsworth repeatedly said at the news conference Tuesday that authorities’ current priority is to catch Morales, he noted that they would also take a “hard look” at the procedures of the prison Morales escaped from and investigate whether the community of Center Falls was properly and timely notified of the escape.

According to Hainsworth, Morales was only discovered missing by prison staff at 10 p.m. on Dec. 31 — about three hours after he escaped.

Hainsworth declined to talk about specific details of Morales’ escape and the evidence collected in the manhunt and investigation so far.

When asked by reporters what he wanted to say to Morales, Hainsworth said, “Turn yourself in.”

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Body Found Under Icy Pond May Be Missing 6-Year-Old

Silent_GOS/iStock/Thinkstock(AURORA, Colo.) –A child’s body was found under an icy pond in Aurora, Colorado, during the search for a 6-year-old boy who went missing days ago, authorities said Tuesday. The body has not yet been identified.

After David Puckett, 6, was reported missing from his home on New Year’s Eve, police initiated an “intensive search” and investigation, Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz said at a news conference today.

The Aurora police, the FBI and the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children were among those involved in the search, including more than 200 volunteer citizens, Metz said. The search zeroed in on the lake after clues from a search dog; divers later pulled the body to the surface.

“I had the unfortunate experience of having to inform David’s family of what we found,” Metz said. “We informed the family of where … we found the individual. And we did let the family know it was going to take some before we could have a positive identification.”

The Puckett family is “devastated,” Metz added. “Please respect their privacy as they’re going through trying to process all this.”

The area near the pond has been designated a crime scene, according to Metz.

“Our officers are going to continue in this investigation … until we have definitive word on the final outcome,” he said.

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Four Killed After Tree Falls on Mobile Home During Storm

iStock/Thinkstock(REHOBETH, Ala.) — Two relatives and two friends were killed in Rehobeth, Alabama, when a tree fell on a mobile home during a severe storm that toppled trees, downed power lines and left power outages, officials said.

There were seven people total in the mobile home during the Monday night incident, said Kris Ware, a spokeswoman for the Dothan Houston County Emergency Management Agency in Alabama. The three survivors were not injured, Ware told ABC News, as the tree fell on the side of the trailer where just the four victims were.

The group was together celebrating a football game, Ware said.

Two of the victims — Ramona Michelle Lewis, 53, and Amanda Blair, 27, — were related, and the other two victims — Carla Lambert and Terina Brookshire — were friends, Ware said. The names were provided by Houston County Coroner Robert Byrd, Ware said, and the ages for Lambert and Brookshire were not given.

The Rehobeth area — near the Georgia and Florida borders — suffered major flooding, power outages, and downed trees and power lines during the storm, Ware said. Some power outages remain Tuesday and some schools in the Rehobeth area are closed, Ware said.

Twelve tornadoes were reported across Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, although none were confirmed as of Tuesday morning.

A fifth storm-related death was reported in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, where authorities say 70-year-old William Patrick Corley died from an accidental drowning. The Walton County Sheriff’s Office said authorities found his car partially underwater and his body floating nearby. No foul play was suspected, the sheriff’s office said.

On Tuesday heavy rain is expected to move into the Carolinas, the Ohio Valley and the Northeast. Some strong storms are possible in the Carolinas and Florida.

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$6M in Jewelry Allegedly Stolen Blocks from Times Square Ball Drop

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Three suspects were caught on surveillance video using a pry-bar and hammer to break into a jewelry wholesaler blocks from where about a million revelers were ringing in the New Year at New York City’s Times Square, and allegedly stealing roughly $6 million in products.

The purported heist took place on New Year’s Eve at the West 36th Street offices of Gregg Ruth, described on the company’s website as “a designer and manufacturer of fine jewelry.” The business is known for high-profile collections featuring rare yellow and pink diamonds.

The three suspects, one of whom looked directly into the surveillance camera during the heist, removed about $6 million worth of jewelry from two safes, police said.

The suspects then fled through the stairwell of the midtown Manhattan high-rise that was blocks from the nearly 7,000 police officers who were stationed in and around Times Square for New Year’s Eve festivities.

Police said there were no injuries in the alleged robbery.

ABC News’ contributor Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent, said some clues could point to the alleged theft as an inside job.

“There are some pieces of inside information as to how this place operated and what its security apparatus was, both outside and inside,” he said.

Garrett also said the excitement of nearby New Year’s Eve celebrations could have contributed to the suspects’ timing of the heist.

“The utter distraction of what’s going on a number of blocks away at Times Square also, I think in their mind, probably gave them some sort of cover,” Garrett said.

New York Police Department officials are asking for the public’s help in identifying the suspects, described as three males.

Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.

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2-Year-Old Saves Twin Brother From Fallen Dresser in Incredible Moment Caught on Camera

Kayli Shoff(OREM, Utah) — A 2-year-old boy was rescued from a fallen dresser by his twin brother in an incredible moment caught on security camera.

The boys, Bowdy and Brock Shoff, were playing on the dresser when it tipped over, pinning Brock underneath. The heart-stopping video shows Bowdy’s trying to push the heavy furniture from both sides, but it doesn’t move.

He tries to lift it, but that doesn’t work. Bowdy then tries to push the dresser again and manages to move it, freeing his brother.

Both boys were uninjured.

The Utah parents didn’t realize their son’s incredible feat until they reviewed the surveillance video.

The twins’ mother, Kayli Shoff, said she bolted the dresser to the wall after watching the video.

The boy’s father, Rick Shoff, wrote on Facebook Sunday, “we are so grateful for the bond that these twin brothers share. We know Bowdy was not alone in moving the dresser off of Brock. And feel blessed that he is ok. Please make sure all your dressers are bolted and secured to the wall.”

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Erik Menendez’ Friends Tell Story Behind His Racy Photos, Screenplay About a Son Who Kills Parents

Courtesy Philip Kearney(NEW YORK) — Lyle and Erik Menendez shot and killed their parents, Jose Menendez, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez in 1989. At the time, Lyle was 21, and Erik was 18.

But before the murders, Erik Menendez wrote a screenplay called Friends about a rich, young man who killed his parents for the inheritance money.

Craig Cignarelli, Erik’s friend and classmate at Calabasas High School, in Calabasas, California, said they wrote Friends together.

“I remember talking about the opening scene, in just the idea of, ‘We need to establish a crime. We need to have the protagonist gain an inheritance so he can actually fulfill his dream of creating this hunting ground for humans,’” Cignarelli told ABC News.

In that scene, the main character, Hamilton Cromwell, is described as a “sophisticated, good-looking” 18-year-old reading about the inheritance his father intended to leave him in his will. On a typed page about next scene, Erik included a handwritten note that said Hamilton is “immensely psychotic and extremely anxious to obtain his inheritance. A character worthy of Jekyll and Hyde.”

The Hamilton character then kills his parents in the next scene: “A gloved hand is seen gripping the doorknob and turning it gently. The door opens, exposing the luxurious sight of Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell lying in bed. Their faces are of questioning horror as Hamilton closes the door behind them, gently saying, ‘Good evening, mother. Good evening, father.'”

Cignarelli said he and Erik wrote the killing scene as a way for their main character to come in to money.

“I guess there’s three ways to do it: You’re either going to win the lottery, you’re going to work very, very hard for one year and from 18 to 19, you’re going to earn $100 million, or you’re going to have to find a way to inherit it,” Cignarelli said. “And for us, the only option aside from winning the lottery, realistically, was to do an inheritance, and so we set that as the basic scene.”

On Aug. 20, 1989, the Menendez brothers opened fire on their wealthy parents inside the family’s Beverly Hills mansion, using shotguns they had bought just days before the murders. Prosecutors argued that Lyle and Erik were motivated by greed because they wanted to inherit the family fortune.

Cignarelli remarked on the screenplay’s similarity to how the murders were carried out.

“The opening scene happened to coincide with what happened on the night of the murders,” Cignarelli said.

Photographer Philip Kearney, another friend of Erik’s, said Erik had showed him the screenplay to get his opinion on it. Kearney said he initially didn’t look at it until later, after he learned Erik and Lyle had killed their parents.

“I remembered that I had the script about the boy that kills his parents to collect the insurance, and that was a very chilling realization to me,” Kearney told ABC News. “It was only once I was aware of the murder that it pieced together and that I knew that I had looked at enough of [the screenplay] to know that it was basically the same thing that occurred.”

Kearney had first met Erik at a photo shoot in Beverly Hills and said Erik had expressed an interest in modeling. The two became friends and Erik modeled for several shoots with Kearney.

“He would come over and spend some time. We would shoot pictures. He’d talk about his family. He would talk about his life and his aspirations,” Kearney said.

Erik is shown smiling in some of the photos, while he appears shirtless and serious in others.

Courtesy Philip Kearney“In retrospect, those pictures, to me, look very lonely and haunting, and it was probably the most look at Erik that I saw where he was lonely or where he was different and not so happy and a little bit darker,” Kearney said.

Kearney said he still cannot imagine how the Erik he knew could have murdered his parents.

“I can’t picture him shooting his mother and then reloading. I can’t picture him conspiring to cover all that up,” Kearney said. “My impression was that their father had cut them off. I think somewhere, starting with Lyle, there was a decision that this was just not going to be OK. It was not going to be OK to live in Beverly Hills and be paupers or to have less than they had.”

Kearney said he spoke to authorities about Erik, and told the district attorney he had the screenplay, but when detectives came to retrieve the script from where it was supposed to be in storage, they were unable to find it.

“I don’t remember giving it back to [Erik], but we didn’t find it in the storage locker. And I always wondered exactly where it went or what happened to it,” Kearney said.

After he learned about the murders, Cignarelli, Erik’s friend, said he also went to police and told them what he knew about Erik, including that he said Erik had confessed to him about killing his parents.

“We eventually sat down at a chessboard, and he looked up from the chessboard. And as he had his fingers on the pieces, he said, ‘Do you want to know what happened?’ And I made a big mistake and said, ‘Yes,’” Cignarelli said. “I can remember him telling me where the blood and the skin landed, and being in the room, and literally being in the room where it happened.”

He added, “I was hoping at the end of the story he would have said, you know, ‘I’m full of it,’ you know? ‘Just joking.’ … That never happened.”

After going to the authorities, Cignarelli agreed to wear a body wire the next time he saw Erik to see whether he could record his saying more about the murders, but he was unable to obtain a taped confession.

Erik and Lyle Menendez’s first trial in 1993 ended in a hung jury. The brothers were found guilty of first-degree murder after a second trial in 1996 and sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole.

Lyle, now 48, is serving his sentence at Mule Creek State Prison, and Erik, now 46, is serving his sentence at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility.

The judge did not allow Erik’s Friends screenplay to be introduced as evidence at the trial, but Cignarelli testified for the prosecution at both trials about Erik’s alleged confession.

“Honestly, when the second jury came back with a guilty verdict, there was a part of me which just said, ‘I’m done. It’s finally over.’ And it felt like there was this sense of relief, followed by this really strange feeling of sadness,” Cignarelli said.

“Like, wow, it’s finally closed, and I actually have just lost my best friend for life. He’s going to be sitting in a jail cell for the next 50 years.”

Watch the full story in the two-hour ABC News special, “Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers,” on Thursday, Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. ET

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