Review Category : National News

FBI Probes Donations to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Campaign

Win McNamee/Getty Images(RICHMOND, Va.) — Federal authorities have been looking into whether donations made to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s campaign to become governor may have violated federal law, a source with knowledge of the probe told ABC News.

The probe could very well turn up no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the source said.

According to an attorney for the Democratic governor’s campaign, McAuliffe has not been told he is under FBI investigation, and neither he nor the campaign know anything about the matter.

Nevertheless, as part of the FBI’s review, agents have looked at McAuliffe’s time associated with the Clinton Global Initiative and contributions to his 2013 campaign from foreign nationals such as Wang Wenliang, a prominent Chinese businessman who reportedly donated $120,000 to McAuliffe’s campaign, the source said.

“[C]ontributions to the campaign from Mr. Wang were completely lawful,” McAuliffe campaign attorney Marc Elias said in a statement to ABC News. “The Governor will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it.”

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on news of the probe, which was first reported by CNN.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Georgia Man Gets Death Penalty Case Tossed 30 Years Later

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — A black man who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Georgia, has successfully convinced the Supreme Court that the jury selection in his case was racially biased three decades later.

The defendant, Timothy Foster, argued that the prosecution violated his rights by using race as a determining factor during jury selection.

Both the trial court and the Georgia Supreme Court initially rejected his claim, but Foster eventually obtained copies of the file used by the prosecution during his trial, which helped move his case to the Supreme Court.

He will likely get a new trial, nearly 30 years after his original sentencing.

What the Court Decided

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, with a concurrence by Samuel Alito, concluded that the Georgia courts’ determination that Foster failed to show purposeful discrimination was “clearly erroneous.” Clarence Thomas was the only justice to dissent.

“[T]he focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury,” Roberts wrote.

Stephen Bright, Foster’s lawyer and President of Southern Center for Human Rights, said that the discrimination only became apparent because they obtained the prosecution’s notes “which revealed their intent to discriminate.”

“The Court had no choice. The prosecution’s notes which were discovered and introduced as evidence left no doubt that the strikes were motivated by race to get an all-white jury,” he said in a statement released after the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Jury strikes motivated by race cannot be tolerated. The exclusion of black citizens from jury service results in juries that do not represent their communities and undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the criminal justice system.”

Background

Foster, who was 18 years old at the time, was arrested and convicted for the 1986 murder of a 79-year-old retired school teacher in Rome, Georgia. The state used “peremptory challenges” to strike all four qualified black prospective jurors during jury selection. Foster argued that the state’s strikes were racially motivated.

Foster was convicted and sentenced to death.

Long after his trial, Foster obtained previously withheld prosecutors’ notes, in which the prosecution wrote the letter “B” next to the names of prospective black jurors, circled the word “black” on questionnaires, identified prospective black jurors as B#1, B#2, etc, and had a note that said “if it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors,[this one] might be okay,” according to the opinion.

An “N” for “no” appeared next to each of the black prospective jurors’ names.

He argued that the prosecution violated his rights during jury selection, before, during and after his trial, according to the court.

The question is whether these facts constitute race discrimination under the Supreme Court’s Batson case, in which the Court set forth a framework for evaluating the use of race in jury selection.

Analysis

Roberts has not always been receptive to claims of race discrimination, but this is a strong and sweeping condemnation of the conduct of the Georgia prosecutors in this case, whose attempts to argue that these strikes were not motivated by race he finds totally implausible.

In Monday’s opinion, he wrote that “prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race.”

“Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more that the Constitution allows,” said the opinion.

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Chicago Police Preparing for Potentially Violent Summer

iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) — Another violent weekend in Chicago left five dead and more than 30 hurt.

With Memorial Day — the unofficial start of summer — just a week away, Chicago Police have released a statement on behalf of Superintendent Eddie Johnson, saying as the summer months approach, “violence will not be tolerated — period.”

“[W]e need more values, fewer guns and stronger sentences against violent offenders,” the statement reads.

Johnson is asking for help from all residents, saying “everyone has a role to play in fixing” the violence.

Among those killed in this past weekend’s shootings was Yvonne Nelson, an operator for the city’s 311 service. She was shot in the chest not far from Chicago Police headquarters.

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New Allegations Against Gary Condit in Chandra Levy Case

DEBBIE NODA/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — New allegations made by the defense in a new trial for the man accused of murdering Chandra Levy are raising questions about the disappearance of Levy, the FBI intern who vanished in May 2001 and whose remains were found the next year in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.

The Washington murder case ended the career of former California Congressman Gary Condit, who was at one point the primary suspect before police ruled him out despite his romantic link to Levy. Condit’s alleged secret sex life is now in the spotlight after defense attorneys for Ingmar Guandique, the man sentenced to 60 years in prison for killing 24-year-old Levy, filed a new motion last week.

Guandique, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, was convicted by a jury in 2010 based on a jailhouse confession to other inmates. However, his conviction was later set aside. Last year, prosecutors dropped their opposition to Guandique’s attorneys’ request for a new trial.

Guandique is facing a new trial this fall.

The new motion filed by Guandique’s lawyers claims that “aggressive sex involving bondage” may have killed Levy.

When Levy’s body was found in 2002 in Rock Creek Park, investigators found a pair of knotted tights nearby. Defense attorneys claim Condit may have used the tights to restrain Levy during a rough sex act gone wrong.

Condit’s DNA was found at Levy’s home, providing proof of the affair, but authorities ruled Condit out as a suspect after it came to light that a predator — allegedly Guandique — had been attacking female joggers in the park.

Condit was once a powerful Democrat on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. He famously broke with his party over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, demanding that then-president Bill Clinton “come clean” about his affair with Lewinsky.

Condit has denied he had anything to do with Levy’s murder. He returned to private life after losing to a primary challenger in 2002.

Levy’s parents, Robert and Susan Levy, are split over the defense’s efforts to reevaluate Condit’s possible role in their daughter’s murder.

“I think Condit was fooling around and doing that but it doesn’t prove he was the murderer,” Robert Levy told ABC News.

Susan Levy added, “Young women can be caught up in the web of predators or powerful people and you don’t know what happened to them.”

The defense motion claims that Condit had “a powerful motive to either kill and/or cover-up the circumstances of her death, whether her death was intentional or accidental.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines, prosecuting the Guandique case a second time, in court called the new motion, “a sensational, salacious and an effort to taint the jury pool.”

Condit’s civil attorney, L. Lin Wood, described the defense strategy from Guandique’s lawyers as “reprehensible.”

“Mr. Condit was long ago cleared by law enforcement in connection with her murder. Now a public defender for Mr. Guandique is wasting tax payer dollars to re-assert accusations to support a defense theory that has been unequivocally rejected,” Wood said in a statement to ABC News.

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Baltimore Police Officer Found Not Guilty in Freddie Gray Death

iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) — A judge found Baltimore police officer Edward Nero not guilty Monday on all four charges for his role in the events leading up to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

Nero, 30, had pleaded not guilty to the charges stemming from his actions during the initial stop and arrest of Gray, who suffered a catastrophic spinal injury while in police custody. Gray died one week later and his death sparked days of violent protests in Baltimore. Because Nero opted for a bench trial, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams decided his fate rather than a jury.

During the case, prosecutors argued that Nero had no regard for Gray’s safety and was reckless by ignoring policing rules when he failed to place a seat belt on Gray, who was placed on his stomach in shackles in the back of a police transport vehicle. Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he would like to see seat belts in every police van moving forward.

Williams grilled prosecutors during closing arguments last Thursday, questioning whether a crime was in fact committed by Nero.

“So, every time there’s an arrest without probable justification — it is a crime?” Williams asked.

“We believe that the search and arrest without justification are assault, your honor,” Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe responded. “There’s no question about that.”

Legal experts say the tone of Williams’ pointed questions during closing arguments gave an indication it would be an uphill battle for prosecutors to win their case against Nero.

The verdict comes more than a year after Gray’s death last April. His death became a symbol of the black community’s distrust of police, triggering days of rioting and angry backlash from community members.

Defense attorney Marc Zayon said that his client’s actions were completely legal and protected by the law, and that the state’s case against Nero is “nonsensical.”

“I can’t believe I even have to argue this,” he said. “The detention is okay, the cuffing is okay, the moving is okay,” he said. “Being detained is a horrible thing, being cuffed is a horrible thing…but the law allows it.”

Public officials, including Cummings, called for peace and respect for the rule of law following the verdict.

“Whatever may be Judge Barry Williams’ decision with respect to Officer Nero’s role in the death of Freddie Gray, that verdict will have as much legitimacy as our society and our justice system can provide,” Cummings said last week. “We will respect the decision.”

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Verdict Expected in Freddie Gray Officer Trial

iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) — A judge is expected to announce a verdict Monday in the trial of Officer Edward Nero, one of the six police officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray.

Judge Barry Williams has spent the weekend reviewing evidence on the prosecutor’s claims that Freddie Gray’s arrest was illegal, and that Nero’s physical contact amounts to assault and misconduct. The prosecutor also argues that Nero’s failure to secure Gray’s seatbelt when loading him into a police van contributed to his injuries and death.

Gray died April 19, 2015 from injuries he suffered, including a broken neck, while in police custody.

Nero was the first of the accused officers to request a bench trial, rather than a jury trial, so his will be the first to receive a verdict. He faces charges of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct. He’s pleaded not guilty.

Nero could face more than 15 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

The verdict in Nero’s trial comes nearly six months after Officer William Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury. After that outcome, protesters clashed with sheriff’s deputies and three people were arrested.

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Judge Expected to Issue Ruling in Freddie Gray-Officer Trial

iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) — A judge is expected to announce a verdict Monday in the trial of Officer Edward Nero, one of the six police officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray.

Judge Barry Williams has spent the weekend reviewing evidence on the prosecutor’s claims that Freddie Gray’s arrest was illegal, and that Nero’s physical contact amounts to assault and misconduct. The prosecutor also argues that Nero’s failure to secure Gray’s seatbelt when loading him into a police van contributed to his injuries and death.

Gray died April 19, 2015 from injuries he suffered, including a broken neck, while in police custody.

Nero was the first of the accused officers to request a bench trial, rather than a jury trial, so his will be the first to receive a verdict. He faces charges of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct. He’s pleaded not guilty.

Nero could face more than 15 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

The verdict in Nero’s trial comes nearly six months after Officer William Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury. After that outcome, protesters clashed with sheriff’s deputies and three people were arrested.

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Third of North American Birds Face Extinction Due to Man-Made Factors

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A new report published by North American Bird Conservation Initiative says that 37 percent of all migratory bird species on the continent are at risk of extinction due to a myriad of harmful environmental factors including climate change, sea-level rise, land development and oil spills.

The report includes a section called the Species Assessment Summary and Watch List, a chart that ranks the 1,154 native species of birds in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico by level of concern.

“The Watch List includes 432 species with concern scores of 14 or higher,” the section explains, “or with a concern score of 13 and a steeply declining population trend — these are the species most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats.”

Some of the birds that received a score of 20, the highest possible, included the California condor, the imperial woodpecker, and the Florida scrub-jay.

ABC News reported earlier this month about a paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters that indicated that five of the Solomon Islands have submerged underwater as a result of climate change.

James Hansen, a NASA scientist, estimated in March that seas could rise by seven meters in the coming century, a figure that would likely decimate coastal communities for humans and animals, if proved accurate.

Concern about a “mass extinction event” as a result of climate change and other man-made factors has risen in recent years.

A widely cited paper by atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen and environmental journalist Christian Schwägerl in 2011, “Living in the Anthropocene“, suggested that the Earth had entered a new epoch in which man held “dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth,” causing radical shifts to our planet.

“Imagine our descendants in the year 2200 or 2500,” the paper said. “They might liken us to aliens who have treated the Earth as if it were a mere stopover for refueling, or even worse, characterize us as barbarians who would ransack their own home.”

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Man Survives Terrifying Bear Attack in Alaska

iStock/Thinkstock(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) — An Alaska man says he feels lucky to be alive after coming face-to-face with a brown bear and surviving its terrifying attack.

Kenny Steck, his wife Hannah and six family members were hiking in Southeastern Alaska May 13 when he encountered the predator while filling up water bottles. Steck, an experienced outdoorsman, had left his bear repellent back at camp.

The massive animal then came charging at him.

“It was a feeling of complete hopelessness and helplessness, really. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to make it stop or make the outcome change,” he told ABC News Sunday.

When Steck lifted his leg up to protect himself, the bear clawed it.

He tried yelling, but the bear crushed his shoulder and put Steck’s head in his mouth.

“All I could do was just hope and pray,” he said. “It was terrifying.”

Then suddenly the bear let go and ran away.

Luckily, his wife and three other family members on the trip are nurses and were able to treat his wounds right away.

Steck suffered injuries to his leg, shoulder and head, but the bear miraculously avoided his skull, his wife Hannah said. He’s expected to make a full recovery.

“We consider it a miracle,” Hannah told ABC News.

“It wasn’t Kenny’s time to go last Friday,” she said. “We don’t understand it. … But we are really thankful for it.”

This was the third bear mauling reported to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game so far this year, Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told ABC News. All three incidents have involved brown bears or grizzly bears, Marsh said.

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Massachusetts Cop Killing Suspect Fatally Shot After Standoff

WCVB-TV(AUBURN, Mass.) — The suspect in the killing of a 42-year-old Massachusetts police officer was shot and killed Sunday evening during a shootout at a home just miles from the initial incident, officials said.

A state trooper was also wounded in the exchange of gunfire with the suspect, who was identified as 35-year-old Jorge Zambrano, who officials said had an extensive criminal history.

Auburn police officer Ronald Tarentino leaves behind his wife and children after he was fatally shot during a traffic stop around 12:30 a.m. in Auburn, about 50 miles west of Boston, police said.

The shooter fled the scene, and he was eventually located at a duplex in Oxford, Massachusetts, police said.

Police surrounded the home, which was less than 5 miles from the shooting scene this afternoon, and though police would not say what was going on, ABC News reporters on the scene heard officers apparently negotiating with someone inside the house, trying to convince them to come out.

The apartment where the suspect was found was initially cleared by police, but upon finding an opening in the cellar of the home, a state police Special Tactical Operations Team entered the building, officials said.

Officers encountered Zambrano on the second floor of the building after he burst out of a closet, shooting and wounding the trooper. An officer returned fire, fatally shooting Zambrano, Massachusetts State Police Colonel Richard McKeon said.

The injured trooper, an 18-year veteran of the Massachusetts State Police and a former Navy SEAL, was able to walk as he was taken to UMass Lake Side Hospital.

Officials declined to release the trooper’s name, but said he is expected to survive.

Auburn Police Chief Andrew Sluckis called the killing of Tarentino a “tragic loss,” describing him as a “dedicated and brave public servant.”

“Officer Tarentino worked here for two years and there’s not a member of this department that didn’t embrace him and like him,” Sluckis said this evening. “He got along with everybody. He was somebody that was always smiling.”

Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early said the investigation into Tarentino’s murder is ongoing, even though the suspect is dead.

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