Review Category : National News

Murder Suspect in Custody After Mistaken Release in Los Angeles

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — An alleged murder suspect, who was mistakenly let out of jail last week in Los Angeles, was caught in Nevada on Monday.

According to a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Steven Lawrence Wright was taken into custody without incident at a hotel in Boulder City, Nevada after “numerous tips from the public.”

The 47-year-old was accidentally released from the Inmate Reception Center in downton Los Angeles on January 30, and the Sheriff’s Department said they were not aware of his release until later the next day. Officials offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the suspect’s arrest.

Wright was originally arrested by the Pasadena Police Department in April 2011 and was pending trial for a gang-related murder in Pasadena earlier that year. He was found guilty of the murder in 2014, but a judge ruled the trial wasn’t fair, according to ABC News affiliate KABC-TV. Next month, the alleged murder suspect is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in a new murder trial, KABC-TV reports.

The Sheriff’s Department said Wright would not face any additional charges for the release.

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DA in Cornell Sex Assault Case Condemns Underage Drinking Culture on Campuses

Tompkins County Jail(ITHACA, N.Y.) — The district attorney prosecuting a Cornell University fraternity president accused of attempted rape and sexual abuse blamed schools in general for “turning a blind eye” to the subject of underage drinking in connection with sexual assault on college campuses.

Wolfgang Ballinger, 21, a member of Psi Upsilon’s Chi Chapter at Cornell, was booked into Tompkins County, New York, Jail Thursday after a female student reported that she was sexually assaulted at the fraternity house, according to university police. Ballinger has served as president of the chapter, Psi Upsilon Executive Director Thomas Fox told ABC News.

The young woman, who is not being identified, reported the alleged incident to police on Jan. 31, telling authorities that she was sexually assaulted in a bedroom at the frat house at approximately 2 a.m. that day. She helped identify Ballinger as the alleged perpetrator, the Cornell University Police Department said.

“What I see over and over again … is the underage drinking on campuses that so often create an environment where violence, sexual assault and other things that happen in a thoughtless moment ruin people’s lives forever,” Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson told ABC News Monday.

While Wilkinson said not all sexual assaults are “done by somebody under the influence of alcohol,” she added that she considers alcohol to be “probably one of the largest contributing factors.”

“If college campuses would stop permitting, or turning a blind eye, or not enforcing underage drinking, I think we would see a very different picture,” Wilkinson said.

Ballinger is of legal drinking age.

Cornell declined to respond to the district attorney’s comments.

At the request of the police through his attorney, Ballinger turned himself in to Cornell University Police investigators on Thursday. He was charged with first-degree attempted rape, first-degree criminal sexual act and first-degree sexual abuse, university police said. Ballinger has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Ballinger’s attorney, James Baker, declined to be interviewed Monday, but told ABC News in a statement Saturday that Ballinger did not commit the crimes of which he is accused. “His innocence will be established at the proper time and in the proper place – which is in the courts, not in the media,” Baker said.

Cornell’s Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living said, as of Feb. 1, Psi Upsilon was placed “on interim suspension status as a result of alleged sexual misconduct” at the fraternity house.

“Interim suspension is a pause in the operations of a chapter during which the chapter may not engage in any activities other than operation of its residence,” the statement said.

Psi Upsilon Fraternity’s national organization said Friday that all activity at the Cornell chapter is suspended and the fraternity is cooperating with Cornell University during its investigation. Fraternity staff members are also traveling to Ithaca to help.

“Sexual assault, and any form of sexual harassment, is against our policy and in opposition of the values of Psi Upsilon,” Psi Upsilon Executive Director Thomas Fox said. “Our chapter is cooperating with Cornell’s investigation into this matter and any members involved will be held accountable. The Chi Chapter at Cornell has a distinguished history with the University and we are committed to continuing to be a benefit to Cornell and the Ithaca Community.”

Cornell University President Elizabeth Garrett said in a statement: “I am deeply disturbed by the allegations of sexual assault involving the president of Psi Upsilon. Sexual violence has no place at Cornell, and if these allegations are substantiated, those involved will be held accountable.”

“When we were notified of these allegations on Monday, February 1, Psi Upsilon was immediately placed on interim suspension pending the conclusion of a full investigation,” Garrett said. “Although I applaud the swift actions of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) to mandate additional training for its members, we will be considering what additional steps should be taken to ensure the Greek community at Cornell is living up to our institutional standard of excellence and respect for others.”

Ballinger was booked at the Tompkins County Jail Thursday in lieu of $25,000 cash bail or $50,000 bond, Cornell University Police said.

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Ithaca City Court.

Wilkinson said that she’s confident about the strength of the prosecution’s case going into tomorrow’s hearing.

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US Veteran Says He is ‘ISIS Solider,’ Calls Bin Laden ‘Beautiful Man,’ Officials Say

iStock/Thinkstock(BELLINGHAM, Wash.) — The FBI has arrested a former member of the Army on weapons charges after he allegedly expressed sympathy for ISIS, called Osama bin Laden “a beautiful man” and said the murder of government agents was “a hundred percent obligation,” according to court documents filed in a Washington state federal court.

“I consider myself an ISIS soldier as much as the brothers over there,” Daniel Seth Franey, who served six years in the Army, beginning in 2002, allegedly told an undercover FBI agent. Court documents say he claims to have “deserted” military service, an assertion that the complaint says Department of Defense records back up.

In April 2015, police were told that Franey had been expressing his support for ISIS and wanted to go overseas to “join the fight” or kill Americans at home, the court documents claim.

The FBI then sent in the undercover agent, posing as an underground gun dealer. During their first meeting, Franey described ISIS as “the best people on Earth” and he called Osama bin Laden “a diamond” and “a beautiful man,” according to the FBI.

Over the next several months, Franey continued to express his support for ISIS and his desire to kill police and “deal with a few judges, and deal with a few bankers, and deal with a few politicians and D.A.s…[and] the Secretary of Defense,” according to the FBI.

As part of the investigation, Franey and the undercover agent took several trips out of state to supposedly deliver guns to black-market buyers — and Franey repeatedly asked the undercover agent to obtain guns for him, the charging documents say.

Under a permanent court order, Franey was barred from being in possessions of any guns, but he was with guns on the delivery trips, officials say. On one such trip, he even fired an AR-15 and an AK-47 himself, the FBI says.

In one conversation, Franey allegedly told the undercover agent he wanted to target the military: “I think if there’s a unit, you know, from the Marines and the Army getting ready to ship out, they should be hit. I think if there’s the airbase, a command and control center, they should be hit…. I would love to go hit a Marine unit before they went out.”

He allegedly continued: “[W]ith a couple of tools, you’d be very effective. .. And when you pull the trigger, your objective is to drop somebody.”

Franey has lived in Western Washington for the past three years, occasionally working as a commercial fisherman.

He faces weapons and machine gun possession charges and he was due in court Monday afternoon.

It was not clear if he is being represented.

The case is being prosecuted by a division of the U.S. Attorney General’s office, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes investigators from federal, state, and local law enforcement.

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Panda Cub Bei Bei Climbs a Tree With the Help of His Mom

OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Bei Bei is moving up in the world.

The Smithsonian National Zoo’s baby panda experienced the outdoors for the first time last week and now the nearly six-month-old cub is scaling trees—-with the help of his mom Mei Xiang, of course. The Washington DC based Zoo posted a video of the feat online Monday morning, noting that it took Bei Bei a few tries before he was able to climb up one of the trees in his outdoor habitat.

Last Thursday, the zoo posted a video of Bei Bei’s first steps outside, when he attempted to climb a tree but got stuck on a low branch.

Bei Bei is the only baby Panda at the zoo and was born in August.

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Bus Overturns on Snowy Connecticut Highway

iStock/Thinkstock(MADISON, Conn.) — A bus was evacuated after it rolled over on a snow-covered piece of Interstate-95 near Madison, Connecticut, on Monday, officials said.

A Yale New Haven Hospital spokesman said its trauma and emergency centers are expecting 30 to 40 patients to arrive, including six in critical condition.

Story developing…

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Hearing for Adnan Syed Is ‘Hard to See’ for Victim’s Family as Case Goes on

iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) — He has spent half his life in prison for a murder some say he may not have committed.

Adnan Syed is now 35, serving a life sentence, and coming up on his 16th year behind bars. His arrest and subsequent trial didn’t make nearly as many headlines in 2000 as his story is making now, thanks to Serial, an investigative podcast that stoked fervent interest in his case for millions of avid listeners.

The podcast propelled forward some new information that could tip the scale in Syed’s favor, including the introduction of a potential alibi witness who was never asked to testify. Syed’s circuitous journey through courts, hearings and appeals has now culminated into a push for freedom, his fate, for the moment, resting in the hands of a retired Baltimore judge who will decide whether he deserves a new trial.

But family members of Hae Min Lee, Syed’s former girlfriend who was found strangled to death in Leakin Park in 1999, are convinced he is her killer.

“The events of this past week have reopened wounds few can imagine,” the family said in a statement released Sunday by the Maryland Attorney General’s office. “It remains hard to see so many run to defend someone who committed a horrible crime, who destroyed our family, who refuses to accept responsibility, when so few are willing to speak up for Hae. She stood up for what was right, regardless of popular opinion.”

Lawyers for Syed are arguing for a new trial in post-conviction proceedings that resumed Monday. His defense team, led by C. Justin Brown, is arguing that Syed’s former lawyer, the late Cristina Gutierrez, failed to provide him with effective counsel during his 2000 trial and that the cellphone tower evidence used by prosecutors to help convict him was unreliable.

“Unlike those who learn about this case on the Internet,” Lee’s family said in the statement, “we sat and watched every day of both trials — so many witnesses, so much evidence.”

Syed’s first trial ended in a mistrial, but his second trial concluded with a first-degree murder conviction, and a sentence of life plus 30 years.

Meanwhile, the potential alibi witness finally had the opportunity to raise her right hand in court last week, swearing to tell the truth about her side of the story. Asia Chapman, formerly Asia McClain, says she was with Syed at the Baltimore County public library near Woodlawn Senior High School at the time prosecutors say Syed killed Lee.

McClain says she wrote to Syed twice to offer herself as a witness, saying she was willing and able to account for 20 minutes of his time on Jan. 13, 1999, but that not a single person from the defense or the state reached out to her. Her memories of that day were brushed under a rug for the next 16 years.

“I felt it was the right thing to do. All the information needs to be on the table in the interest of telling the truth,” she testified last week to a riveted courtroom packed with reporters, supporters and the curious.

Lee’s family says McClain is supporting a criminal.

“Whatever her personal motives, we forgive her, but we hope she will not use Hae’s name in public, which hurts us when we hear it from her,” they said in the statement. “She did not know Hae, and because of Adnan she never will.”

McClain’s lawyer releasing a statement of his own Sunday, saying the purpose of her testimony was not to pick sides.

“Ms. McClain’s intentions have only ever been to say what it is she knows and how, if at all, that affects Mr. Syed’s case is not for us to determine,” her lawyer said.

Family and friends of both Syed and Lee filled the courtroom over the course of three days last week, which a notable divide between two Asian groups, both in support of justice. Syed’s Pakistani family and friends, many in hijab head coverings and kufi prayer caps sat on one side, elderly Korean family members of Lee’s on the other.

Syed’s attorneys have also raised questions about what they describe as “unreliable” cellphone records, saying his defense overlooked a critical memo from AT&T that warned of location issues associated with incoming calls. The data was used against him in 2000, helping a jury convict him in just two hours.

FBI Special Agent Chad Fitzgerald was in the middle of a testy cross-examination when proceedings ended Friday, and was expected to continue testifying today.

Also expected to take the stand again is defense attorney David Irwin, who was called as a legal expert to say that McClain’s testimony would have been a “game changer.”

“An alibi witness is the best possible defense you can have,” he said. “The defense, Cristina Gutierrez, was on notice that Asia McClain was an alibi witness. She [was] willing to put herself on the line to tell what she believes is the truth.”

It’s unclear when retired Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin P. Welch will make his decision, but it could come in the days or weeks following the conclusion of the hearing.

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Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Rocked by Hurricane-Force Winds Off US Coast

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) — It was a scary night at sea for the passengers aboard Royal Caribbean cruise ship Anthem of the Seas as they were caught in hurricane-force winds off the Carolina coast Sunday night.

Furniture tumbled over, ceilings fell down and table-top objects crashed to the ground as the ship tried to regain it’s footing amid 30-foot waves, with the company reporting no serious injuries.

just a little bit of the damage so far. boat is still rocking. #anthemoftheseas #overthis #150mphwinds #rocktheboat

— Leanna Petrone (@LeannaPetrone) February 8, 2016

About 4,000 people were ordered to stay in their cabins.

Some passengers reported the ship listing at 45 degrees.

…and some more. #anthemoftheseas #overthis #rocktheboat

— Leanna Petrone (@LeannaPetrone) February 8, 2016

The ship left New Jersey Saturday for a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas, but instead will dock in Cape Canaveral, Florida, because of the weather.

Royal Caribbean says the ship’s seaworthiness has not been affected. “On Sunday, February 7, while sailing to Port Canaveral, Florida, Anthem of the Seas experienced extreme wind and sea conditions, with wind speeds higher than what was forecasted. In an abundance of caution, the Captain asked all guests to stay in their stateroom until the weather improved,” it said in a statement.

“At this time there have not been any serious injuries reported. The ship has sustained some damage to the public areas and guest staterooms, which in no way affect the sea-worthiness of the ship.”

The U.S. Coast Guard was also aware of the incident. “After seeing pictures and people’s comments on Twitter and other social media platforms, the USCG contacted the Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas to check in,” spokesman Mark Barney said. “The ship said that everything was fine, and no distress calls have been issued.

“The ship was caught in the storm off the shore of Charleston. There are 40 plus knot winds and large swells. The USCG will continue to monitor the situation.”

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Empire State Building Gets in Super Bowl Spirit

Empire State Realty Trust(NEW YORK) — As Super Bowl 50 gears up in California, New Yorkers can still get in on the spirit from the East Coast on Sunday night.

Just follow along with the game by looking up at the skyline — the Empire State Building will become a “virtual scoreboard,” sparkling for points and glowing for the leading team.

The lights will be split in the colors of the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers at kickoff, and with each score, the building will sparkle in the scoring team’s colors and remain lit for the team holding the lead.

After the game, the building will sparkle in the winning team’s colors for an hour, and will remain lit for the winning team until sunrise.

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Hillary Clinton Blasts ‘State’s Neglect’ for Flint Water Crisis During Visit to City

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(FLINT, Michigan) — Hillary Clinton blasted the “state’s neglect” for the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, during an emotional visit Sunday to an African-American church in the city.

“We don’t yet know how many children have been affected by lead poisoning, we don’t yet know how many challenges they will face,” she said from the pulpit of Flint’s House of Prayers. “What we do know, we know is that even a single child suffering lead poisoning due to the state’s neglect is one child too many.”

Clinton, who took a break from campaigning in New Hampshire to visit Flint, is the first presidential candidate to visit the city.

During her remarks Sunday, she called the situation in Flint “immoral” and said that if a situation like this had happened in a wealthier community, “I think we all know we would have had a solution yesterday.”

She called for Congress to approve a $600 million amendment to help the city.

Clinton has recently made the crisis in Flint a top issue of her campaign. Two of her aides traveled to the city last month to address the crisis. During her visit, Clinton was also scheduled to meet with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and other city officials.

Bernie Sanders has also addressed the Flint crisis on the campaign trail, and has called for the resignation of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder – something Clinton has not yet done.

The situation in Flint originated two years ago when high levels of lead were found in the city’s water supply. Up to 12,000 children may have been exposed to the contaminated water, officials say.

On Sunday, Clinton described meeting a child affected by the water crisis here.

“I was just heartsick,” she said.

She then spoke about her granddaughter, Charlotte, and said she “really could not imagine” how the people of Flint must be feeling.

A woman in the crowd yelled out, “Anger!”

“Let’s make sure we take care of the people of Flint, and give every child a chance to live up to her God-given potential,” Clinton said.

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Manhunt Launched for Prisoner Who Escaped From Arkansas Jail

Arkansas Department of Corrections(NEW YORK) — A manhunt is under way in Arkansas for a prisoner who escaped from jail, apparently by putting a blanket over a razor wire in the middle of the night, officials said.

Paul Grice, 38, escaped from the Dallas County Jail around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, according to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. Grice was still at the jail during a head count around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, officials said.

Grice apparently escaped by stacking items near a fence, putting a blanket over the razor wire and climbing over, said sheriff’s office officials.

Grice, who was convicted in the 1990s on charges including second-degree murder, burglary and theft of property, was now being held for aggravated residential burglary and was awaiting a bed in prison, officials said.

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