Search Continues for Phylicia Barnes, Missing for 11 Days After Trip to Baltimore

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BALTIMORE) -- The search continued Friday for Phylicia Simone Barnes, a star high school student from North Carolina who went missing in Baltimore last week. The 16-year-old honors student from Monroe, N.C., was visiting her half-sister when she disappeared three days after Christmas.

Phylicia was last heard from Dec. 28 via Facebook when she posted a note saying she was at her sister's apartment with her sister's boyfriend. The 5-foot-8 inch, African-American student has been missing ever since.

"I was going to turn this city upside down to find my child, and I was going to leave no stone unturned," Russell Barnes, Phylicia's father, told ABC News.

The FBI and Baltimore police are conducting the investigation. Baltimore Metro Crime Stoppers has offered a cash reward of up to $2,000 for her discovery.

Police told ABC News Friday they obtained additional security video from the area surrounding the apartment, but it has yet to shed new light on the case. FBI helicopters have scoured the area for three days without finding any clues.

"If there's any good news, we haven't found anything yet," Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

Police say several people who visited the apartment are considered persons of interest, and the two likely scenarios proposed by investigators are abduction or murder.

"At this point, you hope it's an abduction," Guglielmi said.

Janice Sallis, Phylicia's mother, said, "If she's alive, she's scared to death."

Aside from Baltimore and her hometown near Charlotte, N.C., Phylicia's disappearance has garnered little media attention, raising the issue of a double-standard because of her race.

"I can't see how this case is any different from Natalee Holloway," Guglielmi said. "Is it because she's African-American? Why?"

The dissappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway while on vacation in Aruba nearly six years ago sparked a media frenzy. But news coverage has been relatively sparse in Phylicia's case.

Speaking about the lack of national media coverage, the Baltimore police spokesman said, "Birds are falling out of the sky in Arkansas and two headed calves, and this girl may lose her life."

The Baltimore mayor's office says it shares the concern about the possible existence of a double-standard in the coverage of Phylicia's disappearance but is more distressed about the case because of its heartbreaking nature.

Her father said, "Phylicia had a bright spirit and just a glow about herself. Our greatest hope is that she can walk in the door reunited with her family."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dad Twice Told Uzi Too Powerful for Young Son

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WESTFIELD, Mass.) -- The teenager who worked at a gun show where eight-year-old Christopher Bizilj accidentally killed himself while shooting an Uzi testified Friday he twice suggested the boy's father pick a less powerful weapon for the boy to shoot.

But Christopher's father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, insisted his son be allowed to fire the automatic weapon, Michael Spano told the court. Spano, who was 15 at the time of the 2008 Massachusetts gun expo, was put in charge of allowing people to fire the 9 mm Micro Uzi, a submachine gun that fires 20 rounds a second.

Former Pelham, Mass., Police Chief Edward Fleury is on trial for the boy's death. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.

The most dramatic moment of the trial came Thursday when the court watched video recorded by Charles Bizilj of the boy handling the gun. The father, who was on the stand at the time, closed his eyes as the video showed the boy struggling to handle the guns' recoil. The barrel reared up and shot the boy in the head. The court room gasped and the boy's mother left the courtroom in tears.

During Spano's testimony Friday, he said he warned Christopher's father about the gun prior to giving it to Christopher. Initially, Spano offered Christopher a gun that shot only one round at a time, but Dr. Bizilj asked him to give his son a fully automatic weapon that would shoot continuously, Spano said.

The teenager said he suggested for a second time that a non-automatic weapon would be better for the boy, but the father dismissed his concern.

Spano is the son of Domenico Spano, who is also charged with involuntary manslaughter for his role in providing the guns at the expo. A third man, Carl Guiffre, faces identical charges. Both men have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Police Hunt Suspects Who Assaulted Disabled Women on Tape

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(LOS ANGELES) -- Describing the evidence as some of the most "disturbing" images they've ever seen, Los Angeles cops are asking for help in identifying the men seen in more than 100 hours of videotape sexually assaulting severely disabled women, many of whom just "lay there" as they were attacked.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Special Victims Bureau is looking for at least four men in the brutal attacks on as many as 10 disabled women, many of whom appear to be patients at residential care facilities.

According to Sgt. Daniel Scott, a package of 11 DVDs with more than 100 hours of video on them was left anonymously at the sheriff's office in March. Det. Ron Anderson, charged with viewing the material, quickly found that the material was like nothing he'd ever seen before.

"What he found was one of the most disturbing sets of images he's ever encountered in his long career," said Scott at a press conference late Thursday. "We have multiple suspects assaulting multiple adult female victims between the ages of 20 and 40."

"These victims are severely disabled and many of them appear unable to move and most of them are wearing diapers," said Scott.

A note left with the package said the person had been asked by a "black male in Los Angeles" to clean the hard drive of a computer. While doing the job, the individual found the disturbing images and made copies of them on DVDs, which he then left with authorities, Scott said.

Asked why it took authorities nearly a year to come forward with the case, Scott said that the tapes, which were delivered in March 2010, needed to be enhanced because of their poor quality. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Golden Pipes' Reunion With Mom 'A Dream Come True'

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Just a few days ago, Ted Williams was a homeless man living on the streets of Columbus, Ohio. But thanks to his "golden pipes" -- his incredible radio voice -- he is getting a second chance at life. Now he has even had the chance to reunite with his mother, whom he had not seen in 10 years.

"It was just a dream come true because, like I said, if anything transpired out of this whole madness that I am going through I did want this to happen, to be here, to be with her," Williams told ABC’s Good Morning America on Friday. "I am still lost for words sometimes."

Since the video of Williams went viral online, offers from tons of organizations -- from Kraft Foods to MTV -- have started pouring in.

His "golden pipes" video got 13 million views in less than 48 hours, but was later removed from YouTube because the Columbus Dispatch, the newspaper that originally broke the story, owned the copyright to it.

Williams has decided to accept the offers of two companies -- Kraft Foods and The Cleveland Cavaliers. He has already recorded a commercial to air this weekend for the popular macaroni and cheese company and is looking forward to the house the Cavs offered him.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sisters Released on Condition One Donates Kidney to Other

Photo Courtesy - Mississippi Department of Corrections(PEARL, Miss.) -- Gladys and Jamie Scott yelled "we're free" and "God bless y'all" as they left the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility on Friday for the first time in 16 years. They were serving life sentences for a 1994 armed robbery they claim they didn't commit.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the women's sentences on Dec. 29 on the condition that Gladys Scott, 36, donate a kidney to Jamie Scott, 38, within one year of their release.

Jamie Scott suffers from kidney disease and requires daily dialysis.

The release will be a reunion for the women, too. They'd been held recently in different parts of the prison, which is located in Pearl, Miss.

The sisters still need to undergo testing to make sure they are compatible. It is not clear what will happen to the deal if they are not.

Backers have long claimed that the women, who are African-American, were innocent and their life prison sentences were tinged with racism.

The 1994 Mississippi case stirred memories of an older, racist South, as the two young women -- then 19 and 21 -- were accused of masterminding the robbery of two men on a roadside in Forest, Miss. The sisters said their car had broken down and three male acquaintances who had given them a ride had actually committed the crime at gunpoint.

The sisters, who had exhausted all their appeals, would have been eligible for parole in 2014.

The sisters was convicted of two counts of armed robbery and sentenced to two life sentences.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Illinois House Votes to End Death Penalty

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SPRINGFIELD, Ill.) -- Eleven years after Illinois declared a moratorium on capital punishment, the Illinois House of Representatives voted Thursday to make the ban permanent.

In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan declared the initial moratorium on capital punishment, citing a string of wrongful convictions, but 11 years later, Illinois and other states are now reconsidering the death penalty for an entirely different reason -- tight budgets.

"Illinois has spent over $100 million in 10 years and hasn't put anyone to death," said a sponsor of the Illinois bill, State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, a Democrat.  "It's time to put this barbaric practice to rest."

As states struggle to cope with major budget shortfalls and even the prospect of bankruptcy, they're confronting the fact that sentencing someone to death is extremely expensive.

In California, for example, a 2008 report showed that the $137 million annual cost of maintaining the criminal justice system would drop to just $11.5 million annually if the death sentence were abolished.

New Hampshire has also wrangled with the issue, with a commission report suggesting the state not expand the death penalty, partly out of cost considerations. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


After Juan Williams Firing, NPR Denies Bonus to CEO Vivian Schiller

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- NPR announced Thursday that a senior executive involved with the controversial firing of commentator Juan Williams has resigned and that the company's president will not receive a 2010 bonus.

The NPR board of directors concluded, following an internal review, that Williams' termination did not violate the terms of his contract.

But the board expressed "concern" over CEO Vivian Schiller's role in the incident and opted not to give her a year-end bonus, according to a statement released by NPR. The network's ombudsman had previously said the firing was "poorly handled."

The non-profit news organization, which is supported by financial contributions from listeners and local stations and also by federal subsidies, also announced that Ellen Weiss, senior vice president for news, had resigned, but did not provide further explanation.

Williams was fired in November after saying during an appearance on Fox News Channel that seeing Muslims on planes make him "nervous."

His ouster stirred a backlash across the political spectrum, with liberals, conservatives and veteran journalists chastising NPR for his dismissal. Some lawmakers have even called for Congress to cut off federal funding for NPR.

Williams, who now works full-time for Fox News Channel, told ABC News after his firing that he believed it was "vindictive" and the result of a personal and politically motivated vendetta.

NPR said William's comment conflicted with its commitment to unbiased reporting.

Williams declined to participate in NPR's internal review of the incident, according to the statement. The board also mandated a review of the organization's ethics code and management procedures for disciplinary action.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Suspicious Devices Detonate at Maryland State Offices

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) -- A pair of small packages burst into flames inside two government office buildings in Maryland on Thursday, causing minor injuries, evacuations and a federal probe into who might have sent what appears to have been incendiary bombs similar to devices recently mailed to embassies in Rome and in Greece.

The explosives were described as incendiary devices that looked like a small padded envelope or a book. One exploded at the Department of Transportation headquarters, located near the Baltimore airport. The other erupted at the Jeffrey Building in downtown Annapolis, which is home to several departments, including the Maryland secretary of state and the the Maryland Office of Homeland Security.

Five people were being treated for minor injuries, but there were no fatalities, Ed McDonough, a spokesperson for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, told ABC News.

It is too early to tell who may have planted the devices, which detonated shortly before 1 p.m.
The devices are similar in both size and packaging that alarmed Europe in recent weeks. In Italy, where authorities found a string of such suspicious packages at embassies, anarchist groups claimed credit.
Packages were described as "bursting into flames" a federal source said, rather than an explosion. McDonough said it was a relatively small detonation that released a sulfuric odor. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Former CIA Officer Arrested for Leaking Classified Information

Photo Courtesy - CIA[dot]gov(WASHINGTON) -- A former CIA officer was arrested Thursday on charges he illegally disclosed national defense information and obstructed justice, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, 43, of O’Fallon, Mo., was charged in a 10-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on Dec. 22, 2010, and unsealed Thursday.  The indictment charges Sterling with six counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, and one count each of unlawful retention of national defense information, mail fraud, unauthorized conveyance of government property and obstruction of justice.  Sterling was arrested Thursday in St. Louis.

According to the indictment, Sterling was employed by the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002.  From November 1998 through May 2000, he was assigned to a classified clandestine operational program designed to conduct intelligence activities related to the weapons capabilities of certain countries, including Country A.  During that same time frame, he was also the operations officer assigned to handle a human asset associated with that program.  According to the indictment, Sterling was reassigned in May 2000, at which time he was no longer authorized to receive or possess classified documents concerning the program or the individual.

In connection with his employment, the indictment alleges that Sterling, who is a lawyer, signed various security, secrecy and non-disclosure agreements in which he agreed never to disclose classified information to unauthorized persons, acknowledged that classified information was the property of the CIA, and also acknowledged that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information could constitute a criminal offense. 

According to the indictment, these agreements also set forth the proper procedures to follow if Sterling had concerns that the CIA had engaged in any “unlawful or improper” conduct that implicated classified information.  These procedures permit such concerns to be addressed while still protecting the classified nature of the information.  The media, according to the indictment, was not an authorized party to receive such classified information under such circumstances.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dad Can't Watch as Court Plays His Video of Son's Uzi Tragedy

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WESTFIELD, Mass.) -- A Connecticut doctor closed his eyes today when a court played a video that he filmed of his eight-year-old son shooting a powerful Uzi submachine gun that recoiled and shot the boy in the head, killing him.

The mother of eight-year-old Christopher Bizilj left the room in tears.

The 2008 tragedy occurred in Massachusetts when Christopher was handed a 9mm Micro Uzi submachine gun to fire during a gun expo he attended with his family. Former Pelham police chief Edward Fleury, who organized the event, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.

The nightmarish scene had been videotaped by the boy's father, Dr. Charles Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., who was on the stand when the video was played. He closed his eyes as the video as shown.

People in the courtroom gasped as the shots rang out, clearly showing the moment when the boy starts to fire, but is unable to handle the gun's strong recoil. The automatic weapon keeps firing as the gun barrel rears up and shoots Christopher in the right side of the head.

The father testified earlier that he was videotaping his son firing the gun when the boy disappeared from the viewfinder.

Video was also shown of Christopher's 11-year-old brother Colin firing the gun before it was handed to him. Other children were also firing automatic weapons at the expo.

Gary Hobaica, a friend of the victim's father, testified in the morning. He said the father, Charles Bizilj, selected the machine guns and ammunition for his children to fire. The group had been viewing people shoot machine guns for several hours and it appeared safe, Hobaica said.

Fleury's attorney, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, told ABC News that it was a difficult day in court, describing the court room as packed and very tense.

"You're always going to be distraught when you have to look at that video," she said. "You can't help but feel sadness for the family and for the poor boy when you watch it. I think that the video that was unnecessary and inflammatory."

Scapicchio maintains, however, that the former police chief did nothing illegal and should not be held responsible. She pointed out that Christopher's father and dozens of event volunteers had multiple opportunities to intervene and did nothing.

Also awaiting trial on involuntary manslaughter charges are Carl Giuffre of Hartford and Domenico Spano of New Milford who supplied the guns. They have pleaded not guilty.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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