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Thursday
Oct282010

Petit Murderer Caught Off Guard by Brutality, Psychiatrist Testifies

Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW HAVEN, Connecticut) -- Steven Hayes didn't know ahead of the time that a Connecticut home invasion that resulted in the death of a mother and her two daughters would involve rape, murder and a fire to destroy evidence, according to a psychiatrist who testified Thursday in the sentencing phase of the convicted murderer's trial.

Dr. Eric Goldsmith told the jury Thursday it was Hayes' co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who came up with the idea to rob a house in well-to-do Cheshire, because he'd done it before and that the gruesome turn of events in July 2007 wasn't in the original plan.

And when Hayes worried about the DNA evidence that would be left at the scene, Komisarjevsky allegedly shot back, "Fire kills everything," Goldsmith testified.

Hayes' defense has sought from the beginning of the trial to portray Komisarjevsky as the ringleader and Hayes as a hapless follower, in an attempt to spare him the death penalty. Closing arguments are expected Friday.

Hayes was convicted earlier this month of 16 felony counts related to the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.

Komisarjevsky, Goldsmith testified, told Hayes during the invasion that he'd already gotten DNA on one of the girls so they'd have to kill them both and urged Hayes to get his hands dirty.

Goldsmith's testimony Thursday also revealed Hayes had sex with Hawke-Petit after he strangled her and that Komisarjevsky told Hayes that Dr. William Petit -- the sole survivor of the home invasion -- had died. Petit had been bound and badly beaten, but managed to escape to a neighbor's house and call for help.

The jury also heard an excerpt from a note Hayes wrote. It was signed "Edicius," or "suicide" written backward.

In the note, Hayes wrote he wanted to die and though he said was not a monster like his co-defendant, he was a coward.

Goldsmith said Hayes has also been having nightmares of his young son burning.

The psychiatrist said while Komisarjevsky may be a psychopath, Hayes was not. The doctor said he'd diagnosed Hayes as having adjustment disorder and anti-social personality disorder.

Defense witnesses have accounted for the vast majority of the jury's time in the sentencing phase, now in its second week. The prosecution rested the first day after calling a clerk to read a list of Hayes' convictions.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct282010

Toyota's Own Drivers Were Behind Wheel in Sudden Acceleration Cases

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto/Toyota Media Relations(WASHINGTON) -- According to a new court filing, Toyota company documents reveal that its own drivers were behind the wheel in two separate cases when the vehicles experienced sudden acceleration, as their owners had alleged had happened to them.

One of the documents states, according to the filing, that a Toyota vehicle unexpectedly accelerated from 71 mph to 95 mph with "no pedal contact" while being evaluated by a Toyota service manager.

Toyota did not initially report either case of "runaway" cars to federal auto safety regulators, according to Department of Transportation officials, who told ABC News that documents relating to the incidents were not turned over until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began a formal investigation into the sudden acceleration controversy.

Both cases were disclosed in documents filed as part of a class action suit against Toyota by dozens of Toyota owners who claim that cases of sudden unintended acceleration have caused them personal injury or financial harm due to the reduced resale values of their vehicles. Multiple lawsuits have been combined into one multi-district federal class action suit h in the U.S. District Court in Southern California.

Toyota bought both vehicles back from their owners -- who had brought them in complaining about sudden acceleration -- and both owners say Toyota urged them not to discuss the incidents. The two cases could undercut Toyota's claims that every case of sudden acceleration can be attributed to driver error, faulty floor mats or sticky gas pedals.

Norma Deck told ABC News that she experienced two instances of sudden unintended acceleration with her 2009 Toyota Corolla and brought the car into the Penske Toyota dealership in Round Rock, Texas. According to the filing, a Toyota internal document says a Toyota "technician" took Deck's car out on an inspection drive.

The document states, according to the filing, that after proceeding from a stoplight, the "tech[nician] started to lightly accelerate" and after travelling "20-30 feet the vehicle exhibited a slight hesitation and then began to accelerate on its own." Engine speed "was estimated to have gone from 1500 rpm to 5500 rpm at the time of the occurrence," according to the filing. 

When contacted by ABC News, Deck said the dealership told her that they were able to replicate sudden acceleration in the Corolla. She said Toyota subsequently bought her Corolla back from her, but said she couldn't divulge more details because Toyota required her to sign both a confidentiality agreement about the sale and an agreement not to sue Toyota.

In Milpitas, California, the owner of a 2009 Toyota Tacoma brought his truck into the Piercey Toyota dealership after complaining that the vehicle accelerated without explanation. According to the court filing, another Toyota internal document states that in July of 2009 a dealership service manager took the vehicle on an inspection drive on a nearby freeway.

"As there was no traffic in front of them, the Service Manager removed his foot from the accelerator [and]moved it completely away from the pedal area," the document states, according to the filing, and "[t]he vehicle continued to accelerate at what felt like [an estimated] 70% throttle input with no pedal contact from the driver [and] within 300 feet of the initial acceleration, the vehicle had reached 95 MPH."

The document states, according to the filing, that the floor mats were securely in place at the time of the incident and no fault codes were generated by the onboard computer and "[a]s the Service Manager who experienced the condition above is considered to be trustworthy and reliable, the vehicle will be repurchased for further investigation."

When reached by ABC News, the owner of the Tacoma confirmed that Toyota had bought the Tacoma back from him and said the dealer informed him that they were able to replicate sudden acceleration in the vehicle. The driver, who asked not to be named, told ABC News that while Toyota did not ask him to sign a confidentiality agreement they urged him not to talk about the case. According to California's vehicle Lemon Law, owners cannot be required to sign confidentiality agreements over vehicles with possible defects.

"The deeper we dig into the facts that surround Toyota, the more damning the evidence that Toyota was aware of the issue, and failed to act responsibly," said Steve Berman, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs in the class action suit. "Toyota's been publicly blaming drivers, floor mats and pedals for acceleration defects while quietly removing defective vehicles from the market."

According to plaintiff's lawyers, who say they have investigated hundreds of complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, the Corolla and the Tacoma are the only cases they are aware of where Toyota has re-purchased vehicles after an alleged case of sudden acceleration.

When asked about the cases by ABC News, Toyota said that it is not unusual for the company to repurchase vehicles "as part of our commitment to investigate acceleration concerns." According to Toyota spokesperson Brian Lyons, owners are not required to sign confidentiality agreements when a vehicle is bought back, but "they enter into them voluntarily as part of a mutual settlement agreement."

Lyons confirmed that Toyota had repurchased the Tacoma and Corolla in question, and said that Toyota engineers have been "driving and evaluating" the vehicles "thousands of miles and no problems have been found" and "we continue to drive these vehicles even today." "As well as these vehicles, [since April Toyota] has evaluated approximately 4,200 vehicles in North America. Toyota has not found a single case in which the vehicle's electronic throttle control system would lead to unintended acceleration," said Lyons.

Toyota said that it had informed the NHTSA about the cases through the company's "Field Technical Report process." However, Olivia Alair, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said an investigation revealed that Toyota did not report the incidents to NHTSA at the time of the occurrences. Instead, the memos detailing the cases were among hundreds of thousands of other documents that were submitted to NHTSA earlier this year after the agency initiated a probe into the sudden acceleration issue in February. According to Alair, NHTSA is "currently in discussions with Toyota about these incidents."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct282010

FBI Releases New Details on Metro Bomb Plot

Courtesy - U.S. Marshal(WASHINGTON) -- The search warrant and FBI affidavit filed in the Metro bombing sting operation have been unsealed, revealing new information about a Virginia man who wanted to kill military workers en route to the Pentagon and areas in Virginia.  The affidavit notes that Farooque Ahmed has been living in the U.S. since 1993 and that in January 2010 Ahmed and an associate were making efforts to link up with a terrorist group to fight coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The affidavit, written by FBI Special Agent Charles Dayoub, notes, “in January 2010, the FBI learned that Ahmed and an associate were inquiring about making contact with a terorrist organization in order to participate in jihad by traveling overseas to fight coalition forces in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan.” The FBI then intervened in the situation to set up their sting operation and sent Ahmed and the unnamed associate an email in April 2010 on how they could meet a purported member of al Qaeda at a hotel near Dulles airport.

It is unclear if the associate was flipped and was working with the FBI as an informant. One federal official told ABC News that officials became aware of Ahmed after he was “mouthing off,” about some of his desires and intentions. According to the FBI affadavit Ahmed and the associate conducted several of the surveilence trips to case Metro stations in Arlington Virginia together in July and August 2010.

Much of the affadavit reflects details in Wednesday’s indictment that Ahmed was captured on FBI surveilence tapes meeting in hotels with at least two undercover operatives posing as members of al Qaeda where they discussed their plans to bomb the Metro stations sometime in 2011. It was during these meeting thart Ahmed gave the operatives memory sticks with pictures that he had taken of the Metro stations in Arlington, and provided sketches on where to place explsoves to kill the most people.

New details about Ahmed revealed in the indictment show that Ahmed was allegedly planning to travel overseas to engage in fighting overseas by undertaking firearms practice. Accorindg to the affadavit Ahmed purchased or attempted to purchase firearms in May 2008 and February 2009. The FBI agent’s affadavit notes, “I believe that that Ahmed is using his firearms to train for his ultimate goal of traveling to of Afghanistan to fight and kill Americans.”

Last month during a meeting on September 28, 2010 accoridng to the affadavit “Ahmed told [the operatives] that he was attending the Hajj this year and that they should all go in order to complete the five pillars of Islam before making the ‘top mark’ – by which I believe Ahmed meant by, ‘becoming a martyr.’”  

According to the affadavit Ahmed also told undercover operatives posing as al Qaeda members that he has wished to provide financial support to the terror group by sending payments of $1000 from his bank account. A database search yesterday revealed that Ahmed had numerous financial issues with his credit cards in the past, the FBI sought access to his bank account to look for possible money transfers and is seeking forfeiture of the funds.

Ahmed is scheduled to have a detention hearing Friday afternoon at the District court in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct282010

'Kiplinger's' Names Best Values in Private Colleges List 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Thursday announced its annual rankings of the best values in private institutions, listing private liberal arts colleges and universities that deliver a high-quality education at an affordable price. Swarthmore College returns to the top of the liberal-arts list after a two-year hiatus, and Princeton University heads the private university list, nudging out the California Institute of Technology, which held the title for the past four years.

The annual Kiplinger 100 rankings appear in the December 2010 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine -- on newsstands November 9. Additionally, for the first time, Kiplinger ranks an additional 100 private institutions on its website. Added online features include a closer look at the top 10 schools in each category in a slideshow, tables that can be dynamically sorted by readers according to category of interest, and the most frequently asked questions about our annual rankings.

The average cost of one year at a four-year private school has lately been about $36,000, according to the College Board, with the increase for 2010-11 a relatively modest 4.5 percent. However, the net price -- the cost after financial aid -- puts the total out-of-pocket cost, on average, closer to $22,000.

“What’s more, some of the colleges on the Kiplinger rankings offer a net price below $20,000, making some of the best institutions in the world a downright bargain,” says Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s.

Leading the private university list, Princeton was the first university, in 2001, to eliminate student loans from its financial-aid package. Instead, the school offers grants. No matter what their family income, students who qualify for aid benefit from Princeton’s no-loan policy. In this year’s entering class, families with incomes of $160,000 to $180,000 qualified for an average grant of $26,450. Since 2001, the average debt upon graduation has dropped to less than $5,000, the lowest on the Kiplinger rankings.  

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct282010

Passengers to Face New Kind of 'Pat Down' at Airports

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(DALLAS) -- The Transportation Security Administration will add new layers of screening that will go into effect soon at airports carrying full body scanners.

Beginning as early as Friday, passengers who refuse to pass through the scanners, which a lot of people think are too revealing, will be subjected to a new kind of search.  Airport security officials will now use the palms of their hands, as opposed to the backs, to pat down passengers.

Inspectors will run their palms over some areas that are considered sensitive, so a lot of people, particularly women, think it's a little bit much.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct282010

Notre Dame Student Dies Filming Practice; Tweets Just Before Death

Photo Courtesy - WLS-TV(SOUTH BEND, Ind.) -- A 20-year-old junior from the University of Notre Dame died on Wednesday after a tower he was filming atop of was knocked over by strong winds brought on by a Midwestern storm.

Declan Sullivan was perched on the tower recording a football practice, when wind gusts of up to 51 miles per hour swept through the field, toppling the tower.  The junior from Long Grove, Illinois was transported to a South Bend hospital, but died shortly thereafter.

Notre Dame had previously moved practice indoors on Tuesday due to similar weather conditions.

The school's head coach, Brian Kelly, released a written statement saying, "Declan was a diligent student worker in our video department and had a tremendous personality and great sense of humor.  He brightened the days for all that had the privilege to work with him, and the Notre Dame football family will dearly miss him."

Shortly before his death, Sullivan took to his Twitter account, posting several eerie tweets on the site.  The first read: "Gusts of wind up to 60 mph. Well today will be fun at work. I guess I've lived long enough."  The second, posted less than an hour before the accident, read: "This is terrifying."

Notre Dame is planning a mass for Sullivan and has made counseling available for those who may need it on campus.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct282010

Thousands to Voice Frustrations at Stewart, Colbert Rally

Photo Courtesy - Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central(WASHINGTON) -- Thousands of supporters from across the country and Canada are expected in Washington to attend Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity" and "March to Keep Fear Alive" this Saturday.

More than 220,000 people have confimed they are attending on the event's official Facebook page.  The National Park Service application, however, only estimated 25,000 people would attend the event, which is scheduled to last from noon to 3 p.m.

The rally is billed as a chance for people to voice their frustrations with American politics and the media, and, of course, be entertained.

"I personally have been frustrated with what I view as a lot of hypocrisy in politics," Miko Wilford, a 24-year-old psychology graduate student from Iowa State University, said.  "I feel The Daily Show and the Colbert Report do a good job of pointing out the hypocrisies."

For those coming from outside the U.S., it's a way to understand American politics better.

"I just think it's a really good opportunity to meet people who have a sense of humor about American politics," said Keirstead Farris, a 44-year-old custom T-shirt business owner from Vancouver.  "Coming from an outsider, it sounds like Americans are constantly being told to be afraid, but they aren't being told what to be afraid of.  Despite the fact that Jon Stewart is a TV host and the rally is based on a platform on comedy, I feel that Jon Stewart has more to say about politics than any pundit."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct282010

Did the Stimulus Package Ship Jobs to China?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In dozens of key races around the country this election cycle, Republicans are hammering Democratic incumbents with this message: Billions of dollars were spent to create jobs in China.

"Is Baron Hill running for Congress in Indiana or China?" asks one typical ad being run by the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC).  "Baron Hill supported the $800 billion failed stimulus package that created renewable energy jobs in China."

Another ad says West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall's stimulus vote "helped foreign companies create Chinese jobs making windmills."

The NRCC is running variations of that ad against 30 Democrats who voted for the stimulus, accusing them of spending tax dollars to create jobs in China.

There's a grain of truth to it, but the charge is misleading.  Out of the 33,000 wind turbines in use in America today, ABC News could find only three that were made in China with stimulus dollars.  They cost less than $2.5 million -- less than .000031 percent of the $814 billion stimulus program.

The allegation in the ad is based in part on a joint ABC News/Investigative Reporting Workshop investigation from February that found as much as 79 percent of stimulus money allotted for wind energy had gone to foreign developers, but most of those companies were in Europe, not China, and some of them manufacture their wind turbines in the United States.  By last month, the percentage of wind energy stimulus funds that went to foreign firms fell to 54 percent, according to the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

ABC News' report also cited a joint U.S./Chinese venture in Texas that may get up to $450 million in stimulus funding.  But that project has not yet received a dime of stimulus money.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct272010

Postal Service Mails Fraud Warning to 129 Million US Households

Photo Courtesy - United States Postal Inspection Service(NEW YORK) -- With scam calls bombarding the U.S. from abroad and identity theft on the rise, the United States Postal Service has taken the unusual step of mailing a warning brochure to every single home in the nation.

Last week, ABC News reported on an unprecedented telemarketing fraud scam that has siphoned $20 million from American victims, most of them seniors. The scheme, which originates from Costa Rica, involves calls to victims announcing sweepstakes winnings, often from such trusted charities as the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The scammer then asks the victim to pay taxes or insurance on the winnings in advance.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service got involved in the case because federal agents discovered that the swindlers were selecting their victims from so-called "sucker lists" comprised of people who had responded to sweepstakes mailers. Scammers paid top dollar for mailers returned with shaky handwriting -- indicating the potential mark was elderly.

Top U.S. law enforcement officials said the swindlers began dramatically increasing their activity this summer. Callers disguised their Costa Rica boiler rooms by using Internet phones with 202 area code numbers to pretend to be calling from well-known charities and such federal agencies as the Internal Revenue Service.

In the face of this activity and a rapid rise in identity theft, the Postal Service decided to take the unprecedented step of approving a nationwide mailing, which will land in mailboxes at 129 million households over the course of this month, according to Michael J. Romano, the national spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

"It's very unusual for us," Romano said. "It's going to every home."

The brochure, which lists warning signs of fraud cases, directs people who believe they have been targeted by scammers to the Federal Trade Commission Web site, www.ftc.gov, or a new postal service Web site, www.deliveringtrust.com.

It has already been distributed throughout much of the West, and began arriving in the Midwest and on the East Coast this week.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct272010

Zahra Baker Case: Prosthetic Leg Discovered, Thought to Be Missing Girl's

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(HICKORY, N.C.) -- Investigators have discovered a prosthetic leg that matches the description of the one worn by missing disabled girl Zahra Baker, police announced Wednesday.

The leg was discovered in a "brushy area," but was not buried, off a road in Caldwell County, N.C. late Tuesday afternoon, Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said in a news conference.

"The prosthetic leg is consistent with what Zahra's would be like," the chief said.

He said police were determined to find out what happened to the 10-year-old girl.

"We will continue to follow every lead and every tip we receive in hopes that we can come to some kind of conclusion to this investigation and bring peace to Zahra," Adkins told reporters.

Zahra, who was reported missing by her parents on Oct. 9, lost her left leg and hearing in a childhood battle with cancer. Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother, was taken into custody on unrelated charges soon after police began searching for the little girl. A $1 million ransom note was discovered on the Bakers' property on Oct. 9, a note Elisa Baker later admitted to writing. She has since been charged with felony obstruction of justice.

The announcement concerning the leg came just hours after police said that Elisa Baker had begun providing them information in the search for Zahra.

Hickory police announced earlier Wednesday they had seized a mattress discovered in a Caldwell County landfill that they believe was used by Zahra. The mattress had DNA evidence investigators plan to test, police said in a statement.

Zahra's father, Adam Baker, was taken into custody on Monday on several charges unrelated to his daughter's disappearance.

After 17 days of widespread searching based on several leads, police have not publicly revealed any major clues about the girl's location until Wednesday.

Police are working to ensure it's the one used by the girl whom they believe is dead.

Police returned to the Bakers' home today, but Adkins would only say "information" led them back to the home where the mysterious case began.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio