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Monday
Jun062011

Obama: US Has Accomplished 'Big Chunk' of Afghanistan Mission

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama said Monday that the U.S. has accomplished a “big chunk” of its mission in Afghanistan and that he will be making an announcement about the size of the troop withdrawal from the war-torn country “soon.”

“What I've said is this summer is a summer of transition where we start handing over more responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to the Afghan government. I intend to follow through on that commitment that I made to the American people,” Obama said in an interview with Hearst TV.

Obama vowed in 2009 to begin transferring forces out of Afghanistan in July 2011. His administration is now working to determine the pace of the troop withdrawals.

“By us killing Osama bin Laden, getting al Qaeda back on its heels, stabilizing much of the country in Afghanistan so that the Taliban can't take it over...it's now time...to recognize that we've accomplished a big chunk of our mission and that it's time for Afghans to take more responsibility," the president said.

Obama met Monday with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan was not discussed and the president still has not received a recommendation from his commanders on the ground or the secretary of defense for a troop drawdown figure.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Taxpayer Money Created 'Legal Marijuana' Used by Teens

Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government might not be scrambling to ban "Spice," the "legal marijuana" that's sending teens to emergency rooms across the country, if it hadn't helped invent the drug in the first place.

As detailed in an ABC News 20/20 investigation, Spice, K2 and other substances in a new wave of legal designer drugs are widely available at convenience stores and suburban malls, though they've been responsible for more than 4,000 calls to the nation's poison control centers in the past year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has placed an emergency ban on a handful of the chemicals that are used to make Spice, but there are hundreds more chemicals readily available – most of them designed by Clemson University scientist John W. Huffman using a grant from the government's National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Over the course of a decade, Huffman created nearly 500 "cannabinoids" that affect the brain in a much more powerful way than THC, the active component in marijuana. About five years ago, entrepreneurs began spraying the chemicals he invented on plant matter to create "legal marijuana."

"I figured that somewhere along the line, some enterprising individual would try to smoke it," Huffman told ABC News in a recent interview. But, said Huffman, given the dangers of the chemicals, anybody who smokes them "is incredibly foolish."

"They're playing Russian roulette," he said. "I mean, it's just like taking a pistol with one bullet in it and spinning the chamber and holding it to your head and pulling the trigger."

Huffman first obtained the NIDA grant in 1984, which ultimately totaled $2,564,000, when the government asked him to synthesize the human metabolite of THC.

In the 1990s, NIDA asked him to switch gears and either develop medicine or study the "cannabinoid receptors" in the brain, which respond to marijuana.

Huffman and coworkers began creating a family of cannabinoid chemicals in his laboratory, all of them identified with his initials and a number.

In the summer of 1994, one of the undergraduate students working in his lab created JWH-018, a strong cannabinoid that is easy to make and is now the "JWH" chemical most likely to be found in Spice and other similar products.

"JWH-018 can be made by a halfway-decent undergraduate chemistry major in three steps from commercially available materials," said Huffman.

In 2005, Huffman published a paper that included detailed synthetic procedure for making all of the compounds in the JWH class. By then, there were 465.

Within a year, JWH-018 and related substances were being used as recreational drugs in Europe.

"I assume that somebody picked our papers, and saw a way to make some money," said Huffman.

In the past year alone there have been 4,000 calls into poison control centers relating to the drugs. Side effects include heart rate stimulation, blood pressure elevation, anxiety, and hallucinations. "Beyond the acute effects [there] are psychiatric effects that have led individuals to harm themselves, sometimes fatally, and exhibit extreme paranoia and delusions not unlike schizophrenia or other psychoses," said Anthony Scalzo, director of the Missouri Poison Control Center.

The DEA put an emergency ban on the sale of JWH-018 and one other JWH chemical in March, along with three other chemicals commonly found in Spice.

The irony that the government funded the chemicals now being examined by the DEA has not eluded lobbyists for retail stores who sell the Spice and K2.

"The vast majority of these chemicals were created with government financial support," said Dan Francis, executive director of the Retail Compliance Association, a coalition of head shops who sell the products.

"It's a three- to five-billion-dollar industry," said Francis, who says that Spice products should be regulated but not outlawed.

Huffman says he has his own doubts that prohibition would work, but emphasizes that the people who are selling Spice already know it's bad for humans, based on anecdotal evidence, even if no scientific research has been completed. "The physiological effects of these compounds have never been examined in humans," said Huffman. "There have been a number of cases of people who've committed suicide after using them."

DEA Special Agent Gary Boggs says the agency has to gather enough research on any specific chemical before any substance is controlled. The five chemicals that are now banned are those that the agency found most often in Spice products.

"We're going to continue to look at other chemicals that are out there that are being sold in an effort to circumvent the control of those five substances," said Boggs.

Sen. Check Grassley, R.-Iowa, has proposed legislation that would ban all the JWH chemicals so that Spice makers can't simply switch recipes.

Huffman said that despite the unintended use of his chemicals that have had devastating effects on teens, he is proud of his research, which could potentially lead to the development of new medicines.

"If somebody wants to misuse it, it is the responsibility of the people who misuse it to take responsibility for their own actions," said Huffman, who retired from Clemson in 2010.

A NIDA spokesperson defended the agency's funding for Huffman's research, saying that studying "artificial variations of brain chemicals...has yielded major research and clinical advances."

Research into cannabinoids, said the spokesperson, "has the potential to usher in the next generation of pain medications," as well as possible treatments for obesity and multiple sclerosis.

"The scientific record demonstrates that the cost of discontinuing the pursuit of potentially life-saving medications, because such compounds could be illegally diverted and abused, would be unacceptably high."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Casey Anthony Prosecution: Air Samples Smell of Death

Orange County Government, Florida(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- The judge in the Casey Anthony murder trial is expected to decide whether to let jurors smell air samples from a car trunk that witnesses have said reeked of human decomposition.

Use of the air samples would be controversial and a groundbreaking legal tactic. It could also pose a danger to the prosecution's effort to convict Casey Anthony for the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008.

One expert described the use of the untested method as an "O.J. Simpson moment," referring to the use of a glove that backfired on prosecutors when it didn't fit Simpson's hand.

"It's a new forensic technique that has not been tested by the courts and so whenever that happens, the court has the responsibility to make sure that the science behind it is solid," said Michael Seigel, a University of Florida Levin School of Law Professor.

The prosecution has not yet asked to open the canisters containing the air samples, but they did put Dr. Arpad Vass on the stand Monday. Vass is the man behind the groundbreaking science that analyzes the air samples. He spent the morning explaining his expertise in research about the smell of human decomposition. Vass works at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee where he analyzes the odor of death by working with cadavers at a "body farm."

He is essentially working towards finding a signature for human decomposition that will lead to the creation of an electronic detector that does the work of a cadaver dog. His research is already being used by the FBI to create a database of the chemical compounds found in human decomposition.

Vass said that the air samples taken from the trunk of Casey Anthony's car had an abundance of chloroform, a sign of human decomposition and a chemical that also can be used to commit murder.

"I essentially jumped back a foot or two…I was shocked that that little itty bitty can could have that much odor associated with it…I would recognize it as human decomposition," Vass told jurors.

Vass said that chloroform is normally found in trace amounts.

"We were shocked. We had never seen chloroform in that level in environmental surroundings before…at least I never have," Vass said.

Until Monday's testimony, the prosecution has mainly relied on surveillance videos, the testimony of friends and family and jailhouse conversations to establish Anthony as a liar who was not looking for her daughter when only she knew that Caylee was missing.

Now the prosecution hopes Vass's testimony will provide the much needed physical evidence linking Anthony to the murder of Caylee.

Anthony's defense team claims Caylee accidentally drowned on June 16, 2008. Caylee wasn't reported missing until July 15, 2008. Her remains were found in December of that year.

Casey Anthony, 25, could face the death penalty if convicted.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Pleads Not Guilty on Sexual Assault Charge

Richard Drew-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the man who was a contender to be the next president of France, pleaded not guilty in a New York criminal court Monday at his arraignment on multiple charges of sexually assaulting a hotel room maid.

In the moments before his plea, Strauss-Kahn had sat at the defense table between his attorneys, Benjamin Brafman and William Taylor, looking relaxed and with his legs stretched out.

The 13th floor courtroom was packed -- mostly with reporters -- at 9:20 a.m. for the arraignment of the former head of the International Monetary Fund on charges he assaulted a maid at a posh Manhattan hotel last month.

The former IMF czar entered court holding hands with his wife Anne Sinclair as they passed several dozen hotel maids chanting "Shame! Shame!" at the man known simply as DSK. One of the protesters held a sign that read, "An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us."

Court officials blocked off an elevator for Strauss-Kahn which he rode to the 13th floor where he was arraigned by Judge Michael Obus.

At a previous court appearance last month, Strauss-Kahn was ordered released from jail on $1 million bail. Strauss-Kahn was required to post an additional $5 million insurance bond and the French politician agreed to house arrest and 24-hour monitoring.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, who had been a contender to be the next president of France, had been deemed a flight risk and denied bail three days earlier. But his lawyers were able to negotiate terms for his release, allowing him to avoid having to remain in an 11 foot by 13 foot cell at New York's notorious Riker's Island jail, where he had been in protective isolation and on suicide watch.

Since Strauss-Kahn's DNA has been found in semen ABC News has learned was found on the maid's clothing and on a section of carpet, experts say the defense will likely insist that any sexual contact between the maid and Strauss-Kahn was consensual.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Arizona Wildfires Burn On, New Evacuations Ordered

Comstock/Thinkstock(GREER, Ariz.) -- New evacuations were ordered late Sunday into Monday as Arizona firefighters attempted to gain ground on the Wallow fire, which has burned 192,000 acres near the New Mexico-Arizona state line.

Over 2,200 people fled their homes as the fires advanced, fed by hot winds and dry fuel. There is concern that the blazes could expand Monday, fed by hot gusty winds as well as lightning storms that can trigger new fires.

"It was horrific -- the likes of a fire I've never seen from the air before," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said.

Residents have turned to using inhalers in attempts to breathe through the thick smoke.

The blaze, which began May 29, became the third-largest in state history, officials said Sunday. Emergency crews intentionally started a series of smaller fires Saturday, trying to halt the advance of the fire.

"It's scary. I see black smoke and I panic, you know," said Shaneen Elefante, who works at a local lodge. "It's very devastating to a lot of the families -- the people who work up here, just the whole community."

Firefighters have worked around the clock to protect Arizona communities from the massive wildfire, which has already cost $3 million to fight.

Temperatures are set to reach the high 90s across Arizona on Monday.

The state saw its worst fire in 2002, when the Rodeo-Chediski fire burned 469,000 acres across the central section of the state, along the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. In 2004, the Cave Creek complex fire burned 248,000 acres in 2005.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Fashion Student with Heart Condition Missing from Indiana University

Courtesy Blair Wallach(BLOOMINGTON, Ind.) -- Search parties fanned out Monday looking for an Indiana University student with a dangerous heart condition who has been missing for four days.

Lauren Spierer just completed her sophomore year at the school's Bloomington campus. She was last seen at about 4:30 a.m. on Friday walking to her apartment. The Indiana Daily Student reports that Spierer was at Kilroy's Sports Bar Thursday night and then at a friend's party.

Surveillance footage from her apartment shows that she never came home.

Her keys were found a block away from where she was last seen, but there have been no other traces of the missing student.

"Lauren is an amazing person and friend. She's artsy, fun, and different," says Becca Lefkowitz, 19, Lauren's best friend since seventh grade. "I can't imagine anyone doing any harm to her."

According to Lefkowitz, Spierer suffers from a condition called Long QT Syndrome, which is a heart rhythm disorder for which she sometimes needs medication. This disorder can cause uncontrollable and dangerous arrhythmias.

Spierer is an apparel and merchandising major and has interned with Anthropologie in New York. She planned to continue there after completing a summer course in Indiana.

Lefkowitz spoke to Spierer's mother Monday and said the family is "in complete shock" and wanting to wake up from this "nightmare."

Spierer is from Edgemont, N.Y., where her parents Robert and Charlene Spierer still live. They arrived in Bloomington on Saturday and her sister and uncle are on their way there to join the search.

Spierer was last seen wearing long, back stretch pants, a white shirt, and no shoes. A website in Indiana has been set up to organize volunteers and the family is asking that any tip be reported to the Bloomington Police Department at (812) 339-4477.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Thirteen Kids Hurt After Bounce Houses Fly Away in Strong Wind

Creatas/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Strong winds lifted three bounce houses with children playing inside into the air and tumbled them along the ground at a youth soccer tournament in Oceanside, New York, injuring 13 children.

"It was the craziest thing you ever saw," parent Vinny Garone told ABC News affiliate WABC-TV in New York.  "The next inflatable that two of my kids were in started bouncing and sliding.  I tried to catch it, and it just flattened me."

The three bounce houses were part of the entertainment set up for children at the Oceanside United Soccer Club's tournament Saturday at Oceanside School 9.

There were several children inside the houses when suddenly, a gust of wind picked up the houses and sent them tumbling across the schoolyard, witnesses told WABC-TV.

"We were on the field when we saw it," Marcus Unger said.  "We heard people screaming and we turned around, and the big bouncy house was flying around.  And all these people were running away, scared.  It looked like there were a lot of people hurt."

Several people outside the bounce houses were hit as they rolled along the ground.

Besides the 13 children in the bounce houses, two people were injured by the tumbling inflatable attractions.

Even though none of the injuries were serious, parents told WABC-TV the day was ruined.

"It's a big shame that it worked out this way, because the children really do enjoy it," parent Carol Cola said.  "And it's the last game, it's a chance to tell your coaches how great they were, to tell your kids how great they played.  It's a beautiful day, and it just got destroyed."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn to Be Arraigned on Sexual Assault Charges

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty ImagesUPDATE: Dominique Strauss-Kahn entered a plea of “not guilty” Monday to multiple charges of allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel room maid at a posh Manhattan hotel last month.

(NEW YORK) -- The former head of the International Monetary Fund, who is accused of sexually assaulting a maid last month in his New York City hotel suite, will be back in court Monday to be arraigned.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is expected to plead not guilty to the charges stemming from the May 14 incident at the Sofitel Hotel. The 62-year-old faces seven counts, including attempted rape, criminal sexual assault, and unlawful imprisonment.

His lawyers appear to be preparing to defend him by asserting the sex was consensual and by seeking to discredit the accuser, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea.  The defense team has also hired private detectives to scrutinize the woman's story and her past.

Just the same, the maid's head lawyer has hired two high-powered attorneys to repel any assault on her reputation and credibility.

Strauss-Kahn has been awaiting the court appearance in a luxury townhouse in lower Manhattan where he's under house arrest.  He was released from jail on May 20 on $1 million bail.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jun052011

Hawaii Shooting Spree Leaves One Dead, Two Injured

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- A 28-year-old man is facing criminal charges after police say he went on a shooting spree in Hawaii on Friday.

The shooting spree reportedly started around 12:45 a.m. and has left one person dead, at least two people injured and several others considering themselves lucky to have escaped injury. Police say it all began when a gunman brandishing a semi-automatic weapon exited a 2002 BMW vehicle, and began firing at two other vehicles, with bullets just missing a 21-year-old man, according to ABC’s Honolulu affiliate KITV-TV.

The gunman, who police believe to be Toby Stangel, then reportedly went on to fatally shoot 54-year-old Tammy Nguyen who was in a van with her teenage daughter. The teenager was not hurt.

Investigators say the gunman proceeded to get into the BMW and continued the shooting spree behind the wheel, shooting and wounding Amie Asuncion, 24, and Samson Naupoto, 38. Both were taken to local hospitals for treatment.

Officials say the suspect later turned the gun on two police officers who were engaged in a traffic stop, but managed to miss the officers.

Stangel was eventually arrested in the BMW vehicle, which officers found parked to the side of a roadway.

Stagel faces several charges, including murder and attempted murder.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jun052011

FBI Analyst: Hair in Casey Anthony's Trunk Came from Dead Body

Orange County Government, Florida(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- An FBI hair analyst testified on Saturday that a hair found in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car likely came from a dead body.

Karen Korsberg Lowe said she felt definitively that the sample of hair removed from the trunk showed post-mortem banding -meaning that hair was consistent with hair from a dead body, not a live one.

"It has a darkened band at the root portion of the hair. This is consistent with apparent decomposition," Lowe said during the court session Saturday morning.

Casey Anthony is accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee. The Florida mother is charged with first-degree murder.

Lowe said the hair was similar to one removed from Caylee but not the same when compared to a sample from Casey Anthony.

Prosecutors say the hair is evidence that Caylee was dead inside in the trunk and not alive.

The defense challenged Lowe's credentials in microscopic hair tests and the limitation of such analysis.

The defense claimed that Caylee died after accidently drowning in her grandparent's swimming pool.

Mike Vincent, an assistant supervisor with the Orange County Sheriff's office also testified how he collected air samples as evidence.

The defense questioned the fact that this was the first time these air samples have ever been used in court and that the actual expert had no experience doing this before.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio