Shortage of Death Penalty Drug Leads States to Scramble

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Texas has 317 convicted murderers on death row, but because of a company's decision last week to stop making the key drug for lethal injections, Texas only has enough of the potion to execute two.

Consequently, Texas and 32 other states will be watching closely as Ohio prepares to execute Johnnie Baston. They will be watching not only to see how well the substitute drug works, but how entangling the legal battle is going to be.

Baston, 36, convicted of killing a wig shop owner in 1994, is scheduled to arrive at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility's "Death House"on March 10. If everything goes according to plan, he'll be strapped to a gurney, allowed to make a final statement, and injected with a dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital.

The drug, chemically similar to a drug used to euthanize horses, is the latest flashpoint in the debate over the death penalty.

It has become the hastily chosen -- and critics say unproven -- successor to sodium thiopental, the workhorse of America's death chambers for over a decade which was unexpectedly discontinued last week.

A shortage of the drug has already disrupted executions in Arizona, California, Kentucky, and threatens to complicate executions at Texas' death house, the busiest in the country.

If death is one of life's inevitables, so are lawsuits when it comes to changing the way the death penalty is going to be administered.

"The risk is they've never used it before," said Tim Young, the Ohio public defender who Baston's lawyer. "It's an untested protocol and an untested drug. We've had three botched executions in this state already and now we're moving to something untried. There is a risk."

"We should very much expect lawsuits and legal challenges to specific executions," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center.

"More eleventh hour cases are going to occur. Every lawyer who has got a client is going to file. Every state uses sodium thiopental and is going to face this," Dieter said.

Thirty-five states administer the death penalty by lethal injection.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Another Snowstorm Batters Northeast in Record Breaking Winter

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Another record-breaking snowstorm battered the East Coast Wednesday night, causing power outages and leaving travelers and commuters stranded again.

It is the sixth snowstorm to slam into the region in the last 30 days.

Overnight, thunder snow shocked residents in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, and as far away as central New Jersey.  Philadelphia and Washington D.C. received about five-to-eight inches of snow, with some areas receiving a foot or more.

According to the National Weather Service, parts of New Jersey received about 19 inches and as much as 17 inches had fallen in the Philadelphia area as the storm passed through.

In New York City, officials declared a weather emergency and all public schools were closed for Thursday.  The city received about 15 inches of snow so far in what has been officially the snowiest January on record.

In Washington, D.C., the snow prompted officials to close government buildings and schools in surrounding areas.

While it's expected to stop snowing Thursday morning, several inches of snow are still on the ground, causing transportation problems throughout the East Coast.

New Jersey state police have tallied more than 500 accidents.

The Long Island Rail Road in New York is operating on a reduced schedule Thursday.

In Washington D.C. and Maryland, abandoned cars and buses lined the roads and more than 300,000 customers were without power.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Housing Agency Spent Thousands on Belly Dancers, Luxury Bags

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(PHILADELPHIA -- The nation's fourth-largest housing authority spent lavishly on gifts for managers and a party with belly dancers, and its executive secretly spent more than $500,000 in housing authority funds to settle sexual harassment claims, but it allegedly ignored complaints of unsanitary conditions that nearly killed a 12-year-old resident.

The excesses of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, however, are not unique. As ABC's Nightline found in a joint investigation with the Center for Public Integrity, the federal government's low-income housing programs, which cost taxpayers $26 billion a year, are plagued by theft, mismanagement and corruption at local levels, including millions spent on housing for sex offenders and dead people, and all too often fail the three million families who rely on them for a clean, safe place to live.

In Philadelphia, under the leadership of former executive director Carl Greene, the local housing authority spent $17,000 for a 2006 event, including $1,200 for a troupe of belly dancers. Photos of the event, obtained by ABC News, show Greene dancing with the exotically dressed women. A Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) spokeswoman said the event, which also included yodelers and karaoke, was a part of the housing authority's "diversity awareness" training.

The same month, a 12-year-old girl living in the city's federally-subsidized housing suffered a near-fatal asthma attack after, her mother says, poorly trained housing inspectors failed to properly check her home for dangerous black mold.

"I'm telling them over and over again that these problems are going on and nobody's fixing anything. It's like they ignored everything I said," said Angelique McKinney, the girl's mother.

Greene also used housing authority funds to buy gifts, including a $16,000 purchase from Nordstrom for $800 Tumi travel bags for himself and 19 of his top managers in 2009.

"For 12 years, 13 years he's had free reign at the housing authority, and I can't explain it," said Michael Pileggi, a former housing authority attorney who now represents former PHA employees suing Greene and the housing authority. "It appears there was no fiscal oversight."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Grand Piano Mystery Solved: Biscayne Bay Confession

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(MIAMI) -- Over the past couple of days a baby grand piano, parked on a sliver of a sandbar in Miami's Biscayne Bay, launched a thousand ships --okay, little pleasure boats -- Twitter accounts and countless rumors.

Was it the work of a master artist like Cristo, who once covered the islands in red cloth? The magic of David Copperfield or a relic of a botched hip hop music video shoot?

Perhaps it was the work of a clever fellow at the New World Symphony conservatory, trying to promote Tuesday night's opening of a $170 million Frank Gehry-designed campus?

Nope. This little installation of junk art, as it's known, was the brainchild of a 16-year-old.

Nicholas Harrington is a junior at Mast Academy in Key Biscayne.

His accomplices were his brother, Andrew, and neighbor Julian Roots, both 18.

They'd hatched the scheme before Christmas.

Harrington's grandparents had a grand piano in their garage. They wanted to get rid of it.

Harrington pondered. Perhaps hang it on a tree? Set it on fire?

Finally the "Piano bar" idea came to him.

So, on New Year's Eve the family threw a bash.

They burned the family Christmas tree and then partially set fire to the piano.

The next morning, on New Year's day, in broad daylight, they hoisted the baby grand onto Harrington's father's boat, and motored out to the sandbar, unloaded the 300-400 pound piano - and waited.

Two weeks later, a National Geographic photographer snapped an iconic shot of pelicans perched on it. But few people noticed it until residents alerted authorities and the Miami Herald.

When ABC News hired a boat and voyaged out to the sandbar -- just 200 yards from shore, the piano had lost its bench and was trashed.

But the burning question on the minds of bloggers, Miamians and humorists, is why?

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Over 62,000 Guns 'Missing' from Gun Shops Since 2008

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- More than 62,000 guns disappeared from U.S. firearm dealers' inventories in the past three years without any record of being sold, according to a report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.

The estimate means, on average, that dealers "lost" 56 firearms a day between 2008 and 2010.

In many cases, the weapons were likely stolen or sold under the table or on the black market, circumventing established registration procedures and background checks, experts said.  Without a record of a purchase, the weapons are considered hard to trace.

"No wonder it's so easy for gang members and dangerous people to get guns," said Paul Helmke, president and CEO of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group favoring stricter gun control.  "It's obvious these folks aren't losing inventory -- they're selling it under the table or out the back door, feeding the criminal market."

Helmke said the numbers, first publicized by the Brady Center Wednesday after appearing in a public ATF slideshow presentation at a Las Vegas trade show last week, likely understate the extent of the problem.

The ATF data are based on spot compliance inspections of 20 percent of the more than 60,000 retail gun dealers in the U.S.

The ATF, which has approximately 600 inspectors, conducted 10,500 inspections in 2010.  Following those inventories, dealers could not account for more than 21,000 guns.

Dealers who improperly complete licensing forms or fail to report multiple handgun sales, among other violations, could face fines or have their retail licenses revoked.  Sixty-seven dealers were shut down last year, according to the data.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Snowstorms Bust Budgets in Northeast

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- With two more months of winter left and another snowstorm hitting the Northeast, some cities and states have exhausted their budgets for snow removal, causing them to turn to cheaper, more creative ways to dispose of the ice.

In Boston, they've built a mountain of displaced snow 50 feet high and four acres wide.

In Fort Lee, New Jersey, they're using a substance some are referring to as "pickle juice," a salt water mixture called brine that, when sprayed onto the pavement before a big storm, prevents snow from sticking.  The brine also makes it easier to push the snow off of covered roads.

In Syracuse, New York, experts are using beet juice mixed with rock salt to offset the icy aftereffects of the storm.  Beet juice has a high freezing point and doesn't stain roads, making it an ideal solution for towns over their snow budgets.

But while saltwater and beet juice help, they can't stop this winter's onslaught, which has dumped more snow in one month than most places get in two winters.

Boston already has spent two-thirds of $16 million allocated for snow and ice removal for the entire winter, while Worcester, Massachusetts ran through its budget for the whole season and went $300,000 beyond.

New York City exhausted the $38 million it budgeted for the season on the mega-storm that hit the day after Christmas -- four storms ago.

Some states are so far in the red that their leaders are asking for relief from the federal government.  Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is asking FEMA for $53 million in federal assistance because of the Christmas snowstorm.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Vietnam Veteran Loses Insurance Over Two Cents

Photo Courtesy - KMGH-TV(THORNTON, Colo.) -- What can make the difference between receiving a potentially lifesaving surgery or not?  For Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan, Ceridian Cobra Services determined it's two cents.

Flanagan has multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow, which he has been fighting since September 2008.  He now needs a third stem cell transplant surgery but had lost his health coverage over a two-cent error.

Ceridian Cobra Services, an insurance benefits administrator, dropped Ron Flanagan after his wife, Frances Flanagan, said she mistakenly substituted a seven for a nine when she paid their monthly health insurance premium of $328.69 online.

"If I only had just hit the 9 instead of the 7," Frances Flanagan told ABC News' Denver affiliate, KMGH-TV.  "Everybody we talk to is very surprised that 2 cents is enough to do this."

What two cents was able to undo, ABC News was able to help redo.  When ABC News called Ceridian to comment on the story the company delivered unexpected news.

"We've reviewed the situation thoroughly," said Bart Valdez, Chief Commercial Officer for Ceridian.  "And we're pleased to say...Mr. Flannigan's insurance coverage was reinstated."

When asked whether he would offer Flannigan an apology, Valdez said, "For what specifically? ... We followed the normal procedures that were in complete compliance with the law and with regulations."

Doctors at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver, where Ron Flanagan was undergoing treatment, had a stem cell donor at the ready and had told Flanagan they needed to complete the transplant before the end of February, but that was before he lost his insurance.  As of today, Flanagan is trying to get back on the transplant list.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Top UConn Donor Asks for $3 Million Back

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(STORRS, Conn.) -- A longtime donor to the University of Connecticut has demanded back $3 million and will halt future donations in a public spat over the school's hiring of a new football coach.

The donor, Robert G. Burton, president of Burton Capital Management, accused the school's athletic director of mismanaging the program and not communicating properly with him.

Burton addressed a five-page letter, dated Jan. 19, to the university's athletic director, Jeff Hathaway. Burton said Hathaway, who succeeded former director Lew Perkins in July 2003, did not comply with his request to be "involved in the hiring process for the new coach." Burton said Hathaway only informed him of the new pick, Paul Pasqualoni, after he was hired on Jan. 13.

UConn Athletics spokesperson Mike Enright released a statement describing the hiring process for the new coach: "The UConn Division of Athletics followed a very thoughtful and thorough process in its search for the University's next football coach, which was the subject of great interest on the part of the UConn community, including our fans, donors and alumni. Many people, including Mr. Burton, shared their ideas about potential candidates with us."

In his letter, Burton wrote that he was qualified to assess coaches based on his experience as a former college football player and scout for the Minnesota Vikings.

Burton described himself as the football team's "largest donor" who gave over $7 million to the university. He asked that Hathaway return the $3 million he donated for the Burton Family Football Complex and that he plans to "donate these funds to another university that supports our objectives and goals."

Though Burton did not attend UConn he did receive an honorary Ph.D. from the state-run university. His wife was a graduate and his son, Michael, was captain of the football team in 1999, according to a university press release.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Missing Texas Girl Elizabeth Ennen Strangled

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LUBBOCK, Texas) -- The body of Texas teen Elizabeth Ennen was found strangled on a Texas roadside this week, and police Wednesday said they believe her alleged kidnapper is a family friend who was identified chasing and grabbing the girl on a hotel surveillance tape as she was supposed to be babysitting his children.

Elizabeth, 15, was reported missing by her mother on Jan. 5, the day after babysitting Humberto Maldonado Salinas' two children at the Carriage House Motel in Lubbock, Texas, police said.

Surveillance video from that night shows Elizabeth walking quickly out of room 113, holding her shoes and attempting to put her coat on, when a man police have identified as Salinas forcefully grabs her and forces her back into the room, according to Lubbock police. Minutes later, shortly after midnight on Jan. 5, the video shows the man grabbing Elizabeth, taking her to the parking lot of the motel, police said. That was the last time she was seen alive.

Salinas later went to Elizabeth's home to deliver the girl's purse and told her mother, Virginia Ennen, that he had dropped her off earlier that morning. Panicked that she had not seen her daughter, Ennen called police. Salinas was still at the Ennen home when police arrived, and authorities say he offered misleading information, including implicating his own son.

"Humberto Salinas Jr. was present when that initial call was made," Capt. Greg Stevens said at a press conference Wednesday. "At that point, the person we believe is responsible for her death began the process of covering up a crime which we believe he had already committed."

Salinas is being held in Lubbock County, currently charged with aggravated kidnapping. Police believe he is responsible for Elizabeth's death. He has a previous criminal record that includes charges of domestic assault, felony theft and violence on a child, according to court records. Police say they are awaiting the complete results of Elizabeth's autopsy and want to continue working their investigation before charging Salinas with anything more.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Reels In Salmon Regulation as Inefficient

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Atop President Obama's list of targets for a proposed overhaul of federal bureaucracy is the trio of agencies that has a hand in regulating the country's salmon catch.

"The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in freshwater, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked," Obama said of his "favorite example" of government inefficiency during Tuesday's State of the Union address.

The president said he was developing a plan to "merge, consolidate and reorganize" the government to make America more competitive. He did not specify how the oversight of salmon fisheries might be streamlined.

Regulatory and wildlife experts said Wednesday that while the current arrangement might seem complicated or messy, the system serves a vital purpose and works just fine. Changing it, they said, wouldn't necessarily save money, and could cost taxpayers, at least in the short term.

As for fishermen themselves, they say government oversight by multiple agencies at different steps in the production line hasn't posed a problem -- and a change on paper wouldn't have a substantive effect on business.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio