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Friday
Apr222011

Koran-Burning Pastor in Court Over Security Costs for Latest Rally

Mario Tama/Getty Images(DEARBORN, Mich.) -- Florida pastor Terry Jones, best known for his burning of the Koran, will be in a Michigan courtroom Friday morning, where a jury will decide if he must pay a bond before rallying at a large mosque in Dearborn later.

Local officials say the money will be used to cover extra security for the demonstration, but Jones says he shouldn't have to pay.

"We have had several demonstrations around America, and not one time have we had any act of violence," Jones said.

Several weeks ago, Jones burned a Koran, which was followed by killings in Afghanistan.  But he denies that anything he does sparks violence.

"Would we kill someone if someone burned the Bible?  Uh, it poses no threat to those people, uh, those people are 7,000 miles away -- it might insult them, it might anger them, but it's definitely no reason for violence, no," he said.

Jones also said he's ready to go to jail if need be.

"There's no better day to go to jail than Good Friday or, or the day of resurrection.  This is the day that Jesus died -- this is not a holiday, this is not time to get out the barbecue pit -- this is the time that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so of course there is no better day," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr222011

New York Cat Needs Name After Mysterious Journey

Thinkstock/Getty Images (file)(NEW YORK) -- Ginger from Gilligan's Island. The Unsinkable Molly Brown -- think Titanic. Salty. And even Snookie. Those are some of the names being considered for the stray calico cat that has made her home on Governors Island in New York Harbor.

According to Leslie Koch, president of the Trust for Governors Island, the cat was found Sunday night by security guards making the rounds on the island's north shore.

"We don't know where she came from. Her fur was a little matted. There was salt in her fur," Koch said. "There was a piece of seaweed around her foot."

Soaking rains in New Jersey last weekend may have forced the feline to swim across the mile-wide harbor from New Jersey, or she may have come from Brooklyn, said island spokeswoman Elizabeth Rapuano. She said the new visitor was a great addition to the 172-acre island, though.

"We are enjoying having her," Rapuano said. "She adjusted here very quickly."

The island's blog solicited names for the orange, white and black castaway and so far has about 1,000 suggestions -- including Odysseus, Gov'Nor and Gertrude (for the first woman to swim the English Channel).

Rapuano and Koch said they'd received calls from a number of people saying they'd lost a cat. The island is getting advice from animal groups on how best to proceed.

The two said they would pick a few popular name suggestions and then put them up for a public vote. It is the first time there's been a cat on the island because it is pet-free. The cat arrived a bit early for tourist season -- the island doesn't open to the public until Memorial Day weekend.

They said they planned to have the cat seen by a vet next week, though she seemed healthy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr222011

Are Arkansas' Natural Gas Injection Wells Causing Earthquakes?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(GUY, Ark.) -- Hundreds of small- and medium-scale earthquakes have been rattling the area around Guy, Arkansas, and residents say wastewater injection wells being drilled in their area are to blame.

"It gives new meaning to the term 'rock your world,'" said resident Johnny Passmore.  "There is no foundation.  You are just shaking and you can't go anywhere because it's shaking."

In February, shocks from a 4.7-magnitude earthquake near the town were felt as far away as Memphis, Tennessee, the biggest quake in the region in 35 years.

These earthquakes are the newest development in the raging national argument over the safety of drilling for natural gas.

Josh Fox, the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, questioned the industry's claims of natural gas as a clean energy source.  His film is critical of a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as "fracking," where fluid is injected into rock, breaking it to release natural gas.

Just days after the 4.7-magnitude quake in February, state regulators pressured energy companies into voluntarily shutting down two injection wells closest to the fault line.  Chesapeake Energy, now owned by BHP Billiton, owned one of the wells at the time.

"We do not agree with the conclusions," said Chesapeake Energy spokesman Danny Games in a recent television interview.  "We believe there is a lot of natural seismicity in this area and there's a lot more sub-surface data, and science and facts that need to be brought to bear."

A public hearing is scheduled Tuesday for both sides to present their data and decide whether or not the injection wells should be re-opened.  There is a moratorium on building any new injection wells until this summer.

Since the two injection wells were shut down in March, the earthquakes have not completely stopped in Arkansas.  But Scott Ausbrooks, a geologist with the Arkansas Geological Survey and a lead detective on the case, said they have tapered off dramatically.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

Colorado Boy, 8, Awarded $375K Over Drunk-Driving Crash that Killed His Mom 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- An eight-year-old boy in Colorado has won $375,000 in damages after suing an insurance company over the drunk driver who killed his mother in a car crash.

A jury in Douglas County Court reached a verdict Thursday in the civil suit in which the boy, Damon Marquand, was the lead plaintiff.

The suit stemmed from a crash in August 2009 in which Dominick Wilmer, then 26, was speeding at 110 mph at 2 a.m. when he lost control of the car.

Wilmer survived with minor injuries, but Damon's mother, Grace Cruthers, 29, and Jonathan Richardson, 26, both passengers, were killed.

Wilmer was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 13 years in prison, according to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

The jury awarded $350,000 plus costs -- nearly three times as much as American Family Insurance had offered as a settlement prior to trial, according to lawyer Ethan McQuinn, whose firm represented Damon.

"This has always been about an eight-year-old who lost his mother through no fault of his own," said McQuinn. "Nothing can replace his mother's love, but we're thankful he's a resilient kid."

He said Damon's grandfather, Dave Cruthers, who has custody of the boy, was "emotionally exhausted" after the verdict and was not immediately available for comment. But earlier this week Cruthers told KMGH News in Denver, an ABC affiliate, that he just wanted Damon to get what he deserves.

Wilmer has expressed his remorse on a MySpace page. A friend wrote there: "Dom is currently serving time for a very tragic accident that took the lives of two wonderful people, he is really trying to turn his life around. He says to tell all God bless, and please be smart and don't make any of the stupid decisions he did, and get yourself where he is."

A spokesman for American Family Insurance, Steve Witmer, said before the verdict that the company tried to settle to avoid a jury trial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

Roger Clemens' Defense Lays Out Trial Strategy, Calls McNamee 'Congenital Liar'

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Roger Clemens' defense attorneys Thursday laid out a key part of their defense strategy for July's upcoming trial, revealing that they intend to show that Clemens' former trainer, Brian McNamee, has continually lied about Clemens' alleged steroid use.

"There's congenital liar syndrome," said Rusty Hardin, Clemens' defense attorney, at a pre-trial hearing. "We will contend that he [McNamee] is still lying to these prosecutors even today."

Hardin motioned to the two assistant U.S. attorneys who plan to call McNamee as one of their key witnesses.

Clemens was indicted last August on charges of obstruction of Congress, perjury and false statements for testimony he gave to Congress regarding any use of performance-enhancing drugs, specifically steroids and human growth hormone, or HGH. Clemens is charged with making the false statements to congressional investigators in a Feb. 5, 2008 deposition, and the perjury charges involve his Feb. 13, 2008 testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Hardin argued at the preliminary hearing before Judge Reggie Walton of the need to obtain documents and memos from former Sen. George Mitchell's law firm, DLA Piper, which conducted the work for the Mitchell Report that reported the findings of Major League Baseball's investigation into steroid use.

The Clemens defense team subpoenaed documents from DLA Piper relating to interviews Mitchell Report investigators did with former big leaguer Jose Canseco, McNamee and Kirk Radomski, an admitted steroid dealer who pleaded guilty to money laundering and selling anabolic steroids and HGH.

Thursday's hearing focused on efforts by Mitchell's law firm to quash the subpoena, citing attorney-client privilege and attorney work product.

Attorneys from DLA Piper argued that their work, limited to 20 documents, was attorney work product and that the files were prepared in anticipation of litigation stemming from Mitchell's investigation. They told the court that they had handed over some documents to the Clemens' defense team but the other documents were protected.

Hardin alleged that McNamee has kept changing his story even from his first meeting with federal prosecutors and later with claims about physical evidence he had.

Walton ruled from the bench that he would review the documents that DLA Piper has in its possession and will decide if they should be turned over to Clemens defense team.

Walton denied a defense request to seek additional documents from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Counsel for the House of Representatives argued that the documents are protected under the speech and debate clause of the Constitution, which isolates the executive branch from interfering with Congress.

Walton added that the information Clemens' lawyers were seeking was obtainable in other ways.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Thursday
Apr212011

Phylicia Barnes, Missing North Carolina Teen, Found Dead Near Baltimore

Comstock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- The body of Phylicia Barnes, a star student from North Carolina, was discovered in Maryland on Wednesday, police said. She had been missing since December.

Anthony Guglielmi of the Baltimore Police confirmed Thursday that investigators found not one, but two bodies Wednesday near the Susquehanna River about 35 miles from Baltimore.

One is that of the 17-year-old Barnes. The identity of the second body was not immediately made clear.

Workers at the Conowingo Dam spotted Barnes' body floating in the water around 7:30 Wednesday morning and notified state troopers in the area, according to Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley. While investigators were still in the area, they discovered a second body floating three or four miles south of the dam a few hours later.

At the Maryland state police headquarters in Baltimore, Guglielmi said they hope to have preliminary results from an autopsy.

Barnes was 16 when she went missing Dec. 28 during a trip to visit her half-sister. She would have turned 17 in January.

Barnes was from Monroe, N.C., a straight-"A" student, and was last heard from on Dec. 28, 2010, via Facebook when she posted a note saying she was at her sister's apartment with her sister's boyfriend.

The disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba nearly seven years ago sparked a media frenzy, as has the apparent abduction of the nursing student Holly Bobo in Indiana. But news coverage was relatively sparse in Phylicia's case, raising accusations of a double standard in media coverage.

Speaking about the lack of national media coverage back in January, a 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 said 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 it was so heartbreaking.

"You see other cases that get attention, other kids that go missing and it's immediately up on television and you know, I know there's frustration," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

Cobb County, Georgia Teen Driver Charged with Mother's Death

Comstock/Thinkstock(COBB COUNTY, Ga.) -- Just days after burying his mother, a 16-year-old boy from Cobb County, Georgia has been charged with second-degree vehicular homicide and failure to yield because he was driving in the accident that killed her.

Kimberly Nichols, 45, died last Wednesday as the boy, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor, made a left turn from Dallas Highway onto Old Hamilton Road in Cobb County.

"It was green. There was a box truck on the other side turning also. They eased up. They both looked. She told him to go. He looked. They went," Nichols' husband, Michael Mosley, told ABC Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV.

A Ford Mustang slammed into them as they made the turn, sending them spinning into a collision with another car and causing the injuries that killed Nichols.

"He's got to live with this the rest of his life, there's no reason to charge my son with no second-degree homicide," Mosley told WSB.

According to the Cobb County Police Department, Georgia law requires that the Special Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) Unit, a group of officers who have an expertise in the area of crash reconstruction and investigation, be brought to the scene in the event of a crash causing fatal or critical injuries. After a thorough investigation, police said the STEP unit recommended that the teen be charged based on the evidence gathered.

"It is the job of those officers to investigate that crash and present it to the prosecution," Sgt. Dana Pierce, a spokesman for the Cobb County Police Department, told ABC News. "They will take the evidence and they will take the case and apply it to Georgia law, and the evidence they have as it applies to Georgia law gives them the legal authority to file charges against the at-fault driver...and that's what they've done in this case."

Michael Mosley said he thinks it is unfair to force his son to go through this ordeal so soon after the death of his mother. "We just got over a funeral for her, and he's trying to start to heal just a little bit," he told WSB.

The police department has received many emails critical of the decision, but Sgt. Pierce said Georgia law does not allow the police to consider emotions in cases.

"We are all grandfathers and parents, nobody knows the sensitivity and the heartfelt sadness that we have for, not only that 16-year-old, but that family as well," said Sgt. Pierce. "But understand that we have a job to do. And that job is to completely investigate that crash."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Thursday
Apr212011

Colorado Pipe Bomb: FBI Searches for Person of Interest

Federal Bureau of Investigation(LITTLETON, Colo.) -- Authorities have identified a person of interest in connection with the discovery of a pipe bomb and propane tanks after a fire at a Littleton, Colo., mall on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

The suspicious devices were found Wednesday afternoon at the Southwest Plaza Mall after firefighters responded to a small blaze in a hallway near the mall's food court. No one was injured and the devices did not explode.

Late Wednesday night, FBI and law enforcement officials released a photo of a person of interest who was spotted on mall security cameras. The person of interest is described as a white male with a grey hair with a silver mustache. He was last wearing a dark cap, stripped shirt, blue jeans and dark shoes. In the surveillance photos, the man is seen holding a white plastic shopping bag.

Jacki Kelley with the Jefferson County Sheriff's office said the man "is nothing more than a person of interest."

"We don't know whether he's somebody we need to look at as a suspect," Kelley said.

The incident comes on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, during which two students opened fire and killed 12 students and one teacher on April 20, 1999.

The two teens, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, committed suicide after the massacre. They had also left pipe bombs in the school but the majority of them did not explode.

It's unclear whether Wednesday's incident is connected to the shooting anniversary but the mall is located near the high school.

"We're not ignoring that. The date is significant to Colorado's history. But it's not something we're dismissing at this time," said FBI spokesman Dave Joly.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

DOJ Launches Group to Combat Oil, Gas Fraud

Chris Hondros/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the creation of a working group to watch for any illegal activity in the energy markets that could impact the price of gas around the country.

The group will keep its eye out for any evidence of manipulation, collusion, or fraud, “to safeguard against unlawful consumer harm,” the Justice Department said in a press release Thursday.

“We will be vigilant in monitoring the oil and gas markets for any wrongdoing so that consumers can be confident they are not paying higher prices as a result of illegal activity,” said Attorney General Holder.

The panel will include Justice Department officials, as well as representatives from the Federal Trade Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates the oil markets.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

Michigan Police Use Device to Download Cellphone Data; ACLU Objects

Cellbrite(LANSING, Mich.) -- A high-tech gadget that can quickly download information from a cellphone is at the center of a controversy that's pitting civil liberties advocates against state police in Michigan.

Since 2008, the ACLU of Michigan has been petitioning the Michigan State Police to turn over information about their use of so-called "data extraction devices" (or DEDs). Manufactured by Cellebrite, a mobile forensics and data services company headquartered in Israel, the devices can connect to cellphones and, even bypassing passwords, retrieve phone numbers, text messages, call history, photos and video.

The issue came to a head this week, after the ACLU published a letter it sent to the state police, demanding transparency and saying misuse of the device could be a Fourth Amendment violation. Michigan State Police issued a statement Wednesday, claiming that "it only uses the DEDs if a search warrant is obtained or if the person possessing the mobile device gives consent."

But civil liberties advocates say that law enforcement's response is insufficient.

"They don't say anything about their past behavior. It's a carefully crafted statement," said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

On a "tip" that police had used a DED unlawfully, Moss said the ACLU filed its first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2008 to learn the policies and practices surrounding the extraction device, but the police did not offer answers. Instead, they told the ACLU it would need to pay more than $544,000 to retrieve the records and reports it had asked for. Over the past few years, Moss said the ACLU has tried to work with the police to narrow the request and lower the cost, but with little success.

"We have credible information that they were being used during routine stops without a warrant," she said. "And their response that information would cost half a million dollars suggests that there was some widespread use."

But Michigan State Police spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the devices have never been used to take personal cellphone information from citizens during routine stops.

Since the state got roughly six DEDs in 2006, Brown said, they have been used by specialty teams in high-level cases that require digital forensics methods -- for example, a child pornography case in which officers would need data from a suspect's computer and cellphone.

When asked why the cost of meeting the ACLU's FOIA requests were in six digits, Brown said that was what it would cost to have several employees, working full-time, assemble documents from a five-year period. She also said that in the five years that the state has owned the extraction devices, it has not received any citizen complaints or been named in any lawsuits.

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