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Tuesday
Apr232019

Man who killed New York City jogger Karina Vetrano sentenced to life in prison

WABC(NEW YORK) -- Chanel Lewis has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2016 murder of Karina Vetrano, who was beaten and strangled to death while out for a jog near her home in Queens.

The sentence was handed down by a judge who a day earlier rejected a defense motion to vacate Lewis’ conviction based on allegations of juror misconduct. Lewis, 22, was convicted after five hours of deliberations following his second trial after the first ended in a mistrial.

"I'm sorry to the family. I didn't do this," Lewis said before he was sentenced.

Cathie Vetrano, Karina's mother, clutched her daughter's pair of white work shoes as she addressed the judge.

"On Aug. 2, 2016, Chanel Lewis slaughtered me as well with the gruesome slaying of my soul," she said. "The second you put your hands on a child of God, you rejected the Holy Spirit and acted out as the devil."

Lewis was arrested in February 2017, six months after Karina Vetrano's murder. After Lewis consented to a DNA swab, it matched the DNA found on Karina Vetrano's body.

The Legal Aid Society, Lewis' defense team, made at least two attempts to get a new trial. His lawyers said they had received an anonymous letter from an alleged law enforcement officer claiming prosecutorial misconduct. One juror also said alleged misconduct had taken place during deliberations. Both motions by the defense were rejected by Judge Michael Aloise.

"This is a lose-lose situation for both families ... parents' worst nightmare, child goes out for a jog and never returns," Judge Aloise said before rendering the sentencing. "In the future, you'll find that the followers of this case would have moved on and you will be alone, but I tell you what, when that day come around you'll be in a cage."

The Legal Aid Society said in a statement: “While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano’s death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case – from the police investigation to jury deliberations – was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs.This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis’s Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. We will appeal this case to the Appellate Division to secure Mr. Lewis the justice that he deserves.”

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Tuesday
Apr232019

Vulture blamed for motorcycle crash that killed couple

WLDavies/iStock(MEDECINE LODGE, Kansas) -- A vulture has been blamed for a motorcycle crash that killed a couple on a rural road in southern Kansas, authorities said.

Brandon Husband, 42, was riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle on Saturday afternoon with his 43-year-old wife, Jennifer Husband, on the back when the scavenging bird of prey emerged from a nearby ditch and struck him in the head.

The collision caused the bike to swerve off the road and crash into a barbed wire fence before overturning, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Brandon Husband was pronounced dead at the scene along River Road, some 13 miles of the town of Medicine Lodge, 75 miles southwest of Wichita.

Jennifer Husband was taken to a hospital where she died hours later.

Neither was wearing a helmet, according to highway patrol.

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Tuesday
Apr232019

State attorney Kim Foxx gets death threats after dropping Jussie Smollett charges

Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx has received death threats since her office's decision to drop charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett.

Her office did not offer specific details about the threats, but it said they included "racially charged language," according to a statement Monday.

"We can confirm that the State's Attorney has received threats to her personal safety and security, a number of which have contained racially charged language," the office told ABC Chicago station WLS on Monday.

The announcement comes less than a week after the office released more than 3,800 pages worth of emails and text messages, including some where Foxx referred to the 36-year-old Smollett as a "washed up celeb who lied to cops."

Foxx made the comment to her top deputy, Joseph Magats, after she recused herself from the case.

Smollett was indicted on 16 counts after allegedly lying to Chicago police about being attacked in a hate crime.

“Sooo…...I'm recused, but when people accuse us of overcharging cases...16 counts on a class 4 (felony) becomes exhibit A,” Foxx texted Magats, according to documents released last week.

She also compared the case against Smollett to her office's sexual abuse case against embattled R&B singer R. Kelly, to whom she referred as a "pedophile."

"Pedophile with 4 victims 10 counts. Washed up celeb who lied to cops, 16. On a case eligible for deferred prosecution I think it's indicative of something we should be looking at generally," Foxx wrote. "Just because we can charge something doesn't mean we should. … it's not who we want to be."

The office eventually dropped the case against Smollett, saying it instead would focus resources on violent crimes. The move sparked backlash from the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who called the decision "a whitewash of justice."

City officials sued the actor for $130,000 in the wake of the dropped charges, seeking reimbursement for funds spent investigating what they called bogus hate crime allegations.

The lawsuit laid out a detailed account of the allegations against Smollett, who told police he was attacked Jan. 29 by two men who shouted homophobic slurs at him, wrapped a noose around his neck and poured an unknown liquid on him. The timeline includes a 41-point, blow-by-blow description, from when Smollett first met the Ola and Abel Osundario -- the brothers who say Smollett paid them to help stage the attack -- in the fall of 2017 until the final allegation that Smollett continued to be in contact with the brothers days after the purported attack.

A lawyer for Smollett, who portrays a gay musician on Fox's "Empire," said the actor "vehemently denies" accusations of making false statements to police and "will not be intimidated into paying the demanded sum."

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Tuesday
Apr232019

Suspect who stole car with 6-year-old inside shot by boy's father: Police

Florida Department of Corrections(WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.) -- A Florida father may have saved his son's life when he chased down a man who allegedly stole his vehicle while the child was in the back seat.

Police said the man left his vehicle running near West Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday when 29-year-old Lamar Thurman took off with the car.

The unidentified victim stepped out to say goodbye to a group of friends, leaving his 6-year-old son alone in the back seat. That's when Thurman swiped the vehicle, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Monday.

Police said Lamar Thurman, 29, stole a car with a 6-year-old boy in the back seat.

The victim and a few friends immediately went after the suspect in a separate vehicle. They fired multiple shots at the suspect "in an attempt to stop him from fleeing," according to the statement.

The suspect crashed the stolen vehicle, got stuck, freed the car and drove east, police said.

"The victim, armed with a handgun, shot at the suspect in an attempt to stop him from fleeing further with his child in the car," according to the statement.

Thurman, who was apprehended after crashing a second time, sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition. Police said the 6-year-old was unharmed.

The suspect was still in the hospital as of late Monday evening, and police had not announced any charges.

"Evidence on scene, witness statements along with the victims statements, are consistent with what occurred," the statement said. "The suspect has no association with the victims. This incident is still open and active pending further investigation."

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Tuesday
Apr232019

Paradise resident 'forced' to move home after wildfire without access to safe water

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(PARADISE, Calif.) -- In the wake of the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, the residents of Paradise are slowly returning and rebuilding.

But even though one Paradise resident's home survived the wildfire, her family's saga of returning to a normal life is far from over. While the structure of resident Kyla Awalt's home is still intact, she said it has no access to running water -- a widespread problem in the area after the historic fire -- but her insurance company has ruled that the water issue isn't covered by her home insurance policy.

"We were literally forced to move back home and figure out a solution to get us water," Awalt told ABC News' Brad Mielke on "Start Here."

Even if her pipes started working, she wouldn't be able to drink it. The Paradise Irrigation District has warned every resident that the city's water supply is not potable, after testing revealed several positive results for benzene.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said short-term exposure to the chemical can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as issues with concentration, dizziness, convulsions, irregular heartbeat and vomiting.

Long-term exposure to benzene causes anemia and cancer, specifically leukemia, according to the CDC.

The Camp Fire swept through Butte County in November, killing 85 people in the town of Paradise and destroying 90% city's structures. Since then, about 1,500 have moved back, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Awalt, a mother of two, has been back at her home in Paradise since early January, shortly after the town reopened in December. She told ABC News she and her family were evacuated for 2 1/2 months, and moved to four different locations during that time.

Thankfully, her husband was able to find their home still standing after the blaze.

"It was incredible for us to just know that it survived and that we were one of the very, very few ... we're the only house on our street," Awalt said, adding that they still had work to do to make the home habitable.

"We had to get the home cleaned for smoke inhalation," she said. "We needed the insulation repaired and replaced."

Awalt said she asked the family's insurance company when it would stop covering the rent the family was paying to stay elsewhere, as well as extra gas and extra food out of pocket.

"They were very clear numerous times. Once the house is cleaned, it's considered livable and that they would stop any additional living expenses that we were receiving," she said.

The house was cleaned and back to normal -- but the town's plumbing system was not.

"There is absolutely no water," she said. "There's no way to flush toilets. There's no way to wash your hands."

"There's no way that I would even turn it on," Awalt continued. "Because what happens is, once you turn it on, let's say there is that contamination in that line, and you bring it into your home while it contaminates the pipes. So it literally binds to your pipes and will continue to leach into your home."

Awalt said she filed a claim to have a new water tank installed in her home but her insurance company said that water contamination was a utility company issue that had "nothing to do with her plumbing."

"Our meter was not burned," she said. "If our meter had been burned, they would have covered the tank, but our meter wasn't even burned. So the fact that there was no water ... it didn't matter."

Awalt said she received a letter from Farmers Insurance dated Jan. 11, 2019, that read, in part: "You requested coverage for a water tank, pump and full-up due to the citywide water outage. Per your policy, there must be actual, accidental direct, distinct and demonstrable physical loss or damage to the water system on your premise for additional; living expense coverage to apply, and for us to cover the water tank. We did not find any damage to the water system on your premise. Unfortunately there is no coverage for your claim based on the facts known to us at the present time."

Awalt then filed a complaint with the California Department of Insurance concerning her issue with the water tank coverage.

In response to the insurance commissioner complaint, Awalt said she received a letter from Farmers Insurance dated Jan. 22, 2019, that read, in part, "Unfortunately, the damage was done to the city's infrastructure resulting in the loss of water service, but there was no direct damage to your water meter or water lines. Based on the policy language, we cannot extend coverage for the expense."

She said the situation is putting her in an impossible situation.

"You're still paying your mortgage, and now you're also having to pay rent," she said.

Awalt said she and her husband have had to pay out of their pocket for a water tanker from a private company until the water issue in Paradise is fixed.

City officials said the blaze created a "toxic cocktail" of gases that were sucked into homes' water pipes, according to the Bee.

In a statement to ABC News, Farmers said: "We have worked with our customer to pay all benefits due under her policy for direct damage to her residence resulting from the Paradise wildfire. While the homeowner has submitted requests for additional compensation, those supplementary items fall outside of the limitations of the policy, thus not compensable under her policy. We have discussed these items with our customer and are available to review any new information she may have related to this matter."

"It's all been made clear to everybody. Don't drink it," Awalt said. "You don't want to use hot water because it makes the benzene go airborne ... so you're told to use lukewarm water."

Residents of Paradise are being told not to drink the tap water and use only bottled water, according to the Paradise Irrigation District website.

She said officials told residents not to take baths, only showers.

"Everybody's really cautious right now," she said. "It's funny, my son -- he had a baseball practice up in ... the city just above us. And their water's fine. So he was at baseball practice, and one of the kids went over to get a drink out of the drinking fountain -- and my son yelled across the field. 'Don't drink the water, it's got benzene!' And so it was just really interesting seeing how the kids in the community is really affected by this."

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Monday
Apr222019

Suspect in Delphi double murder may be 'hiding in plain sight,' police say

Lindsey Jacobson/ABC News(DELPHI, Ind.) -- The unknown suspect in the mysterious murder of two Delphi eighth-graders may live in the small Indiana town, police said Monday, as new information about the killer was released.

The male suspect is believed to currently or previously live in Delphi, work in town or visit on a regular basis, Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter said at a news conference.

He's believed to be between 18 and 40 years old, Carter said, but may appear younger than his age.

Carter said the person seen in this image could be the girls' killer.

'We believe you are hiding in plain sight," Carter said at the news conference, and even "may be in this room."

"We likely have interviewed you or someone close to you," he said.

Abby Williams, 13, and Libby German, 14, were enjoying a day off from school on Feb. 13, 2017, when they vanished on a hiking trail near their small town of Delphi.

Their bodies were found the next day near the trail. Police have not released details of how the girls died.

Over two years after the double murder shocked the small community, Indiana State Police on Monday released that new sketch of the suspect, as well as new audio and video evidence.

The never-before-seen video recovered from Libby's phone shows the suspect walking on the bridge near where the girls were last seen.

"When you see the video, watch the person's mannerisms as they walk," Carter said Monday. "Do you recognize the mannerisms as being someone you might know?"

Authorities in 2017 released a grainy image of someone seen on the trail the day the girls went missing along with a chilling recording found on Libby's phone with just three words heard: "Down the hill."

On Monday, police released additional portions of the audio recording from Libby's phone.

While it is hard to decipher what is said in the clip, Carter said, "The person talking ... is the person on the bridge with the girls... please listen to it very, very carefully."

Carter vowed to find the killer.

"You brutally murdered two little girls, two children. Only a coward would do such a thing," he said.

"We will not stop," he said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact abbyandlibbytip@cacoshrf.com.

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Monday
Apr222019

Woman holding gun and baby makes bomb threat at California Easter services: Police

Fedorovekb/iStock(SAN DIEGO) -- A woman allegedly wielding an unloaded gun in one hand and holding a baby in the other interrupted an Easter service at a Southern California church by shouting bomb threats before she was detained by worshippers, police said.

The incident occurred around noon on Sunday at the Tsidkenu Church, a non-denominational church, in the San Diego suburb of Clairemont, according to the San Diego Police Department.

The suspect, Anna Conkey, 31, was taken into custody and booked at the San Diego County jail on suspicion of making criminal threats and displaying a handgun in a threatening manner, police said.

The incident unfolded just hours after suicide bombers killed nearly 300 people in a series of coordinated explosions at churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, more than 9,000 miles away.

NBC station KNSD-TV in San Diego reported that Conkey had worked for the station as a freelance producer and intern.

Police said the congregation of the Tsidkenu Church, which uses an auditorium at a public school for Sunday services, was wrapping up Easter services when Conkey walked in holding a gun and a 10-month-old baby.

"The female walked up on stage and made threats that she was going to blow up the church while waving the handgun," San Diego police said in a statement.

Before police officers arrived at the church, members of the congregation disarmed the women, according to the police statement.

"We were just about to finish up our service and a lady came in with a gun and started talking delusional stuff and just kind of kept it [the gun] at the ground, didn't really have a finger in it and she had an infant baby with her," Ronald Farmer, a member of the congregation, told OnScene TV. "So my first thought was get my family out of there and I went back in to just make sure if everything happened that there were enough men around that the situation could be controlled."

Another member of the church, who only wanted to be identified as Craig, said that he managed to take the gun away from the women while other church-goers tackled her.

Church member, David Michael Miller, a military serviceman, said the woman at one point pointed the gun at the baby.

"She starts talking all this craziness about the rapture not being real and everyone's going to hell and so everyone started praying and then they all ushered out of the service and the leaders and the pastor were up front and they were trying to talk her down," Miller told OnScene TV. "I was just slowly approaching watching them talk her down. And she was just being very apprehensive, pointing the gun at them, pointing the gun at her baby, saying, 'Don't come any closer. Don't come any closer.'"

He said that after Craig grabbed the gun from Conkey, a couple of other men tackled her.

"We got the baby away from her," Miller said. "A few minutes after that, the cops came in. She was trying to run away or something so a cop tackled her through a row of chairs."

Police said the gun Conkey was allegedly armed with was not loaded.

Conkey's baby was not harmed and was placed in protective custody, police said. An investigation led police to Conkey's 5-year-old daughter at an undisclosed location and she was placed into protective custody, police said.

"She just wanted attention, she wanted a conversation, she wanted to say all this stuff," Ben Wisan, the pastor of the church, told On Scene TV. "We knew who she was, she had been coming on and off for a little bit of time and we'd been praying for her because we wanted to see her set free. There was a lot of stuff bugging her."

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Monday
Apr222019

Zookeeper on the mend after tiger attack at Kansas zoo

Freda Bouskoutas/iStock(TOPEKA, Kan.) -- A Kansas zookeeper who was attacked by a Sumatran tiger at the Topeka Zoo over the weekend is on the mend, officials said Monday.

The zookeeper, whose name has not been released, was removed from an intensive care unit Sunday night, but remains in a hospital, Molly Hadfield, a spokeswoman for the city of Topeka, told ABC News on Monday.

The 17-year employee of the Topeka Zoo was attacked on Saturday by a 275-pound Sumatran tiger named Sanjiv when she entered the animal's enclosure at about 9:15 a.m., officials said.

An investigation into why the zookeeper was in the same enclosure with the 7-year-old tiger is underway.

"There really isn't a circumstance where they should be in the same space. So there was some sort of error that occurred," Brendan Wiley, director of the Topeka Zoo, told ABC News.

Authorities have found no problems with gates or fencing in the exhibit that would suggest the tiger had escaped from a separate locked area while the zookeeper was in the animal's exhibit.

Video from a webcam observed by ABC News showed the zookeeper walking in the tiger's enclosure, apparently dragging a water hose just before the attack occurred.

"As an accredited facility, there's no policy that would allow that," Ron Magill, a wildlife expert from the Zoo Miami, said in an interview Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "So that's going to be the first thing they're going to look at -- how these two were in the same space and why."

Hadfield said authorities are waiting for the zookeeper to recover more before they interview her about why she was in the enclosure with the tiger.

The zookeeper suffered lacerations and puncture wounds to her head, neck, back and arms, Wiley said.

The attack was witnessed by several visitors, who immediately ran to help, officials said.

"Our staff response saved a keeper's life, saved the tiger's life, and it truly is a miracle what happened. It could have been so much worse," Shanna Simpson, animal care supervisor at the zoo, told ABC News.

Zoo workers lured Sanjiv back into an enclosed space in the zoo with food, Wiley said. He added that "this could have been a very different outcome."

Sanjiv, who recently fathered four cubs, will not be euthanized because, Wiley said, the tiger was just acting naturally.

"While this incident is very unfortunate, he did what a wild tiger does," Wiley said.

The incident marked the third major attack on a human in the U.S. by an animal in captivity in less than five months.

In December, Alexandra Black, a 22-year-old intern at the Conservators Center in Burlington, North Carolina, was attacked and killed by a lion while helping to clean out the animal's enclosure. An investigation determined that a large ball had blocked a gate to a separate holding pen, allowing the lion to escape and get to Black, officials said.

Earlier this month, 75-year-old Marvin Hajos was attacked and killed by a cassowary, a large exotic bird similar to an emu, that he kept as a pet on his property in the Gainesville, Florida, suburb of Alachua. The cassowary, which has knife-like claws and is known to animal experts as the "world’s most dangerous bird," attacked Hojos when he tripped and fell, authorities said.

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Monday
Apr222019

Mom of aspiring actress who died on subway platform remembers her legacy

Courtesy of Ann McDonald (NEW YORK) -- The mother of a young woman who died on a New York City subway platform knew something was wrong when she pulled into the driveway of her South Carolina home and was greeted by a police officer and a chaplain.

Ann McDonald's 21-year-old daughter, Helen McDonald-Phalon, had died in the early hours of Saturday morning at the Union Square subway station as she was waiting for the downtown 6 train.

The officer and chaplain didn't want Ann to hear the news "over the phone," she said.

Helen McDonald-Phalon moved to New York to pursue her Broadway dreams, and now her mom is grappling with her daughter's legacy.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is part of the ongoing investigation.

“This is a horrible and very uncommon incident, and is under investigation by both the MTA and NYPD,” a spokesperson for the MTA said in a statement to ABC News.

A source familiar with the investigation told ABC News that the incident happened on an uncrowded platform at 3 a.m.

The source said that investigators determined the train was already moving for more than 100 feet when Helen McDonald-Phalon made contact with it. The investigation into her death is underway, but according to a preliminary review of the information, the source said it does not appear to be a situation where she was dragged by a train door.

She was also not struck by a second train as one media outlet reported, the source said.

Helen McDonald-Phalon worked at ThinkGeek in Manhattan and lived in Brooklyn, her mother said. She started the job while she was studying at the New York Conservancy for Dramatic Arts, where her mother said she graduated in 2017.

“She just worked hard. She did everything right in a very unassuming way,” Ann McDonald said.

Helen McDonald-Phalon, who would have celebrated her 22nd birthday on Thursday, was still working to get her big acting break after a lifetime of dancing and singing.

“She never really got the lead role and she had to work really hard for everything,” Ann McDonald said. “If she got the smallest role, she would perform it like it was the lead role."

“You have no idea how many young women are messaging me and telling me how they would not be the person they are today without her,” Ann McDonald said of Helen.

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Monday
Apr222019

Mom not cooperating with police amid search for missing 5-year-old boy: Officials

Fedorovekb/iStock(CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill.) -- JoAnn Cunningham, the mother of missing 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund, is being "uncooperative" with investigators as the frantic search for the Illinois boy reaches a fifth day, Crystal Lake police said on Monday.

AJ was last seen the night of April 17. Police say there's no indication he was abducted.

The young boy was put to bed but in the morning he was gone, Cunningham's attorney, George Kililis, told "Good Morning America" this weekend.

Cunningham reported AJ missing on April 18, Kililis said.

Cunningham spoke with multiple officers and "was fully cooperating with the police without holding anything back," Kililis said.

Kililis said he then got the impression that police considered Cunningham to be a suspect when her home and phone were searched.

"Those are not actions you take unless you consider somebody a suspect," he said, adding that he told her to remain silent.

"She has nothing to do with his disappearance or anything that may have happened to him," Kililis said. "She's nothing more than a grieving mother."

"I just want my kid. That's my life," Cunningham told "GMA" through tears.

The boy’s father, Andrew Freund, spoke with detectives on Saturday, police said.

No arrests have been made, police said.

Canine teams have only picked up the boy's scent within his home, which police said indicates he didn't walk away on foot. Investigators remain focused on AJ's house and the people who may have seen him last, police said.

As the investigation continues, AJ's younger brother has been placed in a different home under a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) safety plan, a DCFS spokesman told ABC News.

DCFS has had contact with AJ's family since the boy was born in 2013, the spokesman said.

The last contact between DCFS and the family was in December 2018. Child protection staffers were investigating allegations of abuse and neglect, he said. The allegations were unfounded, he added.

"The disappearance of AJ shouldn't impact her ability to parent," Kililis said, adding, "We will cooperate with DCFS, we understand what they're doing... they're doing their job."

"We think we'll be able to provide ample evidence that JoAnn had nothing to do it" and was providing a "safe environment," he said.

The FBI's Chicago bureau is involved in the case.

AJ is described as standing at 3 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 70 pounds. He was last seen wearing a blue sweatshirt and black sweatpants.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Crystal Lake Police Department at 815-356-3620.

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