Petit Trial Judge Denies Mistrial Request

Conecticut State Police(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- The judge presiding over a triple homicide case in Connecticut denied Thursday the alleged killer's request for a mistrial after the victims' family caused a commotion while exiting the courtroom en masse Wednesday.

In full view of jurors, the Petit family filed out of the court just before Connecticut's chief medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, was slated to deliver graphic testimony regarding the autopsy of 11-year-old Michaela Petit.

The bodies of Michaela, mother Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and sister Hayley Petit,17, were found in the charred remains of the Petit's suburban home in Cheshire, Conn., July 23, 2007. Dr. William Petit was the sole survivor.

Attorneys for defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, immediately asked Judge Jon C. Blue for a mistrial after the family walkout. Defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan called the move a "stunt" and said it was highly prejudicial to his client.

Blue denied the motion Thursday morning and said courtroom 6A, like all courtrooms, is a public space where people are free to come and go. This was not the first time Petit family members, including William Petit, have left the courtroom en masse. On Monday, before another medical examiner testified to the manner in which Hayley died, at least 10 family members left the courtroom as well.

With the efforts to declare a mistrial out of the way, Dr. Susan Williams, a Connecticut associate medical examiner, took the stand Thursday morning to discuss her autopsy findings on the body of Hawke-Petit. This time, the Petit family had already left the courtroom.

Dental records were used to identify Hawke-Petit's body, Williams said, because it "had been burned beyond recognition." Cloth was found around Hawke-Petit's neck and her charred jeans and underwear were down around her knees. Some of the clothing has been seared to her body.

Prosecutor Michael Dearington asked Williams whether she could determine the cause of death. Williams said she found fractures in Hawke-Petit's neck and declared the cause of death as "asphyxia from strangulation." Williams could not say whether the fractures were caused manually -- by hands -- or by a ligature, in this case a stocking.

Prosecutor Michael Dearington asked whether Williams could determine how long Hawke-Petit might have been alive during the strangulation and Williams estimated that it was likely she was conscious for a "short while."

Williams also told the jury that Hawke-Petit's death was not accidental and that it could not be attributed to the fire that almost destroyed the family home.

Forensic biologist Joy Reho also testified Thursday about the rape-kit exam she performed on Jennifer Hawke-Petit. The vaginal swab tested positive for semen.

On Michaela Petit, said Reho, an anal swab showed evidence of semen. In his audio taped statement, Komisarjevsky admitted to sexually molesting the young girl, ejaculating on her body and taking naked pictures of her but his lawyers have adamantly denied that.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Judge Upholds Parts of Alabama's Immigration Enforcement Law

Hemera/Thinkstock(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) -- A federal judge has cleared the way for Alabama to have the toughest immigration enforcement law in the nation beginning Thursday.

In ruling that "the United States has not met the requirements for a preliminary injunction," U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn on Wednesday upheld key parts of the statute that allows cops to ask anyone they detain or arrest to verify U.S. citizenship.

During routine traffic stops, police can also arrest someone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant.

Furthermore, Blackburn cleared the way for schools to verify a student's immigration status.

The judge still hasn't reached a final decision on other provisions that the Obama administration wants her to overturn.  They include forbidding an illegal immigrant from looking for work or making it a crime to transport or harbor an illegal immigrant.  Blackburn suggested that the Justice Department might have a legitimate argument on these and other points that they are preempted by federal law.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cellphone Carriers Retain Customer Data for Up to 7 Years

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A leaked document from the Justice Department intended for law enforcement officials describes the length of time major cellphone companies retain sensitive customer data, including text message details and content.

Wired magazine reported that T-Mobile keeps a list of users’ text message recipients for up to five years and AT&T for up to seven years, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) document dated August 2010.

Wired lists the retention periods of other carriers’ data, such as who keeps call detail records the longest (AT&T: up to seven years) and post-paid bill copies the longest (AT&T and Sprint: up to seven years).

Verizon Wireless is the only carrier that keeps text contents, although for three to five days.

The document, entitled “Retention Periods of Major Cellular Service Providers,” was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon Wireless spokesman, said in an email to ABC News that the company would not comment on the details in the report.

But, he said, “Verizon Wireless keeps data for various periods of time in order to provide services to our customers, including responding to customer inquiries about their own accounts. We take the privacy of our customers very seriously, and have policies and procedures in place to safeguard customer information.”

Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company addresses data retention in its privacy policy. AT&T’s privacy policy states the company retains personal information (including name, address, telephone number, email address, Social Security number and financial account number) “only as long as needed for business, tax or legal purposes, after which we destroy it by making it unreadable or undecipherable.”

Its privacy policy says it may provide personal information to non-AT&T companies or other third parties for purposes such as responding to 911 calls and other emergencies; complying with court orders and other legal process; assisting with identity verification, and to prevent fraud and identity theft; enforcing AT&T’s agreements and property rights; and “obtaining payment for products and services that appear on your AT&T billing statements, including the transfer or sale of delinquent accounts to third parties for collection.”

Jason Gertzen, a spokesman for Sprint, said the company “respects and protects the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers.”

“Responding to public safety or law enforcement requests is not unique to Sprint. We act as good stewards of our customers’ personal information while also meeting our obligations to law enforcement agencies,” he said in an email to ABC News. “Different categories of data are retained for varying lengths of time depending on the type and sensitivity of data, the applicable laws and regulations governing the retention of such data and the business purpose of the data.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Happy National Coffee Day!

(iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thursday marks National Coffee Day! To celebrate you can pick-up a free cup of Joe at Krispy Kreme and 7-Eleven.

Coffee was allegedly first discovered by a goat herder in the 9th century who noticed his goats acting strangely after eating the berries off the coffee plant.

Something you might not know about your beloved caffeine source: contrary to popular belief, light roast coffee actually has more caffeine than dark roast.

Also worth noting: more than 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year; more than half at breakfast. And it’s the second most traded commodity -- behind oil.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


‘Sexy Robber’ Wanted by LAPD for Armed Heist

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The Los Angeles Police Department is asking for the public’s help in searching for a woman nicknamed "the Sexy Robber," who committed an armed heist in Van Nuys, Calif, on Sept. 19.

The criminal “posed as a customer and then pulled a gun out of her purse,” according to an LAPD statement. While police are not disclosing the exact location of the robbery, it appears from security camera images to be a jewelry store.

The voluptuous robber -- who was dressed in a form fitting T-shirt, skinny jeans, and dauntingly high heels -- pointed her gun at a store employee and ordered him to fill up her handbag. Fearing for his life, the employee complied. The robber took the goods and fled the scene on foot.

The LAPD is describing the suspect as a Hispanic woman with brown hair and brown eyes in her 20s. She is about five feet five inches and weighs about 125 pounds.

Police are saying she should be considered armed and dangerous.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


A Denver Mailbox Love Story: Art or Graffiti?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- For cynics, it’s graffiti. But for the hopeless romantics, it’s art. Mailbox love, ya'll!

“There is a love affair in our neighborhood,” wrote Jasmine Cann on BeatofTravel.com, the blog she and her husband, Derek Cann, created.

“It is not your typical romance, but it is simple yet messy, the way most romances tend to be. The star-crossed lovers are … well, they are a pair of U.S. postal mailboxes.”

The love affair takes place in Denver, Colo., and began in December 2010 with the first messages -- the eyelash-clad blue mailbox gazing at the larger green mailbox with a smile and the message, “[heart] u” painted in white. The green mailbox smiled back with the message, “[heart] u too.”


The mailboxes are even leaning toward each other, as if enjoying a quiet moment of affection. That is probably cute enough to melt the heart of the coldest bureaucrat, no?

One day, when Jasmine walked by the beloved mailboxes situated just a few blocks from her home, she immediately noticed that something was terribly wrong.

“Someone had painted over my cheery metal twosome and I was upset,” she wrote. “Why would anybody want to paint over something as inoffensive as a humorous display of love?”

The Canns discovered that city officials were untouched by the postal love affair, and painted over the "graffiti." But a week later, the postal receptacles were smiling again, this time with the messages “Missed u” and “Missed u too” painted on.

The battle has continued over the past few months, back and forth, with neither side deterred. The city paints over the mailboxes and, every time, the messages come back. Others have included “I’m here” and “I’m here too!” as well as “They can never” and “Tear us apart” painted on with hearts.

“For us, it’s graffiti, and if we see it, we’re going to call the maintenance guys to come paint over it,” said Chris Stroup, station manager for the Capitol Hill U.S. Postal Service office, according to the Denver Post.

The Canns hope the anonymous artist will persist and keep the romance alive.

“I am enthralled by love, art, and humor,” Jasmine Cann wrote. “Bring it on Mailbox Love Bandit the public needs as much humanity and funny as possible.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


UC Santa Cruz Scientist Captures Fish Using Tools to Get Food

Close up of the wrasse fish holding a rock in its mouth. ABC News(SANTA CRUZ, Calif.) -- The first video of a fish using tools to extract food has been released by University of California Santa Cruz professor Giacomo Bernardi.

The footage shows a species of wrasse fish using a rock as an anvil to crush the shell of a clam to devour the concealed contents.

Initially, using tools was a trait Bernardi said “defined us [humans] compared to the animal world.”  However, since then, video of chimps and birds using tools to their advantage have been recorded, and now fish.

Bernardi first started tracking this species 15 years ago when he witnessed the wrasse using tools quite frequently off the coast of Florida. Finally, while on a dive two years ago in Palau, he filmed the underwater video. Studies and data have been taken on the wrasse using tools, but his video allows viewers to see the entire sequence in real time.

“People have taken pictures of fish doing things, but this is the first movie that shows the succession of it,” Bernardi said.

The wrasse displays very “forward thinking” as it sifts through the sand for its prey and swiftly swims to a large rock.

“It swims really far to find the most appropriate place to crush it into small bits to be able to eat it,” Bernardi said.

The orange-dotted tuskfish -- the specific type of wrasse -- is relatively old, so Bernardi believes it is possible the entire family of wrasse uses tools.

“They are carnivorous so their brain is very different from other fishes,” Bernardi said.

“Their brain has developed a sense of smell and they are very inquisitive and keen observers. That is what sets them apart. They are very smart,” he said.

According to the professor, this species uses tools frequently, but catching the action on video was quite lucky.

“It happens quite a lot, but you have to be in the right place at the right time.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Returns to Consider Health Care, GPS Technology, Strip Searches and More

United States Supreme Court(WASHINGTON) -- The highest court in the land is ramping up for its 2011 term, and facing some potentially monumental cases.

Looming over the start of the Supreme Court's term is the question of when the justices will hear a challenge to President Obama's Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which has been challenged by lower courts in 26 states. 

But the Court is already set to hear an interesting range of other cases, including law enforcement's use of global positioning systems, the government's policy of indecency on the broadcast airwaves and the constitutionality of strip searches for minor offenses. Here's a look at the docket's major cases:

The Affordable Care Act:

Lower courts are divided on the issue of whether the health care law's key provision -- the individual mandate forcing individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty -- is constitutional. On Wednesday night, the Obama administration asked the Court to review the case it lost in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because the government is asking the Supreme Court to step in and address a major act of Congress that has divided the lower courts, the Justices are expected to render a decision before the next election.

GPS and Law Enforcement:

In the court's most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade, the justices will weigh an individual's expectation of privacy against law endorsement's use of increasingly sophisticated technology to follow suspects on public property.

The case stems from the 2008 case in which Antoine Jones was convicted on drug charges. Law enforcement used a variety of techniques to link Jones to other co-conspirators and one technique was a or GPS device installed secretly -- without a valid warrant -- on a Jeep used by Jones in order to track his movements by satellite.

Broadcast Indecency:

The Supreme Court will also hear a challenge brought by broadcast television against the government's policy on indecency on the airwaves from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

At issue are the "fleeting expletives" uttered by celebrities such as Cher and Nicole Richie televised during primetime on Fox Television, as well as an episode of NYPD Blue on ABC which showed a woman's unclothed backside.

The Federal Communications Commission, charged with regulating indecency over public airwaves, ruled in both instances that the broadcasters had violated its policy.

In court briefs, the government defended the FCC's policy, arguing the "pervasiveness of foul language, and the coarsening of public entertainment in other media such as cable, justify more stringent regulation of broadcast programs so as to give conscientious parents a relatively safe haven for their children."

Strip Searches:

Lower courts have split on the issue as to whether reasonable suspicion is needed before strip searching an individual entering the prison population.

In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that in the interest of security, prisons could conduct visual body cavity searches of all detainees after they had contact with outsiders. For years after that ruling, lower courts ruled that the prison had to have a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee was concealing contraband before subjecting him to a strip search upon entering the facility.

But in recent years, courts have begun to allow a blanket policy to strip search all arrestees. The Obama administration has filed a "friend of the court" brief arguing that the need for security in the jails outweighs the individual privacy rights regarding strip searches.

It points out that the Federal Bureau of Prisons houses more than 216,000 pretrial detainees and convicted inmates, and subjects them all to visual body cavity inspections before they can be placed in the general prison population.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fla. Man Allegedly Chokes Wife During Game of Yahtzee

Collier County Sheriff's Office(NAPLES, Fla.) -- A game of Yahtzee took a dark turn last weekend when a Florida man allegedly choked his wife while she was trying to play the game with him.

Ian Stuart Wood, 50, of Naples, Fla. was arrested by Collier County Sheriff's deputies at his home after a 911 call from his wife Michelle Wood, 41, at around 10:30 p.m. last Saturday.

Wood's wife told officers that an argument erupted while she was trying to play Yahtzee with her husband. He told authorities that she wanted to go out and he did not want her to leave.  When she tried to leave the house to calm down, her husband allegedly attacked her.

She told authorities that her husband pushed her to the ground, covered her mouth with his hand and rammed his knee into her back while cursing and telling her to stop screaming. He allegedly then turned her over and choked her with his hands around her neck until she could no longer breathe, according to the police report.

Ian Wood allegedly took her phone and hid it. When she attempted to leave, he shoved her to the ground. Eventually, she was able to escape to a neighbor's house and call the police.

Officer Jason Miller in his police report described Ian Wood as "intoxicated, argumentative and belligerent" in his police report. Ian Wood told the deputies that he had not hit his wife and that she had fallen down while walking because she was a "pill popper."

Michelle Wood told authorities she had consumed one mixed drink with her husband. Officers said they observed scratches on the husband's shoulder that appeared to be from his wife defending herself. She had abrasions to her elbow and a scratch above her lip.

Ian Wood has been charged with domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment of an adult, resisting a law enforcement officer and obstructing someone from calling 911.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Judge: Alleged Tucson Shooter Can Be Mentally Fit to Stand Trial

Pima County Sheriff's Department(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- After getting feedback from doctors, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that alleged Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner can be made mentally competent enough to stand trial with further treatment.

Loughner, who has been in a prison mental health facility since May, is accused of killing six people and wounding 13 others -- including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords -- in Tucson on Jan. 8.  If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

A psychologist who has visited Loughner nearly every day since March said on Wednesday that Loughner has clearly responded well to the forced medication -- especially over the last two months -- and believes Loughner will be restored to competency in the coming months.

The doctor said Loughner's thoughts are more organized, his memory has improved and that he is taking better care of himself.  But, the doctor added, Loughner is still very despressed.  A suicide note was found on his bed recently, and he remains on suicide watch.

As a result, Judge Larry Burns ordered further evaluations and updates on Loughner.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio