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HEAR THIS HOUR'S UPDATE

Wednesday
Nov022011

Coronado Mansion Death Probe Becoming a Book?

Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center(CORONADO, Calif.) -- The lawyer representing the family of Rebecca Zahau, the dead woman found bound, naked and hanging from her boyfriend's mansion in Coronado, Calif., is working with a literary agent and may commission a true crime author to write a book about the case.

The news comes days after lawyer Anne Bremner confirmed that Zahau's family had exhumed her body and would be appearing on Dr. Phil in November to discuss a second autopsy, which was conducted by renown forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Jonah Shacknai, Zahau's boyfriend and owner of the Coronado mansion, declined to comment through his spokesman, Terry Fahn.  Shacknai has kept a low profile since Zahau's death, which came two days after his 6-year-old son Max toppled over a balcony railing at the top of a staircase at the mansion.  He died from injuries he suffered later that week.

ABC News affiliate KGTV reported Tuesday that Shacknai has sold the historic mansion to "an unidentified group of investors at an undisclosed sale price."

Bremner has a history of adapting her high profile cases into books, TV appearances, and most recently, a movie.  And Zahau's death, which sparked lurid headlines,"doesn't pass the smell test" according to Bremner.

Zahau's body was found bound and gagged with her hands tied behind her back hanging from a mansion balcony.  Her death was ruled a suicide by the San Diego Sheriff's Department, and Max's death was ruled an accident.

Zahau's family, however, doesn't believe she killed herself, and hired Bremner to spearhead efforts to get the investigation reopened.

The family and Bremner have established two websites about Rebecca Zahau, one of which solicits donations and is overseen by Sharlene Martin, a literary manager from Martin Literary Management in Seattle.

Martin told ABC News there is no Zahau book currently in the works, but if there was her agency would handle it.

Ann Rule, the author of 32 non-fiction books about homicide and other crimes, told ABC News that she recently met with Bremner and during dinner they discussed the possibility of writing a book about the Zahaus.

Rule, who said she has been a close friend of Bremner for 25 years, noted Martin's involvement in the family website "seems really odd" and that she's "never heard of such a thing."

The probability of writing a book about the Zahaus, however, is about "50/50 -- if charges were brought," she said.  "It's a difficult thing because the little boy's father is very, very wealthy so for legal reasons it's kind of a mine field."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov022011

Four Georgia Men Charged in Terror Plot

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- Four senior citizens will appear in front of a federal judge in Georgia on Wednesday after telling undercover informants about plans to attack federal buildings with explosives and a biological toxin.

The men named in the charging documents, Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland, Ga., and Toccoa, Ga., residents Dan Roberts, 67, Ray H. Adams, 65, and Samuel J. Crump, 68, were all members of a fringe militia organization, according to investigators.

They called themselves "the covert group," and met several times throughout the year to discuss killing federal employees with rifles, explosives, and the dangerous toxin ricin.

An undercover agent recorded several of the meetings, including one in April where Adams allegedly said, "The first ones that need to die is the ones in the government buildings."

By April, Thomas was reportedly telling one of the FBI's confidential informants about the illegal equipment they wanted to buy, providing a long list including firearms, silencers and explosives. And in May, he allegedly began surveying buildings in Atlanta, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the IRS, as potential targets, according to authorities. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov022011

Report: US Military Is Losing the Battle Against Suicide

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Between 2005 to 2010, a U.S. service member took his or her own life every 36 hours, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

“Although only 1 percent of Americans have served in the military, former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the United States,” the report stated.

Military suicide has risen over the past 10 years, with an estimated 18 veteran suicides a day.  However, the report’s authors say the true number is unknown.

“As more American troops return home from war, this issue will require increasingly urgent attention,” the report summary warned.

The report, entitled “Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide,” is CNAS’ first as part of the White House’s "Joining Forces" initiative.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov022011

Obama Says Fort Monroe Will Help Create Jobs

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In yet another executive action, President Obama Tuesday signed a proclamation to designate Fort Monroe a National Monument, billing it as “an incredibly important economic boost to the region.”
 
“Fort Monroe has played a part in some of the darkest and some of the most heroic moments in American history. But today isn’t just about preserving a national landmark -- it’s about helping to create jobs and grow the local economy. Steps like these won’t replace the bold action we need from Congress to get our economy moving and strengthen middle-class families, but they will make a difference,” Obama said in a written statement.
 
According to the White House, the preservation of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., will help create nearly 3,000 jobs in the state. “It will add millions of dollars to the local economy in and around Hampton.  And so this is a win-win. Not only is it good for the people of that region now, but it also allows us to set aside this incredibly important site for the enjoyment and appreciation of generations to come,” Obama told reporters Tuesday.
 
The announcement marks yet another unilateral action by the president intended to grow the economy and circumvent Republicans in Congress, who are blocking his $447 billion jobs bill.
 
“There’s a strong economic component to this. We think we’re going to see additional jobs in Virginia as a consequence of this.  But for those members of Congress who are here, I still need some action from Congress on the American Jobs Act and other steps,” Obama joked. “But in the meantime, this is going to make a big difference.”
 
Fort Monroe is integral to the history of slavery, the Civil War, and the U.S. military. It was the place where Dutch traders first brought enslaved Africans in 1619 and during the Civil War the Fort became a place for escaped slaves to find refuge.
 
In 1861, the Fort was the site of General Benjamin Butler’s “Contraband Decision,” which provided a pathway to freedom for thousands of slaves.
 
“I am looking forward to not only visiting myself but also taking Malia and Sasha down there so they can get a little bit of sense of their history,” the president said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

Intelligence Operative’s Letter, Sent to Son on Hitler’s Stationary

Central Intelligence Agency(MCLEAN, Va.) -- In what will likely go down as one of history’s mysteries, the CIA Museum in McLean, Va., has obtained a letter from former intelligence operative Richard Helms written in 1945 on Hitler’s stationary. Helms’ son, Dennis Helms, had received the letter when he was three years old and gave it to the museum this year.

“Dennis doesn’t know exactly how he came to have [the stationary],” said museum curator Toni Hiley. “And we don’t have any information in any of the publications on Helms where he’s referenced [to know] exactly how he obtained it.”

In the brief note, dated “V-E day,” meaning May 8, 1945, OSS operative Richard Helms tells his young son:

“The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe -- three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins. He had a thirst for power, a low opinion of man as an individual, and a fear of intellectual honesty. He was a force for evil in the world. His passing, his defeat -- a boon to mankind. But thousands died that it might be so. The price for ridding society of bad is always high. Love, Daddy.”

When the museum received the letter from Dennis Helms on the Monday following Osama bin Laden’s assassination, Hiley said the staff was “stunned.”

“It seemed like he could have been writing it about bin Laden,” she said. “It seemed like there was no time between the two. Like 66 years had just evaporated.”

Aside from the timing, the letter itself -- with its heartfelt message from father to son -- was equally unique. “I was just struck that he would have a sense or sweep of history. From his perspective in 1945 as a young intelligence officer, he couldn’t have known he would be director of the CIA, he couldn’t have known that there would be another evil that intelligence would address 66 years later,” said Hiley. “It’s almost prescient that he would have a sense of his own perspective in history to create a historical artifact for his 3-year-old son.”

The museum, which is not open to the public, added the letter to their exhibit about the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services.

Richard Helms joined the OSS in 1943, and stayed until it was disbanded in October of 1945. Eventually, he would become director of the CIA, a post he held from 1966 until 1973 when Nixon pushed him out and he became the United States ambassador to Iran. In the years following his departure from the CIA, he was questioned about the Castro assassination plots and the CIA’s role in overthrowing Chile’s government, for which he was eventually convicted of perjury.

His letter is now displayed alongside a dinner plate from Hitler’s chancellery obtained from Richard Helms’ widow, Cynthia Helms. "In September 1945 he was in Berlin and had an opportunity to go to Hitler’s bunker,” said Hiley of the museum’s third artifact from Helms’ career -- the first being a telegram obtained from his personnel file.

Dennis Helms told the Washington Post he and his father corresponded often by mail, but it was the sign-off in that initial letter, “Love, Daddy” that has always stayed with him.

“This letter was an opportunity to say what was on his mind,” Dennis Helms, 69, told the Washington Post. “I just wish there had been more such occasions.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

It's Unanimous: Congress Passes Law to Protect Peace Corps Volunteers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- After an ABC News report about the murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, Congress has passed a bill designed to protect whistleblowers and improve the treatment of victims of violence and sexual assault.

"We're so gratified, and actually amazed, that it's come to fruition, and that other volunteers will be able to hopefully serve safely," said Lois Puzey, mother of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, who was killed in 2009. "And if God forbid something happens, that they will have the support they need, which is what our family...did not get."

The House passed the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 by unanimous consent Tuesday evening, following unanimous passage by the Senate on Sept. 26. The bill now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.

The bill is named for 24-year-old Kate Puzey of Georgia, who was murdered in Benin in 2009 after telling superiors she believed a fellow Peace Corps employee was molesting female students. In an investigation that aired on 20/20, ABC News told the story of Kate's murder and examined what critics say has been a "blame-the-victim" culture within the Peace Corps when volunteers are assaulted or attempt to report problems.

Lois Puzey thanked ABC News' 20/20 for bringing attention to the case, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R.-Georgia, for shepherding the bill through to passage. "Just having this bill passed, this law, is going to give us a lot of healing."

Sen. Isakson and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced the bill with a Capitol Hill press conference this summer. "The time has come to stand up and protect America's angels abroad," said Poe at the press conference. On the House floor Tuesday night, Rep. Poe said he hoped the bill would make volunteers feel safe "so that more and more go join the Peace Corps," and also credited ABC News with highlighting the issue of crime against Peace Corps volunteers.

"One reason it came to light was because of an ABC 20/20 special that was on January the 14th outlining the plight of individual Peace Corps volunteers and how they were treated," said Rep. Poe. "In some cases our volunteers were treated like the criminals and they weren't treated like victims.... And those days need to end." Sen. Isakson told ABC News Tuesday that he was "overjoyed" at the bill's passage, and grateful to all who worked on the legislation.

"Kate was a remarkable young woman who unselfishly went to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and was tragically murdered while helping others," said Sen. Isakson. "Kate's life will be memorialized by this new law to provide added protections, victims' rights and whistleblower status for Peace Corps volunteers. It is my sincere hope that this day might bring a small bit of comfort to the Puzey family."

The bill requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims' advocates for each region the agency serves.

Kate Puzey was serving in a village in the West African nation of Benin in March 2009 when she began to suspect that a Peace Corps employee named Constant Bio, a citizen of Benin, was sexually harassing and sleeping with female students at the school where she taught. She sent an email to country headquarters reporting her suspicions and recommending he be fired.

"Please believe me, I'm not someone who likes to create problems, but this has been weighing heavily on me," reads the email she sent, obtained by ABC News.

Bio's brother worked as a manager in the Peace Corps office and Puzey asked her role be kept secret. She was found with her throat slit shortly after Bio received word from Peace Corps officials that he would be dismissed from his contractor position.

The suspect has been in custody since the murder while authorities in Benin investigate. Bio asserted his innocence in a letter to a newspaper in Benin, claiming he was being framed by America. Benin authorities have said they do not yet have enough evidence to try Bio.

The Puzey family believes that the Peace Corps failed to protect Kate, and then kept them in the dark about what had happened.

"It hurts us very deeply," said Kate's father, Harry Puzey, in an interview for 20/20.

"We wouldn't be sitting here, I think, if they had been more transparent with us, more honest with us," added Lois Puzey.

Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the Peace Corps deputy director, refused to say whether the agency bore any responsibility for Kate Puzey's death, citing the ongoing criminal investigation in Benin. "I cannot say because the investigation is not complete," she told ABC News.

Critics of the Peace Corps say the agency has a culture that tries to downplay violent incidents overseas and make victims feel responsible for their own misfortunes. Women who were sexually assaulted while serving as Peace Corps volunteers told ABC News that the treatment they received after they were attacked was sometimes worse than the assaults themselves, and that the agency seemed ill-equipped to deal with victims.

Casey Frazee, who was assaulted while serving in South Africa, formed a group called First Response Action to pressure the Peace Corps into reforming its treatment of victims and updating its sexual assault prevention program.

Frazee hailed the Kate Puzey bill as a breakthrough, and noted that the Peace Corps had worked with First Response Action and members of Congress on reform. "First Response Action is thrilled to see legislation come to fruition that supports Peace Corps Volunteers who report or experience a crime, whether as a victim or a whistleblower," said Frazee. "We are thankful to Congressman Poe and Senator Isakson for working closely with us and Peace Corps to generate this legislation." Cosponsors of the bill include Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), and Reps. Howard Berman and Sam Farr, both California Democrats.

In a statement, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams said the "safety and security of our volunteers is Peace Corps' top priority."

"The Peace Corps welcomes the work of Congress on this important issue," said Williams, "and looks forward to continuing our joint efforts to improve our response to sexual assault and other crimes."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

Woman Injured by Dropped Shopping Cart; Youths Charged

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A New York woman is recovering from critical injuries she suffered when she was struck by a shopping cart that was dropped four stories, allegedly by two 12-year-old boys.

Marion Salmon Hedges was shopping for Halloween candy with her 13-year-old son Sunday when she was injured by the falling cart outside of a shopping center in East Harlem. According to ABC station WABC-TV in New York, Hedges, a real estate broker, remains in critical but stable condition at the Harlem Hospital Center.

Police said the two suspects threw the cart from a walkway on the East River Plaza parking garage. The New York Post reports that when the cart initially got stuck, one suspect went back and pushed it again, sending the cart plummeting four stories to the sidewalk.

In addition to working as a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Hedges works with multiple charities and acts as a board member for the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Youth Center, which has an outpost in a school behind the shopping center where Hedges was injured.

The executive director of the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Youth Center, Wanda Wooten, said she was shocked when she learned that Hedges was in critical condition.

"We were just together at an event on Friday night. She was there with her daughter, trying on shoes, and having a good time," Wooten said.

Wooten described Hedges as being a "high-energy person" who gives "110 percent" and cares about the community.

"I always said [to her]. 'I don't know how you do the things you do,'" Wooten said. "[She] would just say 'That's the way I like to do things -- I can't imagine not being involved.'"

Wooten was especially troubled by the fact that the two 12-year-old suspects were the kind of youths the center often works with.

"I suspect it was a prank that went terribly, terribly wrong," Wooten said. "Young children don't have the best judgment. They don't understand consequences."

Martin Hedges, Marion Hedges' husband of 20 years, told the New York Post Tuesday that his family was "going through a rough time." According to the Post, the Halloween candy Hedges was buying was for a neighborhood block party.

"Every year on Halloween, a 1,000 kids come to our block from less-privileged neighborhoods and we spend $500 to $600 on candy for them and that's what she was doing -- buying candy for those kids to do something nice for the community," he told the Post.

The two youths arrested were charged Tuesday as juveniles with assault and criminal possession of a weapon and then remanded to the custody of the Administration of Children's Services.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

Citing Budget Woes, N.C. Town's Police to Cut Back on 911 Responses

Thinkstock/Getty Images(SMITHFIELD, N.C.) -- The police department in Smithfield, N.C., has said it would no longer respond to all 911 calls and would stop pursuing some misdemeanor crimes if the town didn’t approve a measure to increase the department’s budget for gasoline, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

Police Chief Michael Scott will ask the town council to allow him to reallocate some of his $30,000 office supply and equipment repair funds to compensate for the shortfall in the gas budget. Smithfield reportedly cut the fuel budget by 14 percent — or by about $10,000 — from the previous fiscal year, according to the paper. Without an increase, the department runs out of gas by February 2012.

Scott said the department already had to cut back on patrols — and has even halved the number of patrol cars on the roads at times.

The town recently experienced a series of crimes – an armed robbery of a convenience store, a theft of tires and rims from an auto shop — that Scott said could have been prevented by heavier patrolling.

He also said that the department had been fielding complaints about the lowered police presence, and that some callers had even asked if they should buy guns to protect themselves.

City council members reportedly asked Scott to study alternatives to his plan to shift funds from one part of the budget to another. The alternatives that the police chief plans to present Tuesday are unprecedented. According to the News & Observer, department officials said that detectives would be asked to investigate only felony crimes and would be forced to drop misdemeanor investigations for now.

The plan also means that 911 calls made from hotels and pay phones would be ignored when they were followed by hang-ups, “as a very high percentage of these calls are errors in dialing.” Police would also stop responding to burglar alarms, because of the high number of false alerts. Patrolling would also stop on the southern and western sections of town, according to the paper, because these are not areas of violent crime.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

Explosion at O'Hare Airport in Chicago

Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- A checked bag that exploded at Chicago's O'Hare airport Tuesday contained a battery, according to initial reports, and officials do not see a connection to terror.

A baggage handler suffered minor injuries after a bag coming off a plane at Gate C16 at the United Airlines terminal exploded. Officials found the passenger who had checked the bag and questioned him. According to law enforcement officials, initial reports indicate that one of 12 bags that the passenger checked contained a battery. When a baggage handler moved the bag, the contents exploded, injuring his arm.

"We believe that a battery being shipped in a container exploded while being handled by a United employee," said the Chicago Fire Department in a statement. "This is believed to be an accidental discharge. No criminal activity is suspected at this time." The statement also said that the Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department are inspecting another container.

The Chicago Police Department has set up a perimeter and bomb dogs are on the scene.

"TSA is aware of a suspicious item in a checked bag in the C concourse of Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)," said the Transportation Security Administration in a statement. "Local authorities and the FBI are on scene. The owner of the bag has been identified and is being interviewed by law enforcement. To ensure the safety of those in the area, a perimeter has been established while local authorities investigate."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

Son of Mob Boss 'Little Nicky' Scarfo Arrested on Racketeering, Fraud Charges

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(CAMDEN, N.J.) -- The son of imprisoned Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo Scarfo was arrested Tuesday in New Jersey on federal racketeering and fraud charges.

Nicky Scarfo and associates are alleged by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman of orchestrating a scheme to defraud a Texas financial firm out of millions.

Scarfo, 46, is the son and grandson of mobsters. His grandfather was a Brooklyn mobster from the Genovese crime family. His mother is the sister of three Philly mobsters.

His father, dubbed "Little Nicky" because of his height, presided over some of the bloodiest years in Philadelphia mob history. Dozens were shot, blown up and otherwise publicly executed during this era by the mob boss.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio