Ariz. Courtroom Death: 'Cyanide' Evidence Points to Suicide

KNXV/ABC News(PHOENIX) -- Arizona authorities have obtained a canister labeled "cyanide" from the car of a businessman who apparently poisoned himself in a courtroom after he was found guilty of arson. Still, a cause of death has yet to be determined.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office is awaiting toxicology results to determine what, if any, substances Michael Marin ingested moments after a jury convicted him of burning down his Phoenix mansion.

"The body tells us the story," medical examiner spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said today. "We reserve any kind of determination of cause and manner until everything is complete."

Marin, 53, was convicted June 28 of purposefully burning down his $2.55 million mansion in the tiny Biltmore Estates neighborhood of Phoenix after he was unable to keep up with mortgage payments and a plan to raffle his house through a charity fundraiser failed. He faced up to 16 years in prison.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio Tuesday said Marin's son received a delayed email hours after his trial, informing him of how to handle his affairs if things went poorly in court and where to find his car.

Arpaio said at a news conference that records indicated Marin purchased the cyanide powder in 2011 before the start of his trial. He speculated the convicted arsonist made capsules he could swallow in the courtroom from the cyanide powder.

"I don't know what his motive was to go public and allow the whole world to see," Arpaio said at the news conference, ABC affiliate KNXV reported. "He committed suicide in front of the cameras in the courtroom for the whole world to see."

Cameras captured Marin's descent toward death. Moments after the verdict was read, a seemingly distraught Marin buried his face in his hands and appeared to place something in his mouth.

His face began to turn red. Minutes later, he took a sip of a liquid from a plastic sports bottle, turned to get a tissue, experienced convulsions and collapsed.

He was pronounced dead at the hospital, said Jeff Sprong, spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the death.

Marin, who amassed his fortune working in finance and as a Yale-educated lawyer, set fire to his 6,600-square-foot mansion July 5, 2009, after he was unable to make a $2.3 million payment on his balloon mortgage the following month.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Several Injured After Turbulence Hits American Airlines Flight

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- Several people aboard an American Airlines flight from Aruba to Miami were treated for injuries Tuesday evening after the plane was hit with turbulence prior to landing.

In a statement, the carrier said Flight 1780 "encountered moderate turbulence" for about 15 seconds roughly 30 minutes before it was scheduled to land in Miami.  

Upon landing safely at 6:06 p.m., two flight attendants and three passengers were transported to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.  A handful of other passengers were treated at the gate at Miami International Airport.  None of the injuries were said to be critical.

American Airlines said the seatbelt sign was lit when the plane started shaking, and "nothing on the radar indicated that turbulence was in the area."

The Boeing 757 had 185 passengers and six crew members on board.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Serial Hugger' Preys on Women in St. Louis Suburbs

Hemera/Thinkstock(ST. LOUIS) -- Missouri prosecutors are trying to decide whether to charge an alleged serial hugger who pretends to know women and cons them into giving him a hug.

So far, at least 36 women have come forward to complain about unwanted hugs, and one woman said the man also kissed her on the lips during their embrace.

Police have not released the name of the man, but the Riverfront Times, a St. Louis weekly, dubbed him "Jack the Gripper" or "John Wayne Embracey."  One St. Louis suburb arrested him on probable cause, but released him an hour later.

Most of the women who have come forward called police in Des Peres, Mo.  According to their reports, the alleged hugger typically approaches women while they are shopping by themselves, pretends to know them as a former neighbor, and then asks for a hug under the pretense that it is his birthday, Des Peres Detective Marshall Broughton said.

"He'd say, 'Hi, remember me?  I lived down the street in the corner house.  How ya been?'" Broughton said.  "Obviously [the women] didn't remember him, but he did it so quickly and convincingly that they felt embarrassed that they didn't know him."

Des Peres police identified the man, who is 44, but did not arrest him because of uncertainty about whether his actions were criminal, Broughton said.  The alleged hugger showed up at the Des Peres police department with his attorney on June 20 after police requested that he come in for questioning. He made no statements at the meeting, Broughton said.

Before he could leave, however, he was handcuffed by police officers from nearby Warson Woods, who had conducted a photo lineup in which a witness readily identified him, Warson Woods Police Chief Robert Stanczak said.  Warson Woods police questioned him for about an hour before letting him go, Stanczak said.

Des Peres and Warson Woods police have reported the hugging incidents to St. Louis County prosecutors, who will determine whether to pursue third-degree assault charges, among others.

While county prosecutors may determine that the hugger's actions did not violate state law, Stanczak said they clearly constituted assault under Warson Woods municipal ordinances.

If prosecutors decide to pursue charges against the man, his identity will become public, and a warrant will be issued for his arrest.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hot Air Balloon Knocked Down by Strong Winds

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.) -- An early morning hot air balloon ride ended in near disaster for five people Tuesday after the balloon they were riding in crashed to the ground in a field outside Scottsdale, Ariz.

The balloon’s precarious position in the sky was first spotted shortly after 7 a.m. by a helicopter reporter for local TV station KTVK, who described the scene as “terribly wrong.”

“I knew something wasn’t right,” said the reporter, Tammy Rose.

A camera captured the balloon as it began to sway in the sky after it got caught up in winds as strong as 20 mph.  The wind gust knocked the balloon, and its five passengers, to the ground.

“They actually hit the ground several times,” said Rose. “You could see something had gone terribly wrong.”

The balloon and basket holding the passengers were dragged between 800 and 900 feet through a field on the Salt River Pima Indian Reservation where the crash occurred.  After kicking up a dust storm of its own on the field, the basket came to a stop on its side, according to KTVK.

The five people presumed to be on board all emerged from the deflated balloon unscathed and declined medical attention.

The pilot called the crash a “textbook high-wind landing” and reportedly warned passengers ahead of time that they could experience a rough landing due to the weather.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Florida Teen Sacrifices Arm to Gator and Jokes Through Pain

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOORE HAVEN, Fla.) -- A Florida teenager who came face-to-snout with a 10-foot alligator made a split-second choice that likely saved his life, but cost him his arm.

Kaleb Langdale, 17, really showed his courage when he smiled and joked through the pain and loss of his right arm.

Langdale was swimming with his friends in the Caloosahatchee River in Moore Haven, Fla., on Monday when temperatures were hitting triple digits.

"He was swimming with some friends in the river, which they do frequently," Langdale's aunt LaDawn Hayes told ABC News. "It's a very rural community with nowhere in the town for these kids to go. There's no city pool, so this is the only choice on 100 degree day."

While the boys were swimming, one friend yelled, "There's a gator!"

"Kaleb turned around to look [at his friend] and turned back and there was a gator a few feet away coming straight at him," Hayes said. The alligator was later measured at about 10 feet.

His friends said that from the riverbank, all they could see was a lot of splashing.

"The gator went down and Kaleb went down," Hayes said. "He grabbed the gator underneath his bottom jaw, on that skin, and had pretty good control until the tail came around and slapped him in the back. At that point, his hand broke loose from the gator's jaw."

And, in that moment, Langdale told his aunt he made a difficult decision that probably saved his life.

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Hayes said he thought to himself, "It's either my life or my arm, and the arm was just kind of out there."

The gator chomped down on the lower half of his arm and Langdale saw an opportunity to get away.

"The gator took the arm. He felt the bones break, felt everything kind of go and made a choice at that point that it was either his arm or his life," Hayes said. "So he took his feet and pushed as hard as he could push until his arm broke free."

Langdale swam for the riverbank opposite where his friends were standing, since it was closer, and climbed out on his own. He yelled to his friends that he had lost his arm and told them to call for help.

"He pinched his arm between his legs and waited for paramedics to get there," Hayes said. "By the time his mom got there, the paramedics just stopped her and said, 'He's fine. He's joking. He's talking and he's a trooper, but he's lost part of his arm.'"

Langdale had lost the lower half of his right arm, below the elbow.

While Langdale was being taken care of in the hospital, authorities managed to track down and kill the alligator.

Langdale underwent surgery to close up his wounds, but not before asking Hayes to snap a photo of him in the trauma unit and post it on Facebook.

"You're on your pain meds, I'm not going to do that," Hayes told him. But he insisted, telling her, "Let everyone know I'm okay and I can still drive my airboat. Let them know it was my right arm and not my left."

"He's really doing awesome," Hayes said. "His attitude has been absolutely wonderful. He's always had a very good outlook on life, so if he can find a way to joke about it, he'll joke about it. And he's found a way to do that so far."

Langdale has been in good spirits and is in the hospital where the family is taking things "one day at a time," Hayes said. His surgery to close his wounds was successful, but the family does not yet know when Langdale will leave the hospital.

"He's really been very mellow about the whole thing, very himself," Hayes said. "You just don't realize how amazing he is until something like this happens and then all those years of smart-butt comments and jokes make sense."

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Missing Ohio Mom Never Returned from Vacation

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NAGS HEAD, N.C.) -- Police in North Carolina are searching for the body of an Ohio mom after her ex-boyfriend confessed to his brother that he strangled her during a vacation trip.

So far police have been unable to find any sign of Lynn Jackenheimer, 33, or her ex-boyfriend Nathan Summerfield.

Summerfield, 27, has been called a "person of interest" in Jackenheimer's disappearance.

The former couple spent the week vacationing in Nags Head, N.C., with their 3-year-old son and Jackenheimer's 13-year-old daughter.

On Sunday, Summerfield returned to Ohio and dropped the two children off with family, when he reportedly confessed to his brother that he killed his ex-girlfriend.

Police in Ohio, along with the Dare County Sheriff's Office in North Carolina, began coordinating an investigation and a search of the Nags Head area.

"I don't believe she is in Ashland County. I don't believe she ever came back from Nags Head," Carl Richert, a captain with the Ashland County Sheriff's Department, told ABC News' affiliate WVEC.

Summerfield was last seen on Sunday driving a silver Honda Civic. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Ashland County Sheriff's Department at 419- 289-3911.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Massachusetts Man to Plead Guilty in Model Plane Terror Plot

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A Massachusetts man accused of plotting to attack the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol building with model planes filled with C-4 explosives will plead guilty to two terror charges, say prosecutors, and serve a 17-year federal sentence.

According to court documents filed by prosecutors and attorneys for Rezwan Ferdaus, a Northeastern University physics graduate and U.S. citizen, Ferdaus has agreed to plead guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to damage and destroy federal buildings by means of an explosive.

Ferdaus, 27, was arrested at the culmination of a long-term sting operation by undercover FBI agents posing as Al Qaeda operatives.

According to investigators, Ferdaus believed he had been working for al Qaeda since 2010, when he began modifying cell phones to serve as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to be passed on to fighters in the Middle East and then providing them to the supposed operatives.

"During a June 2011 meeting, he appeared gratified when he was told that his first phone detonation device had killed three U.S. soldiers and injured four or five others in Iraq. Ferdaus responded, 'That was exactly what I wanted,'" the Department of Justice said in a statement in September 2011.

The alleged model-plane plot called for Ferdaus to command a team of six operatives to use remote-controlled aircraft filled with explosives to attack the Pentagon and the Capitol before shooting survivors in a subsequent "ground" attack.

Ferdaus allegedly traveled to Washington, D.C. to conduct reconnaissance on his targets. Ferdaus was arrested in Framingham, Mass. in September 2011 after he took delivery of the AK-47 rifles, grenades and C-4 explosives that were allegedly to be used in the attack.

Federal officials say the public never faced any danger during the sting, because the "explosives" furnished to Ferdaus by undercover officers were inert. The Justice Department says agents gave Ferdaus every opportunity to back out of the plot, but he refused even after being warned that his attacks could kill women and children.

Ferdaus told undercover officers that he had been radicalized on the internet.

As part of his plea deal, prosecutors and Ferdaus have agreed to a 17-year sentence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teen Lost at Sea: Parents Blame Hawaii Tour Group

Madoff Family(NEW YORK) -- Parents of a New York teen who went missing in the waters off Hawaii blame a tour group for their son's disappearance after a wave swept him out to sea.

The wave pulled Tyler Madoff, 15, out to sea six days ago after a hiking and kayaking expedition with a tour group from Bold Earth Teen Adventures in Hawaii. The 6-foot wave hit the tour group on Kealakekua Bay, sending Tyler and five other teens into the water. The five were rescued, with a 15-year-old boy still recovering in a Honolulu hospital.

The search for Tyler ended Monday evening after fire officials classified his disappearance as a fatality.

His father, Michael Madoff, blamed Bold Earth Teen Adventures after team leaders from the company led the group into the bay even though officials from the Department of Land and Natural Resources warned that they were not allowed to hike or kayak in the area and the group apparently had no permit to be there.

"The people of Bold Earth ... have shown poor judgment and extremely poor character," Madoff said.

He said, however, that there are no plans at this time to take legal action.

Abbott Wallis, the owner of Bold Earth Teen Adventure, said in a statement to ABC News the company did "the very best they could under extremely difficult circumstances."

A junior at Scarsdale High School in Westchester County, Tyler played outside linebacker for the varsity football team. He won a state medal for the Pelham Community Rowing Association. His coaches and friends told ABC News station WABC he was a leader.

Michael Madoff and his wife, Marianne, are back in White Plains with their two other children.

Remembering his son, Madoff said, "You're the best of your mother and you're the best of me. You brought smiles and joy to everybody."

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Would Al Qaeda’s Wildfire ‘Ember Bomb’ Really Work?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Al Qaeda’s plan to attack America by using an “ember bomb” to ignite wildfires is so impractical that the terror group would be better off armed with a cigarette lighter, according to California fire officials who recently tested an al Qaeda-prescribed incendiary device.

In early May, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the state’s threat assessment center conducted a “practical evaluation” of a home-made “ember bomb,” a complex device described in detail in a recent edition of the al Qaeda-produced Inspire magazine under the title “It Is of Your Freedom to Ignite a Firebomb.”

“In America, there are more houses built in the [countryside] than in the cities,” the Inspire article’s author says under the pseudonym The AQ Chef. “It is difficult to choose a better place [than] in the valleys of Montana.”

In response, California officials went about building and testing a sophisticated version of the device, complete with time-delay ignition, according to a “For Official Use Only” document published online today by the anti-secrecy website Public Intelligence.

During the test, which was conducted on the concrete floor of a training facility, the device lit a fire that burned on its own fuel for just under 12 minutes. While the testers said the fire could have potentially spread to any nearby brush, the device itself did not produce any embers and all the heat was concentrated in one location – meaning it would not start other fires on its own – and left behind a large, black, “obsidian-like substance” where the device had burned.

“The ‘Ember Bomb’ device is an effective heat source and will ignite vegetation; however, we judge it is highly impractical based on the amount of energy and time it takes to construct the device, and the amount of physical evidence that will likely remain following its use,” the document said. “…[T]here appears to be little practicality associated with employing this method versus other that would likely leave far less physical evidence, such as manually starting a burn with a cigarette lighter.”

Capt. Ryan Stonebraker, head of the California State Threat Assessment Center, told ABC News he has not seen any indication anyone has attempted to start a fire with such a device, but said that regardless of how a blaze starts, the “threat is still on my mind.”

“It’s very difficult to stop fires,” he said. “I think what’s important is that first responders are aware of the methodology… The threat isn’t just from al Qaeda [abroad], but homegrown extremists as well.”

Stonebraker said the test was the first-ever collaboration between the threat assessment center and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the results were sent to law enforcement agencies across the country.

“We thought this was kind of obviously something different, so we did the tests so that first responders could see how it worked… and what to look for,” he said.

The firebomb device was described in the ninth edition of Inspire, a magazine produced by al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, AQAP. Earlier editions of the sleek magazine were believed to be crafted by U.S.-born radical Samir Khan before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


1985 Cold-Case Homicide Solved

Lewis County Sheriff's Office(LEWIS COUNTY, Wash.) -- Washington state officials have apparently solved the 1985 cold-case homicide of an elderly couple with an arrest that fulfills a grieving son's promise to his parents.

Wilhelmina "Minnie" Maurin and Edward "Ed" Maurin's dead bodies were found Christmas Eve 1985. They had been shot to death and dragged into a wooded area.

"At their funeral, I laid my hand on their casket and I said, 'I will find out who did this,'" the couple's son, Dennis Hadaller, said at a news conference Monday.

A team of investigators from the Lewis County Sheriff's Office in Chehalis, Wash., was dispatched to Alaska July 8 to make an arrest in connection to the slayings.

Rick Riffe, 53, of King Salmon, Ala., was arrested and will be processed for extradition back to Washington to stand trial for what Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield called "horrific crimes."

Minnie and Ed Maurin were 83 and 81 years old, respectively, when they were reported missing by family members Dec. 19, 1985.

"We have developed evidence that Rick and his now deceased brother, John Riffe, kidnapped the Maurins from their residence and drove them to the bank, forcing Ed to withdraw $8,500 in cash," Mansfield wrote in a news release.

Five days after their disappearance, the couple's bodies were found in a wooded area at the end of a road in Chehalis. The investigation revealed that they had been shot inside their car with a shotgun and then dragged to a wooded location where they were found by a passerby, according to police.

Mansfield said the Riffe brothers were their primary suspects from the beginning of their investigation, but they did not have evidence of probable cause "until much later on."

"Detectives feel many witnesses did not come forward during the time of the initial investigation due to being fearful of the Riffe brothers and possible retaliation for speaking out," Mansfield wrote in the news release.

Both Riffe brothers moved to Alaska in 1987 and John Riffe died "ironically" the week before investigators bought tickets to travel to Alaska for the arrests, police said.

"I believe in karma, these are bad, evil people," Mansfield said at Monday's news conference.

The prosecutor in the case told ABC News' Seattle affiliate KOMO that he did not plan to pursue the death penalty for Riffe because of his failing health.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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