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Wednesday
Apr232014

Broadened Clemency Rules Could Affect Thousands of Inmates

iStock 360/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Prison inmates serving sentences for nonviolent crimes have been offered broader guidelines for seeking clemency, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

The new rules, only eligible to prisoners who have already served 10 years behind bars, will focus on people who would be handed a lesser punishment if they were charged with the same crime today.

The decision is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to reduce the U.S. prison population by turning back the use of harsh sentences for drug crimes. The administration has also sought to reverse a legacy of racial disparity in convictions. For example, the use of crack cocaine has historically resulted in longer sentences than for using its powdered form, with the former drug more likely found on black suspects and the latter on white suspects.

Only inmates charged with a federal crime are affected by the initiative, leaving out any serving under state law. And if an inmate is found eligible, his or her case would then go before President Obama for consideration. Either way, the odds are long for any prisoner. Obama only reduced the sentences of eight criminals last year, all of them on long drug sentences.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that although the majority of clemency petitions will likely be from drug offenders, the new rules are not limited to narcotic convictions.

“Either they will have committed drug crimes, and that’s a big category that we’re looking at, or they may have been denominated career criminals because they had priors that were minor drug cases that have been called felonies,” Cole told reporters Wednesday.

“But we want to make sure that we’re not foreclosing the possibility that there are other types of sentences, that there is, that are worthy of this kind of clemency where there was an unfairness that took place because of the operation of law,” he said.

Prisoners will need to meet six specific criteria to be eligible. In addition to having served 10 years for a nonviolent crime, they can have no strong ties to large-scale organized crime, history of violence or “significant criminal history.” Inmates must also have demonstrated good behavior and “likely would have received a substantially lower sentence” if charged in the present day.

“It’s important to remember that commutations are not pardons, they are not exonerations, they are not expressions of forgiveness,” Cole stated. “Rather, as [Obama] said, they are quote, ‘an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness.’”

It is not immediately clear how many of the nation’s 216,000 federal inmates will be affected by the initiative, but the deputy attorney general loosely estimated 12 or 13 percent of the population serves low-level offenses.

Inmates who believe they are eligible will be given an electronic survey to be screened by lawyers from the Bureau of Prisons, and then a pro bono attorney to assist in preparing their petition.

Meanwhile, a working group of organizations, including the American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, have banded together to form the nonprofit “Clemency Project 2014″ to offer legal services to the convicts.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Florida Sinkhole Reopens Days After Being Filled

iStock 360/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- A sinkhole in a Florida retirement community that was filled over the weekend is opening up again.

"The hole at this point is 65 feet in diameter and about 65, 70 feet wide," said Gina Lambert with The Villages Public Safety Department.

When it first appeared over the weekend, the sinkhole threatened at least two homes and evacuations were put into place.

"At this point, no evacuations; no residents have been displaced; the homes that are affected are still the original two from the weekend," Lambert said Wednesday.

She said the plan now is to fill the hole with dirt and monitor it for the next 24 to 48 hours.

"It's Mother Nature, so we're working with her. We're trying to figure out what her next step is, and move on from there," Lambert said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Cops Make Arrest in Yale University Shooting Hoax

New Haven Police Dept(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- Police in Connecticut have made an arrest in what turned out to be a costly prank at Yale University last November.

On Wednesday, New Haven Police announced that they've arrested 50-year-old Jeffrey Jones in connection with a prank 911 call made on Nov. 25, 2013, in which the caller reported a pending shooting at Yale University.

This resulted in the university's campus being locked down for about six hours and prompted a massive response by New Haven Police, at a cost of more than $30,000, according to officials.

Jones, of Westbrook, Conn., has been charged with falsely reporting an incident, second-degree threatening, second-degree reckless endangerment, misuse of the emergency 911 system and breach of peace.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Police Storm NY Home After Gamer Plays ‘Swatting’ Prank

iStock / 360/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A frightening scene erupted in suburban Long Island, N.Y., when dozens of SWAT team members charged towards a home on Tuesday after they received a call that an armed man with multiple victims was inside.

Instead of finding a crazed killer inside the home, the SWAT team members found themselves caught in a hoax known as “swatting.”

“Swattings are hoax calls calling out SWAT teams to make-believe, typically hostage-barricade murder situations,” explained Brad Garrett, ABC News’ crime and terrorism analyst.

The target of the hoax in this case was a 17-year-old boy who had been playing the online video game Call of Duty inside the home, police said.

When the boy, who was not identified, reportedly beat his opponent at the game, the opponent called the police pretending to be the boy and claiming he’d killed his mother and brother, police said.

“They actually have a system, I believe, where they get points for the type of tactical response the police give, if the helicopters are involved, the SWAT team with controlled entry,” said Long Beach Police Chief Michael Tangney.

“Swatting” pranks have been used on some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Miley Cyrus, whose North Hollywood home was swarmed by police in 2012 after a prank 911 call.

In Long Island, the boy’s family expressed their shock at seeing police in riot gear storm their home.

“Something happened, the police at my house…everything is okay,” the boy’s mother Maria Castillo told ABC News station WABC.

“I’m in shock. It’s crazy,” his brother, Juan Castillo, told WABC.

Authorities confiscated the game console in the family’s home to try to identify the 911 caller.

“The message is for parents to pay attention to what their kids are doing online,” Tangney said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Stowaway Spent 7 Hours Undetected Before Plane Took Off

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- A 15-year-old stowaway who survived a flight over the Pacific in a jet's wheel well spent seven hours undetected in the plane before the jetliner took off.

The teen, the son of a California cab driver, is a junior at Santa Clara High School. He reportedly moved to the school this year.

Student Emanuael Golla said the student is shy. “He really didn’t speak that much,” he added. “We were all surprised at what happened. We really didn’t believe it was him.”

The teen told authorities he left home after a fight with his father and step-mother. He scaled a fence at the San Jose Airport at about 1 a.m. Sunday, hiding in the Hawaiian Airlines 767 wheel well for nearly seven hours before the plane took off at 7:55 a.m.

While it's not clear how the teen spent all that time, FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen was sleeping in the plane before takeoff. He "literally just slept on the plane overnight," Simon said.

The boy told authorities that he chose the specific plane because it was the closest one. The teen’s actions were caught on tape, but were undetected by security.

Once the plane landed in Maui, officials said airport surveillance video captured the boy crawling out of the wheel well. Authorities believe the boy survived the five-plus hour flight, despite little oxygen and temperatures of at least -50 degrees.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said he spoke with the stowaway after airport employees found him wandering the tarmac. He said the teen told him he hadn’t seen his biological mother since he was 2 years old and that he wanted to go see her. It’s not clear if that was the purpose of the teen’s incredible journey.

The boy was resting Tuesday at a Honolulu hospital. Hawaii's Department of Human Services said child welfare officials were arranging his safe return to California.

The big concern Wednesday is airport security. A camera caught the teen climbing into the wheel well, but nobody knew until Hawaiian officials called the San Jose International Airport and asked them to look.

“We are looking at what we need to improve so that what happened on Sunday will not occur again,” said Rosemary Barnes, the airport’s spokesperson.

The Federal Aviation Administration said about one-quarter of the 105 stowaways who have sneaked aboard flights worldwide since 1947 have survived. Some wheel-well stowaways survived deadly cold and a lack of oxygen because their breathing, heart rate and brain activity slow down.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Pledge of Allegiance Prompts Lawsuit by NJ Family

iStock/Thinkstock(ABERDEEN, N.J.) -- A New Jersey family is suing their local school district, charging that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance turn atheists into "second-class citizens."

The suit filed this week against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District by the Washington, D.C.-based American Humanist Association keeps the identity of the family under wraps because their child attends school there.

Under New Jersey state law, students in all 590 school districts must recite the pledge each day or else stand without speaking.

In response to the suit, Matawan-Aberdeen schools officials say their district is being unfairly singled out, drawing resources away from schools in order to defend their case.

Previous objections to the Pledge of Allegiance have had to do with the separation of church and state. However, this lawsuit is alleging that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is being violated when one is forced to say "under God."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

University of Central Florida Student Says Fraternity Rejected Him Based on Sexuality

iStock/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- The Greek system at the University of Central Florida is the subject of harsh scrutiny after a student claimed a fraternity rejected him because of his sexuality.

George Dumont, 19, said representatives of Beta Theta Pi made it clear he wasn't going to join because he is gay.

"It nearly broke me, to be honest," Dumont said. "...I've been through a very dark period where, you know, I probably wouldn't be here today if it weren't for a couple of really close friends."

The former UCF cheerleader took to social media to bring attention to his case, posting his story to YouTube. Meanwhile, the president of the 70-member chapter responded to the allegations, denying them and explaining that the same time Dumont was rejected, another gay student was initiated.

Mediation talks are planned between the parties involved to resolve the discrimination claim. University spokesperson Chad Binnette said the meetings will involve diversity experts, psychologists, and several department heads.

"The goal is to provide support for students who also many not know where they can turn for help if they feel like they're a victim or witness of bias," Binnette said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Computer Glitch Delays Florida Exam for Thousands of Students

iStock/Thinkstock(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- A computer glitch caused several Florida school districts to cancel exams Tuesday, delaying the administration of the yearly Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. More than 20,000 students across five counties were affected by the technical troubles.

Overall, 26 school districts were hit by the server crash. In Orange County, a total of 12,000 kids couldn't take the test at all. Pearson, the company involved, claims the problem is resolved and says it is working with districts to set up make-up test dates. A national issue with Internet service is blamed.

Students prepared for the exam months in advance, leaving several parents upset with the unexpected issue on testing day.

"I wish they would have known sooner or something," one parent said. "I always feel bad that I have to make my kids come because of the FCAT but, you know, it is what it is."

State education leaders are threatening action against Pearson, with a letter from Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart calling the failure "inexcusable."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Stowaway Teen Said He Ran Away From Home After Argument with Parents

Karent Bleier/AFP/Getty Images(SAN JOSE, Calif.) -- The teenager who miraculously survived a five-hour journey in the unpressurized wheel well of a jetliner said he ran away from home because he was angry about an argument he had with his stepmother and his dad, an airport official in Hawaii who spoke with the boy told ABC News on Tuesday.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said he spent some time with the stowaway on Sunday after an airport worker found the 15-year-old wandering the tarmac disoriented.

The teen told Moniz that he hadn't seen his biological mother since he was 2 years old and that he wanted to go see her. But it wasn't clear if that was the goal of the teen's daring journey from San Jose, Calif., Moniz said.

Airport surveillance video captured the stowaway -- wearing a hoodie, jeans and sneakers -- exiting the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767, which departed from San Jose and landed in Kahului, Maui, at about 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

"It's not a temperature-controlled area so the fact that he was able to survive is a miracle," Moniz previously told ABC News.

After the flight was airborne, the boy passed out inside the wheel well, FBI officials said. When the plane landed after a 2,300-mile journey, the boy was still passed out and he did not come to for about an hour, the FBI said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Boston Marathon Proposal: ‘Life Is Short And You Have to Embrace It to Its Fullest’

Carla White-Keefe/Facebook(BOSTON) -- One marathoner was sprinting towards the finish line for a different reason than all his fellow Boston runners Monday.

Upon reaching the finish line, Greg Picklesimer dropped to one knee to propose to his girlfriend, Carla White, who was lovingly waiting for him at the end of his long race.

“I had two goals in mind,” Picklesimer, 47, of Newton, Mass., told GoodMorningAmerica.com.

“One was running under a certain time. And my bigger goal was to propose to Carla. My time goal fell apart a little bit after I was running, but the bigger goal more than made up for it.”

After completing the 26.2 miles in a still-impressive time of 2 hours, 42 minutes and 32 seconds, with the diamond ring still intact, he said there was only one thing that could have come in the way of him and his soon-to-be fiancée.

“I had arranged for her to have a VIP ticket or credential into the grandstand area so she would be near the finish line so she could find me more easily,” he explained. “But I knew this was going to be the wild card – getting her into the finish area. That was the only thing I couldn’t control.”

Picklesimer walked up to a security guard, explained he was trying to propose and asked if there was any way she could greet him inside the finish area.

“He immediately told me, ‘No,’” a discouraged Picklesimer said.

The tightened security was obviously much more strict about who was and was not allowed in certain areas following last year’s terror attacks, but after a little more coaxing and discussion, the guard let White in just long enough to say, “Yes.”

“I’ve waited my whole life for him, so this is just the happiest day of my life,” White told local affiliate WBZ of her easy answer. “I’m speechless.”

Picklesimer, a seasoned runner, also competed in the 2013 Boston Marathon, fortunately crossing the finish line before the horrific terrorist attack. However, those bombs going off certainly helped put everything into perspective for him.

“After everything that happened last year, it lit a fire under me that people you love could be taken from you at any moment,” he explained. “You just don’t know what could happen. The spirit and rebirth of the marathon this year, and my realization that life is short and you have to embrace it to its fullest while you can, it really did influence me. I want to be with her forever.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio