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Thursday
Mar262015

UVA Student Martese Johnson Makes First Court Appearance

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- University of Virginia student Martese Johnson entered no plea Thursday to charges stemming from his bloody arrest last week.

Johnson was expected to enter a not guilty plea, but the prosecution asked for a continuance so the investigation could continue.

Martese and lawyer Daniel Watkins agreed to this and his next appearance will be May 28. Attorneys hope that the Virginia State Police investigation will be done by then.

Nearly 100 supporters showed up to the Charlottesville District Court, all dressed in black in a show of unity. The court appearance lasted all of 90 seconds.

Johnson, 20, was bloodied during an arrest near the campus last week, sparking protests on the campus over alleged police brutality as well as a state investigation of the incident. He was arrested outside a Charlottesville bar by state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents who are charged with enforcing alcohol laws in Virginia.

This week, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order requiring increased training and oversight for ABC agents. A statement from Johnson's lawyer said that that action serves to "illustrate that we all share a common belief: it is important for all law enforcement aegncies to act within the bounds of the law."


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Thursday
Mar262015

Courthouse Evacuated During Aaron Hernandez Murder Trial Due to Bomb Threat

Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(FALL RIVER, Mass.) -- The courthouse where the Aaron Hernandez murder trial is being held was evacuated on Thursday morning due to a bomb threat.

ABC's Boston affiliate, WCVB-TV, reported that no explosives were found and employees were allowed back into the courthouse about an hour after the threat was called in. Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh reportedly told jurors that there was no reason to believe the interruption was related to the Hernandez case.

Hernandez's fiancee, Shayannah Jenkins, could testify as early as Friday.

Hernandez is on trial for the June 2013 murder of his friend Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee.


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Thursday
Mar262015

Deadly Tornadoes, Storms Sweep Through Oklahoma 

David Schliepp/iStock/Thinkstock(TULSA, Okla.) --  At least one person was killed as tornadoes and severe storms swept through northeast Oklahoma Wednesday evening.

One person was killed and several others injured at a mobile home park in Sand Springs, about seven miles west of Tulsa, after a possible tornado formed nearby, said the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office. Some 36,500 power outages had been reported in northeast Oklahoma as of 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning local time.

The tornado went by Tulsa and was headed for Inola at about 7 p.m. local time, ABC affiliate KOCO reported.

The National Weather Service had issued tornado warnings as a severe storm headed towards Tulsa, Oklahoma, Wednesday.

People in the Tulsa area captured photos and videos of what was believed to be a tornado. One had formed near Westport, Oklahoma, fewer than 30 miles west of Tulsa, and was moving east at 45 mph, the National Weather Service reported.

 

Outside my office right now... #tornado

A photo posted by Joe Steinhafel (@joe_steinhafel) on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:03pm PDT

The National Weather Service reported the sighting of a possible tornado moving at about 45 mph near Peggs, which is about 60 miles east of Tulsa. Some 67,800 power outages had been reported in northeast Oklahoma as of 7:50 p.m. local time.

Another tornado briefly touched down in Moore, about 11 miles south of Oklahoma City, reports KOCO. A radio tower was toppled and a few roofs were taken off homes, but no injuries were immediately reported, said a spokesperson for the city.

The Storm Prediction Center had warned that a clash of warm and cooler air masses could lead to severe storms.

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office confirmed that one person was killed at the Sand Springs Mobile Home Park. There were also an unconfirmed number of injuries.


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Thursday
Mar262015

Houston Road Rage Victim Recounts Her Terrifying Experience

Courtesy Hadford Family(HOUSTON) -- A Houston woman who was shot in the head in a road rage incident said the fact that she's alive must be torture for her attacker -- and she has a message for aggressive drivers.

Kay Hafford, 22, was on her way to work in Houston Friday morning when she honked at a driver of a white Chevy Tahoe who cut her off, she said.

Police said that minutes later the driver pulled up right next to Hafford's car, fired a single shot through her passenger-side window and then took off.

Despite being shot in the head, Hafford managed to pull over and call the authorities -- only realizing she was hit when she was on the phone.

"When I heard Siri, that's when I cried." she said. "When I heard her say, 'Who do you want to call?' I said 911 and a 911 operator picked up. That's when I lost it."

Hafford was transported to a hospital where she had bullet fragments removed from her skull. She's expected to make a full recovery.

"His mission, although it was to kill me and I'm still living, I know that is killing him," she said.

Hafford said her worry now is the fact that the gunman is still on the run. But, she has forgiven him.

"I forgave him right away," she told ABC News. "When I looked in his eyes, I knew there was something wrong with him."

She added, "All I ask is for him to have a heart and turn himself in."

Hafford urged other aggressive drivers to be more cautious on the road.

"As much as you want to retaliate, think twice," she said, "because you may be in the situation like I am, but you might not make it."


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Thursday
Mar262015

'No Evidence' California Physical Therapist Was Abducted, Say Police

ABC News(VALLEJO, Calif.) -- Police in Vallejo, California, have found "no evidence to support the claims" that a physical therapist was abducted from a home there before she was found alive two days later and more than 400 miles away.

Denise Huskins was found in Huntington Beach, California, Wednesday morning, police said. Her father, Mike Huskins, told ABC News that his daughter called him from Huntington Beach to say she was safe.

Vallejo police said that, through family members, Huskins had promised to speak with investigators but as of late Wednesday they were unable to contact her or her family. Police said she has since retained an attorney.

The FBI, which assisted Vallejo police in its investigation, had arranged for a jet to bring her from Huntington Beach to Northern California for the interview, said police.

"There is no evidence to support the claims that this was a stranger abduction or an abduction at all," read a statement from the Vallejo Police Department. "Given the facts that have been presented thus far, this event appears to be an orchestrated event and not a kidnapping."

Huskins, 29, was reported missing at 1:55 p.m. Monday by what police described as a 30-year-old man who called to report the alleged kidnapping and claimed he witnessed it. Police previously said that Huskins was abducted from the home where she was staying in Vallejo, California, hours earlier, at about 3:30 a.m.

The home from where Huskins was reportedly taken belongs to 30-year-old Aaron Quinn, ABC News has learned. Huskins' family describes him as her boyfriend and says he is the man who called 911 hours after her abduction.

Vallejo police said in its statement that it would request either state or federal charges "if evidence indicates that either Ms. Huskins or Mr. Quinn have committed a criminal act."

"The Vallejo Police Department would like to ensure the public that there is no indication that this was a random act of violence," police said in its statement.

The San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday reported the contents of an email it says it received the day before from an "anonymous person claiming to be holding Denise Huskins."

The newspaper reported the email said that Huskins "will be returned safely (Wednesday)" and that "any advance on us or our associates will create a dangerous situation for Denise."

The e-mail was also reported to include an audio file of a woman identifying herself as Huskins who referred to Tuesday’s plane crash in southern France and identified the first concert she had attended in her life, the name of a childhood friend she attended the concert with, and the name of the friend's mother as proof of her identity.

“That was her. The tape recording was her. That I know. They said they were going to drop her off and they did,” Mike Huskins told the Chronicle after being played the audio recording. “I’m relieved. You have to expect the worst — but in my heart, I knew she was still alive."

Police in Vallejo said they received the same email and audio file but did not confirm its contents.


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Thursday
Mar262015

Astronaut Scott Kelly Prepares for a Pioneering Year in Space on ISS

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Astronaut Scott Kelly is poised to break the record for time in space for a U.S. Astronaut when he launches to the International Space Station this week.

That’s a year with no hot showers, cold beers or the touch of his family. Kelly’s girlfriend Amiko Kauderer said she can’t call him, but he can call her, so will keep her cell phone close. It will be tough, but she said the reunion when he comes back will be special.

"For me it’s like the most romantic long-distance relationship ever," Kauderer said.

There are some amenities on the space station -- the views are out of this world, zero gravity gymnastics, and being an astronaut is still an elite job. Kelly knows that duty on the space station can mean fixing the toilet one week and being out on a spacewalk the next week.

Scott, 51, and his twin brother, retired astronaut Mark, will both be human guinea pigs. NASA will be comparing what happens to Scott’s body and brain to those of his brother Mark, while Mark is on the ground.

Mark said this will double what we know about spaceflight and the human body. "Maybe there is a little cliff out there that you fall off with regards to the radiation, bone mass, bone density, those type of things, so, I am all in," Mark said.

Scott admits it will be a tough year -- and he should know. He has pulled one six-month stint on the space station already. After "about four months, you start thinking, you know, there is a lot of stuff I miss on Earth. I feel like I have accomplished everything I need to, and I am sorta ready to go home.”

On a year-long mission, the intense yearning to go home could come later, he said, noting he hopes that yearning comes about "two-thirds of the way into the mission."

"I am kinda hoping it occurs then," Scott said.

Flight surgeon Dr. Stevan Gilmore is overseeing the research for this year in space. He knows how tough zero gravity is on the human body, and what NASA needs to know before they send humans off on a three-year round trip mission to Mars. This, he said, is an important step.

“We want to understand, is there anything that pops up between the six- and twelve-month duration so that we know if there are any large barriers out there for new missions," Gilmore said.

NASA really wants this to lead to a Mars mission. That’s why Mark Kelly agreed to the research.

"We need to figure out how people are going to live in space for really long periods of time, especially if we want to send somebody to Mars. We want to one day build a base on the Moon. Our experience with long-duration flight is six months," Mark said.

Despite all the possible dangerous side effects, the twins said they believe they are blazing a path that will take humans into space. Mark admits he has the easy job saying on earth, but noted that without taking risks, "we don’t go anywhere, we don’t learn anything, we don’t get better at anything. So, risk-taking has always been a part of the space program and always will, but in this case there is extra risk.”

What will Scott miss when he is in space for a year? All the holidays, his children’s birthdays, and good food, he said.

“The menu of food [in space] is not as large a variety as you would like, even though the weather inside the space station is generally perfect, you miss the rain, the breeze, the change of seasons," Scott said.


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Wednesday
Mar252015

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Describes Brutal Conditions of His 5-Year Captivity

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- For the first time, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has described in his own words the brutal conditions he endured as a Taliban prisoner for five years, a time during which he said he was kept in constant isolation. Bergdahl also claims he attempted to escape about a dozen times, including once when he was able to evade his captors for nine days before being recaptured.

Bergdahl walked away from his unit's outpost in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009 and was held captive by the Taliban until last May, when his freedom was secured in a controversial prisoner swap for five former Taliban leaders being detained at Guantanamo.

On Wednesday the Army charged Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy; he could face life in prison for the latter charge.

Bergdahl’s account of his captivity was included in a statement provided to reporters by his attorney Eugene Fidell, who told ABC News it details “the really atrocious conditions in which he was held” and the worsening treatment after his escape attempts. “I think those are important facts that decision makers will take into account when they figure out how this case should be disposed of,” said Fidell.

“I was kept in constant isolation during the entire five years, with little to no understanding of time, through periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light, and absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening behind the door I was held behind," wrote Bergdahl in the single-spaced, two-page statement.

He said that in the first three months of his captivity after his two escape attempts, “I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded.” He remained constantly blindfolded except for the few times a day when he was allowed to eat and use the latrine.

As his muscles atrophied and it became difficult for him to walk, his captors allowed him to sit chained on the bed. He eventually developed open wounds on his ankles “that looked like the staph infection I had had earlier that year.”

He also began to develop what he called a “growing internal sickness" that made it difficult for him to eat for the rest of his captivity and led to a dramatic weight loss.

After a year of captivity he was placed in a cage with his hands in chains except for the few times when he would wash or change clothes. For a year his feet were chained to the cage every night, though that ended “because of the acute pain my feet and legs where [sic] in.” He claims that pain had developed into a “freezing numbness that continues to the present, as both feet have neuropathy.”

He would spend the rest of his captivity in the cage, but unshackled only because it was placed over plumbing that allowed him to relieve himself.

His captors would routinely play mind games with him, telling him he would be executed one day, “told I would leave the next day, and the next day told I would be there for 30 years.”

Bergdahl claims he attempted to escape from his captors about a dozen times, the first one taking place just hours after he was captured in 2009 in eastern Afghanistan.

Taken to a village, he claims a Taliban fighter began punching him each time he evaded his questions. Blindfolded with a blanket over his head, “I believed I had a chance to run for it and did.” But he was soon brought down by a large group of men who repeatedly punched him, including one who used the butt stock of a broken AK-47.

He twice was able to escape beyond the buildings where he was being held -- the first time during his first week in captivity, when he escaped for 10 to 15 minutes “and after recapturing me and putting chains back on they took turns beating me with a length of thick robber [sic] hose.” Bergdahl said the escape attempt led to his being taken to a more secured compound.

His most daring escape occurred at the end of his first year of captivity, when he was able to evade his captors for nine days. “Without food and only putrid water to drink, my body failed on top of a short mountain close to evening.”

He was recaptured a short time later by a large Taliban search group that proceeded to beat him severely. “One tried to rip my beard and hair out, but from what I could sense they where [sic] more worried about getting me out of that area as quickly as possible.”


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Wednesday
Mar252015

Va. Gov. McAuliffe Signs Executive Order for Increased Training, Accountability of Alcoholic Beverage Control

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(RICHMOND, Va.) -- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday signed an executive order that would implement more stringent training and oversight of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The decision to sign the order comes in the wake of an investigation into ABC agents who arrested University of Virginia student Martese Johnson earlier this month. The agents allegedly slammed Johnson's head into the ground. Johnson was apparently rejected entry from a bar on University Avenue, when agents approached him and the arrest occurred.

The executive order requires training for ABC agents in areas including "use of force, cultural diversity, effective interaction with youth and young adults, and community policing," improved accountability and oversight, and improve cooperation and communication with local communities.

 

 


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Wednesday
Mar252015

Former University of Oklahoma Fraternity Member Apologizes, Admits Words Were 'Mean, Hateful and Racist'

ABC News(NORMAN, Okla.) -- Former University of Oklahoma student and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity member Levi Pettit offered a public apology on Wednesday for his role in leading the racist chants that were captured on video earlier this month.

"Let me start by saying I’m sorry, deeply sorry. I’m so sorry for the pain that I’ve caused and I want you to hear that directly from me. Even though I don’t deserve it I would like to ask for your forgiveness," Pettit said, standing beside about a dozen community leaders.

In front of reporters on Wednesday, Pettit read from a letter he had written to university President Dave Boren shortly after the video was posted online. In the letter, he acknowledged that while he had "never thought of myself as a racist and never even considered it a possibility," the words he uttered "were mean, hateful and racist."

Pettit said that he has since met with student leaders in an effort to apologize for his actions.

"I'm so sorry for all the pain that I've caused," Pettit said, "and I want you all to know that directly from me."

Speaking at a Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Pettit declined to discuss where he had first heard the racist chant or what had specifically happened on the bus.

State Sen. Anastasia Pittman, a Democrat, University of Oklahoma alum and chairwoman of the Oklahoma Black Caucus, hosted the press conference at Oklahoma City's Fairview Baptist Church, The Dallas Morning News reported. Before the event, Pettit was expected to spend an hour behind closed doors with pastors, politicians and African-American community leaders, according to the newspaper.

“I received an apology from him, and I believe it’s sincere,” Pittman told The Dallas Morning News. “But I told him it’s not about me, and that community leaders would need the same courtesy, so if he’s going to apologize to me, I’d rather he apologize to civic leaders, pastors, people who resonate with the pain."

Pittman did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Pettit and one other member of the SAE fraternity were expelled earlier this month after video of them leading the racist chant on a party bus appeared online. The video, posted by a group describing itself as "an alliance of Black students organized for change within campus administration and atmosphere," showed students chanting "there will never be a [racial epithet] at SAE."

When asked by reporters if he knew the meaning of the words, Pettit said, "I knew they were wrong, but I didn’t know how or why they were wrong."

"I’m not here to talk about the chant or where I heard it," Pettit said. "The truth of the matter is that the chant is disgusting."

The university expelled two students on March 10 in connection with the incident. A university spokesman, Corbin Wallace, told ABC News Wednesday that the university can't specify the students' names, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The university, according to Wallace, declined to comment about Wednesday's press conference. The university's investigation is still ongoing regarding the incident.

Brandon Weghorst, a spokesman for the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization, said all of the University of Oklahoma members are still suspended and awaiting hearings by the national organization, which disbanded that chapter.


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Wednesday
Mar252015

Bowe Bergdahl Charged with Desertion, Lawyer Says

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- American soldier and former Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with desertion for allegedly walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, Bergdahl's attorney told ABC News Wednesday.

Bergdahl was freed after five years in Taliban captivity in a controversial deal last year in which the U.S. agreed to release five mid- to high-level Taliban figures from detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

President Obama called it a "good day" when Bergdahl was freed, but critics, including some high-ranking Republicans, loudly denounced the deal, likening it to negotiating with terrorists. Also, lawmakers complained that Congress had not been consulted about the exchange, as they said the law requires.

After Bergdahl's dramatic return to the U.S., the Army launched an investigation into whether the soldier willfully left his post in Afghanistan before he was taken by the Taliban in 2009, as some Afghan war veterans alleged.

A U.S. Army statement said that Bergdahl was being charged with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty -- which carries a maximum jail time of five years -- and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place -- which holds a maximum jail time of life in prison.

Both charges could also see Bergdahl punished with dishonorable discharge, reduction to the rank of private and total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, the Army says.

When Bergdahl disappeared in 2009, he was a private first class, meaning while he was considered a prisoner of war, he had been continually promoted, something typically done for POWs. If convicted, however, he would be reduced to a rank lower than his original rank of private first class.


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