Family of Murdered Peace Corps Volunteer Mounts Candlelight Vigil On Capitol Steps

Peace Corp[dot]gov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The second anniversary of the tragic murder of a Peace Corps volunteer will be marked by a candlelight vigil on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Friday, March 11. The family of Kate Puzey, a 24-year-old from Atlanta who was murdered in Benin, West Africa in 2009, organized the event in hopes that the Peace Corps will mark its own 50th anniversary by offering greater protection to whistleblowers. 
Ms. Puzey was murdered after telling her superiors that one of her co-workers was sexually abusing young girls in their charge.

"It was originally devastating to discover that there were no whistleblower policies in place prior to our daughter's death and to see Peace Corps' lack of response to us as a grieving family," said Kate's mother Lois Puzey, who will be meeting with members of Congress on Thursday and Friday.

At Friday's vigil, participants will light 25 candles to honor all the volunteers who've been murdered while serving overseas since the organization was founded in 1961.

The vigil will also honor volunteers who have survived sexual assaults. Members of Congress and activists who hope to improve the Corps' response to sexual assaults against volunteers will be on the Capitol steps for the 6:30 p.m. event. At the end of the month, Congress will hold hearings about sexual assaults against Peace Corps volunteers.

The Puzeys were interviewed by ABC News' 20/20 for a January report on their daughter's murder. Kate Puzey had written an email to Benin's Peace Corps headquarters reporting that a fellow Peace Corps employee, a local man who taught in the same village as she, had raped some of her seventh-grade students, and suggesting that the Peace Corps take action.

Kate's parents told ABC News that the Peace Corps failed to protect their daughter, and that they suspect her email was shown to the brother of the man she reported, who worked at Benin headquarters. Two weeks after she sent the email, Kate was found with her throat slit. The man she reported, Constant Bio, is the prime suspect. Both he and his brother are being held by local authorities as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Bio has maintained that he is innocent.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ohio Executes Convict Using Single Controversial Drug

David J. Sams/Getty Images(LUCASVILLE, Ohio) -- Ohio executed a convicted killer Thursday, becoming the first state to use a controversial single drug to induce death, a procedure that was closely watched by other states.

Johnnie Baston, 37, was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville following a single dose of just pentobarbital, a drug similar to the one used to euthanize horses.

An official at the Ohio Department of Corrections told that Bastion's execution went smoothly.

"It was identical to previous procedures," said spokesman Carlo Lo Paro.

Baston's execution was closely monitored by 32 other states, each grappling with how to adjust their lethal injection protocols following the discontinued manufacture of sodium thiopental, the workhorse of American death chambers for more than a decade.

The execution also comes just one day after Illinois repealed the death penalty, commuting the death sentences of 15 convicts to life sentences.

But for the states that still have lethal injection on the books, determining how to execute convicts without the use of sodium thiopental has led to confusion.

The old cocktail included sodium thiopental, a powerful barbiturate, that was administered with vecuronium bromide which paralyzes the body and potassium chloride which slowed breathing and stopped the heart.

Corrections departments around the country have been scrambling to find alternatives and most of those states have settled on pentobarbital as part of a lethal cocktail.

In Ohio, pentobarbital is being used by itself.

But critics maintain the new drug is a hastily chosen and mostly unproven drug for use in executions.

"It's an untested protocol and an untested drug. We've had three botched executions in this state already and now we're moving to something untried. There is a risk," said Tim Young, the Ohio public defender who represented Baston and appealed his execution.

Baston did not request a special last meal, eating instead the dinner served all inmates: a beef and macaroni casserole, spinach, peas, fresh fruit and wheat bread.

After years of legislation, litigation and consulting with experts, 33 states developed multiple-drug execution protocols, in which an injection of sodium thiopental was used to deliver the final painless lethal injection.

Drug manufacturer Hospira announced last month it would no longer make the sodium thiopental, following several months of delays in production.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Saudi Student Indicted on Terror Charges

Photo Courtesy - Lubbock County Sheriff's Office/Getty Images(LUBBOCK, Tex.) -- A 20-year-old suspect has been indicted on charges of plotting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Federal officials started investigating Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a native of Saudi Arabia and former Texas Tech University student, after several companies reported that he was ordering bomb ingredients online. Aldawsari allegedly targeted New York City, nuclear plants, and former President George W. Bush's Dallas residence.

Officials arrested the chemical engineering student on Feb. 28. He was indicted before a federal grand jury on Wednesday

Aldawsari is being held in the Lubbock County Jail. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gang Rape of 11-Year-Old Girl Sparks Racial Tensions in Texas Town

ABC News(CLEVELAND, Texas) -- The alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by at least 18 boys and young men has sparked shame and outrage in a tiny Texas town, but it has also stirred racial tensions that threaten to split the East Texas hamlet.

All of the defendants arrested are African-American and the girl is Hispanic.

The hardscrabble town of Cleveland, which is 45 miles from Houston, has fewer than 8,000 residents and since the saw mill closed the biggest employers are Wal-Mart and a nearby prison. In a town this small, everyone is a neighbor, but that small town ambience is being severely strained.

The rape allegedly occurred last November, and the list of suspects has been growing as arrests keep coming. It's not clear whether more arrests are in the works.

The suspects range in age from 14 to 26, include stars on the high school's basketball team as well as the son of a school board member.

But as the investigation drags on, the shock and indignation has been tinged with an undercurrent of racial tension.

"I feel sorry for the little girl. I feel sorry for everyone involved...the city is in turmoil," Inez Dickerson said.

Dickerson, 68, is the great-grandmother of one of the defendants in the case. Her grandson has not been publicly identified by police because he is a minor.

Dickerson remembers when her great-grandson called to tell her the crime he's accused of committing.

"When I got on the phone, he was crying. He said, 'Granny, I've been accused of something. I'm scared,'" Dickerson said. "He's pretty tore up about it."

"I'm not going to play the race card on this because my grandson and all the rest were very young men and they could have given a second thought on this," Dickerson said.

While Dickerson believes the flaring of racial tensions isn't warranted, others disagree.

Houston community activist Quanell X will host a town hall meeting Thursday evening called "What's the real truth behind the rape allegations?"

"Every adult male that had sex with this child should go to prison, I don't care what the color is. But I do not believe black males are the only ones that had contact with this young child," said Quanell X, the leader of Houston's New Black Panther Party. "It appears to me there's only been the selective prosecution of one community, which is African American."

Quannell X alleges the rally has been moved from a church to a community center because, "The church received some death threats." 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Storm Zone Targets Northeast

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More heavy rain is pummeling the mid-Atlantic and Northeast and will continue into the weekend. Flood watches go into effect Thursday evening from North Carolina to upstate New York. New Jersey's governor has already declared a state of emergency anticipating the deluge and increased flooding.

Storm-wrecked areas of the south could see more damaging winds and lightning Thursday. In Alabama and Louisiana, governors have declared states of emergencies. In Florida, the storms sucked nearly all of the furniture out of one home and another possible tornado destroyed at least eight more.

By the time this storm heads out to sea, more than 100 million Americans will have felt its power.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Doctors to Give Update on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Medical Condition

Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images(HOUSTON) -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' doctors will hold a press conference Friday morning to give an update on the Arizona congresswoman's medical condition.

Giffords, who suffered a gunshot wound to the head in Tucson, Arizona on Jan. 8, has been in rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston since late January. The hospital issued the statement about the status update on Wednesday.

"Two months after her injury, the congresswoman continues to improve," the hospital said in a statement.  "Physicians will provide a comprehensive medical update regarding her ongoing rehabilitation."

The press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Bigfoot' Suing New Hampshire Over Expulsion from Mountain

Ryan McVay/Thinkstock(CONCORD, N.H.) -- When self-described performance artist Jonathon Doyle put on a Bigfoot costume and started videotaping himself on New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock, just about everyone was more amused than scared.

But New Hampshire park rangers were anything but amused and ordered the 30-year-old Doyle off the mountain, saying he didn't have a permit to film there and hadn't posted the required $2 million bond.

Now, Doyle is suing the state with the help of the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter.

"We are suing the state because the state put too many impediments on his rights," said Barbara Keshen, an attorney with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

Keshen said that Doyle should have the right to go back and complete his video and anyone else should have "the right to commit small-scale expressive activity without government interference or government censorship."

The facts of the case are not in dispute.  In September 2009, Doyle and a couple of friends decided to make a movie on the top of Mount Monadnock.  The joke was that Doyle would dress up as Bigfoot and run around beating his chest and then ask people on camera if they had "seen" Bigfoot.  The whole thing was being recorded with a $150 video camera.

But park rangers failed to see the humor and ordered Doyle off the mountain. The rules and regulations in the New Hampshire park system require that film crews must pull a $100 special use permit 30 days in advance. To them, Doyle was just another filmmaker working without the necessary permits.

But in the lawsuit, the NHCLU said that the requirement of a permit infringes on Doyle's First Amendment rights to free speech and expression.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jared Loughner Pleads Not Guilty to 49 Charges, Including Murder

Pima County Sheriff's Departmen(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Jared Loughner, accused of opening fire on a Tucson, Ariz., crowd in January, killing six people and wounding 13 others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to 49 charges, including murder.

Wearing a tan prison jumpsuit and a large grin, Loughner, 22, only said, "Yes, it is," when a federal judge asked him if his name was correctly entered in the court record.

Wearing the same smirk he had in the mug shot taken after his arrest, Loughner still had his head shaved but had grown a wispy beard.

Thirteen people were wounded and another six people, including a nine-year-old girl, were killed Jan. 8 at an event Giffords, D-Ariz., was hosting outside a Tucson grocery store.

Inside the courtroom were several victims and family members, including a wheelchair-bound Suzie Heilman. Heilman was injured at the shooting at the store, where she brought a neighbor girl, nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was fatally shot.

Loughner was arraigned on 49 new federal charges that included the murders of U.S. District Judge John Roll and Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman.

He was charged with causing the deaths of four other people, causing injury and death to participants at a federally provided activity, and using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

Loughner previously pleaded not guilty to earlier charges that he tried to assassinate Giffords and kill two of her aides.

The college student also likely will face state charges in Arizona following a federal trial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


UPDATE: Farmhouse Fire Kills Seven Children in Pennsylvania

File Photo. Jupiter Images/Thinkstock(BLAINE, Pa.) -- Seven children were killed Tuesday night after a fire broke out at a farmhouse in Pennsylvania. According to officials, the blaze started around 11:00 p.m. at a two-story farmhouse in Blain, just north of Harrisburg. 

State Trooper Tom Pinkerton said the children's mother was in the barn milking cows when another child alerted her to the fire.  The mother then ran to the home of a neighbor, who called 911, before running to get the children's father, who was taking a nap in his milk delivery truck a short distance away.

"Once the father was alerted, he immediately rushed back to the house," Pinkerton said.  "At that time, the fire department was already on scene.  The residence was fully engulfed."

Six girls and one boy, ranging in age from seven months to 11 years old, died in the fire, according to police.  The three-year-old girl who told her mother about the fire survived.

According to the county coroner, the children died from smoke inhalation.

UPDATE: ABC News has learned that the initial investigation shows that the fire may have been caused by one of the children playing with a space heater. A source told ABC News they believe an open flame from the space heater set a child's blanket on fire. The source said burn patterns indicate the fire started on the floor, spread to a piece of furniture, and then to the ceiling.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NPR CEO Resigns After Hidden Camera Sting Snares Top Fundraiser

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The embattled CEO of National Public Radio resigned Wednesday after the top fundraiser for NPR said offensive things about Republicans and the Tea Party during an undercover sting orchestrated by conservative "citizen-journalist" James O'Keefe.

Vivian Schiller, the ousted CEO, had also been criticized for NPR's firing of commentator Juan Williams last October.  But the controversial comments of Ron Schiller, NPR's top fundraiser, came during what he thought was a lunch with potential donors from a Muslim-affiliated trust.

"The Board accepted Vivian's resignation with understanding, genuine regret and great respect for her leadership of NPR these past two years," said NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards in a written statement.  NPR broke into its Morning Edition program so that its media correspondent David Folkenflik could report the news.

The sting was a secretly recorded lunch at a Georgetown restaurant.  In edited video released by O'Keefe on his Project Veritas website, Schiller is seen calling the Tea Party the "xenophobic," "seriously racist people," who are "fanatically involved in people's personal lives." He also claimed liberals are more educated than their conservative counterparts -- and potentially most damaging -- that NPR would be "better off" without federal funding.

The controversy comes at a delicate time for public broadcasting, including PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which got a nearly $450 million in federal funding last year.  President Obama proposed raising that amount to $451 million.  But with the federal government facing severe budget deficits, Tea Party groups and some Republicans on Capitol Hill seized upon Mr. Schiller's comments as an opportunity to advocate for cutting all federal funding to NPR.

NPR's Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs, Joyce Slocum, will take over as interim CEO.

Ron Schiller, who was already scheduled to leave NPR in May, instead left Tuesday.  He apologized for the comments he made blasting Republicans and the Tea Party.

"While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own beliefs," he said in a statement Tuesday. "I offer my sincere apology to those I offended."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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