Alabama Immigration Law Causes Hispanics to Leave Schools

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(HUNTSVILLE, Ala.) -- Alabama schools are seeing abnormally high rates of absences for Hispanic students after what is widely considered the toughest anti-immigration law in America went into effect.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature and widely backed by voters, allows police to check for papers and detain undocumented residents without bail. It also mandates that public schools share with authorities the citizenship status of all newly enrolled students.

Keith Ward, spokesperson for Huntsville City Schools, one of the largest school districts in the state with 23,000 students, told ABC News that of the 1,435 Hispanic students enrolled in Huntsville schools, 207 were absent last Thursday, the day the law took effect.

As of Monday, that number had decreased to 111, according to Ward. It is still substantially above the average of 20 to 40 absences for Hispanic students for a given week prior to the law. Ward expects the number of Hispanic absences to continue to decrease as the week continues and then plateau.

He credits the decline to the rapid outreach of Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski.

"The superintendent tried to reach out and explain the terms of what the law means for schools," said Ward. "We have no control over the other aspects of the law."

Wardynski took to YouTube and the district's cable access channel in both English and Spanish on Sept. 30.

"This bill that was passed by our state is really about gathering statistics, it's not about coming to anybody's house, taking anybody away," he said. "The schools are not enforcing extradition."

Under the law, schools are required to ask new students for either a birth certificate or proof they are in the country legally. However, if they are unable to provide proper documentation they are still able to attend school and neither the students nor the parents will be arrested.

"This is just one additional check mark on a registration form," Ward said.

The school then provides statistical information to the state about the number of students who were unable to provide documentation.

The state made available formal letters that schools can send to parents of new students that clarify the requirements of the law and informs parents that they should not be concerned if they are unable to provide citizenship documents or sworn statements.

"Rest assured," reads the letter, "that it will not be a problem if you are unable or unwilling to provide either of the documents."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Death Row Inmate Says Lawyers from Elite Firm Abandoned Him

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday centering on a death row inmate’s claim that his lawyers from an elite law firm abandoned his case without notice, causing him to miss a critical deadline for appeal.

The case centers on Alabama death row inmate Cory Maples, who was convicted of murdering Stacy Alan Terry and Barry Dewayne Robinson II in 1995.

After his conviction Maples thought he had won the lottery when two out-of-state lawyers from an elite New York law firm offered to represent him in post-conviction proceedings. Maples hoped for a new trial based on claims that his trial lawyers had been ineffective for failing to present evidence of his history of mental health problems as well as his intoxication at the time of the crime.

After months of hearing nothing on his case Maples learned that he’d missed an important appeals deadline. Worse, he learned that the two lawyers he thought were representing him had left their top shelf firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, and failed to properly notify the court or their client.

Maples later learned that the clerk of the court had sent the lawyers a notice of the deadline, but the notices had come back unopened in the mail with the words “return to sender” and “left the firm” written on the envelope.

Upon learning that his lawyers had missed the deadline Maples scrambled to have the deadline extended, given the circumstances. But the courts rejected his request for an extension and reaffirmed their dismissal of his case.

Maples’ new attorney, former Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre, told the justices on Tuesday that his client’s case should not have been dismissed.

Garre said that the former lawyers actions rose “to the level of abandonment” and called the facts of the case “shocking” and “extraordinary.”

Garre pointed out that not only did the two lawyers abandon their client and fail to notify the court that they were no longer following the case, but when the Clerk of the Court received both notices back marked unopened he did nothing to follow up the issue.

Garre acknowledged that there was a local counsel assigned to the case, but he said that the lawyer was merely serving as a liaison to the New York lawyers as was then required by Alabama law. Garre said that the local attorney had no real role in the case and when he received notice of the appeals deadline he took no action because he believed the matter was being handled by the New York lawyers.

All the while Maples had no idea that his case had fallen through the cracks.

But in court, John C. Neiman Jr., the Solicitor General of Alabama, seized upon the fact that there was indeed a local lawyer involved who had been notified of the appeals deadline. He argued the lower courts had fulfilled their obligation to inform the counsel and that once the clerk of the court saw that the local counsel had received notice of the pending deadline, the clerk had no reason to pursue the fact that he had received the “return to sender” letters back in the mail.

Nieman’s suggestion seemed to irritate Justice Elena Kagan.

She asked Nieman if he had been involved in a similar case where a letter was sent off to the principal adversaries and was returned unopened he might not ask himself, “Huh, should I do anything now?”

Chief Justice John Roberts asked for evidence from Neiman that the local counsel had actually done anything pertinent to the case. “You still haven’t told me one thing he did,” Roberts said.

And Justice Samuel Alito asked why Alabama would not have consented to Maples’ attorneys filing an out-of-time appeal, given the circumstance of the case.

“The holding of the Alabama courts here,” Nieman said, “was that this would not be an appropriate circumstance for an out-of-time-appeal.”

Alito broke in: “Is that a discretionary matter or is that a flat rule, once you passed a certain time deadline, you are out of luck. There is no opportunity where there’s good cause for an extension?”

Justice Antonin Scalia was the only justice who seemed to speak up in support of Alabama. He attacked the notion that the local attorney had no responsibility to watch over the client. “You want us to believe that the local attorney,” Scalia asked, "has no responsibility for the case at all?”

In briefs filed with the Court Neiman acknowledged that “On the face of it, it is hard not to feel a little sorry" for Maples. But he reiterated the fact that Maples does not deny killing two people and that he received a “full determination of the merits of his claims" in state court.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DNA Evidence Frees Man After Spending Nearly 25 Years in Prison

Digital Vision/Photodisc/Thinkstock(AUSTIN, Texas) -- After serving nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Michael Morton was freed Tuesday afternoon in Texas, exonerated by DNA evidence that connected another man to his wife's bludgeoning.

The former grocery store employee, who is now 57, was released Tuesday afternoon when he appeared before the 26th Judicial Court of Williamston County, Texas.

"I know there are a lot of things you want to ask me. I will say this: Colors seem real bright to me now, and the women are real good looking," Morton joked afterward to reporters.

His mother, Pat Morton, told the Austin American-Statesman, "This is one of the happiest days of my life, and I thank God for it."

Morton was convicted of murder in 1987 on circumstantial evidence, and had fought that verdict ever since. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that has exonerated hundreds of people using DNA technology, said its efforts to appeal the conviction were stymied by current Williamson County District Attorney James Bradley, who has been in office since 2001. But Bradley said his decisions to restrict case files and postpone DNA analysis were made with honest intentions.

"Do I in hindsight wish we could have done this quickly? The answer is, 'Yes I do,'" Bradley told ABC News. "Do I think I acted in good faith at the time we were litigating these issues? Yes I do."

One of the files eventually obtained by the Innocence Project through a public records request included an eyewitness account of the crime from Morton's son, less than two weeks after it occurred.

A sergeant at the Williamson County Sheriff's Office interviewed Morton's mother-in-law and his son Eric, who was 3 years old at the time. The child said he had seen a "monster" wearing red gloves and carrying a basket of wood, who threw a suitcase on his mother's bed. He said the man hurt his mother. When asked if his father was home at the time, he said, "No. Mommie and Eric was there."

Christine Morton was found covered in blood on her bed, with a blue suitcase and a wicker basket piled on top of her body. The medical examiner found wood chips in her hair and skull.

Attorneys for the Innocence Project believe Eric witnessed his mother's murder, and questioned why Bradley had barred Morton from obtaining this eyewitness account and other documents from the sheriff's office.

It's unclear what Morton's lawyers were told more than 20 years ago. Bradley claims Morton's lawyers "understood his son was way too young. He couldn't testify and wasn't a credible witness."

A stained bandana was found 100 yards from the Morton home at an abandoned construction site, but in the mid-'80s, DNA analysis wasn't yet available.

The Innocence Project asked the judicial district court in Williamson, Texas, to analyze the blood on the bandana in 2005, but Bradley opposed that request, and every subsequent request for several more years.

The D.A.'s office didn't consider the bandana to be evidence of the crime, Bradley said, because it "was not at the crime scene."

The Innocence Project eventually won a court order to conduct DNA testing in 2009. DNA test results from June revealed Christine Morton's blood and hair were detected on the bandana, in addition to DNA that was later found to match that of a convicted offender in a national DNA database.

Bradley said he could not reveal who it was at this time. He has pledged to dismiss the indictment against Morton, which will allow Morton to collect $80,000 for each year spent in jail, as well as a lifetime annuity from the state.

As a result, the Innocence Project is no longer pursuing its motion to remove Bradley from further court proceedings. It is now investigating claims that the original prosecutors hid evidence from the trial and appellate court.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Woman Passes Love Note in Burrito to Alleged 13-Year-Old Sex Assault Victim

Cleveland County Police(NORMAN, Okla.) -- A 37-year-old nurse who allegedly had sex with a 13-year-old boy was arrested again this week after sending him a love note wrapped in a burrito, police said.

Amy Blose, a married mother from Norman, Okla., allegedly asked a classmate of the boy to bring him a breakfast burrito she purchased from a restaurant with a note stuck in the wrapper that read, "Hey babe, I love you forever."

Blose had been ordered not to have any contact with the boy, who was the initial alleged victim in the statutory rape case, or anyone younger than 18. Blose, who knew her victim because her children are close in age, was arrested in April after the boy's parents witnessed him getting into her vehicle and contacted police.

Interviews with the boy and his friend showed that Blose and the boy had allegedly engaged in sexual acts multiple times and that Blose had sent him explicit photos of herself. She admitted to police that she sent text messages to the boy that could be misconstrued as sexual in nature, officials said.

Police learned last week that Blose had written the note inside the wrapper of a Sonic breakfast burrito -- the boy's favorite breakfast -- and allegedly asked a 15-year-old girl to give it to him at school. When the boy received the burrito, he notified his parents, who contacted police.

Judge Michael Tapper ordered Blose to be held without bail until November, when a preliminary hearing for her trial has been set.

She faces charges of three counts of rape in the first degree, victim younger than 14; three counts of forcible oral sodomy, victim younger than 16; one count of lewd or indecent acts to a child younger than 16; and one count of performing lewd acts in the presence of a child younger than 16.

She could face a life sentence if convicted on the most serious counts.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FBI Seeks Clues in Nabbing ‘Butterfingers Bandit’

Bank surveillance cameras catch images of a woman the FBI has dubbed the "butterfingers bandit," in Houston, Oct. 3, 2011. (FBI)(HOUSTON) -- A fumble-fingered bank robber tried to make off with a bundle of cash at a J.P. Morgan Chase Branch in Houston on Monday.  Just as the woman pivoted away from the teller, surveillance video captured her dropping the loot.

According to the FBI, people inside the bank heard her utter an expletive before she scooped up the cash up and made a clean getaway.

Special Agent Shauna Dunlap said it seems to be par for the course in Houston.

“We’re seeing a decrease in bank robberies in the area this year, however we’re seeing an increase in less-sophisticated robbers like the Butterfingers Bandit,” Dunlap said.

Prior to demanding cash, surveillance video shows the woman waiting patiently in line.

“She blended in and she was dressed pretty normally,” Dunlap said.

Once it was her turn, she handed the teller a note and placed her purse on the counter with her hand inside, insinuating that she had a weapon. The teller gave the woman an unspecified amount of cash, which Dunlap refused to disclose, citing FBI policy.

“Typically though, robbers get away with less than the reward that is being offered,” Dunlap said.

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the woman, who is described as a black female, between 5’3″-5’6″ and weighing 200 lbs. She was wearing a New Orleans Saints cap titled toward her face, pants and a long-sleeved blouse at the time of the robbery.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hawaii to Make Surfing a School Sport

Comstock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- Surfing will join the likes of football, basketball, volleyball and swimming as a high school sport in Hawaii as soon as spring 2013.

Hawaii is known for its world-class competitions and waves, and is home to many pro surfers as well as recreational wave breakers. Carissa Moore, who is the youngest world champion at 18, said the move to make the sport an afterschool activity is “overdue.”

“I went through high school without it being a part of the sports curriculum,” she said. “It definitely was hard trying to find my own path and trying to convince my teachers that this is something that’s really important to me and trying to find time and all that.”

The state Department of Education is working with a newly appointed Board of Education to implement the sport into the nation’s only statewide public school system. Judging will be similar to that of pro meets, and there will be both individual as well as team champions, according to board member Keith Amemiya.

Amemiya said that it may interest kids who don’t partake in any of the 19 other sports – like football, baseball or soccer –  that Hawaii’s public school system has to offer.

“In our view, the more students that engage in athletics and other afterschool activities, the higher our student achievement rates will become,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Helicopter Crashes in New York's East River

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- One person has died after a helicopter spun out of control over New York City's East River and plunged into the water and quickly sank.

Four people were immediately pulled ashore while a search continued for the fifth passenger. Rescue personnel immediately began performing heart compressions on one of the individuals initially pulled from the water and who appeared to be unconscious.

The final passenger was recovered more than two hours after the crash at 5 p.m. and pronounced dead.

Two women were taken to Bellevue Hospital and one man was taken to New York University Hospital and was listed in serious condition.

Officials said the passengers were from Britain.

The Bell 206 helicopter took off from a heliport at 34th Street. Joy Garnett told WABC-TV that she saw the chopper lift off and almost immediately begin to spin around several times and then plunge into the river.

"He took off and spun," one official said. The pilot tried to turn it about and land, but he missed by 40 feet, officials said. The chopper landed in 50 feet of water and sank within minutes.

"Whoever was on hand, people that work here, were throwing things in to them, but the (helicopter) was upside down, its pontoons in the air," Garnett said. "We could only see two figures clutching onto the pontoons and it took about five minutes for it to sink."

Garnett said the onlookers on the dock called 911.

The pilot was identified as Paul Dudley, ABC News has learned. Dudley made a spectacular emergency landing in a Brooklyn park in 2006 when a Cessna 172 he was piloting had engine trouble. In that landing, no one was injured.

Dudley, who was rescued from the East River, is the manager at the Linden, N.J., airport. He flew his chopper to the helipad at East 34th Street to pick up his four passengers, officials said.

The chopper went down about 3:20 p.m. and within 10 minutes rescue divers were in the murky water searching for survivors, officials said.

Ten boats from the New York police and fire departments as well as the Coast Guard and a helicopter were part of the search and rescue scuba teams in the water. Some ferry service on the East River was suspended during the search.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were on the way to investigate the crash.

Helicopters that fly under 1,000 feet are not in contact air traffic controllers and don't file a flight plan.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Amber Alert: Kansas City Infant Missing from Crib

Kansas City, Missouri Police Department(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) -- Kansas City Police have issued an Amber Alert for Lisa Irwin, a missing 10-month-old infant they believe may have been abducted from her crib in Missouri. The FBI has joined the Kansas City Police in the investigation.

Lisa's mother put her down to sleep at approximately 10:30 p.m. Monday night, according to police. When Lisa's father arrived home from work at around 4 a.m., he went into her room to check on her and discovered she was missing. The parents immediately called police.

"They saw the window and the screen appeared that it was tampered with," officer Darin Snapp, public information officer for the Kansas City Police, told ABC News. Authorities believe Lisa has been abducted and that the suspect entered and exited through the bedroom window.

"We are conducting an area canvas, knocking on doors and talking to anyone that was in the area that night," Snapp said. Canines are searching a wooded area behind the family's house.

Both parents were on the scene Tuesday and cooperating with police, according to ABC's Kansas City affiliate KMBC.

"We are interviewing family and friends just to eliminate everyone's that close to the family as suspects," Snapp said. Police do not have any witnesses or suspects at this time. Snapp described the family's neighborhood as a "middle class, very quiet neighborhood."

Police are asking for the community's help in finding the little girl.

"We have no eyewitnesses and a six-hour time frame when the child could have been abducted," Snapp said. "We need any help at all."

Lisa has blue eyes, blonde hair, is 30 inches long and weighs between 26 and 30 pounds. She was last seen wearing purple shorts and a purple shirt with white kittens on it. She has two bottom teeth, a small bug bite under her left ear and a beauty mark on her right outer thigh. She also has a cold with a cough.

"We are pleading that if anyone saw anything, to contact us," Snapp said. "It might be that small piece [of information] that puts everything together."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


TSA Expedites Security Screening for Select Fliers

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is rolling out a new pilot program Tuesday aimed at speeding the security screening process for known travelers.

The process, called PreCheck, is available on a trial basis to a select group of frequent fliers from Delta Airlines and American Airlines. Members of the Customs and Border Patrol’s “Trusted Traveler” program will also be eligible.

Passengers will be asked by their airline if they want to “opt-in” to the program. Those who choose to do so will provide additional information about themselves, and the TSA will use that information to determine if the passenger qualifies for expedited screening. If the passenger qualifies, he or she will be directed to a designated security lane at the airport. That expedited screening could mean certain fliers get to leave their shoes on.

TSA officials caution that PreCheck is in its infancy and only available at one check point in each of the four participating airports. And the agency maintains that expedited screening is by no means guaranteed and notes on its website, “Passengers are always subject to random, unpredictable screening measures.”

The program is now underway at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Miami International and Dallas-Fort Worth International airports. The Known Traveler program is part of a broader TSA effort to evolve its screening process.

TSA Administrator John Pistole has publicly stated he wants to move the agency away from a “one size fits all” approach to a more risk-based effort. In an interview with ABC News conducted in prior to the 9/11 anniversary last month, TSA’s Pistole touched on such new efforts while discussing the evolution of the terror threat against the United States.

“We are trying a number of new initiatives that will ask for the public’s patience as we try to improve the passenger experience, while providing the most effective security,” Pistole said.

“But we have to be mindful that there are terrorist(s) who are trying to kill us and we need to do the best possible job and provide the most effective security in the most efficient way.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jury Selection Begins in Trial of 'Christmas Underwear Bomber'

Comstock/Thinkstock(DETROIT) -- Jury selection will begin Tuesday in the terror trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab -- the Nigerian man suspected of trying to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear while aboard a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009.

Had he been successful, Abdulmutallab could have killed the nearly 300 passengers aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

The Detroit Free Press reports that out of an initial pool of 240 potential jurors, 132 remain, 40 of which will be questioned by both the prosecution and defense in Detroit on Tuesday.

The newspaper says Abdulmutallab, who's been dubbed the "Christmas Underwear Bomber," is representing himself, however, it is not yet known if he will handle the interrogation of the jurors without the help of his standby attorney.

Opening statements in Abdulmutallab's trial are slated to begin on Oct. 11.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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