Washington State Proposes Compensation for Wrongly Convicted

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SEATTLE) -- The day Alan Northrop's rape conviction was overturned -- the day an innocent man walked out of prison after serving 17 years for a crime he didn't commit -- is the day the state of Washington considered its debt to him paid.

"I got no apology, no nothing, no offer of any kind of financial aid," Northrop said.

With no job, no training, and no work experience but the time he spent working in the prison kitchen for $55 a month, Northrop was released with only a few dollars to his name. He owed more than $100,000 in back child support he had been unable to pay while incarcerated, and had to move in with his brother because he could not afford a place of his own.

It is Northrop's case, along with those of three other men recently exonerated in the state, which inspired Washington State Senator Jim Hargrove to co-sponsor legislation that would compensate the wrongly convicted.

Hargrove's bill would pay those found to be innocent up to $20,000 per year for each year they spent behind bars, including time spent waiting for trial. Washington is one of 23 states that do not currently provide such compensation, according to the National Innocence Project. Most of the other 27 states and the District of Columbia pay a set amount per year served to those later found to be innocent.

Northrop was convicted of rape in 1993 after a woman picked him and another man out of a police line-up as the two who had attacked her while she was working as a housekeeper. Northrop was sentenced to more than 23 years in prison, of which he served 17 before being cleared by DNA evidence. The other man convicted in the case was also found to be innocent.

Hargrove's bill is scheduled for a hearing in the state Senate committee he chairs on Feb. 1. Northrop plans to testify in favor of the legislation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Kidnap Suspect's Car Found, California Boy Still Missing

Photo Courtesy - KGO-TV San Francisco(PATTERSON, Calif.) -- Authorities in California continue to search for a four-year-old boy who went missing on Jan. 18.

On Friday divers searched the Delta-Mendota Canal and found the silver Toyota Corolla which they say Jose Esteban Rodriguez was driving when he abducted Juliani Cardenas. Neither Rodriguez nor Cardenas was found inside the vehicle. Authorities say divers will return to the canal on Saturday to continue to search for the missing boy and his alleged abductor.

Investigators began searching the canal after a witness reported seeing a car that matched the description of the suspect’s car drive into the canal. The witness also recalled seeing a man and a child in the car when it went into the canal.

Cardenas was with his grandmother, Amparo Cardenas, in Patterson, Calif., when Rodriguez snatched the child and fled. Rodriguez is the ex-boyfriend of the child’s mother, Tabitha Cardenas.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Federal Benefits Going Paperless

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Federal benefits checks will soon be a thing of the past, as the government moves in the direction of paperless transactions.

Starting in May, paper checks will no longer be issued to people receiving the benefits, instead the money will be deposited into a bank account, and individuals will have to use a debit card to access their funds, according to a report in The New York Times.

The move may decrease theft, and would reportedly save the government approximately $120 million in yearly costs. Officials say in 2010, $93 million in Treasury checks were fraudulently endorsed and cashed, and the move to paperless benefits would prevent such occurrences, the Times reports. Another paperless benefit listed by officials, is that money will be available to people even in the event of natural disasters that would have prevented checks from being delivered by mail.

Some are concerned that the move will make accessing funds a challenge for those living in areas where there are not a lot of banks, and for people who have limited internet access or are not web savvy.

Officials say checks will continue to be mailed out to some areas, such as remote parts of Alaska and on some Indian reservations. Those receiving benefits outside the U.S. will also continue to receive checks in the mail.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tampa Mom Admits to Fatally Shooting Teen Children

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TAMPA, Fla.) -- The Florida woman who admitted to murdering her children because they "talked back" and were "mouthy,"  failed to appear in court Saturday because she was hospitalized and reportedly in intensive care with an unspecified condition.

Police say Julie Schenecker, 50, admitted to killing her 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son with a .38-caliber pistol. Authorities say she also planned to commit suicide.

Schenecker is the wife of Army Col. Parker Schenecker, who was in the Middle East when his wife opened fire on the couple’s teenage children on Thursday.

A second court date has been set for Sunday. It is not clear whether Schenecker will be able to appear.

She has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Dr. Phil' Mom Charged with Child Abuse

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) -- Video from the Dr. Phil television show of an Alaska mother forcing her son to drink hot sauce and take cold showers prompted a police investigation that has led to charges of child abuse against the mother.

Jessica Beagley, a 36-year-old mother of six, was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in an Anchorage, Alaska courtroom Friday. She was not present at the arraignment. Her attorneys entered a plea of not guilty.

A police investigation began after Beagley appeared with "Dr. Phil" McGraw in November of last year, according to court documents. The segment of the show was called "Mommy Confessions."

Beagley told Dr. Phil about her difficulty disciplining her 7-year-old son. Video showed her at home in Alaska with the boy.

"We've tried a lot of different things to punish the kids," she said on the show.

The mom admits to spanking her child and forcing him to do jumping jacks until he's exhausted. On camera, Beagley is seen pouring hot sauce down the boy's throat as punishment for lying. Beagley, leaning over the boy as he sits on the bathroom counter, says, "don't spit it."

She told Dr. Phil her son is "the biggest stress in my life."

Viewers flooded the Anchorage Police Department with calls after the show aired, police said. The Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor said in court documents that the behavior in the video violates the municipal code protecting against child abuse.

Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin said that the discipline of the boy was "not reasonable," according to court records.

"They're good people caught up in a bad situation," Peter Ramgren, one of Beagley's defense attorneys, said. "Child Protective Services has done a complete investigation and found no evidence of abuse of the other children…if they believed it was a dangerous situation they would have removed the children."

Beagley's husband is a patrol officer for the Anchorage Police Department. The family is active in the Mormon church. The couple has four biological children and adopted twins from Russia.

The boy seen on the show is still in his parents' custody.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pentagon to Begin Phase Out of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon announced Friday that it soon will begin training its forces on the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bans gay members of the military from serving openly.

Senior Pentagon officials said Friday they are confident the process could be finished sometime this year.

Each of the military services will create its own training schedules based on guidelines issued by the Defense Department under a plan announced Friday by Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Cliff Stanley, undersecretary of personnel and readiness.

The Pentagon is moving "expeditiously" in laying out the plan for changing existing policies so they conform with the law that repeals "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Stanley said.

The next step will be a three-tiered training plan to inform all military members about the changes.

The training plan will begin by training "our experts, that's the first tier," Stanley said. "The second tier deals with our commanders or our leaders. And the third tier is, of course, the force."

Both officials said it remains unclear how long it will take to train the entire military, though Cartwright said the training of the three tiers doesn't have to be sequential -- "they can go on together."

The main uncertainty remains is how long it will take to train the 2.2 million service members who make up the armed forces -- 1.4 million active duty members and 800,000 national guardsmen and reservists.

However, both officials are confident that it could be done sometime this year.

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy remains in effect until President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen certify that the military's implementation of the repeal has been completed and has not affected readiness. The law itself would not be repealed until 60 days after the certification.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Nowhere to Go, Teen Lived in a Tree

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) -- For two frightening weeks, 17-year-old George lived in a tree because he said, he had nowhere else to go.

The teen thought he was going to stay with family in California. In August 2009, the woman he called "Mom" -- an aunt who had raised George since he was a baby -- bought him a Greyhound bus ticket from Missouri and gave him what she said was an address for relatives in San Francisco. But before he arrived, George said he received some shocking news: His aunt told him, over the phone, that the address she provided was not for relatives but for a McDonald's.

"My mom called me and told me that I didn't have any relatives in San Francisco and I was basically screwed," he said.

George's aunt denies this, telling 20/20 that George did, in fact, have relatives in San Francisco, but that she did not know their names.

All of a sudden, George found himself homeless -- and he wasn't alone. There are nearly two million homeless youth in America. In San Francisco alone, social workers see some 6,000 cases of homeless teens a year.

Toby Eastman, a San Francisco social worker, sees many teens like George.

"We see a lot of young people that are just rejected from their family," she said.

George arrived in San Francisco with $50 in his pocket. For his first two weeks there, he slept in a tree at a Golden Gate Park. It was safer, he said, than sleeping on the ground, where "a lot of people could tamper with you." George washed himself with paper towels in public bathrooms and ate almost nothing to make his dollars last. He tried calling his family, but to no avail.

"I tried to call them twice and they didn't answer both times. Then I was like, 'What's the use?'" he said.

Exactly why he was sent away remains a mystery. George's aunt told 20/20 that he assaulted classmates, abused her children and was out of control. She said she had no choice, but to get him away from her family at any cost. George denied that. When 20/20 checked in with police, officials at schools George attended and his grandparents, it found no record of serious behavioral problems.

Eventually, without his family's help, George found a place to stay. At a library, he came upon the name of a shelter for teens run by Larkin Street Youth Services. He also re-enrolled in school. He kept trying to reach his aunt. One day last spring, days before his high school graduation, she answered the phone. It was a halting conversation, full of long silences on her end. He told her about his upcoming graduation ceremony. He was hoping, he said, that she would tell him she wanted to come. She didn't.

But George didn't celebrate his graduation alone. His friends at the shelter filled the void, throwing a surprise party in his honor. Today, George is a freshman at a community college in San Francisco. He continues living in a shelter but has reconnected with some of his family -- his grandparents. He spent Christmas with them. It was a time, he said, of "a lot of shopping, love, arms around me."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Teacher Vanishes, Leaving Cryptic Note on Blackboard

Photo Courtesy - Ross Police Department/KGO-TV San Francisco(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Police are searching San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for a teacher who mysteriously disappeared after leaving a cryptic message on her classroom blackboard.

English teacher Debra Schmitt, 53, scrawled "Thank you everyone" on her Tierra Lind High School classroom's chalkboard, but did not show up to class on Jan. 20 and has not been seen since.

Authorities found her classroom keys in the room. At her Ross, Calif., home police found her house keys, identification, purse and car parked outside.

Police said there were no indications that Schmitt had been abducted, but a cousin told ABC News that the teacher and mother of a 14-year-old boy had been upset and dealing with a number of personal issues.   Linda Czarnik said Schmitt's husband filed this month for divorce and several close family members had died recently. One relative, a policeman, was killed by a drunk driver on Thanksgiving.

On Wednesday, police searched Phoenix Lake and Ross Creek outside San Francisco where she liked to hike, but did not find anything.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Remembering Challenger: 25 Years Ago Shuttle Exploded After Liftoff

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- Just before noon on Jan. 28, 1986, people watched with excitement as the space shuttle Challenger lifted off from its Florida launch pad.

“It was 36 degrees at launch time, colder than NASA had ever launched a shuttle,” recalls ABC News correspondent Vic Ratner, who was on scene 25 years ago to broadcast the launch live to a national radio audience.

“Scraping the ice off my rental car that morning,” Ratner says, “I remember thinking, ‘They probably won't fly today. It's too cold.’”

But Challenger did launch.

“Pieces of ice tumble off as the coldest space shuttle launch ever gets underway,” Ratner announced on the 1986 broadcast. “Challenger seems to shake herself free of the ice and goes. All five rocket engines burning,” he said.

Seventy-three seconds later, the shuttle exploded.

“Not a word from mission control,” Ratner said. “Everybody here is open-mouthed.”

“Where is the shuttle, Vic?” asked Ratner’s partner, Bob Walker. “Can you see it?”

“Something has gone seriously wrong,” Ratner said.

All seven astronauts on board were killed.

One of its crew members was Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher from New Hampshire who had won a national competition to become the first teacher in space. The goal was to boost interest in space exploration among American school children, many of whom were watching the Challenger's launch live on television or in person.

A commission later concluded that NASA was too complacent that morning about the risks facing the shuttle and its astronauts.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dramatic Bank Robbery Ends in Shooting

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(TAKOMA PARK, Md.) -- A bank robbery in Takoma Park, Md. came to a dramatic and violent end Friday when the suspect emerged from the bank with a hostage, slipped on some ice and was gunned down by police.

The suspect was killed and a police officer's leg was grazed by a bullet, according to Takoma Park Police Chief Ron Ricucci. Two other civilians were injured at the scene, but not shot.

The incident started about 9:25 a.m., when police were called to the Capital One bank for a reported robbery in progress said Ricucci.

In a video obtained by ABC News, the bank robbery suspect is seen emerging with a woman, apparently a hostage held at gunpoint. As the suspect attempts to edge away from police, six of whom are standing just feet away, a packet of explosive dye the bank had put in with the money goes off. Caught off guard, the suspect appears to slip on a patch of ice.

The suspect loses his grip on the hostage, allowing her to break free. As he tries to chase her down, three officers from Takoma Park and three officers from Prince George's County open fire on the suspect.

The man was taken to a trauma center where he later died.

Six people were in the bank at the time of the robbery. They had all emerged from the bank by the time he came out with the last hostage. One customer had been pistol-whipped; another was said to be in shock.

The hostage was being treated at Prince George's County Hospital.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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