Supreme Court Clears Way for Newtown Lawsuit

 

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The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by gun manufacturer Remington Arms, that argued it should be shielded by a 2005 federal law preventing most lawsuits against firearms manufacturers when their products are used in crimes.  The decision has cleared the way for survivors and the families of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to pursue their lawsuit against the maker of the rifle used to kill 26 people.

The families are arguing that Remington violated Connecticut law when it marketed the Bushmaster rifle for assaults against human beings. The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case allows the lawsuit filed in Connecticut state court by a survivor and relatives of nine victims who died at the Newtown, Connecticut, school on Dec. 14, 2012, to go forward.  The lawsuit says the Madison, North Carolina-based company should never have sold a weapon as dangerous as the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to the public.

Gunman Adam Lanza used it to kill 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10 along with six educators, after killing his mother at the home they shared.  The rifle used in the killings was legally owned by his mother.  The lawsuit also alleges Remington targeted younger, at-risk males in marketing and product placement in violent video games. Lanza was 20 years old when he committed the mass shooting.  Only two of the victims who were shot by Lanza—both teachers—survived the attack.  Lanza killed himself as police arrived at the school.

The case is being watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and gun manufacturers across the country, as it has the potential to provide a roadmap for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent the federal law and sue the makers of firearm.  The National Rifle Association, 10 mainly Republican-led states and 22 Republicans in Congress were among those urging the court to jump into the case and end the lawsuit against Remington.

The Connecticut Supreme Court had earlier ruled 4-3 that the lawsuit could proceed for now, citing an exemption in the federal law. The decision overturned a ruling by a trial court judge who dismissed the lawsuit based on the 2005 federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The federal law has been criticized by gun control advocates as being too favorable to gun-makers. It has been cited by other courts that rejected lawsuits against gun-makers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, including the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings in 2002.

7 Dead in Texas Shooting Spree

 

 

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A gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others on Saturday in the city of Odessa in western Texas.  Police have identified the gunman as 36-year-old Seth Ator and say he went on the rampage just hours after he was fired from his trucking job. Police say the massacre began after an officer pulled Ator over for failing to use a turn signal. He then reportedly opened fire using an AR-15-style weapon before speeding away. Soon after, he began shooting randomly at residents and motorists as he drove between the cities of Odessa and Midland.

During a press conference the day after the shooting, FBI special agent Christopher Combs identified the shooter and gave more details into the timeline of the shooting.  Combs said that Ator showed up to work enraged and was then fired from his job at Journey Oilfield Services.  Police say the firing led to both him and his employer calling the cops on each other because they were having a disagreement over the firing.  By the time police arrived to calm down the situation, the soon-to-be mass killer was gone.  Combs said 15 minutes later, Ator made a second call to the FBI national tip line.  “It was frankly rambling statements about some of the atrocities he felt he had gone through. He did not make a threat during that phone call. He ended that phone call. After that phone call, we initiated all of our law enforcement procedures trying to figure out who he was, where he was. Unfortunately, it was only 15 minutes before the trooper was engaged.”

The shooting spree began on Aug. 31st at 3:17 p.m. during a traffic stop on Interstate 20, where a Texas state trooper was shot while attempting to stop a Honda over a failure to signal a left turn.  Ator continued into Odessa, Texas, and shot another person on the Interstate.  In Odessa, he abandoned the Honda, hijacked a United States Postal Service truck, killing the postal worker and continued to drive and shoot people before police cornered him in a movie theater parking lot.  Ator was killed in the shootout with police in the parking lot of a Cinergy movie theater.  Ator killed seven people, ranging in age from 15 to 57.  Twenty-two others were hospitalized for injuries.  Among the injured are three police: a Texas state trooper, a Midland police officer, and an Odessa police officer. The youngest victim is a wounded 17-month-old child who is expected to recover.

The shooting spree lasted roughly an hour, with the gunmen shooting people at random as they walked through their front yards, walked through parking lots and went about their day.  Police say the gunmen drove in no particular pattern, doubling back from Odessa to Midland, spraying people with bullets as he drove.  During the frenzied hour, dispatchers and officers guided EMT to a growing number of locations as the calls kept coming in.  Ator’s vehicle switch only added to the confusion as the police in both communities scrambling to head to the scene of each call in hopes of stopping the shooter.  At one point during the chaos, officers believed they had two shooters due to the vehicle switch and multiple locations and officers requested that the Midland area be shut down immediately.

On September 1, the FBI said it was executing a search warrant at the suspect’s house, located about 20 minutes west of Odessa. Authorities say Ator lived alone, except for a small dog, in western Ector County in a metal shack that lacked electricity, plumbing, a floor and even furniture.  Police say in January 2014, Ator failed a national criminal background check when he tried to purchase a gun.  The system flagged him as ineligible because of a prior local court determination that he was mentally unfit.  According to law enforcement officials, Ator subsequently bought the gun used in the shooting via a private sale, without having to go through a background check.

A neighbor said that well before his killing spree he had yelled at her while carrying a big rifle. She also said he sometimes shot animals from his roof, about which she had complained to police, but they never responded to her complaint.  Police never visited Ator’s home because they couldn’t find the property on GPS maps.  Another neighbor said that her family had lived near Ator for the past five months and were afraid of him, due to his nighttime rabbit shooting and banging on their door early one morning.

All seven victims from the shooting have now been identified: 29-year-old Mary Granados, the postal worker who was killed when the gunman hijacked her postal truck; 57-year-old Rodolfo Arco was shot on his way home from work; 30-year-old Kameron brown was an army vet who served in Afghanistan; 40-year-old Joe Griffith, a resident in Odessa; 25-year-old Edwin Peregrino, a graduate of Perryton High School; 35-year-old Raul Garcia of El Paso and 15-year-old Leilah Hernandez who was shot outside of a car dealership.

 

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Epstein’s Accusers Testify

 

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More than 20 accusers of Jeffrey Epstein testified in the Southern District of New York in what Judge Richard Berman called both “a matter of law” and “a measure of respect for the victims.”  U.S. District Judge Richard Berman scheduled the hearing after prosecutors asked that he drop the case because Epstein is dead.  Berman lamented the loss of a judicial process in the case against Epstein, who died by apparent suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan after being refused bail.

His death came two days after signing a new will, filed in the Virgin Islands, which established a trust fund worth $577 million. According to new outlets, the new will was expected to make it more difficult for Epstein’s many alleged victims to collect damages from the deceased financier.

Assistant US attorney Maurene Comey motioned to dismiss the indictment against the now-deceased wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with the sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy. Before the accusers were given the opportunity to stand and testify, Comey emphasized that the investigation into Epstein’s co-conspirators was not over, echoing statements from the Department of Justice since Epstein’s death that urged more victims to come forward. She noted that civil forfeiture was ongoing.

Berman said that he would offer survivors, prosecutors and Epstein’s lawyers a chance to speak.  More than 20 of the women said they were victims of Epstein and 16 of them took the stand to recount what the convicted sex offender did to them, and how it has affected the rest of their lives. Lawyers read from an additional seven victims’ statements.  There are an additional 30 accusers who were not present in the courthouse.

Many of the women expressed that they were very vulnerable at the time they met Epstein, and he enticed them with offerings that ranged from a Victoria’s Secret catalog appearance to a letter of recommendation for Harvard.  Several women testified in tears while others choked up as they took their place before the judge to give their accounts of what happened to them and the impact his sudden death has had on his victims.  His victims had been expecting their day in court to come as part of the criminal prosecution and trial of Epstein but now feel he robbed them of their chance to confront him in court.

Epstein’s former girlfriend and close associate  Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of the late press baron Robert Maxwell was also brought up at the hearing.  Several accusers identified themselves as victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell’s international sex trafficking ring.  Maxwell has been accused of being his madam and of being instrumental in setting up a network of victims and other employees who found them.  She has been the subject of allegations that for years she recruited and abused them alongside the convicted sex offender.  She has emphatically denied all allegations of wrongdoing and has gone to great lengths to contest allegations involving her.

Authorities In 3 States Make Arrests After Threats of Mass Shootings

 

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Authorities in three states say they made arrests that prevented three mass shootings.  In the wake of the latest mass shootings in California and Texas, authorities are on high alert to any potential threats of violence and have been diligently investigating any reports of potential shooters.  The arrests have been made after authorities received tips, prompting investigations and ultimately, the arrests of three men in Connecticut, Florida and Ohio.

In Connecticut, 22-year-old Brandon Wagshol was arrested after authorities said he had expressed interest in committing a mass shooting on Facebook, according to a statement from the FBI and the Norwalk Police Department.  He faces four charges of illegal possession of large capacity magazines and is being held on a $250,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court September 6.  According to the statement, authorities received a tip that Wagshol was trying to buy large capacity rifle magazines from out of state.  As the FBI and the Norwalk Police Department were investigating the tip, they discovered Wagshol was trying to build his own rifle and had allegedly posted on Facebook about his interest in committing a mass shooting, the statement said.

Authorities executed a search warrant at his home and found multiple weapons, including a handgun, a rifle and rifle scope with a laser, numerous rounds of ammunition, body armor, a ballistic helmet and other tactical gear.  Police say some of the weapons were registered to Wagshol’s father but he had access to them.

In Daytona Beach, FL, Tristan Scott Wix, 25, was arrested after his ex-girlfriend alerted authorities that he sent her a series of disturbing texts in which he allegedly threatened to commit a mass shooting, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said.   In the messages, Wix said he wanted to open fire on a large crowd of people.  One message allegedly read “A good 100 kills would be nice.”  According to the sheriff’s office, Wix already had a location in mind, “A school is a weak target.. I’d be more likely to open fire on a large crowd of people from over 3 miles away.. I’d wanna break a world record for longest confirmed kill ever,” another message read, according to the sheriff’s office.  Wix wrote that he wanted to die and “have fun doing it,” authorities said.  Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood said they had recovered a .22-caliber hunting rifle and 400 rounds of ammo in Wix’s apartment. Wix had initially told investigators he did not own any firearms but that he was fascinated with mass shootings, the sheriff’s office said.  Wix was being held without bond Sunday at the Volusia County Branch Jail.

In Ohio, 20-year-old James Patrick Reardon was arrested for allegedly threatening to carry out a shooting at a Youngstown Jewish community center.  An Instagram account belonging to Reardon shared a video that showed a man firing a gun.  The post — which was shown to an officer out on an unrelated call — tagged the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown.  It’s unclear whether the man shooting the gun was Reardon or someone else.  A search warrant was executed and authorities found a cache of weapons and ammunition.  Reardon was arrested without incident and booked into the Mahoning County Jail on one count of telecommunications harassment and one count of aggravated menacing.

Financier Jefferey Epstein Charged With Sex Trafficking

 

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Federal prosecutors charged financier Jeffrey Epstein with one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking on July 8 2019.  Epstein was first arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on July 6, after arriving back in the United States from France.  Federal prosecutors also searched his New York City home over the weekend and news outlets report that during the search of his townhouse, investigators seized photographs of nude underage girls, federal prosecutors said.  Epstein has pleaded not guilty on both charges.  If convicted of the charges, Epstein faces a maximum of 45 years.

A federal judge in New York has denied bail to Jeffrey Epstein, declaring him a danger to the community and a significant flight risk. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman pointed to a raid by investigators on Epstein’s mansion earlier this month that found “piles of cash,” stashes of diamonds and an expired passport with Epstein’s photo next to someone else’s name listed under a Saudi address.  Prosecutors accused the serial child sex abuser of possible witness tampering, saying he made payments totaling $350,000 to two people he feared could testify against him in court.

Court documents say “over the course of many years, Jeffrey Epstein, the defendant, sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations.”  It also notes that “in order to maintain and increase his supply of victims, Epstein also paid some of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused.” The prosecution alleges that he sexually assaulted girls as young as 14 years old.

Epstein started his career in New York City as a math teacher at the Dalton School, but went to work at the investment bank Bear Stearns in the 1970s before founding his own firm, J. Epstein and Co., in 1982. According to Vox, he specifically marketed his services to “those with assets worth more than $1 billion,” and operates his company out of the U.S. Virgin Islands for tax reasons.  Throughout the years, Epstein belonged to a high society social circle that included politicians and elitists.

Epstein’s bust comes months after a federal judge ruled his 2007 non-prosecution agreement —violated federal law by keeping Epstein’s victims in the dark. Under the sweetheart deal, Epstein dodged federal charges that might have sent him to prison for life. He instead pleaded guilty in 2008 to felony state charge of solicitation of prostitution involving a minor and sentenced to 18 months in jail.  He served 13 months in a private wing of a county jail, mostly on work release, which allowed him to commute to an office outside the jail six days a week. He also registered as a sex offender.  Many say it was a slap on the wrist for someone accused of abusing dozens of underage Florida girls.

“It’s been a long time coming—it’s been too long coming,” said attorney David Boies, who represents Epstein accusers Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Sarah Ransome. “It is an important step towards getting justice for the many victims of Mr. Epstein’s sex trafficking enterprise.  “We hope that prosecutors will not stop with Mr. Epstein because there were many other people who participated with him and made the sex trafficking possible.”

 

Bodies Of Missing Oregon Mother and Son Found

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The bodies of a missing Salem, Oregon mother and her son were found in a remote area of Oregon.  Karissa Fretwell, 25, and her 3-year-old son, William “Billy” Fretwell were reported missing last month. Family members said they had not seen or heard from them since May 13.  Karissa’s cause of death was determined to be from a single gunshot to the head, and the manner of death was determined to be homicide.  The cause and manner of death of Billy is yet to be determined, pending additional testing.

Despite the lack of bodies, Michael John Wolfe, 52, was charged last month with two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping. Court documents identify him as Billy’s biological father and Karissa’s friends and family say Billy was conceived through an affair.  Wolfe, who is married to another woman, was established as Billy’s biological father through a DNA test in 2018 after Fretwell filed a petition to establish the boy’s paternity.

Wolfe and Fretwell had an affair while working together at a local steel mill and the two were locked in a custody battle.  Court documents state Fretwell and Wolfe were in court as recently as April, and Wolfe was ordered to pay over $900 a month in child support and provide health insurance coverage for Billy.  The court documents state Fretwell believed Wolfe wouldn’t pay child support without a court order.  Fretwell had sole custody of her son, and the two had been living in West Salem.  Billy Fretwell’s babysitter told police Karissa Fretwell reported being threatened by Wolfe and his wife, who said they would take custody of the boy.  Police say the wife is not a person of interest in the case at this point, but that detectives continue to look at anyone who could be connected.

The sheriff’s office said ongoing efforts by detectives to locate the missing mother and son led searchers to a remote area of Yamhill County, about 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill.  Crews searched the heavily wooded and remote area for about two hours before finding two bodies.  Yamhill-area police conducted about 20 searches looking for the bodies since they were reported missing in mid-May.  At one point, they searched about 800 yards away from where the bodies were eventually found partially covered by debris in a forested part of Weyerhauser property 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill.  Investigators say that Wolfe fished and had a permit to cut wood on the Weyerhauser property where the bodies were eventually found.

Detectives obtained data from Karissa Fretwell’s cellphone showing her phone used a cell tower southeast of Gaston, which provides coverage to Wolfe’s rural property.  Cell data also placed her phone Wolfe’s place of work, a steel mill in McMinnville. He told police he was working the night of May 13 and morning of May 14, but detectives believe surveillance video and cell tower activity disputes that.  Footage at the mill shows Wolfe leaving his work area on a golf cart and walking toward a line of trees and bushes to a nearby parking lot.

Wolfe reappears through the trees almost five hours later and drives the golf cart back to his work area while carrying a white trash bag filled with unknown items.  Phone records from May 13 also show Wolfe’s phone pinged cell towers “away from his place of work” shortly after he disappeared through the trees. That evening, Wolfe’s phone pinged a tower that would cover Fretwell’s apartment in Salem and pinged towers near his workplace about the time he reappeared at his workplace. Wolfe told detectives he had not been to Salem in more than a year.

ChristChurch Shooter Pleads Not Guilty

 

 

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The New Zealand man accused of massacring Muslim worshipers in the city of Christchurch in March pleaded not guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and engaging in a terrorist act. The 28-year-old Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, is an avowed white supremacist who emailed out a racist manifesto minutes before he opened fire with an assault rifle at two mosques, live-streaming his massacre on Facebook.

He live streamed 17 minutes of video which included footage of himself inside the first mosque, going room-to-room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away and indiscriminately firing into piles of bodies.  In the 6 minutes Tarrant was inside, forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor Mosque.  The live streamed footage also showed the gunman casually talking and laughing as he walked out of the mosque where he shot at people near the area before driving away at high speed, heading for the Linwood Islamic Centre, about 3 miles away.  Another 7 people were killed at the Linwood Mosque, an eighth victim later died in the hospital. Tarrant was apprehended as he fled the Linwood Mosque when two police officers ran his car off the road.

According to his manifesto, he started planning a revenge attack about two years prior to the attack and chose his targets three months in advance.  His manifesto expressed several anti-immigrant sentiments including hate speech against migrants, white supremacist rhetoric, and calls for non-European immigrants such as Roma, Indians, Turkish people, Semitic people and others allegedly “invading his land” to be removed.  He described himself as an ethno-nationalist and referred to revenge for European civilians who were casualties in Islamic terrorist attacks within Europe as motivation for his attack.  He repeatedly mentioned revenge for Ebba Åkerlund, a victim in the 2017 Stockholm truck attack.

Tarrant was judged fit to stand trial after an assessment of his mental state. His pleas of not guilty raise the prospect of a lengthy trial that could give him a platform to air the white supremacist views that allegedly motivated the attack. Tarrant’s trial has been set for May of 2020. He was not in court in person in Christchurch; instead he appeared via a video link from a maximum-security prison where he’s being held in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.  New Zealand abolished the death penalty in 1989 and has not executed anyone since 1957. If found guilty, Tarrant faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Eighty survivors and family members of victims watched the proceedings. After the hearing, Abdul Aziz, a survivor of the attack said “He’s a coward and he will lose.” Aziz was at Linwood Mosque during the shootings and has been hailed a hero after confronting the gunmen-ultimately stopping him from claiming as many lives at the second mosque as he did at the first.   After hearing shots outside, Aziz ran outside and grabbed the first thing he could find, a credit card machine, which he threw at the gunmen.  The gunmen shot at him but they played cat and mouse between cars.  Then Aziz grabbed a gun that had been discarded by the attacker tried to fire at Tarrant but the gun was empty.  As Tarrant ran back to his car Aziz threw the gun at his car, shattering his windshield.  Tarrant yelled that he was going to kill them all but instead drove off and was apprehended by police minutes later.