Tag Archive: alex shuster


 

 

 

16 servicemen killed.jpgSixteen service members were killed after a military transport plane that was being used on a training flight crashed in Mississippi, prompting an urgent rescue effort in one of the South’s most rural regions, the authorities said.  A Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon, Capt. Sarah Burns, said that one of the service’s KC-130 aircraft had “experienced a mishap.” The Marines use KC-130s for aerial refueling.

The cause of the crash, in an unincorporated part of Leflore County, was not immediately clear.  The plane crashed along County Road 547, a dirt road that connects acres of farmland between Itta Bena and Moorhead.  Military aircraft are a common sight in the skies of rural Mississippi.  Witnesses described the plane as disintegrating in the air as it neared the ground, leaving a debris field about five miles in diameter.  Many speculate that the plane experienced an explosion mid-air because of the large debris field.

The air tanker was based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and was on its way from a Marine installation at Cherry Point, North Carolina, to a naval air field at El Centro, California, when it went down, officials said.  The planes final destination was Yuma, AZ.  The plane vanished from air traffic control radar somewhere over Mississippi before the crash that killed all fifteen marines and a navy corpsman on board.

Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C.. Nine were based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., home of a Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron.  The service members were identified as Cpl. Dan Baldassare, 20; Staff Sgt. Robert Cox; 28, Capt. Sean Elliott; 30, Maj. Caine Goyette; 41, Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins; 34, Sgt. Chad Jenson,; 25, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson; 46, Sgt. Julian Kevianne; 31, Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat; 33, Sgt. Talon Leach; 27, Sgt. Owen Lennon,; 26, Sgt. Joseph Murray; 26, Cpl. Collin Schaaff;  22, Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman; 26, Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden; 31 and Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ryan Lohrey, 30.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud bloom around 4pm  and then the plane began spinning down to the ground.  Eyewitnesses recall hearing ammunition exploding after the crash.  The Marine Corps acknowledged that ammunition was on board the flight without specifying what kind. Due to the presence of the ammunition, restrictions were placed on who could initially approach the scene of the crash, officials said.

The force of the crash nearly flattened the plane and witnesses said there were bodies across a highway, more than a mile from the crash site.  Firefighters tried to put out the fire but withdrew after an explosion forced them back. The fierce blaze produced black smoke visible for miles across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours later.  The fire department used about 9,000 gallons of foam to extinguish the blaze.

Marine Corps officials are being aided in their investigation by a number of different agencies, including the Mississippi Management Association, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

 

 

Cholera-outbreak-in-Yemen.-806x450-640x357.jpgThe United Nations says Yemen is now facing the world’s worst cholera outbreak.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 200,000 people in Yemen are infected with cholera and that number is growing by 5,000 a day, they say.  “In just two months, cholera has spread to almost every (part) of this war-torn country,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a joint statement.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 1,310 people have already died, a quarter of them children.  A UN report has said children account for half of the registered cases to date.  Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water. If left untreated, it can cause severe dehydration and can be fatal within hours.

Rarely seen in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, it primarily affects developing areas that lack adequate water treatment or sanitation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Cholera is preventable and easily treatable but the collapsing infrastructure in Yemen has cut off an estimated 14.5 million people (about half the country’s population) from regular access to clean water, increasing the likelihood for the disease to spread. There are reportedly 7.3 million people on the brink of famine.

The outbreak began last year but a second wave of the waterborne disease has spread even more quickly in the last two months.  UNICEF and WHO have attributed the outbreak to malnutrition, collapsing sanitation and clean water systems due to the country’s ongoing conflict.  April’s cholera resurgence began ten days after Sana’a’s sewer system stopped working.

The impact of the outbreak has been exacerbated by many factors including the collapse of the Yemeni health services, where many health workers have remained unpaid for months. Less than half of Yemen’s medical centres are still functional. Hospitals are lacking medical equipment, rehydration solutions and medicine while still receiving patients from all over the country.  They are also dealing with a shortage of doctors and nurses so they have been working round the clock to deal with the crisis.

Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial has ended in a mistrial after jurors remained deadlocked on all counts after 52 hours of deliberation.  Cosby faced three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Andrea Constand has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004.  Constand is the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee.

Constand is one of about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades.  It’s the only criminal case stemming from dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct — all of which the comedian/actor denies.  She says she was “paralyzed” by pills he gave her while he claimed it was just Benadryl and that the encounter was consensual.

Cosby did not take the stand, but his lawyers have maintained the physical contact was mutual and raised questions as to why Constand kept in phone contact with Cosby after the alleged incident.  They also questioned why she did not report it for a year. Prosecutors declined to charge Cosby in 2004 but reopened the case after the scandal erupted two and a half years ago.

The jurors were chosen in the Pittsburgh area and bussed in to Philadelphia for the trial.  After six days of testimony, the jury of seven men and five women began deliberations.  They were soon deadlocked but continued to deliberate, reviewing reams of testimony.  After 52 hours of deliberations, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill accepted a defense motion for a mistrial.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele immediately announced that he plans to retry the case and ordered that Cosby can remain free on $1 million bail he posted when he was first charged.  Steele later told reporters that there “was no pause or hesitation” in deciding to retry the case and that “we had a significant amount of evidence … now we have to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Prosecutors will retry him on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a charge that carries 10 years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, said that “round two may be just around the corner, and this time, justice may prevail.”  She commended her client Kelly Johnson, the only other accuser allowed to testify at the trial, and thanked all the accusers who have spoken out.  Several of Cosby’s accusers have been attending the trial.

 

3 Dead In UPS Shooting

 

ups shooting.jpg

The gunman who killed three men at a UPS facility in San Francisco and then killed himself has been identified as 38-year-old Jimmy Lam.  The victims were Wayne Chan, 56, and Benson Louie, 50, both of San Francisco; and 46-year-old Michael Lefiti of Hercules, California.  Two others were shot but survived the Wednesday morning shooting at the UPS San Francisco Customer Center.

Officers responded to a report of an active shooter about 8:55 a.m. local time at the UPS package sorting and delivery facility.  When officers entered the building, they found the suspect armed with an assault pistol.  The suspect immediately killed himself and no officers fired their weapons during the incident.

Lam, had worked as a driver for the Potrero Hill facility which employs 350 people.  He was wearing his uniform during the shooting spree and opened fire on coworkers during a morning meeting for UPS drivers.  Joseph Cilia, with a local Teamsters union that represents UPS workers in San Francisco has stated that Lam filed an internal grievance in March saying he was working excessive overtime.  Cilia told the Associated Press that Lam did not seem angry when he filed the grievance.

A police official said it appears that Lam felt disrespected by co-workers, but it’s not clear if that was the motivation for the bloodshed.  Lam appears to have targeted the three drivers he fatally shot.  Shaun Vu, a senior UPS driver, has said Lam also struggled with personal issues and was depressed a few years ago. Vu said that Lam had shown improvement but seemed troubled a few weeks ago-which was around the time he filed the grievance.

Another UPS driver Leopold Parker, who witnessed the shooting, said that he was standing a few feet behind Benson Louie during the morning meeting when Lam walked up and shot Louie in the head.  Lam then glanced at Parker but walked the other way so Parker jumped into the cab of his truck and later ran to the roof of the building.

Parker said drivers at the warehouse generally got along and didn’t mind working there. If they did have a problem with colleagues, they would talk to them or ignore them. He also stressed that drivers spent much of their time alone in their trucks, so they had limited interaction with their colleagues.  He recalls that Lam sometimes complained about the workload but he never suspected that he would turn violent.

Other witnesses said that Mike “Big Mike” Lefiti was fleeing from the building as Lam followed him into the street and shot him.  Mike McDonald, an area resident was walking home from work when he found Lefiti face down, bleeding profusely from the back.  McDonald stayed with him and tried to comfort him until help arrived.  McDonald said that in his final moments, Lefiti spoke lovingly about his three children.  “He said he loves his family, he loves his children and that he didn’t do anything to this man.”

cosby trial.jpgBill Cosby’s sexual assault trial has ended in a mistrial after jurors remained deadlocked on all counts after 52 hours of deliberation.  Cosby faced three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Andrea Constand has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004.  Constand is the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee.

Constand is one of about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades.  It’s the only criminal case stemming from dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct — all of which the comedian/actor denies.  She says she was “paralyzed” by pills he gave her while he claimed it was just Benadryl and that the encounter was consensual.

Cosby did not take the stand, but his lawyers have maintained the physical contact was mutual and raised questions as to why Constand kept in phone contact with Cosby after the alleged incident.  They also questioned why she did not report it for a year. Prosecutors declined to charge Cosby in 2004 but reopened the case after the scandal erupted two and a half years ago.

The jurors were chosen in the Pittsburgh area and bussed in to Philadelphia for the trial.  After six days of testimony, the jury of seven men and five women began deliberations.  They were soon deadlocked but continued to deliberate, reviewing reams of testimony.  After 52 hours of deliberations, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill accepted a defense motion for a mistrial.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele immediately announced that he plans to retry the case and ordered that Cosby can remain free on $1 million bail he posted when he was first charged.  Steele later told reporters that there “was no pause or hesitation” in deciding to retry the case and that “we had a significant amount of evidence … now we have to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Prosecutors will retry him on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a charge that carries 10 years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, said that “round two may be just around the corner, and this time, justice may prevail.”  She commended her client Kelly Johnson, the only other accuser allowed to testify at the trial, and thanked all the accusers who have spoken out.  Several of Cosby’s accusers have been attending the trial.

 

According to state and county data, drug overdose deaths surged in 2016, killing nearly 60,000 Americans last year.  It is an alarming 19% increase over the 52,404 recorded in 2015 and the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.  All evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017.  The epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse means that for Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

The New York Times compiled estimates for 2016 from hundreds of state health departments and county coroners and medical examiners.  The initial data points to large increases in drug overdose deaths in states along the East Coast, particularly Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Maine. The Times analysis suggests that the exponential growth in overdose deaths in 2016 didn’t extend to all parts of the country. In some states in the western half of the United States, overdose deaths may have leveled off or even declined.

The Times data showed that heroin and fentanyl-related deaths are still increasing across the United States – particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.  The death rate from synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, surged 72% in 2015, and heroin death rates increased nearly 21 percent.

In Ohio, overdose deaths increased more than 25% in 2016, largely driven by Cook County, where 1,091 of the state’s 3,310 overdose deaths were reported.  Last week, the state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry, accusing drug manufacturers of aggressively advertising opioids and lying to both doctors and patients about the dangers of addiction.

The Drug Enforcement Agency wrote in a 2016 report detailing what the organization calls a global threat “The United States is in the midst of a fentanyl crisis, with law enforcement reporting and public health data indicating higher availability of fentanyls, increased seizures of fentanyls, and more known overdose deaths from fentanyls than at any other time since the drugs were first created in 1959.”

California had the largest total number of overdose deaths at 4,659 in 2015, followed by OH with 3,310, which like West Virginia has been hard hit by the epidemic.  The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimated that misuse or abuse of narcotic pain relievers were responsible for more than 420,000 emergency department visits in 2011, the most recent year for which we have data.

Experts warn a key factor of the surge in deaths is fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin.  Fentanyl has been popping up in drug seizures across the country.  It is usually sold on the street as heroin or drug traffickers use it to make cheap counterfeit prescription opioids. Fentanyls are showing up in cocaine as well, contributing to an increase in cocaine-related overdoses.

Research suggests that since heroin and opioid painkillers, (including prescription ones) act similarly in the brain.  Opioid painkillers are often referred to by some doctors as “heroin lite” and taking one (even “as directed”) can increase one’s susceptibility to becoming hooked on the other.

To the surprise of other world leaders, President Trump announced that the US will pull out of the Paris global climate pact.  Abandoning the pact would isolate the US from international allies that spent years negotiating the 2015 agreement to fight global warming and pollution by reducing carbon emissions in nearly 200 nations.

The decision means the US will join only Nicaragua and Syria as UN-member countries that aren’t aboard.  The US emits more carbon into the atmosphere than any country except China.  Abandoning the pact was one of Trump’s principal campaign pledges and the decision reverses one of the Obama administration’s signature achievements.  Still, America’s allies have expressed alarm about the likely consequences.

“The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction in terms that are fair to the United States and its workers. So we’re getting out. We’ll see if we can make a deal. If we can’t, that’s fine,” Trump said to cheers during a ceremony in the Rose Garden.

A White House spokesperson said “The accord was negotiated poorly by the Obama Administration and signed out of desperation. The US is already leading the world in energy production and doesn’t need a bad deal that will harm American workers.”

The Paris climate agreement sets a goal for its signatories to keep warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), compared with preindustrial times, by 2100, with a goal of keeping global warming to a mere 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  Each country sets its own voluntary goals for emissions cuts, pledging to become stricter as time goes by and there are no binding rules about how the countries should meet those goals.

When the agreement was signed, the US agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to between 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025. The agreement does not officially go into effect until 2020, but meeting those goals would require all countries to take steps preemptive steps before 2020- like setting standards for vehicle emissions, appliances and power plants.

Critics of the decision to abandon the Paris agreement believe the likelihood of international cooperation on carbon-cutting goals past 2025 is on far shakier ground, and that the US will be forfeiting a seat at the table to shape the climate future.

They also feel it does enormous damage to our international credibility as withdrawal from international negotiations is becoming a pattern.  The United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal under Trump’s first executive order.  Trump is also hostile to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in which members pledge military cooperation with one another.  Many feel it will be harder to negotiate other international issues without trust from other nations.

The state of Arkansas received heavy criticism and sparked new debates over the death penalty after they rushed to carry out an unprecedented series of 8 executions in 11 days during the month of April as its supply of the sedative midazolam was set to expire at the end of the month.  All eight men were convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999 with some of the crimes described as particularly heinous.  The eight men scheduled for execution were Kenneth Williams, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson, Don Williamson Davis, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones, Jason McGehee and Marcel Williams.

Governor Hutchinson signed proclamations setting four execution dates for the eight inmates between April 17 and 27. Two men would be put to death on each of the four dates.  In a statement he said that it was necessary to schedule the executions close together because of doubts about the future availability of one of three drugs the state uses in its lethal-injection procedure.

Arkansas uses a cocktail of three drugs in its lethal injection formula: Midazolam is used to sedate the prisoner, vecuronium bromide paralyzes prisoners and stops their breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart.  Midazolam is the most controversial of the three since it has repeatedly failed to make prisoners unconscious in other executions, leading to painful deaths.  It is not approved by the FDA to be used as an anesthetic on its own, but doctors do use it combined with other drugs before surgical procedures. That is not the case in prisons.

The hurried schedule hit roadblocks from the moment it was announced as attorneys for the eight men attempted to block the executions- including using the argument that midazolam does not effectively prevent a painful death.  Separate rulings stayed the executions of two of the prisoners, Don Davis and Bruce Ward.  Arkansas appealed the decision in Davis’ case, but the US Supreme Court upheld it.  Then Federal Judge Kristine Baker put a stop to all eight executions on April 15, a decision that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed two days later.  By the end of April, four of the men received stays for various reasons.

Despite the drug shortage and the controversy over its use-  lethal injection remains the country’s primary method of execution.  The drug shortage has spurred some states to begin adapting new and untested combinations of drugs while other states look at other methods of executions.  Utah, Tennessee and Oklahoma added or broadened their abilities to use a firing squad, electric chair or nitrogen gas.

With the month over and the expiration date passing-the freshly stirred dust on the death penalty debate has not settled.  Capital punishment has long been a divisive issue in the United States with support of it declining to a 40 year low.  According to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, Americans remain split, with 49 percent in favor and 42 percent against it (9% were undecided).

Nationwide, the number of executions has faced a decline as well.  Since 2007, seven states have abolished the death penalty and the governors of four others have issued moratoria on the practice.  Arkansas is currently one of 31 states with courts that still issue death sentences.

 

On April 19th, disgraced NFL player Aaron Hernandez killed himself in his prison cell, officials said.  Hernandez, 27, was found hanging in his cell by corrections officers around 3:05 a.m. and pronounced dead an hour later at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center.  Hernandez was in a single cell in a general population housing unit and hanged himself with a bed sheet attached to his cell window.  Officials said Hernandez had given no indication he might try to take his own life and that he had tried blocking his door from the inside with various items.

Just days before, on April 14th, Hernandez was found not guilty in the 2012 double murders of Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado.   Hernandez was already convicted of first-degree murder in the death of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd in 2015 and was serving a sentence of life in prison without a possibility of parole.

Hernandez played three seasons with the New England Patriots and in 2012 he signed a $40 million five year contract extension that included a $12.5 million signing bonus.  The Patriots released Hernandez from the team about 90 minutes after his June 2013 arrest in the murder of Odin Lloyd.  Hernandez’s lawyers say they are skeptical of his death being a suicide while many speculate that his suicide was in part-financially motivated.

Hernandez’s arrest and termination led to enormous financial troubles as CytoSport and Puma canceled their endorsement deals and his release from the team automatically forfeited his 2015–18 salaries, totaling $19.3 million.  The Patriots voided all remaining guarantees, including his 2013 and 2014 salaries, on the grounds that those guarantees were for skill, injury, or salary cap room, and did not include being cut for “conduct detrimental to the best interests of professional football.”   The Patriots also planned to withhold $3.25 million of Hernandez’s 2012 signing bonus that was due to be paid in 2014 and to recoup the portion of the signing bonus already paid in an effort to recover some of the millions they lost when cutting him from the team.

Under Massachusetts law, it is possible for Hernandez lawyers to request to have his murder conviction vacated due to his death due to the legal principle of abatement ab initio.  The principle asserts that when a defendant dies but has not exhausted all legal appeals, the case reverts to its status “at the beginning”; technically, the conviction is vacated and the defendant is rendered “innocent”.

At the time of his death, Hernandez was in the process of filing an appeal for his 2015 first degree murder conviction.   On April 25, 2017, lawyers for Hernandez filed a motion at Massachusetts Superior Court in Fall River to vacate his murder conviction.  State prosecutors reserve the right to object to Hernandez’s request.  The family of Odin Lloyd may also petition the court not to vacate the conviction and to keep the appeal alive.

If the request is granted, a number of things can benefit Hernandez’s family and estate.  First, he would not have been in violation of his Patriots contract.  That may mean that the Patriots would have to pay the remaining $15 million of his contract to his estate.  If his murder conviction is vacated, it would also protect his estate from any civil suits from Odin Lloyd’s family because they would not be able to use evidence from the criminal trial in a lawsuit against the Hernandez estate for civil damages.

In an escalating dispute over the death penalty cases in Florida, Governor Rick Scott has removed Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from 21 more cases from District 9 to a special prosecutor.  The governor’s spokeswoman said in a statement “State Attorney Ayala’s complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice,” Ayala’s office, in response, is saying Scott blindsided her and is calling the decision an abuse of power.

All of the cases removed from Ayala have been reassigned to State Attorney Brad King.  Ayala has filed a motion in state circuit court indicating her intent to challenge Scott’s decision and disputing the governor’s authority to remove her simply because he disagrees with her valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

Ayala, an elected prosecutor in central Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, took office in January, to begin a four-year term.  In March, Ayala announced she would no longer seek the death penalty in any murder cases, including in the case of Markeith Loyd, who’s accused of murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend and then Orlando police officer Debra Clayton. Scott removed Ayala from that case shortly after.

Her decision sparked an outcry with many Republican leaders claiming Ayala violated her oath of office by taking the death penalty off the table. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called Ayala’s move “a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law,” while members of the state legislature threatened to reduce her office’s funding.

There were also some who backed Ayala’s decision including more than 100 judges, former prosecutors and legal experts who have expressed their support for Ayala, saying Scott has overstepped his legal authority by removing her from cases, and saying she has the legal discretion to not seek the death penalty.

Capital punishment remains legal in 31 states, but death penalty sentences have dropped dramatically over the past few decades. Of the nation’s 2,300 prosecutors, only 27 sentenced a person to death last year.  Capital punishment in Florida has been on hold since Jan. 12 when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the state’s sentencing system as a violation of a defendant’s right to a jury trial.  Florida’s old law allowed a jury to recommend the death penalty by a simple majority vote.  Every other state with the death penalty except for Delaware requires juries to be unanimous in recommending a sentence of death.

In March, Governor Scott attempted to restart executions last month by signing a bill which took effect immediately-that requires jury recommendations to be unanimous before a death penalty can be imposed by a judge.  After signing the legislature, Scott said he hopes that executions could soon resume in Florida.  “My foremost concern is always for the victims and their loved ones,” Scott’s statement said. “I hope this legislation will allow families of these horrific crimes to get the closure they deserve.”