Clemency Granted To Troops Involved In 3 Controversial War Crimes Cases

 

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The administration has granted clemency to three controversial military figures embroiled in charges of war crimes, arguing the moves will give troops “the confidence to fight” without worrying about potential legal overreach.  Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted of 2nd degree murder in the death of two Afghans, was given a full pardon.  Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who faced murder charges for a similar crime, was also given a full pardon for those alleged offenses.  Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, who earlier this year was acquitted of a string of alleged war crimes, had his rank restored to Chief Petty Officer.

Critics have warned the pardons could send the message that troops need not worry about following rules of engagement when fighting enemies abroad.  Lorance’s case dates back to a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan, when he ordered his soldiers to fire on three unarmed men riding a motorcycle near their patrol.  Members of his platoon testified against him at a court-martial trial, describing him as over-zealous and the Afghans as posing no real threat.  He was sentenced to 19 years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Golsteyn’s case had not yet been decided, with a scheduled trial date in December on charges he murdered an alleged Taliban bomb maker, and burned his remains in a trash pit during a 2010 deployment with 3rd Special Forces Group.  Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret major, had pled not guilty to murder and related charges.  His pardon effectively puts an end to that legal case before any verdicts were rendered.

While Gallagher was acquitted of murder and obstruction of justice charges in July, a panel of his peers recommended he be reduced in grade for posing with the body of the teenaged detainee, a crime he never denied.  His rank was restored with the pardon but the Navy plans to remove Chief Gallagher from the elite SEAL team despite the pardon.  It’s been reported that several top military officials threatened to resign if Navy officials did not move forward with these plans despite the pardon.

Chief Gallagher was accused of multiple offenses during his final deployment to Iraq and during the Battle for Mosul. The most prominent and disturbing accusation was the murder of a prisoner of war, a war crime.  A captured young ISIS fighter was being treated by a medic.  According to two SEAL witnesses, Gallagher said over the radio “he’s mine” and walked up to the medic and prisoner.  Without saying a word to the medic or prisoner, Gallagher killed the prisoner by stabbing him repeatedly with his hunting knife.  Gallagher and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Jake Portier, then posed for photographs of them standing over the body with some other nearby SEALs.  Gallagher then text messaged a fellow SEAL a picture of the dead captive with the explanation “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”

Gallagher was also accused of being indiscriminate, reckless and bloodthirsty during his 2017 deployment.  Fellow snipers did not consider him to be a good sniper because he would allegedly take random shots into buildings and indiscriminately spray neighborhoods with rockets and machine gun fire with no known enemy force in the region.  Several snipers testified that they witnessed Gallagher taking at least two militarily pointless shots, shooting and killing an unarmed old man in a white robe as well as a young girl walking with other girls.  Gallagher was allegedly known for boasting about the large number of people he had killed, claiming he averaged three kills a day over 80 days, including four women.

Man Charged With Murder of 4 Homeless Men

 

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A suspect has been arrested after four homeless men were killed and one was critically injured when they were attacked in New York City early Saturday morning.  Police said Randy Rodriguez-Santos, 24, who is homeless, wielded a 15-pound metal pipe and apparently attacked the men randomly as they slept on the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown.  Santos is reportedly also homeless and has struggled with addiction.  He is charged with four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Police responded to reports of an assault in progress at Doyers Street and Bowery around 2:10 a.m. and found two men with head wounds. One victim was pronounced dead at the scene and another was taken to the hospital in critical condition.  Over the next hour, police discovered additional victims in the area, two men were found outside of 2 East Broadway and another was found outside of 17 East Broadway.

Two witnesses told responding officers that the suspect was wearing a black jacket and black pants, which helped police find him quickly just a few streets away.  Rodriguez-Santos was apprehended a few blocks from the scene of the attacks and the weapon was recovered nearby.  The attacks left blood splattered on the doorways and sidewalks where the men had been sleeping.

The victims, whose ages range from 48 to 83, were bludgeoned as they slept on the street.  Three of the four men killed were identified Monday, as lawmakers and mourners gathered at an emotional memorial for the men at Chatham Square.  Several sidewalk tributes of flowers, candles and food were placed for the men who were allegedly killed by another homeless man as they slept.  One of the mourners cried as she recalled the oldest victim, 83-year-old Chuen Kwok, always being grateful for the food she gave him.  New York State assembly woman Yuh-Line Niou choked back tears as she spoke on the mens’ deaths. “If the change isn’t now, after this, I don’t know when it is.”

The medical examiner’s office later confirmed his identity and those of two other victims: 55-year-old Nazario Vazquez Villegas and 49-year-old Anthony Manson.  Santos was arraigned on charges of murder and attempted murder for the bloody rampage. He did not enter a plea and was ordered held without bail.  Police officials said Santos has been arrested 14 times, some of those for assault, including one in May for an alleged assault at a Brooklyn homeless shelter.

The suspect’s mother, Fioraliza Rodriguez, 55, told news outlets she had kicked him out about three years ago. He struggled with drugs, assaulted her and his grandfather, and stole from the family, she said.  “I never thought he would kill someone,” she said. “I was afraid of him, though, because he punched me. That’s when I told him to get out of my house.”

Sixth Vaping Death Prompts Congressional Hearing

 

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A 50-year-old Kansas woman became the sixth person in the USA to die of a vaping-related lung illness, an outbreak that has ramped up health concerns nationwide.  Kansas State Epidemiologist Farah Ahmed said in a statement that the unidentified patient had a history of underlying health issues and had been hospitalized with symptoms that progressed rapidly.  Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said that the patient did have underlying health issues but nothing that would have foretold the fact that within a week after starting using e-cigarettes for the first time, she developed full-blown acute respiratory distress.  Doctors say it’s clear the vaping related lung illness is responsible for her rapid deterioration.

Kansas health officials noted six more cases associated with the outbreak, three patients confirmed with the illness and three cases under investigation.  Five previous vaping-related deaths were confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon. After the Kansas fatality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied six deaths and more than 450 possible cases of severe lung injury in 33 states and one jurisdiction.  The CDC confirmed that investigators narrowed their focus and that the additive vitamin E acetate is a chemical involved in many of the cases, but officials emphasized it is not in all of the cases being reviewed.

People with a history of vaping who experience lung injury symptoms should seek medical care, according to Kansas health officials.  Nationally, symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea.  Other symptoms reported by some patients include headache, dizziness and chest pain.  Though many patients across the nation have been in their late teens, 20s or 30s, the Kansas death is a warning that older adults may be at particular risk.

Patients tend to arrive at the hospital short of breath and coughing. Many have also had fevers, general fatigue and gastrointestinal problems. It is not unusual for patients to be put into intensive care units, and on ventilators. All reported vaping nicotine, THC or a combination of the two in the days and weeks before falling ill.  The CDC has recommended people stay away from vaping devices while investigators work to pinpoint exactly what’s behind the illnesses.

The rapid and worrisome increase has now prompted a Congressional hearing on the matter, after a policy discussion on the matter.  The recent death has prompted the U.S. President to call for a ban on thousands of e-cigarette flavors in an effort to get people to give up e-cigarettes.  E-cigarette companies have been given years to gather and submit evidence their products are safe and effective ways to quit smoking traditional tobacco.  A federal judge has set a May 2020 deadline for companies to do so.

Dr. Norman said “God only knows what all is in there.  There should be a moratorium on the sale of these products until we know more.”  The American Lung Association also released a statement warning the public that e-cigarettes could cause irreversible lung damage.  “No one should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product,” Harold Wimmer, national president of the American Lung Association, wrote in the statement. “This message is even more urgent today following the increasing reports of vaping-related illnesses and deaths nationwide.”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

RI Corrections Officer Resigns After Driving Truck Into Protesters

 

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The Rhode Island correctional officer accused of driving his truck into a group of peaceful protesters has resigned amid an investigation into the incident that occurred during a protest outside the Wyatt Detention Center.  Captain Thomas Woodworth resigned days after the incident after after initially being placed on leave.

Woodworth was seen behind the wheel of a pickup truck that drove into a crowd of protesters.  The Jewish activist group that started the protest, Never Again Action, released a statement that they are glad Woodworth resigned.  The group also called on authorities to punish the correctional officers that used pepper spray on the crowd of protesters surrounding the truck.

The detention center, owned by a municipal quasi-public agency, has been under scrutiny for months after entering an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees while they await trial. Approximately 139 federal immigration detainees are currently being housed at Wyatt.  The protest was attended by an estimated 500 people who gathered at the facility around 7PM.  The group heard from local faith leaders and community activists, leading one another in chants and songs outside the facility.

Anticipating a shift change by guards, around 30 members of the group moved to block the main parking lot used by employees of the prison at around 9PM. Harvey says they intended to use “peaceful protest in the civil disobedience mode” to disrupt Wyatt’s operations for a few hours.  When the incident occurred, protesters were standing in front of the entrance to the facility, holding hands to form a chain. Another group of protesters sat on the ground, blocking off access to a staff parking lot.  A video showed a pickup truck, driven by Woodworth, 64, driving into the seated protesters, hitting some and sending others running. The protest group says one person has a broken leg.  The truck stopped and honked at the protesters surrounding it, before continuing to drive forward. Several officers were seen on video misting the crowd with what appears to be pepper spray after asking them to move away from the truck.

After Woodworth drove into the crowd, officers from the facility poured into the parking lot and used pepper spray against the protesters. Of the five people who were hospitalized following the incident, two were treated for injuries related to Woodworth’s attack including 64-year-old Jerry Belair, of Warren, who suffered a broken leg and internal bleeding.  Three others were treated for pepper spray-related injuries – including one woman in her 70s.

The Rhode Island attorney general’s office said in a statement that it is working with Rhode Island State Police to investigate the event.  “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans,” the attorney general’s office said. “It is unfortunate last night’s situation unfolded as it did.”  Wyatt Detention Facility Warden Daniel Martin said that his office is investigating the incident and looking at how the facility responds to protests.

Confessed Serial Killer May Be Linked To 2 More Louisiana Victims

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Louisiana investigators say confessed serial killer Samuel Little from Lorain, may be linked to two more unidentified cold case victims in the state.  Little has drawn haunting portraits from memory of women the FBI believes he murdered.  The FBI has released the pictures in hopes some of the victims can be identified.  Little, 78, says he killed 94 women from 1970 to 2005.  Police have confirmed more than 36 cases so far, a tally that puts Little among the deadliest serial killers.  He pled guilty to a Texas woman’s death in January and has been convicted in the deaths of three women from California.

Little was arrested on September 5, 2012, at a homeless shelter in Louisville, Kentucky, after authorities used DNA testing to establish that he was involved in the murder of Carol Elford, killed on July 13, 1987; Guadalupe Apodaca, killed on September 3, 1987; and Audrey Nelson, killed on August 14, 1989.  All three of their bodies were found dumped in the streets of LA.  He was extradited to Los Angeles, where he was charged on January 7, 2013.  He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in September 2014.

Months later, police said that Little was being investigated for involvement in dozens of murders committed across 14 states between 1970 and 2005.    On November 9, 2018, Little confessed to the 1996 fatal strangulation of Melissa Thomas.  In December 2018, Little pled guilty to the 1994 murder of Denise Christie.  confessed to the 1979 murder of 23-year-old Brenda Alexander whose body was found in Phenix City.  Little also confessed to the 1977 murder of an unidentified woman and the 1982 strangling murder of 18-year-old Fredonia Smith.

According to authorities, he also confessed to the 1982 murder of 55-year-old Dorothy Richards, the 1996 murder of 40-year-old Daisy McGuire, the 1978 murder of 36-year-old Julia Critchfield, the 1978 murder of 19-year-old Evelyn Weston, the 1982 murder of 20-year-old Rosie Hill and the 2005 murder of 46-year-old Nancy Carol Stevens.  Police have linked him to the 1981 murder of 23 year old Linda Sue Boards.  He has also been linked to two murder victims who remain unidentified.

Little confessed to strangling all his victims and dumping their bodies in wooded areas. Without a gunshot or knife wound, many of the deaths were blamed on overdoses or accidents and murder investigations were never opened. The victims were often involved in prostitution or addicted to drugs and their bodies sometimes went unidentified.  According to the FBI, Little remembers his victims and the killings in great detail.   He remembers where he was and what car he was driving but is less reliable with remembering dates.

Little began making the confessions in exchange for a transfer out of the Los Angeles County prison in which he was being held.  The FBI says Little is in very poor health and will stay in prison until his death.  He uses a wheelchair, and suffers from diabetes and a heart condition.  Little has confessed to dozens of murders and has drawn 26 portraits of some of his alleged victims.  One of his victims has been identified from the portraits so far.  Martha Cunningham of Knox County, Tennessee who was 34 years old when Little murdered her in 1975.   The agency is releasing these photos now to identify his victims and provide closure and justice in unsolved cases.  If you have any information that can help, call 800-634-4097.

Sheriff Deputy’s Son Charged In Louisiana Church Fires

 

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A man accused of setting fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana has been charged with hate crimes.  Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of a deputy sheriff, was originally charged with two counts of simple arson of a religious building and one count of aggravated arson of a religious building after being arrested last week.

Authorities arrested Matthews, the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy, last week on suspicion he set fires to three churches over the span of about 10 days.  The first blaze occurred at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26.  On April 2, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas was set ablaze and then the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 4.  All three churches were in St. Landry Parish, about 30 minutes north of Lafayette.

An arrest warrant reportedly showed that officials connected Matthews to the crimes through the charred remains of a brand of gas can found at the scene of the April 4 fire.  Investigators learned that a Walmart in Opelousas was a local seller of the Scepter-branded can found at the scene.  Walmart informed investigators that two Scepter cans were purchased late on March 25 — less than three hours before the first fire — along with a 10-pack of automotive cloths and a lighter, according to the affidavit. The receipt showed the purchase was made with a debit card in the name of Holden Matthews.

Investigators also obtained surveillance photos of the purchaser and the pickup he was driving. The affidavit said a Ford pickup like the one Matthews was driving was registered to the suspect’s father, Roy.  The same color and model pickup that Matthews drives was also seen at two of the churches shortly before the fires were reported to 911, according to video footage referenced in the arrest warrant.

The affidavit said the pickup was also later captured driving by the scene of the fire and slowing down. A firefighter also reported seeing the pickup near the burning church.  During his Monday hearing, prosecutors said cellphone evidence placed Matthews at the scenes of the three fires, including photos and videos.   District Judge James Doherty said “There is a substantial amount of evidence, it appears,” before denying Matthews bond and setting a trial date for September.

Matthew’s father, Roy Matthews was unaware of his son’s alleged involvement and was not personally part of the investigation, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz told reporters.  Governor John Bel Edwards told reporters “I don’t know what this young man’s motive was, I don’t know what was in his heart, but I can say it cannot be justified or rationalized.  These were evil acts. But let me be clear about this, hate is not a Louisiana value.”  Church burnings were a common occurrence in the Jim Crow era and church fires in the South — immediately bring to mind such racist attacks.

The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the investigations. The NAACP has labeled the fires “domestic terrorism,” adding that the “spike in church burnings in Southern states is a reflection of the emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country.”