By CHRISTINA NG (@ChristinaNg27) and PIERRE THOMAS (@PierreTABC)
April 9, 2012
Two Oklahoma men accused of a deadly shooting spree last week that apparently targeted black people at random along Tulsa, Okla.’s streets have confessed to the shootings, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Jake England, 19, confessed to shooting three people, the AP reported. Alvin Watts, 32, confessed to shooting two.
The rampage left three people dead, and two more were seriously wounded. Watts is believed to have shot two of the three who died, according to the documents.
All of the victims are black. England and Watts, who police describe as white, have not been charged with hate crimes.
Tulsa, Oklahoma (CNN) — Police are investigating whether the shootings of five African-Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were a hate crime after the weekend arrests of two white suspects in the case, local authorities said Sunday.
Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, are scheduled to be arraigned Monday morning. Tulsa police arrested them early Sunday after a series of tips that led investigators to England’s burned pickup, a vehicle that matched a description reported at the crime scenes, according to their arrest reports.The shootings left three dead and two wounded. Both suspects are charged with three counts of murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill, police said.
“We’re going to explore any possible motives,” Police Chief Chuck Jordan told reporters Sunday afternoon. But he said the investigation was still going on, and Jim Finch, the head of the FBI’s Oklahoma office, said Sunday that it was “premature” to talk about hate crimes.
“We have yet to analyze all the information to understand the motivations of these subjects in this case,” Finch said.
England had written a racial slur on his Facebook page in a post marking the anniversary of his father’s 2010 killing. But the entry also noted his girlfriend’s recent suicide, and a man at England’s home told CNN, “You don’t know what this family’s been through.”
The shootings began about 1 a.m. Friday in predominantly black neighborhoods in north Tulsa. The first victim, 49-year-old Dannaer Fields, died at a hospital. Two others were shot just three minutes later, but survived and were released from the hospital Sunday, Jordan said.
Another person was shot and killed about 2 a.m., while the third victim was found around 8 a.m. next to a funeral home. Jordan identified the other two victims as William Allen and Bobby Clark.
CHICAGO (AP) — Accustomed to wearing Vera Wang gowns on red carpets, singing at the Grammys or autographing her weight-loss memoir, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson will take on a new role under a very different spotlight – in Chicago’s drab criminal courts building at the trial of the man charged with murdering her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew.
The Hollywood star’s presence, and the accompanying media hubbub, is bound to affect the proceedings, which begin Monday. That’s when presiding Judge Charles Burns plans to start questioning would-be jurors one by one, trying to weed out anyone who could be swayed by Hudson’s celebrity status.
Hudson is expected to be at the trial every day once testimony begins, court officials say, and she’s on the 300-name list of witnesses who could testify. While the judge will warn prospective jurors to avoid watching TV coverage of the trial, they may see Hudson on “American Idol” on Thursday.
Legal experts widely agree on the No. 1 challenge at trials involving megastars: It’s identifying 12 jurors able and willing to assess guilt solely on what they hear in court.
Hudson will need to refrain from overt displays of emotion as potentially starstruck jurors’ eyes dart back at her, said Gerald Uelmen, a defense attorney at O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.
“The risk is that jurors may be watching her rather than testifying witnesses, and they could be influenced by how she reacts,” he said. “She would be well advised not to engage in any facial expressions or outbursts. That could be grounds for a mistrial.”
Prosecutors say William Balfour, the 30-year-old estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, shot the family in a jealous rage because Julia Hudson was dating another man. Jennifer Hudson, also 30, and Balfour grew up in the same South Side neighborhood.
The bodies of Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, were found shot to death in the family’s home on Oct. 24, 2008. The body of her nephew, Julian King, was found days later in a vehicle several miles away.
Balfour’s attorneys have said the evidence is circumstantial, though prosecutors say proof he committed the crime will include gun residue found on his car’s steering wheel.
Adored by many Chicagoans, Hudson will pose a stark contrast to Balfour, a short man with a long criminal record. He was a one-time Gangster Disciples gang member and known by his street name, “Flex,” according to court documents.
The dilemma posed by Balfour’s trial became clear last week, when 150 potential jurors filled out their questionnaires in court. Nine of the 66 questions dealt with Hudson’s career: Would-be jurors were asked if they’d ever seen her Academy Award-winning film “Dreamgirls” and if they belong to an organization for which Hudson is a spokesperson, presumably a reference to Weight Watchers.
It was obvious many potential jurors had heard of the killings, some gasping when the judge first read the name of the case.
And when Burns asked if anyone felt they couldn’t hear the evidence “without sympathy, bias or prejudice” to step up, he looked on with apparent alarm as five, 15, then 20 people rose. He finally told everyone to sit down and disregard the question, for now.
The history of high-profile trials – from Simpson’s to Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray – suggests it’s hard to dim the celebrity glow. But Burns, known as a competent but quick-tempered judge, wants to ensure the buzz doesn’t undercut Balfour’s right to a fair trial. He’s made it clear he won’t tolerate disruptions. He’s barred tweeting from inside court because he fears feverish typing would distract jurors. He’s imposed gag orders on attorneys.
Cameras also won’t be allowed in the courtroom, though that won’t stop the media circus outside. Chicago isn’t a paparazzi hot spot, but cameramen are likely to swoop in from New York or Los Angeles, said Ray Murray, an associate journalism professor at Oklahoma State University who studies paparazzi.
“Going in and out of the courtroom won’t be fun for her,” Murray said. “They look like cannons, some of these cameras, and if you’re going through what she’s about to go through, you can imagine that would rattle her.”
The brush with celebrity may be irresistible for jurors, as there’s a tendency to feel a protective bond with movie stars and singers almost as if they’re family, said prominent defense lawyer Gerry Spence.
There could be “a sort of underlying sense, a subconscious sense, that they have attacked somebody in (the juror’s) family,” said Spence. “And they think, `(He) shot Jennifer’s (mother, brother and nephew) and I’m going to get him.’ “
The defense could ask Burns to bar Hudson from court – possibly on grounds she is a potential witness – which would be a rare but not unheard of request. But Uelmen says the judge would be reluctant to tell a daughter she can’t attend the trial of the man accused of killing her mother.
Hudson’s publicity firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Judges don’t insist jurors be blank slates, they merely want to know if jurors can set aside their biases and preconceptions, said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles.
“You certainly don’t want a juror who hasn’t heard of Jennifer Hudson, for instance,” Levenson said. “That would raise other serious questions, like, where’s this person been living – under a rock?”
Attorneys won’t necessarily share the judge’s goal of weeding out bias.
“The fact is,” Uelmen said, “neither side is looking for unbiased jurors – they’re looking for jurors who lean their way.”
AP reporter Don Babwin contributed to this report.
Wikipedia: William Douglas Balfour was speaker of the Legislature of Ontario in 1895-1896 and served as Liberal MLA for Essex South from 1882 to 1896. →
By MATT GUTMAN (@mattgutmanABC)
March 28, 2012
A police surveillance video taken the night that Trayvon Martin was shot dead shows no blood or bruises on George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who says he shot Martin after he was punched in the nose, knocked down and had his head slammed into the ground.
The surveillance video, which was obtained exclusively by ABC News, shows Zimmerman arriving in a police cruiser. As he exits the car, his hands are cuffed behind his back. Zimmerman is frisked and then led down a series of hallways, still cuffed.
Zimmerman, 28, is wearing a red and black fleece and his face and head are cleanly shaven. He appears well built, hardly the portly young man depicted in a 2005 mug shot that until a two days ago was the single image the media had of Zimmerman.
The initial police report noted that Zimmerman was bleeding from the back of the head and nose, and after medical attention it was decided that he was in good enough condition to travel in a police cruiser to the Sanford, Fla., police station for questioning.
His lawyer later insisted that Zimmerman’s nose had been broken in his scuffle with 17-year-old Martin.
In the video an officer is seen pausing to look at the back of Zimmerman’s head, but no abrasions or blood can be seen in the video and he did not check into the emergency room following the police questioning.
by Eyder Peralta
Police didn’t arrest George Zimmerman. They didn’t arrest him after he got off his car, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed and on his way back from the store after buying some snacks. They didn’t arrest him after 9-11 calls emerged in which police advise Zimmerman, who was on Neighborhood Watch patrol, not to follow Martin.
Sanford, Fla. police said Zimmerman has claimed self defense, so they’ve handed the case over to the state attorney.
But, as NPR’s Joel Rose reported this morning, Florida law may mean prosecuting Zimmerman could prove difficult.
“As long as you are somewhere you have a lawful right to be, if someone attacks you, the words of the statute are you can meet force with force, including deadly force, if you reasonably believe that that is necessary,” Jeffrey Bellin, who teaches law at Southern Methodist University, told Joel.
That law is known as the “Stand Your Ground,” or “Shoot First” law and it’s been controversial since it was passed in 2005. Basically, The Christian Science Monitor reports, the law gets rid of the English Law concept of “duty to retreat” from a situation that is dangerous outside your home.
Bellin told the Monitor that the law makes judging self defense harder for prosecutors because it could potentially negate “the extent to which a person claiming self-defense may have aggravated the situation.”
“It’s hard to imagine that this couldn’t have been resolved by [Zimmerman] leaving, so that no one would’ve gotten hurt, so this is a case where the Stand Your Ground law can actually make a legal difference,” Bellin told the paper. “Even if you have suspicions about what motivated this, and you think there was a racial element and no justification for this shooting, the fact is he had no obligation to retreat under the law. If prosecutors don’t have the evidence to disprove the claim of self-defense, they won’t be able to win.”
The Orlando Sentinel reports that claims of self defense ballooned after the law passed.
“Some Orlando-area police agencies simply stopped investigating shootings involving self-defense claims and referred them directly to state prosecutors to decide,” the paper reports.
Back in 2010, The Tampa Bay Times took at comprehensive look at the law. It found that reports of “justifiable homicides tripled after the law went into effect.”
The paper added:
“Last year, twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.
“The self-defense law — known as ‘stand your ground’ — has been invoked in at least 93 cases with 65 deaths, a St. Petersburg Times review found.
“In the majority of the cases, the person’s use of force was excused by prosecutors and the courts.”
In fact, according to The Sun Sentinel, the Florida Supreme Court decided a judge should evaluate a defendant’s claim of self defense before he goes to trial. In other words, a judge not a jury usually decides if a killing was in self defense.
Critics of the law call it the “right-to-commit-murder law,” saying it has turned Florida into the Wild West. Supporters say it helps deter crime.
In its story, The Tampa Bay Times breaks down the law with another case. Trevor Dooley went to a park with gun. He had a permit. David James, a decorated U.S. Air Force serviceman went to the park with his 8-year-old daughter.
The two men argued over a kid on a skateboard when Dooley tried to enforce the rules. James, said Dooley, lunged at him so he shot him. James died in front of his 8-year-old daughter.
The paper reports:
“What was James, 41, thinking when he lunged toward Dooley? What was Dooley thinking James was thinking?
“Did Dooley ‘reasonably believe’ that the younger, bigger, stronger man would take his gun and harm him?
“Only he knows.
“And whether he is punished for gunning down a father in front of his daughter in a park on a sunny Sunday afternoon will more than likely come down to what he says he was thinking in those few seconds before a man died.”
A judge will decide that case in late March.
Update at 6:34 p.m. ET. 17 States:
It’s worth noting that 16 states have followed Florida’s lead since 2005 enacting “stand your ground” laws.
Washington (CNN) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday began three days of potentially landmark oral arguments over the constitutionality of the sweeping health care law championed by President Barack Obama, with a majority of justices appearing to reject suggestions they wait another few years before deciding the issues.
In one of the most politically charged cases in years, the health care reform case drew people who waited in line starting Friday for the chance to attend, and sparked competing news conferences by supporters and opponents of the 2010 law passed by Democrats over united Republican opposition.
Hear oral arguments before the high court in the landmark case
The public sessions started Monday with 90 minutes of lively debate on a legally dense, but nonetheless important, question.
It boils down to whether the health care law’s key provision is a “tax” that could prevent the court from considering the broader constitutional questions.
The US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a massacre that has undermined relations with Kabul has been named as Staff Sgt Robert Bales.
Senior US officials told the BBC the name of the suspect as he was heading back to the US to face charges.
He is expected to land soon at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas, from Kuwait.
His lawyer, John Henry Browne, said on Thursday that the suspect was a 38-year-old man who had been injured twice while serving in Iraq.
He also said the accused had witnessed his friend’s leg blown off the day before the killings.
That incident has not been confirmed by the US Army.
The Taliban called off peace talks in the wake of Sunday’s deadly rampage – in which men, women and children were shot and killed at close range.
The US has stressed it remained committed to Afghan reconciliation.
The American soldier accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan on Sunday has been flown out of the country.
Officials say legal proceedings against the unnamed staff sergeant will now be conducted in another country. It is not clear where he has been taken.
The victims were shot in their homes, causing outrage across Afghanistan.
The transfer coincides with a visit by US defence secretary Leon Panetta. His arrival in Afghanistan was marred by an incident involving a vehicle.
A stolen pick-up truck was driven at high speed onto the runway where Mr Panetta’s plane was intended to stop at the British base in Helmand province, Camp Bastion.
The vehicle ended crashing into a ditch and bursting into flames. The Afghan driver suffered burns and has been arrested.
A Nato serviceman was injured when the vehicle was stolen. Neither Mr Panetta nor anyone on board the plane was at risk at any time, officials said.
The biggest banks in the US will be forced to provide $25bn in relief to distressed home owners and states in an effort to hold lenders responsible for taking illegal shortcuts during foreclosures and other mortgage paperwork, the US administration says.
The settlement, announced on Thursday, seals more than a year of negotiations after evidence emerged late in 2010 that banks automatically signed thousands of foreclosure documents without properly reviewing paperwork.
It means that the banks will have to reduce loans for about a million homeowners around the country. The banks will also have to compensate victims over improper foreclosures.
“We have reached a landmark settlement with the nation’s largest banks that will speed relief to the hardest hit homeowners,” President Barack Obama said after the deal was announced.
“This isn’t just good for these families. It’s good for their neighobourhoods, it’s good for their communities, and it’s good for our economy.”
The Obama administration has also said it hopes the settlement will open a new avenue for housing relief because it will force the banks to write down mortgages at a time when roughly one in four borrowers owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.
Millions not helped
The US justice department, the housing and urban development department, and a handful of state attorneys general announced the deal at a news conference in Washington.
Some large states, such as California and New York, joined at the last minute.
“The president was quick to highlight the million home owner that will basically owe less now. … That’s a million people, but there are 12.5 million Americans who are in that position,” Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane said, reporting from Washington DC.
“To the million people it will feel like a very big settlement. To the 11.5 million that are left still without any help, it probably won’t seem like a very good deal.
“There’s a huge amount of anger in this country that the banks got a government bailout and have returned to record profits, but [people] feel that [banks] are not actually helping the American people get their own bailout.”
The banks involved in the deal are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial Incorporated.
The Federal Reserve said on Thursday that as part of the larger $25bn figure agreed to by US banks and states, it was imposing penalties totalling $766.5m on the five US banks in question.
Although the deal that involves 49 states is the largest joint federal-state settlement ever obtained, the amount is minuscule compared to the declines in home values, and the banks still face a host of other mortgage-related lawsuits.
“The bottom line about this settlement, is it’s okay, it’s a step forward, it’s a step in the right direction. But let’s not kid ourselves, there’s a hell of a lot more that needs to be done,” Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said.
An attempt by BP to offload a major part of its Gulf of Mexico oil-spill compensation bill on to the US rig operator Transocean has been thrown out by a US court.
The setback comes in the run-up to the main legal case against BP and its partners on 27 February in New Orleans, which will rule over who is to blame for the Deepwater Horizon accident, in which 11 workers died.
Shares in the oil group fell 2.7% after a federal judge upheld a clause in the drilling contract that shielded Transocean from having to pay compensation for livelihoods damaged by the Macondo blowout in 2010.
But the district judge, Carl Barbier, left open the possibility that Transocean might still have to pay punitive damages or civil penalties imposed by the US government under the federal Clean Water Act.