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George Zimmerman (2nd from r.) stands with his defense team, Mark O'Mara (l.), Don West, and Lorna Truett, during his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday. Mr. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/AP)

George Zimmerman described black males as 'suspicious' in phone calls

By Staff writer / 06.25.13

Prosecutors in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman argued Tuesday that the judge should allow the jury to hear about five phone calls Mr. Zimmerman made to police dispatchers in the six months before his fatal confrontation with teenager Trayvon Martin complaining about “suspicious” characters in the neighborhood.

Defense and prosecution arguments over the neighborhood watch phone calls took place before the all female jury was seated for the second day of testimony in the Sanford, Fla., trial. In each of the calls, Zimmerman described the suspicious characters as black males, the Associated Press reports. Trayvon is black. Judge Debra Nelson said she would rule after reviewing prior cases.

Tuesday’s events featured fewer fireworks than both sides’ opening arguments on Monday, which featured the prosecutor quoting profane statements Zimmerman made to a police dispatcher about Trayvon just before the shooting and a "knock knock" joke from a defense attorney that was poorly received by the jury.

Some of the most dramatic testimony of the day came from police Sgt. Anthony Raimondo, who was the second officer to respond to the scene of the shooting. Along with his partner, Sergeant Raimondo performed CPR on Trayvon, who was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency medical personnel.  The jury heard Raimondo describe in graphic detail Trayvon's wounds and, for the first time, the prosecutor showed jurors several photos of the dead teenager lying in the grass.

The debate over the phone calls began late Monday when, according to CNN's live blog, the court adjourned after the prosecution introduced a nonemergency call made by Zimmerman in August 2011. He is heard reporting a suspicious person in the neighborhood.

Prosecutors said the call helps illuminate Zimmerman's state of mind the night Trayvon was killed, but the defense questioned the call's relevance. The judge asked attorneys on both sides to research the issue overnight and to argue their positions Tuesday morning.

In this morning’s arguments, prosecutors said calls made in the six months prior to the Feb. 26, 2012, incident in which Zimmerman shot an unarmed Trayvon show Zimmerman’s growing frustration with repeated break-ins in his gated community. It supports the prosecution theory that Zimmerman viewed Trayvon as a suspicious character and was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” as the Associated Press quoted prosecutor Richard Mantei as saying.

The calls that the prosecutors want the jury to hear are mentioned in a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, released by the state attorney’s office, which shows Zimmerman had a pattern of complaining frequently to authorities about events in his neighborhood.

Trayvon's family alleges that Zimmerman was profiling a black teenager as he followed him through the gated community where Zimmerman lived and where Martin was visiting the home of his father’s girlfriend. Zimmerman has entered a plea of not guilty, claiming he shot Trayvon in self-defense.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara argued the previous calls were irrelevant and that the jury should focus on the seven or eight minute confrontation when Zimmerman shot Trayvon. “They are going to ask the jury to make a leap from a good, responsible citizen behavior to seething behavior,” Mr. O’Mara said.  

The witnesses who testified Tuesday were all called by the prosecution. In addition to Raimondo, they included Wendy Dorival, who ran the Sanford Police Department’s neighborhood watch program. Zimmerman functioned as “neighborhood watch coordinator” of his gated subdivision. Ms. Dorival testified that neighborhood watchers are "the eyes and ears of law enforcement.” She added, “They are not supposed to take matters into their own hands.” 

Also testifying was Donald O’Brien, president of the Homeowners Association at Twin Lakes, the subdivision where Zimmerman lived. “Everybody was supposed to watch out for their neighbors. If they see something suspicious, stay away and call the police," CNN quoted Mr. O’Brien as saying. The Grio’s live blog quoted Mr. O’Brien as saying he did not feel the neighborhood watch was necessary.

 Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) speaks as she begins a filibuster in an effort to kill an abortion bill, Tuesday, June 25, in Austin, Texas. The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require abortion doctors to have visiting rights at nearby hospitals. (Eric Gay/AP)

Texas abortion law won't go through if 13-hour filibuster succeeds

By Chelsea B. SheasleyCorrespondent / 06.25.13

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) must speak nonstop for 13 hours – without bathroom breaks or leaning on anything – if she wants to halt passage of a major abortion bill that would solidify Texas’ status on a growing list of states passing restrictive abortion measures.

Senator Davis and fellow Texas Democrats are seeking to thwart a bill passed by the Texas House on Monday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require abortion doctors to have visiting rights at nearby hospitals. While supporters say the bill protects women’s health, critics reply that the bill will effectively close 37 of the 42 state abortion clinics. 

Davis’s filibuster caps several days of legislative drama that will end Tuesday night at midnight with the expiration of a special legislative session – after which no further laws may be passed. 

"We want to do whatever we can for women in this state," state Sen. Kirk Watson, leader of the Senate Democrats, said Monday.

Texas joins several states including Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota, Virginia, and Pennsylvania that have passed or proposed restrictions on abortion. Critics say the Texas legislation is particularly notable because it would become the most stringent set of abortion laws to affect the largest number of people in the United States.

In addition to banning abortion after 20 weeks, the bill limits abortions to surgical centers and requires doctors to monitor nonsurgical abortions. Opponents say a requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles is problematic because most hospitals in Texas do not grant privileges to doctors who perform abortions – either for religious reasons or for fear of becoming the target of protests. 

"If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the state of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe measures," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of the late Ann Richards, a former Texas governor. 

“The woman had five months to make that decision. At this point we are looking at a baby that is very far along in its development,” said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R) in the legislation's defense on the House floor. Ms. Laubenberg stopped participating in her chamber's debate after comments about the use of rape kits to prevent abortion drew fire for inaccuracy.

The measure passed the Texas House Monday by a vote of 95 to 34, with the support of four Democrats. House Democrats, mindful that a 24-hour waiting period was needed after passage in their chamber, had delayed their vote until 11 a.m. Monday after a rowdy debate Sunday. Senate Democrats then looked poised to kill the legislation in their chamber with Davis’s filibuster. 

"If the majority can't pass the legislation that they believe is important and the people believe is important ... then that's of great concern to me," said state Sen. Dan Patrick (R). Senator Patrick said the Democrats should not have been allowed to put Republicans "in a box." 

The bill came about at the request of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who called a special legislative session after the regular session ended May 27. Governor Perry, who is the only one who can legally add issues during the extra session, added abortion to the agenda June 11.

Perry’s request to add abortion came on the same day another state that recently passed stricter abortion measures was sued. Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit to block enforcement of a new Alabama law that critics say would force the closure of three of the state’s five abortion clinics on July 1.

The Alabama law, passed in April, also requires that all physicians in the state who perform abortions have staff privileges at a local hospital – something clinic officials in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile say they can not comply with. 

This is part of national strategy by antiabortion activists to exploit novel ways to shut down abortion clinics at the state level, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told the Monitor

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight state legislatures have banned abortions after 20 weeks, Arizona has done so at 18 weeks, and Arkansas passed a ban after 12 weeks. Federal judges have thrown out the laws in Arizona and Iowa, and judges have blocked similar measures in the other states. 

Mississippi and Tennessee also passed laws requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The only abortion clinic still operating in Mississippi is battling to stay open because of new facility requirements and because of the requirement that doctors have privileges at a local hospital. In North Dakota, abortion clinics are suing against similar laws passed this year to remain open.

“We’re in the midst of this wave of abortion restrictions,” Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization on reproductive issues, told the Monitor in April.

In 2011, 92 abortion restrictions were enacted in state legislatures, and in 2012, the number was 43, according to Ms. Nash, who says those are the two highest totals of the past decade. In 2000, Guttmacher classified 13 states as being “hostile” to abortion. By 2011, half the states were hostile. To gauge “hostility,” Guttmacher identified 10 classifications of abortion restrictions, and if a state reached four of them, it was called hostile.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Assistant State Attorney John Guy gestures during his opening arguments in front of the jury in the George Zimmerman trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida, June 24. Guy's first words to jurors quoted what Zimmerman told a police dispatcher in a call shortly before the fatal confrontation with teenager Trayvon Martin. (Joe Burbank/Reuters)

Zimmerman murder trial begins: bad language, worse joke (+video)

By David T. CookStaff writer / 06.24.13

Opening statements in the murder trial of George Zimmerman featured sharply different versions of the events that led to the death of teenager Trayvon Martin and offered major stylistic contrasts, with the prosecutor beginning with curses and the defense attorney telling a joke.

Mr. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of the 17-year-old while serving as a neighborhood watch volunteer in February 2012. Zimmerman called 911 to report a “suspicious person” in the neighborhood and has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense.

Prosecutor John Guy's first words to jurors quoted what Zimmerman told a police dispatcher in a call shortly before the fatal confrontation with Mr. Martin. "F------ punks. These a-------. They always get away,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying. A Fox News reporter in the room said “jaws in the jury box dropped” in response to the unusual courtroom language.

In his 34-minute opening statement, prosecutor Guy disputed Zimmerman’s assertion that he acted in self-defense after being attacked by Martin. Zimmerman “didn’t have bruised knuckles, he didn’t have swollen hands. The only injury to his hand that was capable of being photographed was a small abrasion on his left ring finger,” Mr. Guy said, according to a CNN live blog.

The prosecutor argued that Zimmerman was profiling Martin, who is black, as he followed him through the gated community where Zimmerman lived and where Martin was visiting the home of his father’s girlfriend. He said Zimmerman viewed the teen, who was wearing a dark hooded shirt on a rainy night, “as someone about to a commit a crime in his neighborhood."

Zimmerman did not have to shoot Martin, Guy said. “He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to," Guy said, according to the AP.

After a brief recess, defense attorney Don West began a statement that lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the judge ordered a lunchtime recess. “This is a sad case, of course," Mr. West said. "A young man lost his life, another is fighting for his.”

However West then noted that “sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. So let me, at considerable risk…. I’d like to tell you a little joke,” which the defense attorney sought to use to illustrate the difficulty of picking a jury in a case that has attracted so much publicity.

"'Knock. Knock,'" West said.

"'Who is there?'"

"'George Zimmerman.'"

"'George Zimmerman who?'"

"'Ah, good. You're on the jury.'"

According to courtroom observers, the joke fell flat with the jury.

It was met “with compete, life-sucking silence in the courtroom,” Mediaite said.

West told jurors that in a confrontation Martin “sucker punched” Zimmerman in the face and “pounded” his head into the concrete sidewalk. Only then, the defense attorney said, did Zimmerman “wind up shooting and tragically killing Trayvon Martin.” The defense played for jurors the call to a police dispatcher in which Zimmerman used the obscenities.

The defense also argued that Martin had opportunities to go home after Zimmerman followed him and then lost track of him, West said. But, said West, “Trayvon Martin decided to confront George Zimmerman. That instead of going home.”

"The evidence will show that this is a sad case," West said. "There are no monsters here."

When the courtroom proceedings resumed after lunch, West resumed his opening statement by apologizing to jurors for the knock-knock joke. "No more bad jokes, I promise that. I was convinced it was the delivery," CNN quoted him as saying.

When the opening statements end and the jury hears testimony in the case, two police dispatch phone calls are expected to be important. In the first call, Zimmerman talks to a non-emergency police dispatcher as he follows Martin and is told he does not need to follow him. The second call is to 911 and includes screams from the confrontation. The defense says they are screams from Zimmerman. The prosecution contends Martin is screaming.

Judge Debra Nelson ruled over the weekend that experts for the prosecution will not be allowed to testify that the screams came from Martin, saying the methods they used were unreliable. But the jury will be allowed to hear the call and judge its meaning.

Material from the Associated Press was used in preparing this report.

In this image taken from video, a state police officer and dog arrive outside the home of New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez Saturday in North Attleboro, Mass. State police searched Hernandez's home as they investigate the killing of Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player whose body was found nearby. (ESPN/AP)

Aaron Hernandez investigation: What's next step for police?

By Staff writer / 06.23.13

Everyone in the National Football League knew that Aaron Hernandez was likely to come with baggage. Elite tight ends from major college programs like the University of Florida do not drop into the fourth round of the NFL draft – as Hernandez did in 2010 – unless there are lingering questions. Big ones.

Now those questions are coming to the fore as a murder investigation swirls around Hernandez.

Local and state police intensified their investigation of Hernandez Saturday, searching his house and grounds for nearly four hours and leaving with about 10 bags of evidence, according to the Los Angeles Times. Moreover, a paper warrant for Hernandez's arrest on obstruction of justice charges has been issued but not yet executed, reports FOX 25 Boston.

A paper warrant is often issued as a way to persuade defense attorneys to cooperate, said FOX 25's legal analyst, Brad Bailey.

"It may be that this is a squeeze tactic," he said. "It may be telling Mr. Hernandez that we have a warrant, a warrant for a crime that has a potential maximum penalty of seven years in prison, is a tactic to get him to come to the table, start talking and start cooperating. And that's where the lawyers may be saying, 'OK, we got it. You got our attention. We're willing to respond.' "

ABC originally reported that Hernandez "destroyed his home security system,'' and that he handed over his cellphone to authorities "in pieces." Numerous reports also note that Hernandez had a cleaning service scrub his house Monday.

Other media reports have established a cursory timeline in the case. The Boston Globe has reported that video images show Hernandez with Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player, in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston early Monday morning. The Fox 25 report cites sources saying there is video evidence of Hernandez and two men in hooded sweatshirts walking into Hernandez's home between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Monday.

Police say Lloyd was murdered – shot in the back of the head – at an industrial park near Hernandez's North Attleborough, Mass., home before dawn Monday.

Hernandez has found himself tailed by trouble since his days as a member of the University of Florida Gators.

In 2007, Hernandez was one of four Gators interviewed by police after the shooting of two men, one fatally, in Gainesville, Fla., the night after the Gators lost to Auburn, 20-17. He was never charged with any crime.

Before the NFL draft in 2010, Hernandez admitted to NFL teams that he had failed numerous drug tests, and concern among NFL personnel about Hernandez's potential connection to people with gang ties led him to drop to the fourth round, reports Sports Illustrated.

More recently, on May 18, police found a handgun apparently discarded under a vehicle near where Hernandez was accosted by a New York Jets fan at 2:26 a.m. in Providence, R.I. Police were never able to identify whose gun it was or how it got there, according to the Sports Illustrated report.

Then last week, a civil lawsuit against Hernandez was filed, alleging that Hernandez shot a man, Alexander Bradley, in south Florida in February, injuring Bradley's arm and causing him to lose an eye. "Hernandez shot him," said Bradley's lawyer, David Jaroslawicz, in a phone interview with Sports Illustrated. "It's either a negligence case or a deliberate shooting. We'll see if Hernandez wants to come in and raise his right hand and tell us what happened."

Some who know Hernandez say is has a good heart but had a difficult time coping after his father's death in 2006 and has fallen in with the wrong crowd. University of Florida coaches always worried when Hernandez returned home to Bristol, Conn., according to Sports Illustrated.

"There were always people that were trying to surround themselves with him that weren't in his best interest and they were around him," one former coach said. "For him, it's like anything else. He's a good-hearted kid who had a hard time saying no."

Massachusetts State Police search along a road near the home of New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez in North Attleborough, Mass., on Wednesday. Police spent a second day at Hernandez's home, two days after a body was found about a mile away. (Erika Niedowski/AP)

Aaron Hernandez faces new troubles with Miami shooting lawsuit (+video)

By Chelsea B. SheasleyCorrespondent / 06.20.13

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was accused in court documents last week of shooting a man in Florida in February, even as he remains linked to a homicide investigation in Massachusetts.

A lawsuit filed in federal court on June 13 accuses Mr. Hernandez of shooting a Connecticut man in February after an argument at a Miami strip club. 

The lawsuit, first reported by TMZ, was brought by Alexander Bradley, whose lawyer has done personal assistance work for Hernandez.

Mr. Bradley did not name Hernandez as the shooter when Florida police investigated the incident at the time, and the case was closed without filing charges, reports The Boston Globe.

Bradley’s lawyer told ABC News that the lawsuit was voluntarily discontinued because the language describing the injuries was incorrect, but that it was being refiled Wednesday.

In the Massachusetts homicide investigation, the name of the man found in an industrial park near Hernandez’s home Monday was released. The man was 27-year-old Boston resident Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player for the Boston Bandits, according to the office of Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter.

Mr. Lloyd’s family told reporters he was an “associate” of Hernandez but refused to comment further. 

The Boston Globe reports that an autopsy ruled Lloyd's death a homicide, although police did not confirm that with the Associated Press.

Neighbors told The Boston Globe that Lloyd was often seen in the neighborhood driving cars with Patriot decals and was thought to be dating the sister of Hernandez’s girlfriend. Police searched Hernandez's home Tuesday night in connection with the investigation.

At a different time, state troopers found a gun while searching the woods and yards of homes between the crime scene and Hernandez’s house, but ballistics tests determined it was not the weapon that killed Lloyd, reports ABC News.

The Bristol County district attorney’s office released a statement Wednesday asking the public for help finding a silver side-view mirror that may have broken off a car between Dorchester, Mass., and North Attleborough, Mass., but did not release information about why the mirror is important or whose car it may have come from.

While Sports Illustrated cited an anonymous source saying Hernandez is not a suspect in the homicide, sources told CBS Boston that he has not been ruled out as a suspect.

Ropes & Gray, the law firm representing Hernandez, issued a statement Wednesday declining to discuss the case. “It has been widely reported in the media that the State Police have searched the home of our client, Aaron Hernandez, as part of an ongoing investigation,” Michael Fee of the law firm said in a statement. “Out of respect for that process, neither we nor Aaron will have any comment about the substance of that investigation until it has come to a conclusion.”

North Attleborough, where Hernandez owns a $1.3 million, 5,600-square-foot home, is about 40 miles south of Boston and 10 miles away from Foxborough, Mass., where the New England Patriots play. The town is home to several Patriots players, and Hernandez bought his house from former Patriot Ty Warren.

Hernandez, a fourth-round draft pick for the Patriots in 2010, paired with Rob Gronkowski to form one of the top tight end duos in the National Football League. A Pro Bowl selection in 2011, Hernandez has 175 receptions for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns in 38 games. He missed 10 games last season with an ankle injury and had shoulder surgery in April, but is expected to be ready for training camp. 

Last summer, the Patriots gave him a five-year contract worth $40 million.

NFL team sources told The Boston Globe in 2010 that multiple failed drug tests for marijuana as a college player at the University of Florida may have caused Hernandez to drop in the NFL draft. 

Hernandez "told teams at the NFL Scouting Combine that his drug use stemmed from the 2006 death of his father, Dennis, who died of complications following surgery while Hernandez was a junior at Bristol Central High in Connecticut," writes the Globe.

“Depending on who you talk to, some people thought he was a late first- or early second-round prospect. Eventually, the risk was overcome by the value,” one pro scout told the Globe at the time.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London Friday. Assange said Wednesday that he's helping NSA leaker Edward Snowden seek asylum in Iceland. (Anthony Devlin/REUTERS)

Julian Assange hints WikiLeaks might publish next Edward Snowden revelations

By Staff writer / 06.19.13

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is getting help from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Mr. Assange confirmed reports that WikiLeaks is helping Mr. Snowden’s effort to gain asylum in Iceland.

“We have been in contact with Snowden and have been helping him,” he said. “I feel a great deal of personal sympathy with Mr. Snowden.”

Assange also implied that WikiLeaks may well publish future revelations that Snowden says are forthcoming. WikiLeaks is best known for making public vast amounts of classified information provided by US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is now in the midst of a court-martial for the largest leak of classified documents in US history.

“As a matter of policy, we don’t speak about investigations or upcoming publications,” Assange repeated several times Wednesday, refusing to say whether he had spoken directly with Snowden. But, he hinted, “significant material will be published in coming weeks.”

For his part, Assange is marking the one-year anniversary of being holed-up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in order to avoid questioning about alleged sexual offenses in Sweden. Rather than hampering his WikiLeaks work, he said, his self-imposed isolation means that he has nothing else to do but continue with the controversial whistle-blower organization’s efforts.

Assange was joined in the 90-minute phone conference by prominent whistle-blowers and their advocates, who are highly critical of the Obama administration’s crackdown on government leakers as well as its recently reported secret probing of the phone records of Associated Press journalists and a Fox News reporter.

Snowden’s more recent revelation that the NSA has been collecting vast amounts of metadata on phone records and Internet use means the Obama administration has taken government spying on Americans further than any previous administration, said Daniel Ellsberg, who gave the top secret Pentagon Papers to the media in 1971 when Richard Nixon was president.

“President Obama has gone farther than any of the others in using the power of the government,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “What’s new is not only prosecutions under the Espionage Act but criminalizing the process of investigative journalism.”

But Ellsberg also said he remains hopeful that the examples of Manning, Assange, and Snowden will prompt others to become leakers and whistle-blowers.

“This is our last chance, I think, to keep our press and thus our democracy from becoming like China’s or the Soviet Union,” he said.

For critics of domestic spying, FBI Director Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony Wednesday, acknowledging that his agency has been using surveillance drones over American soil, came as a matter of suspicions confirmed.

"I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone and the use of the drone and the very few regulations that are on it today and the booming industry of commercial drones,” CNN quotes Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California as saying. (Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, has defended the NSA’s electronic-surveillance program.)
 
As reporters and government officials try to track down Snowden – last located in a hotel in Hong Kong – the debate over the benefits and dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programs continues.

In a USA Today interview earlier this week, three former NSA whistle-blowers – Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe – were said to “feel vindicated” by Snowden’s revelations.

“They say the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old former NSA contractor who worked as a systems administrator, proves their claims of sweeping government surveillance of millions of Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing,” USA Today reports. “They say those revelations only hint at the programs' reach.”
 
“We are seeing the initial outlines and contours of a very systemic, very broad, a Leviathan surveillance state and much of it is in violation of the fundamental basis for our own country – in fact, the very reason we even had our own American Revolution,” said Mr. Drake, a former NSA executive who was charged under the Espionage Act. (The most serious charges were dropped, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misuse of a government computer.)

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Two members of the Massachusetts State Police walk toward the front door of the home of New England Patriot's NFL football player Aaron Hernandez in North Attleborough, Mass., Wednesday, June 19. State and local police spent several hours at Mr. Hernandez’s home, a day after a body was discovered in an industrial park in town, according to preliminary media reports. (Erika Niedowski/AP)

Aaron Hernandez home searched: Do NFL players have a problem with the law? (+video)

By Chelsea B. SheasleyCorrespondent / 06.19.13

Police searched the home of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez Tuesday night, but did not confirm whether they questioned the star player in relation to a possible homicide.

State and local police spent several hours at Mr. Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough, Mass., a day after a body was discovered in an industrial park in town, according to preliminary media reports.

State police told The Boston Globe they could not confirm whether troopers had questioned Hernandez. An anonymous source with knowledge of the investigation told Sports Illustrated that Hernandez is not a suspect in the death, but that a car rented in his name is linked to the investigation. Some media have reported that the deceased was a Boston man in his 20s.

Unidentified sources told ABC News that police found a rented 2013 Chevrolet Suburban with Rhode Island license plates near the scene, which led investigators to Hernandez. Investigators planned to execute a search warrant on the rental car Wednesday, ABC said.

At about 5:30 p.m. Monday, a body was found in the industrial park, the Office of Bristol County District Attorney office said. The precise location of the park was not officially identified, but a neighbor told the Globe he saw police at an industrial yard about a quarter-mile from Hernandez’s residence when he was driving home at about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“There were cops with metal detectors on both sides of the road: It’s a main road, everybody uses it,” neighbor Erik Dahl said.

On Tuesday night, an unmarked police car blocked the driveway to Hernandez’s house from just before 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. as roughly a dozen police officers entered the house and others stood guard outside. Two men were stopped by police trying to leave the house at 7 p.m. and were escorted away in police cars, reporters at the scene say. The men sat in front seats and did not look to be under arrest, the reporters said.

Police officers also reportedly removed a box from the house.

The Patriots drafted Pro Bowl player Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Patriots spokesman Stacey James said, "I am aware of the reports, but I do not anticipate that we will be commenting publicly during an ongoing police investigation."

While it’s far too soon to know whether Hernandez is responsible for any wrongdoing, the public perception that professional football players can’t seem to stay out of trouble with the law is probably an exaggeration – despite well-known cases involving Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, Ray Lewis, and others.

The 1998 book "Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL" contended that out of a sample of 500 pro football players in the 1996-97 season, 20 percent had a criminal record. But the remarkably high number was challenged by a other studies, including one by Duke University professors in 1999, which found that NFL arrest rates were well below the rates for the general population.

The San Diego Union-Tribune hosts an NFL Arrests Database on its website, which currently has 653 entries for crimes beyond speeding tickets since 2000. The database lists 28 arrests in 2013 and 45 last year. (The data are compiled from news reports and public records but may not be comprehensive.) An analysis of this database by CBS in 2011 found that the arrest rate was also lower than that of the general population.

"[Professional athletes] are in the public eye and their profile is extremely high," Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University's center for Sport in Society, told The Christian Science Monitor at the time of Mr. Burress's indictment in 2009. "We are talking about very young people with a lot of public scrutiny, and some handle it better than others."

“Anytime an NFL player gets arrested, you’re going to hear about that story; you aren’t going to hear about it the other times someone gets arrested,” John Tauer, head coach of the men's basketball team at the University of St. Thomas and a professor of social psychology, told a CBS station in Minnesota.

Major League Baseball players, the CBS report noted, were arrested 16 times for major crimes like drug offenses and violent crimes in 2010. That year, 34 pro football players were arrested for those offenses, which puts football and baseball at a similar rate of arrest since there are twice as many NFL players as MLB players. The NBA, a smaller league, had 23 arrests that year.

This image shows a bomb exploding outside the United States Armed Forces Recruiting Station in New York City’s Times Square five years ago. On Tuesday, The FBI and New York City Police Department announced a $65,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the 'bike bomber.' (FBI/AP)

Times Square 'bike bomber' video released, FBI seeks Twitter tips

By Staff writer / 06.18.13

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department are renewing their efforts to solve a 2008 bombing in Times Square that damaged a military recruiting center by boosting the reward, releasing new video footage, and seeking tips on Twitter.

The 3:43 a.m. explosion on March 6, 2008, damaged the Armed Forces Career Center located in the heart of the city in an area normally crowded with tourists. The explosion blew a hole through the front door of the structure, according to reports at the time. No one was injured in the blast.

“While published reports have repeatedly cited the early morning time of the attack and the lack of casualties, the fact is the bomber narrowly missed killing or injuring passers-by who can be seen clearly in the vicinity, moments before the blast,” Commissioner Ray Kelly of the NYPD said Tuesday, according to a Fox News report.

Commissioner Kelly’s comments referred to seven minutes of previously unseen video from multiple security cameras, which the FBI and NYPD released Tuesday. The grainy video shows a suspect wearing a gray sweatshirt, riding a bright blue bike with the label “Ross” visible on its frame, fleeing the scene. The bike was later found in a dumpster near Madison Avenue and 38th Street, The Wall Street Journal says.    

Officials think the suspect and potential accomplices may be connected to earlier New York area bombings at the British consulate in 2005 and the Mexican consulate in 2007, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities said the Times Square bomb was made with ammunition commonly found on battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. A photo of the greenish-gray metal container that held the device was among the items released. Fox News quoted unidentified sources as saying the 2008 Times Square bomb was more powerful than the devices which exploded at this year’s Boston Marathon, although the Times Square bomb was not packed with deadly shrapnel as the Boston explosives were.

“Someone, somewhere, knows something about a bomber who’s still on the run,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said. “Today we’re asking for the public’s assistance in finding those responsible and encouraging the public to look closely at these photos and video, which could be the key to breaking the case.”
 
To spur public response, the reward for information leading to the arrest of the subject was increased from $12,000 to $65,000. Photos from security cameras are being displayed in Times Square and elsewhere in the Northeast. Those with information were told to call the FBI at 212-384-1000 or to send information by using the Twitter hashtag #BikeBomber.

Firefighter Brandie Smith from Salida, Colo., walks past a burned out structure on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

Why Colorado's Black Forest wildfire is now being called a crime scene

By Chelsea B. SheasleyCorrespondent / 06.18.13

After two deaths and at least 500 lost homes, local officials are calling Colorado’s Black Forest wildfire not just the most destructive fire in state history, but also the site of a criminal investigation. 

The return of residents to their homes is being tightly controlled as a result, The Denver Post reports, to preserve as much evidence as possible.

"This is a crime scene until proven otherwise," El Pasco County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at a press conference Monday. "I won't compromise that by letting people in too soon."

Mr. Maketa clarified that he did not know if any crimes were committed, but authorities would treat it as if it were a crime scene until they could make a conclusive determination. Local authorities suspect the fire has a human cause, media reports say.

Five hundred two homes have been lost in the 22-square-mile fire near Colorado Springs, which is 75 percent contained, according to the Associated Press, which cited sheriff's officials Monday. While evacuations reached a peak of nearly 40,000 over the weekend, the mandatory evacuation area dropped to include 4,100 people Monday, CNN reports.

Authorities are investigating two issues, according to media reports: the start of the fire and the deaths of two people as they were apparently trying to evacuate their house. Their deaths have been classified as homicides, according to The Denver Post, until further information is known.

Maketa told the Los Angeles Times that the possible homicides were the reason he had called the site a criminal investigation. 

Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been called in, along with state authorities, CNN says.

As to the cause of the fire, investigators are zeroing in on the fire’s “point of origin,” according to Maketa. Ideally, once that origin is discovered, clues about the fire's start, such as matches or a cigarette butt, can be found, says Rich Harvey, Black Forest fire incident commander. 

"You kind of look at the burn patterns and work your way backwards. Kind of tracking the footprints the fire left as it moved away from the point of origin back to the point of origin. Once you get to the point of origin, you look for clues: cigarette butts, footprints, tire tracks," he told CBS News

Determining the origin of wildfires is notoriously tricky. The cause of the state’s second-most destructive wildfire, the Waldo Canyon fire, which burned nearly a year ago, still hasn’t been determined, the Associated Press reports. Wind, other weather, tire marks, and first-responder tracks can easily cover traces of a fire’s cause. 

But criminal cases have resulted from wildfire investigations, especially in the past five years. In 2009, Raymond Lee Oyler was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for arson charges in a string of 2006 California wildfires, including the Esperanza fire that killed five firefighters.

In January of this year, a second arsonist, Rickie Lee Fowler, was sentenced to death for a 2003 fire in California's San Bernardino Mountains, which burned 91,000 acres and about 1,000 houses and was blamed for the deaths of five people. 

 The past 60 years have seen an evolution of much stricter penalties for arsonists, writes John N. Maclean, the author of several books on wildfires, in a High Country News article.

“The conviction of Raymond Oyler for murder would have been unthinkable a century or even a few decades ago,” he writes, referencing a 1953 wildfire where the arsonist, who admitted starting a fire to get a job on the fire crew, was charged with two counts of willful burning and spent just three years in prison. That fire killed 15 firefighters.

In the years since, arson sentences have gotten progressively stronger, he writes. Terry Lynn Barton, a seasonal Forest Service worker, served six years in prison for starting Colorado’s Hayman fire, which burned 138,000 acres and 133 houses in 2002. And Mr. Oyler became the first arsonist sentenced to death.

“The Oyler case stands as a warning to every would-be fire starter: Tolerance for the torch has gone the way of the Old West,” Mr. Maclean writes.

Federal investigators stand next to heavy equipment by a field that they are prepared to dig up in a search for the remains of former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa in Oakland Township, Mich., on Monday. The latest search for Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975 in what law enforcement officials believe might have been an organized crime hit, brought investigators to an overgrown vacant field in suburban Detroit. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

FBI hunting for Jimmy Hoffa again, 38 years after his disappearance

By Staff writer / 06.17.13

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is once again hunting for the body of former International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James "Jimmy" Hoffa, whose mysterious 1975 disappearance remains unsolved.

The government executed a search warrant Monday in a grassy field in Oakland Township, Mich., about 45 miles north of Detroit, Robert Foley III, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office, told reporters. The search is “based on information that we have involving the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa,” the Associated Press quoted Mr. Foley as saying. 

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, who spoke along with Foley, said, “It is my fondest hope that we can give … closure not just to the Hoffa family but also to the community,” according to a report from the Detroit Free Press.

Neither official explained what led them to the site being excavated by a backhoe. But Fox News quoted its local Detroit affiliate as saying that Tony Zerilli had said earlier this year that Hoffa was buried in the vacant lot and that the plan had been to move his remains once the initial search cooled down. Mr. Zerilli is the son of a reputed Mafia figure.    

Dan Moldea, author of the book “The Hoffa Wars,” told the Free Press that “this isn’t some screwball.” Zerilli "is the right man at the right time. His father would have to sign off on this,” Mr. Moldea added. He said he considered it "very possible" that the elder Zerilli or one of his associates would have shared information about Hoffa's disappearance with the younger Zerilli. 

Hoffa disappeared July 30, 1975, after reportedly agreeing to a reconciliation meeting at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfiled Hills, Mich., with Anthony Giacalone, a Detroit area Mafia official, and Anthony Provenzano, a Teamster official alleged to have mob connections. 

Since then, there have been multiple leads into his whereabouts that have not yielded results. In September 2012, police in Roseville, Mich., used soar equipment to look for human remains under a driveway. The FBI also searched a Michigan horse farm in 2006 looking for Hoffa, but the investigation did not produce Hoffa's remains, Time magazine reports. 

Jimmy Hoffa ran the Teamsters, at the time the nation’s largest union, from 1957 until 1971. Starting in 1967, he spent four years in jail for jury tampering, mail fraud, and bribery before being pardoned by President Richard Nixon in 1971. He was declared officially dead in 1982.

Hoffa’s son, James P. Hoffa, has served as president of the Teamsters union since 1999 and has been reelected to the post multiple times. 

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