Monday, August 1, 2011

US hikers in Iran court, hope for end to ordeal (AFP)

TEHRAN (AFP) – A new hearing opens Sunday in the trial of three American hikers who face espionage charges in Iran after straying into the country two years ago, an ordeal their lawyer hopes will have a happy ending.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, were arrested along with Sarah Shourd, 32, on the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq on July 31, 2009.

Iran accuses the three of "spying and illegally entering the country."

They have pleaded not guilty to spying charges, saying they were hiking in Iraq's northern province of Kurdistan when they innocently walked into Iran across an unmarked border.

Washington has vehemently denied Tehran's charges and has pressed for their release.

Shourd, who got engaged with Bauer while in prison in Tehran, is being tried in absentia after she returned to the United States following her release on humanitarian and medical grounds in September 2010, for which bail of about 500,000 dollars was paid.

"Since the hearing date coincides with the two year anniversary of their arrest, and it is the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, I am hopeful that this case has a happy ending," their lawyer Masoud Shafii told AFP on Wednesday referring to the Muslim fasting month when compassion, the spirit of caring and sharing is advocated.

"I believe that they are innocent; the espionage charges have no relevance. Even if the court does not accept my defence, the two years they've spent behind bars is punishment enough," he added referring to the illegal entry charge.

Ahead of the new hearing their families issued a statement on Friday in New York, and Shourd used her statement to wish Muslims in Iran and everywhere a blessed Ramadan on behalf of the families of the two men.

"Please, if you could make a little room in your prayers on the eve of Ramadan for my fiance, my friend and our families, it would mean the world to us," she said.

The trial has been hit by a number of delays since November 6, 2010, when it was postponed to February 6, 2011 over what was termed "an error in the judicial proceedings."

Another hearing scheduled for May 11 this year was cancelled after Fattal and Bauer were not brought before the court, according to Shafii.

Shourd, who did not attend the February 6 hearing, told AFP in Washington that she will not return to Iran to join the other two in the dock.

She said she had sent Iran's revolutionary court a five-page evaluation by a clinical forensic psychologist, who concluded she was at high risk of psychological problems if she returned to face espionage charges.

Shafii said he has met Bauer and Fattal only twice, the last time on February 6, 2011 when they appeared in court for the first hearing.

"I still have not met them (for) the lawyer-client meeting that I have requested. They told me that they will inform me and I am still pursuing it," he said.

Their case has attracted high profile support in the United States.

On May 24, the legendary Muslim boxing champion Muhammad Ali supported a call for Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to free Bauer and Fattal.

Amnesty International on Friday renewed calls for Iran to release the two hikers.

The hikers' detention has added to the animosity between arch-foes Tehran and Washington, which has increased over Iran's disputed nuclear drive and outspoken remarks by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Jailed Las Vegas man stabs cellmate to death with pencil (Reuters)

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – A Las Vegas man jailed on charges of murdering his nephew killed his cellmate on Friday, stabbing him with a pencil during a fight in their cell, police said.

Guards found the cellmate unconscious and wounded during an early morning bed check at the Clark County Detention Center, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. They said he had been in a fight with his cellmate.

"The suspect physically battered the deceased inmate and stabbed him with a pencil," police said in a statement. Police spokesman Bill Cassell said pencils were among items allowed in the jail.

Carl Guilford, 18, was charged with murder in connection with the death, the first killing of an inmate in the jail since 1979, when an inmate strangled his cellmate. That inmate was sentenced to death for the crime and remains on death row.

A local television news station, 8NewsNow, reported on its website that Guilford had been in custody over the suffocation death of his 6-year-old nephew.

(Reporting by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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US soldier charged in Fort Hood bomb plot (AFP)

WACO, Texas (AFP) – A soldier suspected of planning an attack on fellow soldiers near a US military base refused to stand up for the judge during a brief court appearance and was escorted shouting from the room.

Army Private Naser Jason Abdo has been charged with possession of an illegal firearm after his Wednesday arrest at a Killeen, Texas motel where police found bombmaking materials and literature in his room, along with a copy of the Al-Qaeda English-language magazine, Inspire.

"Abdeer Qassim al-Janabi, Iraq 2006! Nidal Hasan, Fort Hood 2009!" Abdo shouted as he was escorted out of the Texas courtroom, apparently referring to an Iraqi girl who was raped and killed by US soldiers in Mahmudiyah in 2006, and Major Nidal Hasan who is facing a court martial for killing 13 people and wounding 32 others at a Fort Hood deployment facility in November 2009.

Friday's hearing lasted just five minutes. Abdo, who was wearing a white prison jump suit, refused to stand up when the bailiff called "All rise," as Judge Jeffrey Manske entered the courtroom. Eventually four US marshals took him by the arms and made him stand before the judge.

Manske questioned Abdo about his education, and the AWOL soldier said he graduated from high school and had one year of college. When the judge asked if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Abdo responded with a "no."

During an interview with FBI officials, Abdo admitted he planned to build two bombs in his budget hotel room by packing gun powder and shrapnel into pressure cookers he would then detonate at a restaurant popular with soldiers from Fort Hood, a sprawling US Army base in Texas, according to the affidavit.

Items found in his room included a .40 caliber handgun, ammunition, an Inspire article entitled "Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom" and bombmaking components -- including six bottles of smokeless gunpowder, shotgun shells, shotgun pellets, two clocks, two spools of auto wire, an electric drill and two pressure cookers, court documents said.

The criminal complaint filed against him was unsealed in Waco, Texas, by Judge Mankse. If convicted, Abdo faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

Attached to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Abdo had sought conscientious objector status to refuse deployment to Afghanistan, saying he could not fight other Muslims.

But after his status was granted in May, Abdo was charged with possession of child pornography on a computer. He then left Fort Campbell without permission early this month.

The Washington Post, citing congressional and federal officials, said Abdo had been inspired by Hasan and his shooting spree at Fort Hood in 2009.

Hasan, who mowed down fellow soldiers before he was set to deploy to Afghanistan, goes on trial March 5 and faces the death penalty if convicted.

Investigators allege that Hasan, like Abdo born in the United States of Palestinian descent, had been in contact with key Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, a US citizen at large in Yemen.

Abdo was arrested following a tip from a clerk at Guns Galore, a store where Hasan had bought weapons used in the deadly attack. Abdo had purchased gunpowder, shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semi-automatic handgun from the shop.

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Dahmer survivor in court in homeless man's death (AP)

MILWAUKEE – The man who led Milwaukee police to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer 20 years ago made his first court appearance in a homeless man's death.

Tracy Edwards and another man are charged with recklessly endangering safety in the death of Johnny Jordan, who drowned after being thrown off a downtown Milwaukee bridge. Edwards and co-defendant Timothy Carr are accused of arguing with Jordan and throwing him off the bridge Tuesday.

Edwards' attorney asked the court commissioner to allow Edwards to participate by phone Saturday. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the request was denied, and the commissioner set bail at $10,000 and scheduled an Aug. 8 preliminary hearing.

Edwards, now 52, is known for his July 1991 escape from Dahmer's apartment, which led to the serial killer's arrest.

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Price tag for Casey Anthony case near $700,000 (Reuters)

ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) – The Casey Anthony murder investigation and trial cost taxpayers almost $700,000, based on new tallies on Friday from the major agencies involved in the case.

Prosecutors are seeking reimbursement from Anthony, 25, who was acquitted July 5 of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee. Casey Anthony was convicted of four charges of lying to detectives in 2008 and leading them astray from the first day of the investigation into the fate of the missing toddler.

A hearing is scheduled for August 25 at which trial judge Belvin Perry will decide how much of the bill Anthony must pay.

Although Anthony was declared indigent for purposes of her legal fees, rumors abound of possible high-priced book deals and paid interviews that could bring the infamous single mother a small fortune.

The single largest bill was $293,123 from the Orange County Sheriff's Office, which released its figures Friday. Even that includes only costs of the criminal investigation division from the time Caylee's grandmother reported her missing to the discovery five months later of her remains.

Many other expenses could not be fairly isolated, according to an accounting by Lieutenant Paul Zambouros.

"An incredible amount of manpower was deployed and over 6,000 tips were received requiring extensive man hours," Zambouros wrote in his report.

Also reported Friday was the $186,903 expended by the court clerk to select a jury, and to house and feed the 12 jurors and five alternate jurors sequestered throughout the nearly seven-week trial.

The prosecutor's office previously reported expenses of $91,000 on the case. And, after Anthony was declared indigent for legal fees, taxpayers paid $119,000 for defense expenses requested by her lawyer, according to the state Justice Administrative Commission.

The whereabouts of Anthony, released from jail on July 17, and details of how she is supporting herself are not publicly known.

The Anthony case riveted the nation for three years, first during a nationwide search for the missing Caylee and, later, as evidence piled up about Casey Anthony's many lies, the strong odor of decomposition in her car trunk, and her inappropriate behavior for a mother of a supposed missing child.

Caylee's remains, with duct tape hanging from her skull, were found in swampy woods near the Anthony home five months after she was reported missing. All that was left of the child were bones and hair, making it impossible to scientifically determine a cause of death.

Also standing in line to collect damages from Casey Anthony is Texas EquuSearch, which mounted a $100,000 search for the toddler after Anthony misled detectives by telling them Caylee had been kidnapped by a nanny named Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez.

Casey Anthony's lawyer Jose Baez acknowledged at trial that the nanny was a figment of her imagination.

But a Central Florida woman by the name of Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez is suing Anthony for damages, saying her life was destroyed after Anthony inserted her name into the case.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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Police: Colorado shooting suspect takes own life (AP)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Police say they believe the suspect in a triple shooting has taken his own life following an hours-long standoff at a Colorado Springs apartment complex.

Police said in a release that 24-year-old shooting suspect Michael Arangio had barricaded himself Saturday inside a unit in The Resort at University Park complex.

Officers say they had attempted to talk Arangio into surrendering peacefully. They also tossed tear gas into the apartment, but he refused to leave.

A bomb squad robot sent into the unit after several hours discovered the man's body, and police say they believe he shot himself.

Arangio is suspected in a shooting that left three teens dead Wednesday night.

Police had received a tip from his parents that he was in the complex.

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Judge says NYT reporter must testify, limits scope (AP)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal judge ruled Friday that a New York Times reporter must testify at the trial of a former CIA officer charged with leaking classified information about Iran, but limited the scope of what the journalist could be asked about.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen to testify at the September trial of Jeffrey Sterling, an ex-CIA officer from Missouri. Risen's lawyers had argued that the First Amendment should shield him from having to testify about his sources.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said Risen must testify at the trial. But she ruled that his testimony be limited to four topics.

Those topics are that he wrote an article or book chapter; that they are accurate; that statements referred to in Risen's newspaper article or book chapter as being made by an unnamed source were in fact made to Risen by an unnamed source; and that statements referred to as being made by an identified source were in fact made by that identified source.

The government alleges Sterling was a key source for a chapter in Risen's 2006 book "State of War," which details a botched CIA effort during the Clinton administration, dubbed Operation Merlin, to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions by secretly giving the Iranians intentionally flawed blueprints through a Russian intermediary.

"This is an important victory for the First Amendment and investigative reporters everywhere," Risen's lawyer Joel Kurtzberg said Friday evening, referring to the limits on what Risen can be asked to testify about.

Last year, Brinkema quashed a similar subpoena issued to Risen when the case was in front of a grand jury. She ruled that the government simply didn't need Risen's testimony to obtain an indictment in light of other evidence possessed by the government, including phone records showing multiple calls between Risen and Sterling.

Prosecutors had argued that Risen's First Amendment rights paled in comparison to the government's need to prosecute criminals and obtain evidence to which juries are rightfully entitled.

A spokesman for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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Anesthesia killed Vegas woman in cosmetic surgery (AP)

LAS VEGAS – A husband and wife who performed an illegal buttocks enhancement surgery that resulted in a Las Vegas woman's death are expected to plead guilty to manslaughter despite an autopsy report that shows the death was accidental.

Elena Caro, 42, died from an allergic reaction to the tumescent anesthesia commonly used in cosmetic surgery procedures, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Friday.

But it is unlikely that Ruben Matallana-Galvas and Carmen Torres-Sanchez would be able to successfully fight the criminal case against them because the death occurred during an illegal operation in which proper safety procedures were not followed, according to Matallana-Galvas' defense attorney, Scott Coffee. The couple will plead guilty to reduced charges when they return to court Thursday under a plea deal, he said

Matallana-Galvas knows his makeshift medical office did not have the proper tools to care for Caro, Coffee said.

"The doctor didn't take the actions that we hope he would take in light of the bad reaction," he said. "He feels terrible for what happened and he wants to take responsibility for what he did."

Matallana-Galvas and Torres-Sanchez are charged with multiple crimes for Caro's death, including second-degree murder and practicing medicine without a license. They pleaded not guilty in May and were scheduled to stand trial in February.

But prosecutors have been working to avoid trial by persuading the husband and wife to plead guilty to manslaughter and practicing without a medical license. Matallana-Galvas attempted to go along with the deal during a hearing last week. He withdrew his not guilty plea and pleaded guilty, but the agreement was dropped when Torres-Sanchez refused to plead guilty. She apparently changed her mind and is expected to take the deal at the hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Under the plea deal, Matallana-Galvas and Torres-Sanchez could each serve up to nine years, Coffee said. A lawyer representing Torres-Sanchez could not be reached for comment.

The husband and wife conducted the procedure on Caro in a temporary medical clinic in the back of a Las Vegas tile shop and were not licensed to practice medicine anywhere in the United States.

Coffee said the autopsy report did not come as a surprise.

"The case is pretty much exactly what we thought it was from the beginning, which is it's a medical procedure where no one intended to do harm to this woman whatsoever," he said.

Josh Tomsheck, a former Clark County chief deputy district attorney, said the autopsy report wouldn't bother him if he was prosecuting the case.

"It's not going to be an issue for the state," he said. "They are saying essentially that there was a felony committed and during the course of that felony the person died. It doesn't matter whether it's intentional or accidental."

Dr. Julio Garcia, a plastic surgeon in Las Vegas of 24 years, said valid medical practitioners know they might be held accountable if a patient is not treated after reacting badly to anesthesia.

"You should monitor them for at least two or three hours after the procedure," he said. "You don't want to do the procedure and leave because the patient could have an adverse reaction, like that patient did."

Tumescent anesthesia is used to make a specific part of a patient's body numb. Unlike general anesthesia, it does not put the patient to sleep.

"It decreases the pain and it decreases the bruising," said Dr. Jeffrey Roth, a Las Vegas plastic surgeon who also uses general anesthesia on patients to ensure they don't feel any pain and monitors their progress with the help of a certified anesthetist. "In other words, we are not going to do surgery in the back of a tile shop."

Caro was found roaming the streets in agony less than four hours after Matallana-Galvas and Torres-Sanchez injected her buttocks with a gel substance on April 9. She was taken to a hospital, where she died that day.

Matallana-Galvas and Torres-Sanchez allegedly cleared out their medical office after treating Caro and headed to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where they attempted to flee to their native Colombia, according an arrest report. The husband and wife had purchased plane tickets to return to Colombia on April 22 but were trying to catch an earlier flight. They were arrested at the airport.

Matallana-Galvas told detectives that Caro walked away from his office after the procedure. He said he was a homeopathic doctor in Colombia and did not have the proper equipment to perform the buttocks procedure.

Caro was married and had a teenage daughter. A week before her death, she had received facial Botox injections from Matallana-Galvas. When no problems arose, she returned for the buttocks injection.

Botox and similar types of injections are minimally invasive but are still considered cosmetic surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Roth said patients who seek cosmetic surgery need to ensure they are receiving proper care.

"The whole tragedy of this whole thing was that this poor woman went to somebody who was not licensed," Roth said. "This poor lady may have saved a few dollars, but it cost her her life."

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AWOL soldier defiantly shouts '09 suspect's name (AP)

WACO, Texas – Coolly defiant, Pfc. Naser Abdo shouted "Nidal Hasan Fort Hood 2009!" as he was led out of the courtroom Friday, an apparent homage to the suspect in the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military installation. He condemned the attack less than a year ago, but is now accused of trying to repeat it.

Investigators say Abdo, who cited his Muslim beliefs in requesting conscientious objector status last year, was found in a motel room three miles from Fort Hood's main gate with a handgun, an article titled "Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom" and the ingredients for an explosive device, including gunpowder, shrapnel and pressure cookers. An article with that title appears in an al-Qaida magazine.

Abdo went absent without leave from Fort Campbell, Ky., early this month after being charged with possessing child pornography.

Police and the Army say Abdo admitted plotting an attack, but in Fuhais, Jordan, his father insisted the allegations were "all lies from A to Z."

"My son loved people no matter who they are, whether Jews or Christians," Jamal Abdo said. "Naser is not the kind of a person who harbors evil for the other people, he cannot kill anyone and he could not have done any bad thing."

Jamal Abdo, 52, is a Jordanian who lived near Fort Hood in Killeen for 25 years until he was deported from the United States last year after being convicted of soliciting a minor.

His 21-year-old son was ordered held without bond Friday. He is charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device in connection with a bomb plot and has yet to enter a plea. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

It was not immediately known if he would face additional charges. "Our office will pursue federal charges where the evidence takes us," said Daryl Fields, spokesman for federal prosecutors.

In court, Abdo refused to stand when the judge entered — U.S. marshals pulled him from his seat — but he answered the judge's questions politely.

On his way out, he yelled "Iraq 2006!" and the name of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was raped that year before she and her family were killed. Five current or former U.S. soldiers went to prison, one for a life term, for their roles in that attack.

He also shouted the name of Hasan, an Army major and psychiatrist who is charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood.

Abdo's court-appointed attorney did not comment. His next hearing was set for Aug. 4.

According to court documents, Abdo told investigators he planned to construct two bombs in his motel room using gunpowder and shrapnel packed into pressure cookers and then detonate the explosives at a restaurant frequented by soldiers.

FBI Agent James E. Runkel said in an affidavit filed in federal court that police found Abdo carrying a backpack containing two clocks, wire, ammunition, a handgun and the "Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom" article. Such an article was featured in an issue of Inspire, an English-language magazine produced by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based branch of the terror group.

The allegations and Abdo's defiance in court contrast with the words he used as he was petitioning for conscientious objector status. In an essay he sent to The Associated Press last year he said acts like the Fort Hood shootings "run counter to what I believe in as a Muslim."

He was born in Texas to a non-denominational Christian mother and a Muslim father. Jamal Abdo said they divorced in 1993.

Naser Abdo said he became a Muslim when he was 17. He said he enlisted thinking that Army service would not conflict with his religious beliefs, but reconsidered as he explored Islam further.

"I realized through further reflection that god did not give legitimacy to the war in Afghanistan, Iraq or any war the U.S. Army could conceivably participate in," he wrote in his conscientious objector application.

Abdo was approved as a conscientious objector this year, but that status was put on hold after he was charged in May with possessing child pornography. Abdo denied the charge before this week's arrest.

Abdo went AWOL during the July 4 weekend. FBI, police and military officials have said little about whether or how they were tracking Abdo since he left Fort Campbell.

Jamal Abdo disputed both the child pornography charges and the bomb plot allegations against his son, and said Naser was discriminated against in the Army because of his religion.

"Fellow soldiers slurred him and treated him badly. They mocked him as he prayed. They cursed him and used bad language against Islam and its prophet," he said.

"He reported these incidents, but nothing was done about it," the elder Abdo said. "Therefore he wanted to leave the Army. I always told him to be calm and to focus on his duty and he used to tell me, `Yes, Papa.'"

He said Naser never mentioned al-Qaida and that he last spoke to his son a week ago.

Abdo was arrested after a gun-store clerk told authorities he bought six pounds of smokeless gunpowder, shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semi-automatic pistol on Tuesday — while seeming to know little about what he was buying. Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin has suggested that without the tip, a terror attack could have been imminent.

Two veterans groups that supported Abdo in his bid to be a conscientious objector said they have not had direct contact with him recently.

"If any of these allegations are true, any sort of violence toward anyone goes completely against what a conscientious objector believes," said Jose Vasquez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Another group, Courage to Resist, said in a statement that it had removed Abdo's profile from its website. It said it has paid $800 of Abdo's legal fees in the conscientious objector case.

Vasquez provided a copy of a statement Abdo sent to his group last year that claimed soldiers often associated terror with Islam "during routine training exercises."

"Only when the military and America can disassociate Muslims from terror can we move onto a brighter future of religious collaboration and dialogue that defines America and makes me proud to be an American," Abdo wrote.


Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Fuhais, Jordan; Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tenn.; Janet Cappiello in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.

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Judge backs Lopez over home video row with ex (AFP)

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A US appeal court sided with superstar Jennifer Lopez in a privacy dispute with her ex-husband over the use of the former couple's home videos.

The singer and actress, who annnounced last week that she was splitting from actor husband Marc Anthony, is seeking $10 million from her ex, Ojani Noa, and writer Ed Meyer.

Lopez says the video footage, which is not of a sexual nature, contains private information about her and her relationship with Noa, whom she married in 1997 but divorced 11 months later.

The 42-year-old, who originally sued Noa and Meyer in November 2009, alleges that the pair plan to make a movie she says is to be called "How I Married Jennifer Lopez: The J. Lo and Ojani Noa Story."

Noa and Meyer deny they are planning a tell-all movie and say it would not have the title stated in the lawsuit.

On Friday, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, reversing a lower court's ruling, said Lopez can force Noa and Meyer to resolve the case by arbitration.

The lawsuit was the second Lopez filed against Noa after their divorce: in 2007 she won $545,000 and legal costs for breach of contract over a planned ghostwritten tell-all book.

The book, which was blocked from being published, reportedly recounted how Lopez had had multiple affairs, including with her current husband Marc Anthony whom she is now leaving after seven years of marriage.

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