The Latest: Man charged after missing priest was found dead

Apr 20, 2016 109

The Latest on a Florida priest Rev. Rene Wayne Robert whose body was found dead in Georgia after being reported missing since April 12. (all times local):

2 p.m.

Authorities in South Carolina say a man has been charged in connection with a missing Florida priest whose body was found in Georgia.

Aiken County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Eric Abdullah released an arrest warrant Wednesday saying that 28-year-old Steve James Murray of Jacksonville, Florida, has been charged with possession of firearm or ammunition by a person convicted of a violent felony, and with receiving stolen goods.

Police say Murray knew the Rev. Rene Wayne Robert of St. Augustine, Florida, and led authorities to the body in woods near Waynesboro, Georgia.

Murray was arrested in South Carolina while driving the priest’s Toyota Corolla.

The arrest warrant says Murray possessed several firearms including a double-barrel shotgun, a pump-action rifle and several BB guns. Murray also had jewelry, cash, medication and merchandise that had been reported stolen.

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10:33 a.m.

An autopsy is planned in Georgia on remains believed to be those of a missing Florida priest.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says the examination is scheduled for Wednesday on a body believed to be that of Rev. Rene Wayne Robert of St. Augustine, Florida.

Police say they have arrested a man who knew the 71-year-old missing priest and led authorities to the body in woods near Waynesboro, Georgia.

Authorities have identified the suspect as 28-year-old Steve James Murray of Jacksonville, Florida. He was arrested in South Carolina while driving the priest’s Toyota Corolla, and police are deciding on possible charges.

Police say Robert may have been trying to help Murray, who was recently released from jail.

The priest was reported missing April 12 after not showing up for an appointment.

Prosecutors: Former coal chief to head to prison May 12

Apr 20, 2016 102

Prosecutors say former coal company executive Don Blankenship has to head to prison on May 12, pending an appeal.

Prosecutors mentioned the ex-Massey Energy CEO’s date to surrender to federal custody in a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals filing on Wednesday.

Blankenship was sentenced April 6 to the maximum penalties of a year in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. A jury convicted him Dec. 3.

The coal mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.

Blankenship is appealing. He’s also asking the higher court to stay free on his $1 million bond while his appeal continues. Otherwise, Blankenship’s attorneys say he may serve much, or all, of his sentence before a decision is reached.

Drone manufacturers work to combat growing terror threat

Apr 20, 2016 134
Incident highlights safety concerns for commercial drones

 

Terrorists and drone manufacturers are locked in a high-stakes technology war, with jihadis trying to transform unmanned aerial vehicles into flying weapons and drone companies working to thwart the Islamists, experts told FoxNews.com.

The conflict came to the forefront this week after a drone collided with a British Airways flight landing at London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday afternoon. Although no one was hurt and officials have not called the incident an act of terrorism, the following day, SITE Intelligence Group reported that terrorists were using a secure messaging app to encourage the use of drones to take out commercial planes.

But Adam Lisberg, the corporate communications director of Drone giant DJI Technology, told FoxNews.com a drone-on-plane attack is just a terrorist delusion.

“It would be like trying to hit a bullet with a bullet,” Lisberg said. “It would be incredibly difficult. It would be an unprecedented act of marksmanship to fly one of our consumer drones deliberately into a moving aircraft at high speed.”

Even if a terrorist isn’t an eagle-eyed operator, however, there’s still the potential to create havoc simply by flying a drone close to an aircraft. The Department of Homeland Security issued a terror warning concerning drones after pilots at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York spotted three drones in three days in August. In two years, there have been more than 240 near-collisions between drones and planes nationwide, according to a December report from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“You should never look at a technological solution as a panacea for anything.”

– Adam Lisberg

And despite its confidence in the odds, even DJI isn’t about to merely trust chance.

That’s why the company installs advanced geofencing software in its drones to “prevent inadvertent incursions.” The software, which ensures the vehicle cannot be operated in certain sensitive spaces, is able to be updated based on changing circumstances. For instance, when the pope or another visiting dignitary visits a city, DJI can send out instructions limiting flights in the area. If fire crews are using planes and helicopters to extinguish forest fires out west, DJI can create a boundary around the fire zone so no drones inadvertently interfere with emergency responders’ efforts.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced legislation last year to mandate geofencing for “every drone sold in America,” but the bill didn’t pass.

Savvy terrorists, too, can be expected to try to find a way to disable geofencing software for their nefarious ends.

“Ask people who work in computer security – no matter what you come up with, some clever kid will try to find a way to defeat it,” Lisberg said. “You should never look at a technological solution as a panacea for anything.”

The Latest: 5 ex-cops plead guilty in post-Katrina shootings

Apr 20, 2016 91

The Latest on five former New Orleans police officers who have pleaded guilty in the deadly Danziger Bridge shootings after Hurricane Katrina (all times local):

12:50 p.m.

Five former police officers have pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on the Danziger Bridge in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

In exchange for the pleas, the ex-officers will see drastically less prison time.

The officers were convicted in 2011 but U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt set aside the jury’s verdict two years later because of federal prosecutors’ misconduct — including anonymous online comments about the case.

Four of the former officers have been locked up for nearly six years while the fifth has been out on bond.

The plea deal calls for them to get credit for time served and they could be released from prison anywhere from the next one to six years.

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1:05 p.m.

Five former New Orleans police officers say in court that they will plead guilty to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on the Danziger Bridge in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina.

The judge had set aside their earlier convictions amid a misconduct scandal over online comments by federal prosecutors. The officers said in court Wednesday that they will plead guilty under an agreement that calls for sentences that could see most of them released from prison in the next one to six years.

The court proceeding is still under way.

The guilty pleas come after the shooting deaths of two unarmed people and the wounding of four others on the New Orleans bridge less than a week after levee failures swamped the city.

Feds say Panama Papers relevant to criminal probe

Apr 20, 2016 136

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (buh-RAH’-ruh) says the millions of leaked documents known as the Panama Papers are “relevant” to a criminal investigation his office has opened.

Bharara sent a letter to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists asking to discuss the papers, which focus on the offshore accounts of people and companies. They were leaked from the Mossack Fonseca & Co. law firm.

The consortium oversaw an effort from investigative reporters around the world to delve into the documents, which show how the world’s richest use shell companies and other tactics to avoid tax obligations.

Bharara’s office didn’t comment. The consortium confirmed it received the letter, but had no comment on any response.

The documents have set off a global firestorm and brought concerns around tax evasion to the fore.

Firefighters stare down venomous snakes while battling house fire

Apr 20, 2016 119

Firefighters came across a new danger while battling a South Carolina house fire — about a dozen venomous snakes.

Local media outlets report the James Island homeowner, who workers in nuisance wildlife removal, told fire crews Tuesday to be aware of up to 80 reptiles in the home’s garage. Officials say about a dozen of the reptiles were poisonous snakes.

Firefighters had the blaze under control within an hour, but they couldn’t enter the home while deadly snakes were potentially on the loose.

James Island Fire Chief Chris Seabolt says six snakes made it out alive, four of which were venomous. He says the surviving reptiles were taken to the Edisto Serpentarium.

No one was hurt in the fire.

Artwork of partially nude woman in window leads to fines; gallery sues

Apr 20, 2016 223
Artwork, left, by painter Tom Dash, depicting a partially a nude woman, hangs at Borghi Fine Art Gallery Tuesday.

Artwork, left, by painter Tom Dash, depicting a partially a nude woman, hangs at Borghi Fine Art Gallery Tuesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A New Jersey gallery has filed a federal lawsuit over a city code violation it received for displaying artwork of a partially nude woman in its store window.

The Borghi Fine Art Gallery in Englewood sued last week, saying its constitutional rights were violated when it was issued a violation with fines of $1,250 per day and the threat of up to 90 days in jail over artwork showing a woman’s bare buttocks.

City officials and code enforcement officer Walter Deptuch, who is also named in the suit, didn’t immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment Tuesday.

Owner Laura Borghi said Deptuch asked her to remove the artwork from painter Tom Dash — an ink jet collage of photos of two women painted over in acrylic paint — from the window of her store in January. When she refused, she says, she was issued a violation.

The code approved in 1992 says nude images have to be kept in interior rooms not visible from public areas. Borghi said that it’s not possible for her to create an extra room in her three-story gallery and that she shouldn’t have to.

“For me, growing up with art — and I have two children of my own — nudity is a beautiful thing,” Borghi said. “It’s a work of art. It’s an expression. … We’re a serious gallery, and the artwork that was on view was nothing that could be offensive to anybody.”

Borghi’s attorney, Brian Bernstein, said the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions prevent the city from censoring artwork and he’s confident Borghi will win the suit.

“There’s nothing new about government efforts to suppress artistic expression, especially if it might be viewed by some as controversial,” Bernstein said. “Art that challenges convention makes an attractive target for the government.”

The suit was first reported by Courthouse News Service.

Thousands to puff for legal pot at San Francisco 4/20 party

Apr 20, 2016 126

Thousands of people will descend on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to smoke pot for the annual 4/20 celebration, in what may be the last year marijuana is illegal in California.

Fans of the drug have long marked April 20 as a day to roll weed or munch on pot-laced brownies — especially at 4:20 p.m. — and call for increased legal access to it. Crowds with gather in states with legal recreational pot and those where voters and lawmakers are considering it.

In California, this year’s unofficial pot holiday could be the last that users have to call for legalization, with an initiative expected on the November ballot. The drug’s use for medical purposes got approved in 1996.

Voters in Nevada, Arizona and Massachusetts also are expected to consider marijuana legalization measures. And the Vermont Legislature is discussing a proposal to legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce.

Recreational use already is legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

The 4/20 pot holiday that some say has its roots in the San Francisco Bay Area will bring more police, park rangers and other officials this year to make sure it’s safe for the 15,000 revelers expected to flood the park’s Hippie Hill, Board of Supervisors President London Breed said.

“Because we, as a city, welcome folks from all over the world, we are doing everything we can within our capacity to keep the community as safe and as clean as possible,” Breed told the San Francisco Examiner.

The unsanctioned event costs the city between $80,000 and $100,000 per year because agencies are called in to help ensure safety, control heavy traffic and collect trash. Crews have cleaned up more than 5 tons of trash in previous years, Breed said.

The origins of the number 420 as a code for marijuana are murky. Some say 420 was once used by Southern California police to denote marijuana use.

But others say the number became a code in the 1970s among high school students in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, who used it as a meeting time to gather to smoke marijuana after school.

5 ex-cops to plead guilty in bridge shootings after Katrina

Apr 20, 2016 21
  • Former New Orleans Police Former Sgt. Arthur Kaufman arrives at Federal Court in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Five former New Orleans police officers are expected to enter pleas to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on a bridge in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kaufman, who was not involved in the shooting, faces a new trial in the cover-up alone. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

    Former New Orleans Police Former Sgt. Arthur Kaufman arrives at Federal Court in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Five former New Orleans police officers are expected to enter pleas to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on a bridge in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kaufman, who was not involved in the shooting, faces a new trial in the cover-up alone. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (The Associated Press)

  • Former New Orleans Police Former Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, center, arrives at Federal Court in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Five former New Orleans police officers are expected to enter pleas to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on a bridge in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kaufman, who was not involved in the shooting, faces a new trial in the cover-up alone. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

    Former New Orleans Police Former Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, center, arrives at Federal Court in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Five former New Orleans police officers are expected to enter pleas to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on a bridge in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kaufman, who was not involved in the shooting, faces a new trial in the cover-up alone. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (The Associated Press)

  • Former New Orleans Police Former Sgt. Arthur Kaufman arrives at Federal Court in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Five former New Orleans police officers are expected to enter pleas to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on a bridge in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kaufman, who was not involved in the shooting, faces a new trial in the cover-up alone. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

    Former New Orleans Police Former Sgt. Arthur Kaufman arrives at Federal Court in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Five former New Orleans police officers are expected to enter pleas to reduced charges in the deadly shootings on a bridge in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kaufman, who was not involved in the shooting, faces a new trial in the cover-up alone. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (The Associated Press)

Five former police officers said in court Wednesday they intend to plead guilty to lesser charges in the deadly shootings on the Danziger Bridge in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

If the guilty pleas are accepted by a judge, the ex-officers could see drastically reduced prison time. The officers were convicted in 2011 in the shootings but U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt set aside the jury’s verdict two years later because of federal prosecutors’ misconduct — including anonymous online comments about the case.

Four of the former officers have been locked up for nearly six years while the fifth has been out on bond. The plea deal calls for them to get credit for time served and they could be released from prison anywhere from the next one to six years.

The court hearing was still ongoing Wednesday afternoon and the judge had not yet formally accepted their guilty pleas.

On Sept. 4 2005, days after the levees failed and water swamped the city, police gunned down 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who were both unarmed, and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge. To cover it up, the officers planted a gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports, prosecutors have said.

Police said at the time the officers were responding to a report of other officers down when they came under fire.

However, after hearing from five dozen witnesses and examining 400 pieces of evidence during a monthlong trial, a federal jury convicted the officers for opening fire and trying to cover up wrongdoing.

Former officer Robert Faulcon was sentenced to 65 years in prison; ex-Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius each received 40 years; Anthony Villavaso got 38 years; and Arthur Kaufman, now out on bond, received a six-year sentence.

Under the new plea agreement, the sentences would be significantly reduced to a range of 12 years to three years for the defendants.

A scandal involving Justice Department employees unraveled the convictions and sentences. In September 2013, the judge said the case had been tainted by “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct,” including leaks to media and posting of anonymous comments by at least three government attorneys on a New Orleans newspaper’s website.

Prosecutors have argued that there is no evidence the misconduct affected the verdict.

Teen survivor of mass shooting leaves rehabilitation center

Apr 20, 2016 80

A 14-year-old girl shot in the head during a deadly shooting rampage in southwestern Michigan has left a rehabilitation center.

Mary Free Bed Hospital spokeswoman Betsy Musolf says Abigail Kopf was released Wednesday. Abigail spent six weeks at the Grand Rapids facility and a couple of weeks in another hospital following the Feb. 20 rampage that killed six people and injured another woman.

Abigail says in a video produced by the rehabilitation facility that she’s excited to see friends and pets, including her pig, Hamlet.

Uber driver Jason Dalton is charged with murder and attempted murder in the apparently random attacks.

Dalton is due in court Friday for a competency hearing. Defense attorney Eusebio Solis is challenging whether statements Dalton made to police will be admissible at trial.