The Trial Diaries

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Poisoned Texas doctor says lover gave him ‘sweet tasting’ coffee


HOUSTON – A Texas doctor, who prosecutors said was poisoned by an obsessed colleague and lover, testified on Friday in her criminal trial that the woman served him a sweet cup of coffee one morning even though he preferred his black.

Dr. Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo, 43, an oncologist, is charged with aggravated assault of a family member, a charge that covers domestic violence in dating relationships, for allegedly spiking Dr. George Blumenschein’s coffee in January 2013.

“It was very, very sweet,” Blumenschein testified.

Blumenschein, 50, said he asked Gonzalez-Angulo why the coffee was sweet and she told him she had used Splenda, an artificial sweetener.

“I found it odd that she put Splenda in the coffee, I like it black and she knows that,” Blumenschein said.

Prosecutors contend the coffee was laced with ethylene glycol, a colorless and odorless chemical commonly found in anti-freeze and science labs that has a sweet taste.

The doctors, cancer researchers at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, developed a romantic relationship as they worked long hours together in the lab, at her home and during frequent trips out of town, Blumenschein testified.

“We were very good friends. I was close to her, I trusted her,” Blumenschein said.

Gonzalez-Angulo asked Blumenschein to try a coffee blend that morning, he said. When he complained about the taste, she told him to finish it because it was expensive, he said.

Blumenschein said he felt very ill later in the day and was admitted to an emergency room 16 hours after drinking the coffee.

He was diagnosed with central nervous system damage, cardiopulmonary complications and renal failure that night. He survived after undergoing dialysis, he said.

A kidney specialist saw a hazy quality in Blumenschein’s urine and alerted authorities after finding signs consistent with ethylene glycol poisoning.

Blumenschein said Gonzalez-Angulo admitted, after the alleged poisoning, that she had access to ethylene glycol.

Prosecutors contend she was obsessed with Blumenschein, with whom she had been in an affair for two years.

An attorney for Gonzalez-Angulo has told jurors his client is innocent and that experts who have testified have done a little more than guesswork.

Gonzalez-Angulo would face five to 99 years in prison if convicted. Blumenschein’s testimony is expected to continue on Monday when the trial resumes.

Source: Amanda Orr of Reuters


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Hundreds search for missing UVa student


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Last Saturday, this town drew thousands of cheerful fans cheering the University of Virginia’s football team’s underdog win.

This week, a far grimmer task brought hundreds of volunteers to campus: the search for sophomore Hannah Graham, who disappeared a week ago.

Volunteers met at the university’s basketball arena Saturday morning before fanning out in search teams throughout Charlottesville.

“I have two daughters of my own and I would hope that if one of them was missing everyone would come out as well,” said Marci Stewart, a volunteer searcher.

City police continue to investigate Graham’s disappearance. Police said Friday that they have spoken with a man they believe was with her in a bar on the night she went missing, but did not have enough information to arrest or detain him after searching his car and apartment.

In an emotional appeal, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo asked anyone who might have seen Graham and the man early Sept. 13 on the Downtown Mall to contact authorities. Longo stopped short of calling the unidentified man a suspect, but said police are keeping an eye on him.

Police have focused on Graham’s movements the night of Sept. 12 and into the early morning hours of Sept. 13. The sophomore from northern Virginia met friends at a restaurant for dinner, stopped by two parties at off-campus housing units, and left the second party alone, police have said.

Surveillance videos showed her walking, and at some points running, past a pub and a service station and then onto the Downtown Mall, a seven-block pedestrian strip lined with shops and restaurants.

Graham’s disappearance has sent a ripple of fear through the quiet college town.

Maria Faidas, a sophomore who volunteered to help search Saturday, said she lives a block from Graham and has walked home alone before without thinking twice of the possible dangers.

“It’s definitely a wake-up call, I think, because I always felt safe,” she said.

Students said they’ve started walking in pairs at night and are paying closer attention to their surroundings.

At least three other young women have disappeared in the area in the last five years. Nineteen-year-old Samantha Ann Clarke, who vanished after leaving her Orange County town house in September 2010, and 19-year-old DaShad Laquinn Smith, who disappeared in Charlottesville in November 2012, remain missing.

Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, disappeared from the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena while attending a rock concert in October 2009. Her remains were found three months later in a rural area. No arrests have been made.

Police have said they do not think Graham’s disappearance is linked to any of the other missing women.

But Emily Kilroy, a consultant who also helped search Saturday, said the episodes are “starting to feel like a pattern” that’s especially unfortunate in a college town with so many young women.

“They should be made to feel safe,” she said.

Source: Alan Suderman of Associated Press


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Mother of 5 Convicted of Killing Adopted Son Granted New Trial


A Texas mother of five who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in the 2006 salt poisoning death of her adopted son now has a new chance at freedom.

A Texas state appellate court granted Hannah Overton, 37, a new trial Wednesday. Overton, a devout Christian, was convicted in 2007 of killing her 4-year-old adopted son, Andrew Burd, and sentenced to life in prison. Her family and attorneys have been fighting for her release ever since.

Her husband, Larry Overton, told ABC News today, “It’s starting to sink in. We are very excited, but just waiting to see what happens.”

He said the right decision was made and that he hopes prosecutors act quickly. He said their five children, who have been without their mother for seven years, were “ecstatic.”

“The kids are thrilled,” Larry Overton said. “[We] can’t wait for her to come home.”

Overton had appealed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing ineffective counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. The 7-2 ruling in favor of Overton granted her relief on her claims of ineffective counsel.

Three of the judges also issued a concurring opinion saying the proceedings in the case were “problematic from the beginning,” and cited issues involving the prosecutor, Sandra Eastwood, as well as Overton’s trial attorneys, who failed to call a salt poisoning expert to the stand.

Overton’s appellate attorney, Cynthia Hujar-Orr, told ABC News, “We are pleased with the strong and thoughtful majority and concurring opinions of the high criminal court and are asking for the immediate return of Hannah to her family while the Corpus Christi Prosecutors’ office considers its next steps. We recognize this was not the current elected prosecutor’s case and so we are hopeful for a good relationship and favorable action by his office.”

Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka can decide whether to retry Overton on the original capital murder charge or on lesser charges, offer her a plea deal or dismiss the case entirely. When reached by ABC News today, Skurka’s office said he had no comment.

Overton’s attorneys say the DA has not answered their requests for bail. Today, they asked the court for a bench warrant and bail hoping to reunite Overton with her family while she awaits the DA’s decision.

“We’re hopeful that the DA now who wasn’t the DA then… will be favorable in helping expedite the whole process to allow Hannah to come home without delay,” Larry Overton said.

At Overton’s original trial in 2007, the prosecution portrayed her as a mother who had lost control. Frustrated with a naughty child, prosecutors said, she tried to punish him with seasoning mixed in water.

The defense presented the jury with a medical mystery. They speculated Andrew might have had pica, an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive appetite and that Andrew accidentally poisoned himself by consuming a fatal amount of sodium. Witnesses outside the home said they had seen Andrew’s bizarre habits, too. The day Andrew died Hannah said she found him in the kitchen pantry but could not determine what he had consumed, if anything.

To find Hannah guilty, jurors had to believe either of two scenarios: that Hannah force-fed Andrew Burd salt knowing it would kill him or that she neglected to get medical help fast enough knowing that it would kill him. They convicted her based on the latter argument, that she did not seek help quickly enough.

Source: JuJu Chang 20/20


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Police: American suspect confesses in Bali killing


BALI, Indonesia — An American man has confessed that he killed his girlfriend’s mother in a luxury hotel on Indonesia’s Bali island, and the girlfriend has acknowledged helping him stuff the body into a suitcase, police said Friday.

Heather Mack, 19, and her boyfriend Tommy Schaefer, 21, both from Chicago, were arrested in Bali on Aug. 13, a day after the body of Sheila von Wiese-Mack was found in a suitcase inside the trunk of a taxi at the St. Regis Bali Resort.

“Schaefer confessed to killing von Wiese-Mack during police interrogation,” police chief Col. Djoko Heru Utomo told The Associated Press. “He was hurt and offended by the victim’s words in an argument with him. That is the motive for the murder.”

He said Mack, who is three months’ pregnant, admitted in a separate interrogation that she helped Schaefer stuff her mother’s body into a suitcase.

Utomo said Schaefer and Mack were accompanied by their Indonesian and U.S. lawyers during the interrogations.

Attempts to reach the Indonesian lawyers were not immediately successful.

The couple has yet to be formally charged. Utomo said officers hoped to complete their investigation and file their case with prosecutors before the couple’s detention period ends in mid-October.

Police say they have interviewed dozens of witnesses, including the taxi driver and hotel employees, and some had reported an argument among the three over who should pay for the rooms. Security camera video showed the victim having an argument with Schaefer in the hotel lobby.

Police have said the couple hired the taxi and placed the suitcase inside the trunk. They then told the taxi driver that they were going to check out of the hotel and would return. After they didn’t show up, hotel security guards who found blood on the suitcase suggested that the driver take the taxi to the police station, where officers opened the suitcase and discovered the body.

Von Wiese-Mack was the widow of highly regarded jazz and classical composer James L. Mack, who died in 2006 at age 76.

Von Wiese-Mack was a member of a century-old Chicago book club called the Caxton Club. She had varied interests including Asian literature and Wagnerian opera, according to a May 2013 profile of her in the club’s publication, Caxtonian.

Source: AP


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Police arrest shooting suspects at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport

Police in Phoenix have arrested three shooting suspects following an hours-long manhunt at the city’s Sky Harbor International Airport on Thursday, following a shooting at a nearby gas station, authorities said.

Officers with the Tempe Police Department responded to reports of the shooting around 2:45 p.m. local time (2145 GMT), and tracked the suspects’ vehicle from the scene to the airport, Assistant Tempe Police Chief Angel Carbajal told reporters at a news conference.

The three suspects bailed from their vehicle after reaching the airport and within minutes two of them, a man and a woman, had been arrested, police said.

Another man, who was shown on airport security video sprinting bare-chested through a parking lot, eluded capture through the afternoon but was arrested without incident inside a stairwell at the airport’s Terminal Four on Thursday evening, police said.

Only one person was injured in the incident, a gunshot victim at the gas station the three suspects fled from. The victim was in critical but stable condition as of Thursday evening, Carbajal said.

The airport had locked down its Terminal Four as police scoured the nearby parking garage, but reopened it around 6 p.m. local time, airport officials said. More than 25 flights out of the airfield were canceled due to the incident.

Local television news footage earlier on Thursday showed armed police officers searching the lot and checking inside vehicles.

One traveler, Alan Tessmer, told local TV station Fox 10 Phoenix that he was arriving to take a flight when he saw police officers “running out of their vehicles with automatic weapons.”

Users of social media published pictures of passengers on arriving flights waiting inside with their luggage to be told it was safe to leave the terminal.

“If you’re coming to the airport, please drive slowly, use caution on the roadways and follow instructions of any police or operations staff that you encounter,” it said in a statement.

It said its other terminals were operating normally.

Source: Daniel Wallis of Reuters


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Utah doctor gets up to life in wife’s murder


PROVO, Utah— A Utah doctor found guilty of killing his wife in a trial that became a national true-crime cable TV obsession will serve 17 years to life in prison, a state judge decided Friday.

The long-awaited sentence comes seven years after prosecutors say Martin MacNeill knocked out his wife with drugs prescribed following cosmetic surgery and left her to die in a bathtub so he could begin a new life with his mistress.

MacNeill, 58, was sentenced to up to life in prison on a murder charge and one to 15 years on an obstruction of justice charge. A third sentence in a separate sexual abuse case will add another one to 15 years.

Judge Derek Pullan ruled Friday the sentences will run one after the other. The Utah parole board will decide later whether MacNeill can be released after 17 years or must serve a longer term.

The one-time doctor and lawyer with a family of eight remained silent during sentencing.

Michele MacNeill initially was ruled to have died of natural causes, possibly heart disease, but her family hounded authorities until charges were filed five years after her death.

The case against Martin MacNeill shocked the Mormon community of Pleasant Grove, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Martin MacNeill has maintained his innocence. His attorney argued at trial that Michele MacNeill had a heart attack and fell into the tub, and has said an appeal is likely.

Prosecutors conceded the largely circumstantial case wasn’t an easy one. Prosecutor Chad Grunander said the trail had gone cold by the time he came onto the case in 2010, and the judge excluded some evidence of the contention roiling under the family’s picture-perfect exterior.

“You have a doctor and lawyer, beautiful wife, beautiful children, well-educated, successful people, and this happens in the background. It is shocking to some degree, certainly,” Grunander said.

Last year’s three-week trial peeled back that facade with testimony from jailhouse snitches and Martin MacNeill’s former mistress, Gypsy Willis.

Martin MacNeill introduced her as a nanny within weeks of his wife’s death, but his older daughters said they quickly recognized the woman as his secret lover and the subject of arguments between their parents.

Prosecutors said Martin MacNeill insisted his 50-year-old wife to get a face-lift and faked his own medical condition to throw off suspicion in the weeks before his wife’s death. They pointed to erratic behavior and what they called phony grief the day she died.

Prosecutors also introduced testimony from former MacNeill cellmates who said he confessed to his wife’s death. Spencer said the jailhouse snitches lied and MacNeill should get a new trial, but the judge denied that motion late last month.

Source: LINDSAY WHITEHURST of Associated Press


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More videos show missing Virginia student, others


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.— Police said Thursday they are seeking to talk to a male who was seen by a witness with a University of Virginia student the night she disappeared.

Charlottesville police Capt. Gary Pleasants said the witness came forward Wednesday night after two more grainy surveillance videos were released of from the Downtown Mall.

The 18-year-old freshman was last seen at the mall, a popular row of shops and restaurants, on Friday night.

Pleasants said one video shows Graham outside a pizza shop. The witness was captured on the video as he exited the store and followed Graham. Another video from a jewelry store two minutes later also shows the witness following Graham.

The witness told police that he followed her because she looked like she was in distress.

“It looked like she was at least in some physical distress and he was concerned for her,” Pleasants said.

The witness, whose name wasn’t released, told police that before he could catch up with Graham, another male approached her and put his arm around her.

“From the interaction, he (the witness) thought they knew each other, so he thought she was fine and he left,” Pleasants said.

Pleasants said police want to talk to the second male. He wouldn’t describe what the male was wearing.

“We certainly need to talk to this person and see what his interaction was,” Pleasants said.

The male isn’t seen in either video. The second video appears to show someone next to Graham, but Pleasants said it’s her reflection in the store window.

Two other videos released earlier show Graham walking past a pub and, minutes later, running past a service station.

The university’s student council has scheduled a “Bring Hannah Home” candlelight vigil on the Charlottesville campus Thursday night.

She was last heard from early Saturday morning, when she texted a friend after leaving a party to say she was lost. Her friends reported her missing on Sunday. Police have searched a wide area northeast and east of the campus without success.

Her parents, John and Susan Graham, have said that they fear foul play, but Police Chief Timothy Longo said police have no substantial evidence to support that.

Longo said Graham met friends for dinner at a restaurant Friday night, dropped by parties at two off-campus housing units, and left the second one alone. Longo said Graham had been drinking.

Graham is 5-foot-11 with blue eyes, light brown hair and freckles. The search has involved local police, the Virginia State Police, University of Virginia police and the FBI, which is processing leads, Pleasants said. The search has also included canine teams and helicopters.

Source: AP


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Couple in Craigslist slaying sentenced to life


SUNBURY, Pa. — A newlywed couple who lured a stranger to his death through a Craigslist ad were sentenced to life without parole by a judge who said they must be permanently removed from society.

Neither 19-year-old Miranda Barbour nor her 22-year-old husband, Elytte, displayed any emotion Thursday in Northumberland County Court in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, as the victims’ relatives expressed anger and pain over the slaying. However, Elytte Barbour apologized, but said he could not explain his actions.

They pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, in a plea deal that ruled out the death penalty.

Troy LaFerrara was answering an ad offering companionship when he was attacked in Miranda Barbour’s vehicle Nov. 11. Police say she stabbed him 20 times while her husband held a cord around his neck.

Source: Peter Jackson of Associated Press


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Pistorius Judge Under 24-Hour Police Protection After Controversial Ruling


Judge Thokozile Masipa is wrapping up the most famous trial of her career, that of athlete Oscar Pistorius for shooting and killing his then girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day 2013.

Masipa has been repeatedly threatened for her findings in the trial and now, she’s under police protection. She controversially found Pistorius not guilty of premeditated murder, charging him only with culpable homicide. Steenkamp’s family said this charge was “not justice” and many South Africans agree. Fear of a potential attack on Masipa has increased, especially as she is set to read her sentence for the athlete on October 13th.

This week, a division of South Africa’s police squadron, the Tactical Response Team, has been stationed outside of the judge’s home. The team checks in on her once an hour and joins her on any travels outside of the home.

“Attacking and threatening Judge Masipa because she is black or because she is female is simply unacceptable.”

Three legal groups, Section27, the Legal Resources Center and the Center for Child Law, have issued a joint statement defending Masipa, they told The Telegraph, “People may disagree with the judgment. However, attacking and threatening Judge Masipa because she is black or because she is female is simply unacceptable. Some of the remarks may even border on hate speech, defamation and contempt of court.”

In South Africa, a judge decides a case, rather than a jury. The sentence is a maximum 15 years in prison, but there is no minimum so Masipa will have a great deal of control over the punishment. There is always the chance that the verdict could be overturned in an appeal, which can only come after the sentence is given. Associate law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand James Grant told CBS, “The effect is that, if the state does appeal, and one may well expect that it will, Pistorius continues to face the prospect of a murder conviction.”

Source: Polly Mosendz The Wire


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Warrant: SC dad feared 5 slain kids would kill him


COLUMBIA, S.C. — An arrest warrant issued for the South Carolina father who authorities say killed his five children says the father thought his children were going to “kill him, chop him up and feed him to the dogs.”

The warrant obtained Wednesday by WIS-TV and WLTX-TV said Timothy Ray Jones Jr. ordered his children, ages 1 to 8, out of his vehicle at a Lexington Walmart on Aug. 28.

Authorities think Jones killed his children soon after, put the bodies in plastic trash bags and drove for nine days around the Southeast. The warrant says authorities found blood in his vehicle and handwritten notes about killing and mutilating bodies.

Jones’ statement came from a warrant charging him with unlawful neglect of a child. He also faces five counts of murder.

Source: AP