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A Week In Review for the Jodi Arias Penalty Phase

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The day had finally arrived, opening statements for the Jodi Arias retrial were finally upon us. With the courtroom filled to the brim with reporters and spectators the Jodi Arias hype was still very high. With the trial not televised or streamed the reporters have a hard job Tweeting this trial to everyone’s satisfaction, and I have to say it’s no easy job. The good thing is most already have seen the testimony and evidence so Tweeting this trial is like explaining it all over again in a condensed version. The emotions the Jodi Arias trial still resonate for supporters on both sides are powerful and intense. I have to say this trial has definitely put all that are reporting on it in a precarious position of being attacked and praised all at the same time. I myself have experienced both. The attacks do become unsettling and sad when reporting on a man that was murdered, and woman trying to stay off of death row actually becomes a dangerous job. This trial will always be a trial like no other in many ways.

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Opening statements in the Jodi Arias retrial kicked off last week on Tuesday. Kirk Nurmi was up first to tell the newly impaneled jury what to expect from the defense team and Jodi Arias herself. Kirk Nurmi addressed the fully engaged jury to tell them that Jodi Arias was a girl that suffered a childhood of physical and emotional abuse from her parents. He added she was beat, pushed into furniture and not shown much love. As Jodi began to date she chose men that didn’t value her, they cheated on her, and there was a continued a pattern of not feeling loved enough. Kirk Nurmi told the jury by the time she met Travis Alexander she was a “mentally ill young girl.” Nurmi stated to the jury Jodi was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder from the states own expert witness Janeen DeMarte. He also noted Jodi was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the defenses expert witness Psychologist Richard Samuels. As Nurmi set the stage for a history of mentally illness he eluded to the notion that meeting Travis Alexander created a perfect storm of disaster. Nurmi said that Travis Alexander emotionally and physically abused Jodi Arias, and that was one of the mitigating factors. Nurmi added no prior criminal history, her age of 27 years old at the time of the murder, and the fact Jodi was remorseful should be mitigators the jury needs to consider. Nurmi also explained Jodi would tell them that it horrified her she killed the man she loved. He stated “no one can punish Jodi Arias more than herself.” Kirk Nurmi ended his opening arguments with the statement, “Travis Alexander loved Jodi Arias and this troubled young woman deserves LIFE.” With that he took his seat and we prepared for Juan Martinez to rebut, and explain to the jury why they should give Jodi Arias DEATH.

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Juan Martinez stood up to give his opening arguments to the jury as to why he believes they should give Jodi Arias the death penalty. It all begins with a picture of Travis Alexander in life, followed by a picture of him in death. When the picture of Travis’s smiling face is on the big screen Juan says, “30 year old Travis Alexander had more tomorrows then he had yesterdays.” Juan then displayed a photo of Travis with his throat slit wide open laying on an autopsy table mutilated by Jodi Arias. The image spoke a thousand words and Juan stated, “Jodi Arias loved Travis Alexander so much she slaughtered him.” Seeing that picture sent chills down my spine, it’s horrific, disturbing, and to me personally very heartbreaking with what Travis must have endured. Juan also brings forth to the jury Travis and Jodi weren’t seeing each other exclusively and Jodi was peeping in his windows while he was entertaining another woman at his home. Juan also threw out some of the salacious parts of this case, saying Jodi Arias gave as good as she got when it came to the sexual nature of the relationship. While that statement was objected to by the defense and sustained, Juan managed to get it out there. Juan also told the jury in a shocking statement that Jodi shaved her private parts smooth for Travis and asked Travis to perform certain sexual acts upon her. I’ve toned down what was actually said due to the graphic nature but it definitely grabbed the attention of the jury. Juan went on to explain that Jodi Arias claimed a cellphone she had was stolen. It contained texts that maybe she didn’t want to have exposed, but that the jury would be able to see them. Juan went onto say a burglary happened at Jodi’s grandparents house and a 25 caliber gun was stolen, the same caliber used to shoot Travis Alexander. Juan caught the jury up to speed on the gas cans, the rental car, Jodi’s hair color change, and her new love interest Ryan Burns who she went to see after the murder of Travis. Juan talked about sex photos the jury will see and how much pain Travis experienced on the day of the murder. Juan told the jury Jodi lies, she lied, and lied, and lied, as she tried to cover up the crime. He states her PTSD diagnosis was based on lies and her Borderline Personality diagnosis isn’t a mental illness. Juan said that Dr. Janeen DeMarte would explain this to the jury. Juan made it clear there’s nothing documented to suggest Jodi was abused by Travis Alexander, and her mitigating factors will be disputed. A very interesting, and exciting opening to a retrial we all know too well yet hang onto every word. With both sides done, witnesses for the state will now take the stand.

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The first witness for the state was Michael Melendez, a computer forensic expert. Melendez extracted deleted photo’s from a camera that was put in Travis Alexander’s washing machine by Jodi Arias. On the camera was pictures of Travis taking a shower, sometimes posing for the photographer just minutes before his death. Also on the camera were sexual photo’s of Jodi and Travis in compromising positions. One photo that stands out is the photo of a foot standing over Travis’s bleeding body being dragged down a hallway. While Jodi Arias looks away as the photo’s are displayed the jury is very attentive and taking notes. Detective Flores takes the stand as he explains what he saw as he arrived to the murder scene, and how Jodi Arias offered to help him in any way she could.

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Day 2- Today was a very hard day for Travis Alexander’s family and friends as Juan Martinez calls to the stand Dr. Kevin Horn, the Medical Examiner. Photo after photo of Travis Alexander’s wounds were on the monitors that surrounded the courtroom. Around thirty stab wounds to Travis’s back, head, hands, and torso displayed a total rage from Jodi Arias. Travis had a slit throat that nearly decapitated him and cut his windpipe. He bled everywhere and then was shot in the head according to Dr. Horn. Juan Martinez had Dr. Horn go over the sequence of events according to his professional opinion. Dr. Horn stated Travis was stabbed in the heart, stabbed numerous times all over his body as he struggled fighting back by the defensive wounds on his hands. Travis then had his throat slashed and was shot in the head last. While some jurors looked shocked by the photo’s others were stoic and showed no expressions. Jodi Arias had her head turned away the whole time while the Alexander family cupped their faces into their hands and were emotional. The impact of these photo’s had to be strong on the jury. It was a very good day for the state as this shows how brutal and cruel the crime really was. Juan Martinez shocked the courtroom when with no warning he approached Dr. Horn grabbed his pen and pretended to stab him in heart. He asked Dr. Horn if that took much time? Dr. Horn stated no with a surprised look on his face. Judge Stephens asked Juan to let her know next time his wishes to approach the witness so there are no more surprises. The demonstration was powerful and showed how quick someone could be overpowered when caught by surprise. With the state saying Jodi Arias killed Travis Alexander three times with the stab to the heart, slit throat and gunshot to the head, the defense argued the sequence of events. Defense went on to say Detective Flores made statements that Dr. Horn told him the gunshot came first. Dr. Horn disputes that and says he doesn’t recall talking to Flores about the shot coming first. Jen Willmott for the defense wanted Dr. Horn to say the gunshot came first and the rest of the wounds were a fight to the death between Jodi and Travis. The defense wants to lessen the brutality and premeditation of the crime even though both were proved. This sequence of which came first the stabbing or the gunshot became more of a heated discussion when Detective Flores took the stand once again.

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With the loss of one juror due to an emergency before trial even began we were faced with the loss of juror #9 because she couldn’t resist Beth Karas, a reporter reporting on the Jodi trial. Juror #9 not only saw Beth giving an interview about the case she asked Beth if she was Nancy Grace! Beth stated she wasn’t and notified court officials this juror spoke to her. To be honest, I don’t see the similarities…maybe the blond hair? Juror #9 was a female that had a sister in law that knew Jodi Arias when they were young and after the lunch break this juror was dismissed from the trial. The public took a deep sigh of relief.

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The next witness to take the stand was Nathan Mendez. He was in charge of locating Jodi Arias after the murder of Travis, and he found her at the grandparents house loading a car full of luggage. Officer Mendez called in to have Jodi arrested right away and they did a search on the vehicle. Juan pointed out in the vehicle was luggage and condoms. Some can say carrying birth control around is a smart thing, but others will point out after Jodi murdered her lover, sex should be the last thing on her mind. Officer Mendez also stated he did the photo line up of Jodi and was there when her booking photo was taken. Jodi asked the photographer if her hair looked OK and she smiled and gave a booking photo worthy of a glamour shot. Officer Menedez stated it was so odd how good that picture turned out and how concerned she was about her looks. The man that rented Jodi Arias the rental car picked Jodi out of the photo line up but stated her hair, which was now brown, use to be blond. When Nurmi got up to cross Officer Menedez he asked if someone under these circumstances asking if her hair looked OK would be someone who may have a mental illness in his opinion. The Officer stated he didn’t know. Nurmi went on to ask why Jodi Arias would be out to commit a crime and leave a paper trail that could be tracked? Juan rebutted that with Jodi kept all receipts for her road trip except for any travel that pertained to Arizona.

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Day 3- Jodi Arias arrived wearing a sweater she owned during the first trial and I recognized it right off the bat. It was tan, she had her hair down, glasses on, and for this trial no bangs. Detective Flores was back on the stand once again, and it would be a grueling day for him being hammered on his statements during a preliminary hearing. The transcripts from the hearing have Detective Flores testifying he heard Dr. Horn tell him the gunshot came first in the sequence of events on the day of the murder. The defense ran with that to bolster their position, but Dr. Horn denied ever having this conversation with Flores. According to the transcript Detective Flores thought the slit throat came last. Jurors took many notes, but we will have to wait and see if the sequence of events on how Travis was murdered will matter to them while deliberating life or death. Nurmi then put up all the pictures of Travis Alexander in the shower, he stated that Jodi Arias had many moments and many opportunities to kill Travis such as when his back was turned, and his eyes were closed. He left the question floating in the air as to why Jodi would wait till Travis was looking at her to attack. Juan states that she waited till she got Travis sitting in a wet, slippery shower to stab him in heart by surprise. A Walmart employee then took the stand to say no gas can was ever returned by Jodi Arias as she so strongly stated in her testimony on the stand in the first trial. Nurmi asked the Walmart employee if maybe she overlooked it somewhere somehow, and the witness said “no,” she checked all registers and it wasn’t returned. The next witness was an important one for the day. It’s was an Officer from Yreka that investigated the burglary at Jodi Arias grandparents home. This Officer testified a 25 caliber hand gun was taken along with a stereo, DVD player, and $30.00. He found the burglary strange as no money was taken that was out in the open, no other guns were removed, and even the big screen TV was still there. The Officer spoke to Jodi and took pictures of what she said was out of place. Drawers were barely opened, and the only real damage was to the front door. The Officer found the burglary suspicious but they didn’t find any useable fingerprints at the scene. Nurmi questioned him on why Jodi who lives there would have to stage a burglary? Why not just take the gun? The Officer couldn’t answer that. With that witness off the stand the lawyers, Judge, Jodi, and Travis’s sisters go back to chambers for what seemed like a very long time. We were left to wonder what happened and why. When the parties came out the Judge asked juror 17 to stay behind and recessed court for the day. While we all waiting in the courtroom all parties again left. When they returned Detective Flores was asked if a juror was dismissed and he stated “no.” So the mystery deepens as court was called early but whether we will find out what happened or not is left to be seen. Court resumes on Monday at 9:30am MST, and The Trial Diaries will be there to bring you all the accurate updates throughout the day. Let’s just hope Monday is a full day with no juror issues, defendant problems or anything else that may crop up. Until Tomorrow, The Trial Diaries

Pictures by Tom Tingle, BethKaras.com, Nancy Grace Show


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Professor Patricia Ward Identified As New York Woman Allegedly Beheaded By Son

The Long Island woman beheaded in a gruesome murder Tuesday night was a respected and beloved professor at Farmingdale State College, school officials have confirmed.

Patricia Ward taught language arts at the school for 28 years, spokesman Patrick Calabria said in a statement.

“We are in shock,” Calabria told the New York Post. “The staff in her department is teary-eyed. We are providing counseling to the staff who need it. It’s a very sad day. A lot of people are taking it very hard.”

WABC reporter NJ Burkett tweeted a photo of the victim earlier today:

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Calabria told New York Newsday that Ward was “well-liked, well-known and well-respected.”

Police are investigating a link between Ward’s murder and the suicide of a man law enforcement believe to be her son.

Witnesses said the suspect, who is in his 30s, dragged his mother’s body out of a Farmingdale apartment and kicked her head across the street. Police said the suspect then committed suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming LIRR train.

Farmingdale Police Detective Michael Bitsko told Newsday that the son “[had] a drug problem.” It is not yet clear if he was under the influence when he allegedly committed the murder.

Some horrified witnesses told the New York Daily News that they initially thought that the decapitated body was a tasteless Halloween prank.

“The body’s feet were at the curb, the shoulders were at the middle of the street. The head was across the street,” Jack Imperial, who saw the scene from a cab, told the newspaper. “I’ve seen some gruesome stuff in my years of living… but nothing like this. I didn’t expect to see something like this, especially not out here.”

Source: The Huffington Post | By Andres Jauregui

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Man arrested in fatal shooting of Oakland mother in possible road rage

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A 20-year-old man was arrested in the shooting death of an Oakland mother of four in a possible road rage incident, police announced Thursday.

Carl Stephen Dubose of Oakland was taken into custody in Elk Grove after police reviewed surveillance video and tips from the community, Chief Sean Whent said at news conference.

Police recovered the vehicle and firearm believed have been used in Sunday’s shooting of Perla Avina, 30, in the 600 block of 98th Avenue, Whent said.

“Perla’s life matter and all life matters in Oakland,” he said.

The shooting, Whent said, was a “senseless act of violence.”

“It is our collective outrage and willingness to come together … as a community that led to an arrest in this case,” he said.

Police had announced a $30,000 reward this week for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Avina’s killer.

Police said Dubose and Avina did not know each before the shooting.

Avina’s husband was driving in the 600 block of 98th Avenue just after 12:30 p.m. while she sat in the passenger seat, according to the Oakland Police Department.

KTVU-TV reported that the couple was heading home after a grocery run when there was a confrontation with the shooter, who allegedly fired multiple shots into the couple’s car, striking Avina once.

Investigator Leo Sanchez said detectives were still looking into the road rage allegations, describing it as combination of “complex factors.”

Source: Veronica Rocha

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Judge rejects trial venue change

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — A Massachusetts judge has rejected a request from former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez to move his trial in the fatal shooting of a semi-professional football player to a different county.

Hernandez, a former tight end for the Patriots, is charged in the 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiance. Lloyd’s body was found in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough.

In court Thursday, Hernandez’s lawyer, Michael Fee, urged a judge to move the trial out of Bristol County, citing what he called “sensational and inflammatory” media coverage he said has prejudiced potential jurors against Hernandez. Fee said the press coverage of Hernandez has been “relentless” and has often included references to other crimes, including separate charges against Hernandez in Suffolk County in the 2012 killings of two Boston men.

“This has poisoned the jury pool in Bristol County,” Fee said.

He cited two telephone polls commissioned by the defense in which more than half the respondents said they believe Hernandez is definitely or probably guilty in Lloyd’s killing.

Prosecutors, however, challenged the methodology reliability of the poll. The judge said Hernandez’s lawyers have not shown that the Bristol County community’s prejudgment of the case is so substantial that picking impartial jurors would be impossible.

Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh denied the motion to change venue, finding that Hernandez’s lawyers had not shown that the Bristol County community’s prejudgment of the case is so substantial that picking impartial jurors would be impossible.

Hernandez’s trial in Lloyd’s killing is scheduled to begin Jan. 9. Garsh said she plans to summon more than 1,000 people to pick a jury.

In Suffolk County, Hernandez is accused in the fatal shootings of two men in July 2012. Prosecutors say Hernandez followed the men after one of them accidentally spilled a drink on him at a Boston nightclub. He is accused of shooting into the men’s car at a stop light, killing them and injuring a third man. He has pleaded not guilty. That trial is scheduled to start May 28.

Source: AP/ AP Photo/Brian Snyder

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Grand jury assembling in civil-rights case involving George Zimmerman

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ORLANDO, Fla. — A federal grand jury will meet in downtown Orlando on Wednesday to hear testimony about whether Trayvon Martin’s civil rights were violated when Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot him in the chest, according to court paperwork.

A U.S. Department of Justice attorney from Washington, D.C., Mark Blumberg, has issued at least one subpoena for Wednesday in the case.

Blumberg would not comment on the grand jury session, but the federal panel is to meet at 9 a.m. at the federal courts building in downtown Orlando to hear evidence in the case.

It’s not clear how many witnesses have been ordered to appear, but at least one, Frank Taaffe, Zimmerman’s former friend and longtime defender, has been.

Following Zimmerman’s acquittal on a murder charge, Taaffe has reversed his position and now says that he believes Zimmerman was motivated by race the night he followed then shot Martin in 2012.

Taaffe cites a phone conversation he had with Zimmerman in the days following the shooting but before Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

When originally interviewed by federal investigators in the weeks following the shooting, Taaffe did not tell them about the phone call, he says, but earlier this year he did in interviews with Blumberg and FBI Agent John Weyrauch at the FBI office in Maitland.

Weyrauch did not return a phone call from the Sentinel.

FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier described the investigation as ongoing and said agents were “still talking to people.”

George Zimmerman would not comment.

Last month, the Washington Post cited three unnamed law enforcement officials as saying there would likely be no federal charges brought against Zimmerman because of insufficient evidence.

Source: Rene Stutzman Orlando Sentinel

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Attorney wants UVa abduction suspect evaluated

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FAIRFAX, Va. — An attorney for the man accused of kidnapping University of Virginia student Hannah Graham is asking that his client undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Attorney James Camblos made the request Friday at an arraignment for Jesse Matthew in Fairfax County Circuit Court, where Matthew’s charged in an unrelated sexual assault from nearly a decade ago.

Matthew was indicted earlier this month on charges including attempted capital murder in connection with a September 2005 sexual assault on a 26-year-old woman who was walking home from the supermarket in Fairfax.

Authorities have said the assault was linked by DNA to the disappearance of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington. Fairfax authorities charged Matthew shortly after authorities linked the Harrington case to Graham’s abduction.

The 18-year-old Graham’s remains were found in mid-October.

Source: MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press

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Trooper ambush suspect in court after long manhunt

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MILFORD, Pa.— Onlookers shouted “Are you sorry?” and “Why did you do it?” at the suspect in a fatal ambush on a Pennsylvania state police barracks as troopers led him from his first court appearance Friday following a grueling seven-week manhunt.

Eric Frein, 31, appeared gaunt and battered as he answered yes or no questions and listened as a judge read the criminal complaint detailing the Sept. 12 attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass.

Frein did not have a lawyer and was not asked to enter a plea to first-degree murder and other charges. Frein, who appeared to have a bloody gash on his nose and abrasions on his cheek and above his right eye, remains jailed without bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 12.

Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin, who said he would seek the death penalty, told reporters that Frein’s capture Thursday brought a degree of comfort to the region after an “unimaginable loss of unspeakable proportions.”

State police said troopers have been interviewing Frein, a survivalist found in an abandoned airplane hangar with high-powered weaponry nearby, but would not disclose details of what he told them or a possible motive.

Frein’s capture ended a 48-day search through impenetrable woods and forbidding caves, schools and vacation homes. The dragnet involved hundreds of law enforcement officials fanned out across the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania and cost about $10 million, State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said.

In the end, Frein surrendered meekly around 6 p.m. Thursday to a team of U.S. marshals who stumbled across him near the hangar some 30 miles from the rural barracks where he allegedly opened fire Sept. 12, killing a trooper and seriously injuring another.

Authorities placed him in Dickson’s handcuffs and put him in Dickson’s squad car for the ride back to the Blooming Grove barracks.

“He has been stripped of his guns, his bombs, and now his freedom,” Sam Rabadi, chief of the Philadelphia office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said at a late-night news conference.

The quiet takedown of Frein, who kneeled and put his hands up when marshals approached him, ended weeks of tension and turmoil in the area, as authorities at times closed schools, canceled outdoor events and blockaded roads to pursue him. Residents grew weary of hearing helicopters whirring overhead, while small businesses suffered mounting losses and town supervisors canceled a popular Halloween parade.

“It feels good to know there’s a guy like this off the streets,” said Gregory Kubasek, 19, of Marshalls Creek, who drove to the barracks Thursday night to catch a glimpse of Frein.

State police Commissioner Frank Noonan said Frein was in good health, despite what he described as a “scratch” on his nose that he said was already there when marshals arrested him.

“He looked fairly healthy, healthier than I would’ve expected,” he said.

State police said they didn’t know whether Frein, who was unarmed when captured, had been using the hangar as a shelter during his seven weeks on the run, and they wouldn’t say what they found there.

“He did not just give up because he was tired,” Noonan said. “He gave up because he was caught.”

Dickson’s family, as well as Douglass and his family, expressed “relief and gratitude” over Frein’s arrest, Noonan said.

Police said they linked Frein to the ambush after a man walking his dog discovered his partly submerged SUV three days later in a swamp a few miles from the shooting scene. Inside, investigators found shell casings matching those found at the barracks as well as Frein’s driver’s license, camouflage face paint, two empty rifle cases and military gear.

Officials, saying Frein was armed and extremely dangerous, had urged residents to be alert and cautious. Using dogs, thermal imaging technology and other tools, law enforcement officials combed miles of forest as they hunted for Frein, whom they called an experienced survivalist at home in the woods. At times, police ordered nearby residents to stay inside or prevented them from returning home.

Trackers found items they believe Frein hid or abandoned in the woods — including soiled diapers, empty packs of Serbian cigarettes, an AK-47-style assault rifle and ammunition, and two pipe bombs that were functional and capable of causing significant damage.

They also discovered a journal, allegedly kept by Frein and found in a bag of trash at a hastily abandoned campsite that offered a chilling account of the ambush and his subsequent escape into the woods. The journal’s author described Dickson as falling “still and quiet” after being shot twice.

Authorities said Frein had expressed anti-law enforcement views online and to people who knew him.

Police found a U.S. Army manual called “Sniper Training and Employment” in his bedroom at his parents’ house in Candensis, and his father, a retired Army major, called his son an excellent marksman who “doesn’t miss,” according to a police affidavit. Authorities believe Frein had been planning a confrontation with police for years, citing information they found on a computer used by him.

A man and a woman believed to be Frein’s parents, reached separately by telephone on Thursday, declined to comment.

The manhunt had disrupted some plans for trick-or-treating, but Halloween festivities in Barrett Township, in the heart of the search zone, were back on.

“We as a town think the kids have gone through enough,” said Ralph Megliola, chairman of the township board of supervisors.

Helen Blackmore, who lives in nearby Cresco, was ready for some normalcy.

“It was very crazy here. The helicopters were out all the time. Nobody was sleeping. Even today they were out,” she said. “We’re relieved. We’re very relieved. We want things to get back to normal.”

Frein is charged with first-degree murder and various other offenses, including two counts of possession of weapons of mass destruction filed after police discovered the pipe bombs.

Dickson, at his funeral, was called a devoted husband and father and “impeccable” former Marine who took his work seriously but also enjoyed making wooden toys for his young sons and finding humor in everyday situations.

Douglass was shot in the pelvis and critically injured in the ambush, which took place during a late-night shift change. He remained hospitalized until Oct. 16, when he was discharged to a rehabilitation facility, state police said.

“If you attack troopers, and a civilized society, the Pennsylvania State Police will bring you to justice. Eric Frein is a coward,” the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association said in a statement. “Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II and Trooper Alex T. Douglass are true heroes.”

Patrick Moryto, 21, of East Stroudsburg, rushed to the Blooming Grove barracks after he heard Frein had been caught, and got there in time to see him.

Frein was wearing camouflage pants and a dark hooded sweatshirt when he entered the barracks, Moryto said.

Hours later, the former fugitive left in an orange prison jumpsuit.

Source: KATHY MATHESON and MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press

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Lab technician: Test on dead neurologist’s blood had ‘very, very high’ level of cyanide

PITTSBURGH – A neurologist who died after suddenly falling ill had a “very, very high” level of cyanide in her blood, a lab technician testified Wednesday at the criminal homicide trial for her husband, a University of Pittsburgh medical researcher.

The technician, Sonia Obcemea, also testified that the test on Dr. Autumn Klein’s blood was the first cyanide test Obcemea had done that revealed a “lethal” level of the poison — out of more than 1,000 such tests in her 37-year career.

Obcemea, a technician at a Quest Diagnostics’ lab, was the second witness to testify Wednesday in the fifth day of the trial of Dr. Robert Ferrante.

The 66-year-old researcher is charged with lacing a creatine drink to poison Klein after telling her the energy supplement would help them conceive another child. The couple had a 6-year-old daughter when Klein fell suddenly ill in the kitchen of their Pittsburgh home just before midnight on April 17, 2013.

Previous witnesses testified that Ferrante ordered an overnight shipment of cyanide to his research lab two days earlier, even though Allegheny County prosecutors contend the toxin wasn’t typically used in his research. Klein died three days later.

The Quest Diagnostics test was done on blood drawn while Klein was being treated at the hospital and was returned to her doctors five days after she died and after Ferrante had already had her body cremated.

Ferrante has denied killing his wife and plans to call medical experts to dispute that she was poisoned. His attorneys also contend cyanide was related to his research on Lou Gehrig’s disease, in that it could be used in his lab to mimic the cell death caused by the neurological disease.

Defense attorneys William Difenderfer and Wendy Williams were also expected to contest the accuracy of the Quest results, noting that the blood-testing company first reported a much higher level of cyanide in Klein’s blood than Obcemea actually found. Obcemea’s test showed Klein had 2.2 milligrams per liter of poison in her blood, more than double the level known to be lethal. But Quest first reported the even higher level of 3.4 milligrams per liter cited in a criminal complaint city police used to arrest Ferrante in July 2013.

Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini has told the jury in her opening statement that the higher number was a reporting error made by another technician who double-checked Obcemea’s mathematical calculations. That other technician was expected to testify later.

Dr. Leslie Edinboro, the science director of the lab, also testified Wednesday. She said Obcemea’s findings were sound and that the error was in the reporting, not the test itself.

Source: AP

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South Carolina mom who drove minivan into ocean asks to see her children

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The South Carolina woman accused of trying to kill her three children by driving her minivan into the Atlantic Ocean off Daytona Beach wants to see them.

Circuit Judge Leah Case will hear the request Friday morning. The judge barred Ebony Wilkerson from having any contact with the children during a hearing in May.

The Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, woman was pregnant when she drove into the water on March 4. Her children told investigators she was trying to kill them. Attorneys say she hasn’t seen the children since.

Wilkerson gave birth to a baby boy in May.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal (http://bit.ly/1tKO7Ps ) reports Wilkerson is out of jail while awaiting trial on $90,000 bail. She’s charged with three counts each of attempted second-degree murder and child abuse.

Source: AP

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Man convicted in Purdue shooting found dead

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. — State correction officials say an Indiana man who fatally stabbed and shot a fellow Purdue University student earlier this year has been found dead in his prison cell.

The Indiana Department of Correction released a statement Wednesday saying 24-year-old Cody Cousins was pronounced dead from an apparent suicide about 30 minutes after he was found unresponsive Tuesday night at the Indiana State Prison.

The department says Cousins suffered self-inflicted lacerations to his neck and arms.

Investigators say Cousins entered a classroom filled with students on the West Lafayette campus on Jan. 21 and attacked 21-year-old Andrew Boldt. Boldt was from West Bend, Wisconsin.

Cousins was sentenced last month to 65 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder.

Source: AP

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Conviction of bombing suspect’s friend came slowly

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BOSTON — The trial of a third friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ended in another conviction, but the amount of time the jury spent deliberating and its somewhat mixed verdict could help federal prosecutors argue against any new defense bid to move Tsarnaev’s trial outside of Boston, according to some legal observers.

Robel Phillipos, 21, of Cambridge, was convicted Tuesday of lying to the FBI during the bombing investigation, specifically about being present in Tsarnaev’s dorm room when two other friends removed a backpack containing fireworks and other potentially incriminating evidence.

The jury deliberated for more than 35 hours over six days before finding Phillipos not guilty of telling four of the nine lies he was accused of by prosecutors. His lawyers had argued that Phillipos was intimidated when he was questioned by the FBI and that he had smoked so much marijuana that his memory was clouded.

“Any time a jury splits the verdict, it shows deliberation and contemplation,” said Gerry Leone, a former state and federal prosecutor in Massachusetts. “It sort of weighs against this whole idea that you can’t get impartial and unbiased juries on these terrorism-related or marathon-related cases.”

Tsarnaev’s lawyers had argued that the trial should be moved outside Boston — preferably to Washington, D.C. — citing the broad emotional impact the bombing had on Massachusetts residents and the intense media coverage in the state. But Judge George O’Toole Jr. rejected that request, saying there’s no reason to assume in advance that a fair jury cannot be selected in Boston.

Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor in Boston who is now a defense lawyer, said that if Tsarnaev’s lawyers raise the change of venue issue again, prosecutors could cite the jury’s thoughtful deliberations in the Phillipos case as evidence that residents of Massachusetts “are not so overwhelmed by the tragic context of the marathon bombings and are actually able to sift through the evidence very carefully.”

“All of that is support for the notion that Tsarnaev can get a fair trial here, but Tsarnaev’s lawyers obviously would say there is a big difference between pot-smoking college students who told some lies and somebody who is accused of having killed innocent people on Marathon Monday,” Pearlstein said.

The other two men who were in Tsarnaev’s dorm room were convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy for removing items from the room.

Steve Weymouth, a defense attorney who was not involved with the case, said he does not believe Tsarnaev can receive a fair trial in Boston, no matter how long the jury in the Phillipos case deliberated.

“I don’t see how anyone who’s from around here, who lived here then, could give this kid a fair trial,” Weymouth said.

During Phillipos’ trial, FBI agents testified he told them a string of lies about the night of April 18, 2013, before finally acknowledging he had been in Tsarnaev’s room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth with the two men who removed Tsarnaev’s backpack and computer.

Phillipos’ attorneys said they will ask the judge to vacate the convictions and also appeal the verdict based on their argument that any statements he made to the FBI were not “material” to the bombing investigation.

Source: DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer

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