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Published: Thursday, November 30, 2017 @ 7:49 PM
Updated: Thursday, November 30, 2017 @ 7:48 PM
SAN FRANCISCO — A jury on Thursday found a Mexican man not guilty in the killing of a woman on a San Francisco pier that touched off a fierce national immigration debate two years ago, rejecting possible charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder.
The shooting of Kate Steinle came during the presidential primary campaign in 2015 and was used by then-candidate Donald Trump to push for a wall on the Mexican border.
The president called the verdict "disgraceful" on Twitter late Thursday.
"No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration," Trump wrote.
The suspect's lawyers said outside court that their client's immigration status was unfairly exploited for political purposes and had nothing to do with the criminal case.
"From Day 1 this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division and to foment a program of mass deportation. It was used to catapult a presidency along that philosophy of hate of others," defense attorney Francisco Ugarte said after the verdict. "I believe today is a day of vindication for the rest of immigrants."
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation when Steinle was fatally shot in the back while walking with her father on the pier.
The case spotlighted San Francisco's "sanctuary city" policy, which limits local officials from cooperating with U.S. immigration authorities.
Politics, however, did not come up in the monthlong rial that featured extensive testimony from ballistics experts. Defense attorneys argued that Garcia Zarate was a hapless homeless man who killed Steinle in a freak accident. Prosecutors said he meant to shoot and kill her.
Garcia Zarate did not deny shooting Steinle and said it was an accident.
Jurors did find him guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, meaning he knowingly had a firearm but there was no intent for him to hurt or shoot anyone. Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the count carries a potential sentence of 16 months to three years behind bars.
"The verdict that came in today was not the one we were hoping for," said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the San Francisco prosecutor's office. "The jury came back with the verdict they did, and we will respect that decision. ... This is really about the Steinle family. They showed incredible resolve during this whole process."
Jim Steinle told the San Francisco Chronicle the family was saddened and shocked by the verdict.
"There's no other way you can coin it. Justice was rendered, but it was not served," he said in what he called the last interview he would do about the case.
The family did not attend the reading of the verdict. Jurors left without comment and the judge sealed their names.
Before the shooting, Garcia Zarate finished a federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry into the United States and had been transferred to San Francisco's jail in March 2015 to face a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana.
The sheriff's department released him a few days later after prosecutors dropped the marijuana charge, despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for deportation.
The Trump administration has sought to punish sanctuary cities through a series of legal actions, including an executive order to withhold funding, but a federal judge recently blocked it in a lawsuit from two California counties, San Francisco and Santa Clara. The administration has appealed.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Thursday that San Francisco's decision to release Garcia Zarate led to Steinle's death.
"The Department of Justice will continue to ensure that all jurisdictions place the safety and security of their communities above the convenience of criminal aliens," Sessions said. "I urge the leaders of the nation's communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it "will work to take custody of Mr. Garcia Zarate and ultimately remove him from the country" once he serves his local sentence.
San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia said during the trial that she didn't know why Garcia Zarate fired the weapon, but he created a risk of death by bringing the firearm to the pier and twirling around on a chair for at least 20 minutes before he fired.
"He did kill someone. He took the life of a young, vibrant, beautiful, cherished woman by the name of Kate Steinle," she said.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said in his closing argument that he knows it's difficult to believe Garcia Zarate found an object that turned out to be a weapon, which fired when he picked it up.
But he told jurors that Garcia Zarate had no motivation to kill Steinle and that as awful as her death was, "nothing you do is going to fix that."
Ballistic experts testified that the bullet ricocheted about 15 feet (4.5 meters) from where Zarate was sitting and then traveled another 80 feet (24 meters) before striking Steinle in the back and piercing her heart.
His attorneys argued that even an expert marksman would have difficulty pulling off such a "skip shot."
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 10:41 PM
ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Police in an Atlanta suburb are investigating after a woman discovered a hidden camera in a bathroom stall at a Starbucks in North Fulton County .
Officers with the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety confiscated the camera and detectives are now looking into the case.
According to the police report, the camera had about 25 videos stored on it, and “several” of those videos showed people using the restroom.
A 25-year-old woman discovered the camera around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, police said. The camera was taped under the baby changing station in the women’s bathroom.
“We were quite concerned to learn this and are grateful to our customers and partners who took action to involve local authorities,” a spokesperson for Starbucks wrote in an email. “We will continue to support them in any way we can.”
Police said the woman removed the camera and notified the manager on-duty. According to the police report, the woman gave the camera to the manager who said he would notify Starbucks’ corporate office, but she pushed him to call 911.
Police arrived after the manager filed a report with the corporate office. The manager gave police the camera, its battery pack and a USB cord. Police then reviewed the camera and found the videos.
No suspects have yet been identified, but the person responsible for the camera would at least face the charge of eavesdropping, which is a felony, police said.
This incident comes as the company is facing backlash after two black men were arrested at one of its locations in Philadelphia last week. The company plans to close 8,000 stores for a day next month for company-wide racial bias training.
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 5:14 PM
— Some people are easily in bed by 10 p.m. each night. Others struggle to fall asleep before 2 or 3 a.m. Sleep researchers refer to this as an individual's chronotype. And while we generally attribute this to preference or genetics, new research suggests there may be serious health implications involved for those late sleepers.
The research, conducted by scientists at Northwestern University and the University of Surrey, tracked 433,268 men and women in the United Kingdom over a six and a half year period of time. Analysis of the data revealed that participants who identified as "definite evening types" at the start of the study had a 10 percent increased risk of mortality from all causes when compared to "definite morning types. The findings were published in the journal Chronobiology International this month.
"What we think might be happening is, there's a problem for the night owl who's trying to live in the morning lark world," Dr. Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine and a lead author of the study, told CNN. "This mismatch between their internal clock and their external world could lead to problems for their health over the long run, especially if their schedule is irregular."
In addition to a slightly higher risk of premature death, night owls in the study were also more likely to have neurological disorders, psychological disorders, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory disorders, Knutson said.
But other sleep experts suggest the data shouldn't cause late sleepers to panic just yet.
"The results are provocative, but they can tell us very little about why the mortality rate is higher in night owls. The study is not experimental and does not show what benefits, if any, might occur by changing one's schedule," Dr. Donald L. Bliwise, director of the program in sleep, aging and chronobiology at Emory University School of Medicine, told the AJC.
Bliwise also suggested that knowing the participants’ actual bedtimes, instead of a simple self-definition, would help researchers understand the data better.
"One person's concept of a late bedtime or early wake-up time may not be identical to another's," Bliwise said. "About 10 percent of the study population could not even answer the question, and the proportion with the highest mortality risk (those endorsing a definite evening type) was even smaller than this."
It's also unclear whether the participants' sleep patterns changed throughout the duration of the study.
"I am not sure that there is anything that night owls should do to change their sleep patterns on this basis of these observational data," Bliwise said.
Substantial scientific evidence suggests that the times when an individual goes to sleep and wakes up are strongly influenced by genetics, he added. Environmental factors, such as a job or school, affect these decisions, but people can't simply change their genetic predisposition to fit a particular schedule.
"Speaking solely on the basis of this evidence, it would be premature to force change on what may otherwise be an innate tendency to go to bed late and sleep late," Bliwise said. "If that schedule leads to chronically and sustained short sleep durations, then that might be worthy of attention."
While the study looked at a very large sample, and attempted to control for other risk factors, it merely showed a small correlation between sleeping late and a higher mortality rate. The fact that a participant's chronotype was determined by self-reporting is one of the biggest weaknesses of the study, according to the researchers.
At the same time, Knutson believes the results are enough to suggest that night owls should focus more on their health.
"An important message here is for night owls to realize that they have these potential health problems and therefore need to be more vigilant about maintaining a healthy lifestyle," she said, adding that exercising, eating right and getting adequate sleep may be particularly important to night owls.
Published: Monday, April 16, 2018 @ 12:28 PM
LOS ANGELES — A former producer for television shows including “Divorce Court” and “The Jerry Springer Show” was arrested last week and charged with killing her disabled sister in a 2015 garage fire.
The Los Angeles Police Department reported Thursday that Jill Blackstone was arrested in Baltimore on murder and animal cruelty charges. Blackstone is accused of drugging her sister, Wendy Blackstone, on March 14, 2015, and putting her and the siblings’ three dogs in the garage of their North Hollywood home and setting it on fire.
Wendy Blackstone, 49, and two of the dogs perished in the blaze.
ABC7 in Los Angeles reported that the fire was started by a charcoal barbecue pit left burning in the garage, which filled with carbon monoxide. Wendy Blackstone was found unresponsive next to one of the dogs.
The Baltimore Sun reported that paramedics tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Wendy Blackstone was deaf and legally blind, the newspaper reported.
“Homicide detectives believe the motive was Jill’s frustration of being forced to provide Wendy long-term care, as well as the associated financial hardship,” a news release from the LAPD said.
Wendy Blackstone died of the combined effects of Xanax and inhaling the gas that built up in the garage, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s website states. The manner of death was still listed online as undetermined Monday morning.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Wendy Blackstone’s autopsy report indicated that her death was “very suspicious” and “possibly staged.” When she was found, an alleged suicide note was in her hand.
Investigators believed that Jill Blackstone wrote the note.
Near Wendy Blackstone’s feet was a Weber grill and an ash-filled trash can, both of which were considered to be sources of the carbon monoxide, the Times reported. A nearly empty vodka bottle was found nearby, though the autopsy showed no alcohol in Wendy’s system.
Detectives found several other notes near her body with end-of-life instructions, including a “do not resuscitate” order, but none of the notes had been signed by Wendy Blackstone.
Jill Blackstone later told detectives that a friend called her home and she “just ‘came to’ and did not remember what happened,” the Times reported. She also told investigators that the grill was used in the garage to keep it warm.
She also said the charcoal was used to roast marshmallows, the newspaper reported.
ABC7 reported that Jill Blackstone was believed to have set the scene up to look like a suicide or accident. The notes and Blackstone’s inconsistent statements led detectives to suspect her of killing her sister.
She was arrested shortly after the fire on suspicion of murder, but the Los Angeles County district attorney ultimately decided against filing charges, the news station reported.
The district attorney ordered further investigation into the case just days later, the Times reported.
Homicide detectives and arson investigators from the Los Angeles Fire Department conducted separate probes in the case, the LAPD news release said.
“The investigative follow-up required for a successful prosecution included significant travel, research, numerous interviews and additional forensic evidence processing, which added time to this extremely complex and sensitive investigation,” the news release said.
The district attorney filed murder and animal cruelty charges against Blackstone last month. Homicide detectives tracked her last week to a relative’s home in Hoboken, New Jersey.
When they spoke to her lawyer, the attorney told authorities that Blackstone was hospitalized in Baltimore for treatment of a medical condition, LAPD officials said.
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 12:05 AM
ST. MARYS, Ga. — Police in Georgia have identified the suspect who burglarized a game store using an unusual disguise.
The St. Marys Police Department said they have obtained an arrest warrant for 22-year-old Kerry Dean Hammond, Jr.
According to police, surveillance video shows him running around the store with the plastic wrapper from a package of bottled water over his head.
The break-in happened on April 13 around 1:30 a.m.
The St. Marys Police Department shared the video to its Facebook page and said the “craftily disguised gent decided to burglarize GameStop.”
The video has been viewed more than 17,000 times.