TIME Cuba

Cubans Hope For a Better Future with U.S.–Havana Deal

CUBA-US-RELEASE-REACTIONS
Cuban students march in a street of Havana, on Dec. 17, 2014, after Washington released three Cuban spies -- heroes in Cuba-- who had been in a US prison since 2001. Roberto Morejon—AFP/Getty Images

Bells tolled in celebration and teachers halted lessons midday

HAVANA — Cubans cheered the surprise announcement that their country will restore relations with the United States, hopeful they’ll soon see expanded trade and new economic vibrancy even though the 53-year-old economic embargo remains in place for the time being.

“This opens a better future for us,” said Milagros Diaz, 34. “We have really needed something like this because the situation has been bad and the people very discouraged.”

Bells tolled in celebration and teachers halted lessons midday as President Raul Castro told his country Wednesday that Cuba would renew relations with Washington after more than a half-century of hostility.

Wearing his military uniform with its five-star insignia, the 83-year-old leader said the two countries would work to resolve their differences “without renouncing a single one of our principles.”

Havana residents gathered around television sets in homes, schools and businesses to hear the historic national broadcast, which coincided with a statement by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. Uniformed schoolchildren burst into applause at the news.

At the University of San Geronimo in the capital’s historic center, the announcement drew ringing from the bell tower. Throughout the capital, there was a sense of euphoria as word spread.

“For the Cuban people, I think this is like a shot of oxygen, a wish-come-true, because with this, we have overcome our differences,” said Carlos Gonzalez, a 32-year-old IT specialist. “It is an advance that will open the road to a better future for the two countries.”

Fidel and Raul Castro led the 1959 rebellion that toppled the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The U.S. initially recognized the new government but broke relations in 1961 after Cuba veered sharply to the left and nationalized U.S.-owned businesses.

As Cuba turned toward the Soviet Union, the U.S. imposed a trade embargo in 1962. Particularly since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Cubans have confronted severe shortages of oil, food and consumer goods, forcing them to ration everything from beans to powdered milk.

The Cuban government blames most of its economic travails on the embargo, while Washington has traditionally blamed Cuba’s Communist economic policies.

In his address, Castro called on Washington to end its trade embargo which, he said, “has caused enormous human and economic damage.”

Ramon Roman, 62, said he hoped to see Cuba welcome more tourists. “It would be a tremendous economic injection, both in terms of money and in new energy and would be a boost for average people who need it,” he said.

Victoria Serrano, a lab worker, said she hoped to see an influx of new goods because life in Cuba has been “really very difficult.”

“In particular,” she said, “I hope we’ll see an improvement in food — that there is trade in this with the United States, which is so close. Right now, even an onion has become a luxury.”

Around the cathedral in Old Havana, people gathered in doorways and on sidewalks, gesturing excitedly as they discussed the news.

Guillermo Delgado, a 72-year-old retiree, welcomed the announcement as “a victory for Cuba because it was achieved without conceding basic principles.”

Yoani Sanchez, a renowned Cuban blogger critical of the government, noted the development came with a price. Castro, she said, could now claim a triumph and that he had made a “bargaining chip” of Alan Gross, the U.S. aid worker who was released from prison Wednesday while the U.S. freed three Cubans held as spies.

“In this way, the Castro regime has managed to get its way,” she wrote in a blog post. “It has managed to exchange a peaceful man, embarked on the humanitarian adventure of providing Internet connectivity to a group of Cubans, for intelligence agents that caused significant damage and sorrow with their actions.”

Some dissidents expressed their displeasure at not being consulted by the U.S. government about the historic move.

Dissident Guillermo Farinas considered the move a “betrayal” by Obama who, he said, had promised that they would be consulted. Another activist, Antonio Rodiles, said the measure “sends a bad message.”

Others, meanwhile, were cautious, saying they’ll wait and see what it all means.

“It’s not enough since it doesn’t lift the blockade,” said Pedro Duran, 28. “We’ll see if it’s true, if it’s not like everything here: one step forward and three steps back. For now, I don’t think there will be any immediate improvement after we’ve been living like this for 50 years.”

TIME russia

Putin Accuses the West of Trying to Sideline Russia

Russian President Putin gestures during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Dec. 18, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

He says Western sanctions are a factor in Russian economic crisis

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday to fix Russia’s economic woes within two years, pledging to diversify the gas-dependent economy and persuade businesses to help prop up the collapsing ruble.

While using a litany of accusations against the West, Putin acknowledged that Western economic sanctions over Russia’s course on Ukraine was just one factor behind the Russian economic crisis, saying a key reason was the nation’s failure to ease its overwhelming dependence on oil and gas exports. He estimated that sanctions accounted roughly for 25 to 30 percent of the ruble’s troubles.

As Putin spoke, the Russian currency was trading around 62 rubles a dollar, slightly lower than last night but up 12 percent after plummeting to historic low of 80 earlier in the week. Russia’s benchmark MICEX index rallied by 5.5 percent by midday Thursday.

Speaking with strong emotion, Putin sought to soothe market fears that the government could use administrative controls, such as obliging exporters to sell their currency earnings, to help stabilize the ruble.

He accused the West of trying to infringe on Russia’s sovereignty, adding that the Ukrainian crisis was just a pretext for Western action.

Putin struck a defiant note against America and the European Union, saying that sanctions slapped against Russia after it seized the Black Sea region of Crimea in March were part of a historical campaign to weaken Russia.

“Sometimes I think, maybe they’ll let the bear eat berries and honey in the forest, maybe they will leave it in peace,” said Putin, referring to Russia’s famed symbol. “They will not. Because they will always try to put him on a chain, and as soon as they succeed in doing so they tear out his fangs and his claws.”

He spelled out his metaphor, saying that by fangs and claws he means Russia’s nuclear weapons.

“Once they’ve taken out his claws and his fangs, then the bear is no longer necessary. He’ll become a stuffed animal,” he said. “The issue is not Crimea, the issue is that we are protecting our sovereignty and our right to exist”

Despite his tough anti-Western rhetoric, Putin spoke in support for political solution of the crisis in Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents have been battling Ukrainian government troops since April, leaving 4,700 people dead.

Putin said Ukraine must remain one political entity, meaning that the rebellious eastern regions should remain its integral part. He also suggested that the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine should conduct a quick “all for all” prisoners swap before Christmas.

Putin added that he feels sure that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sincerely wants a peaceful solution to the crisis but other forces in Ukraine don’t.

Putin urged the Ukrainian government to fulfill its end of a peace deal reached in September and grant amnesty to the rebels and offer broad rights to residents of the country’s east.

Putin also held out hope for normalizing ties with the West, saying that Russia still hopes to expand its gas supplies to southern Europe using a prospective gas hub on Turkey’s border with Greece.

TIME Crime

Christmas Carol Singers Hit By Suspected Drunk Driver

One person killed and several injured by car

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — A female motorist hit a group of pedestrians outside a California church as a Christmas service ended, killing one person and leaving up to 11 others injured, police said.

Some of the pedestrians were rushed to hospitals with critical injuries, Redondo Beach police Lt. Joe Hoffman said. One adult died at a hospital, and the injured included at least two children.

Wednesday night’s crash along the Pacific Coast Highway left as many as a dozen people injured among the pedestrians and two cars that were involved, but the exact number wasn’t immediately clear, police said.

The woman was driving a white sedan northbound when she ran a red light, ran into the pedestrians and hit another vehicle after.

“The crosswalk was full and the light was red,” witness Marco Zonno told KNBC-TV. “Someone ran the red light and bodies started flying. It was pretty horrible.”

The woman was taken in police custody to a hospital, where she was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, authorities said. They were investigating whether she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The California Highway Patrol was assisting Redondo Beach police in the investigation.

The crash comes three days after another driver now charged with drunken driving injured 11 people who were parked and looking at a holiday light display in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra

TIME Qatar

Two-Speed Labor System in Qatar for 2022 World Cup

Qatar Soccer Labor Shame
In this photo taken on Nov. 9, 2014, construction work is under way at the Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar. Rob Harris—AP

It's not just the construction workers who are experiencing terrible working conditions

(DOHA, QATAR) — Men crammed together, dozens to a room, on bunk beds so close they can reach over and shake hands.

Qatar, on paper at least, has rules that forbid such uncomfortable conditions for its massive workforce of migrant laborers. Yet this is how the government-owned transport company, which the Gulf nation will use to ferry visitors around the 2022 World Cup, has housed some of its workers.

As Qatar employs legions of migrants to build stadiums and other works for the football showcase, widespread labor abuses documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other critics have blackened its name and $160 billion preparations.

Hundreds of worker deaths, many apparently from cardiac arrests, have also fueled concerns that laborers are being overworked in desert conditions and shoddily treated. Reporting this April on a fact-finding mission, the U.N’s special adviser on migrants’ rights, Francois Crepeau, cited “anecdotal evidence that too many of these mostly young men return home in a coffin.”

Problems, The Associated Press found, aren’t limited to the construction sector.

Accommodation for drivers of buses and of Qatar’s distinctive turquoise taxis is a walled-off compound in the bleak industrial zone of Doha, the capital. Dust-covered cadavers of burned-out buses and broken taxis abandoned on surrounding wasteland make the luxury malls and gleaming towers of central Doha seem far away.

The compound walls and flag over the main gate bear the name Mowasalat. The transporter plans to have 7,000 taxis on the roads by the World Cup.

In one dormitory block, in what drivers said was meant to be a recreation room for table tennis and other pastimes, the AP saw two dozen bunk beds in three tight lines.

The arrangements were apparently meant to be only temporary, but drivers said they had lived like this for months. Without lockers, they hung clothes and towels from bed frames. In a corner, one man gave another a shave. Drivers said around 30 of them were housed there and that other blocks in the compound which the AP didn’t visit had similarly crowded rooms.

Yet a 2005 ministerial decree said workers should not be housed more than four to a room or be made to sleep in bunks.

In its company brochure, Mowasalat speaks of “excellent housing facilities” for employees. But even a standard dormitory room the AP saw slept six, also on bunks. Drivers said the close living is physically and morally wearing, with rest difficult and quarrels easy.

Mowasalat did not reply to emailed questions. But it did appear to thin out numbers in the supposed “recreation” rooms after the AP showed a photo of the cramped conditions to Mowasalat executives. Drivers subsequently reached by phone said some of them were moved to other rooms. One said he was transferred from a room with 43 drivers, where he spent two months, to another with 16, still on bunks.

“Thanks for highlighting our plight to some Mowasalat management,” another driver wrote by email to the AP. “Since you raised the mat(t)er they have slightly decongested the common room. Still it is no decent way for workers to live but it’s a step forward.”

Qatar’s World Cup organizers are trying to limit the reputational damage of labor abuses by treating their own workers better than the norm.

Officials for the Supreme Committee putting together the World Cup gave the AP a tour of housing for stadium builders from Southeast Asia. They sleep three to a room, some with en-suite bathrooms, and on their own beds, not bunks, with curtains for additional privacy. They even have a pool. In the free canteen, workers heaped their plates with rice, flatbreads and curries.

In his consulting room with the sign “WE ARE HERE FOR YOU” on one wall, the camp’s jovial doctor said the workers’ health problems are generally no more serious than allergic coughs and sniffles from working in dust and sand, skin itches from sweating, and the aches, pains, sprains and scrapes of manual labor.

World Cup workers are also covered by special regulations which lay out their “right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, health, safety and security” and detail how contractors must ethically recruit, promptly pay, and decently house them.

The Supreme Committee’s power to award tournament-related contracts also gives it leverage to force improvements.

“I have had to make the phone call several times to contractors to say ‘Sorry mate, we’ve been to your camp. We don’t think you’re treating your people the way we want anyone on our sites to be treated, so you’re out of the running, I can’t work with you,'” said Tamim el-Abed, project manager of Lusail Stadium earmarked for the 2022 opening game and final.

“They scrabble around trying to pull together a superficial Band-Aid response. We see through that,” he said. “Sometimes they do a genuine turn-around and they improve their facilities.”

“It’s about culture change,” he said.

However, to critics, singling out World Cup workers for better treatment smacks of double standards. They want deeper, across-the-board reforms for all.

Even at the stadium builders’ facility, not all are treated equally. A Kenyan security guard there complained to the AP that six sleep in his small room, on bunks. Supreme Committee officials said the man isn’t directly employed by them but by a subcontractor.

“Putting in place a two-tier labor system, which is what they are talking about, is not much of a legacy,” said Nicholas McGeehan, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“I don’t think it’s something that we should accept,” McGeehan said. “It’s OK to protect World Cup workers but it’s not OK to protect, what, transport workers? Taxi drivers? Cleaners? Do they not deserve the same?”

TIME Palestine

Palestinians Set Deadline for Israeli Occupation

Switzerland Palestinians Geneva Convention
Swiss Ambassador and chairman Paul Fivat speaks to the media during a press conference following the Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 17, 2014. Salvatore Di Nolfi—‚AP

The resolution also welcomes the idea of holding an international conference to launch negotiations on reaching a peace agreement

(UNITED NATIONS) — Israel suffered back-to-back diplomatic setbacks in Europe on Wednesday, while the Palestinians at the United Nations set a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from lands captured nearly 50 years ago by the end of 2017.

In Geneva, the international community delivered a stinging rebuke to Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, saying the practice violates Israel’s responsibilities as an occupying power.

The declaration adopted by the conference of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the rules of war and military occupation, emphasized a prohibition on colonizing occupied land and insisted that international humanitarian law be obeyed in areas affected by the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. It called for “all serious violations” to be investigated and those responsible for breaches to be brought to justice.

“This is a signal and we can hope that words count,” said Swiss ambassador Paul Fivat, who chaired the one-day meeting. The U.S. and Israel did not take part.

Israel’s U.N. Mission blasted the gathering, saying: “It confers legitimacy on terrorist organizations and dictatorial regimes wherever they are, while condemning a democratic country fighting terrorism in accordance with international law.”

In Luxembourg, meanwhile, a European Union court ordered the Palestinian group Hamas removed from the EU terrorist list for procedural reasons but said the 28-nation bloc can maintain asset freezes against Hamas members for now.

The Islamic militant group, which calls for the destruction of Israel, hailed the decision, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed outrage.

“It seems that too many in Europe, on whose soil 6 million Jews were slaughtered, have learned nothing,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel would continue to defend itself “against the forces of terror and tyranny and hypocrisy.”

The EU court ruled that the terrorist listing of Hamas was based on press and Internet reports and not on “acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities.”

The EU, which has two months to appeal, was considering its next step.

In New York, an Arab-backed draft resolution on ending Israel’s occupation of lands captured in 1967 was submitted Wednesday evening to the U.N. Security Council for a possible vote, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said.

However, Mansour said the Arab-backed resolution does not close the door on further negotiations on the issue, including with the United States, “if they are ready and willing.” The U.S., as a permanent council member, often has vetoed measures targeting Israel in the past.

And Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki earlier said the actual vote might be put off, suggesting a compromise is in the works to avoid a clash in the council.

The draft, sponsored by Jordan on behalf of the Palestinians, sets the end of 2017 as a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from war-won lands the Palestinians are seeking for a state. The deadline has been pushed back from that of November 2016 in the earlier draft.

Israel fiercely opposes any suggestions that the Security Council can set a framework for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which broke down again in the spring after the two sides couldn’t agree on the ground rules.

The resolution also welcomes the idea of holding an international conference to launch negotiations on reaching a peace agreement.

The United States was scrambling Wednesday to avert a showdown at the Security Council. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was talking to European and Arab foreign ministers about a potential meeting this weekend in the Mideast, possibly with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Obama administration is studying the EU’s court decision but the U.S. continues to consider Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The U.S. hasn’t said how it would respond to the Jordanian resolution, but Kerry took a hard line in meetings this week in Europe against any effort that could interfere with Israel’s elections in mid-March.

“We want to find the most constructive way of doing something that therefore will not have unintended consequences, but also can stem the violence,” Kerry told reporters in London on Tuesday. He said the situation marks “a particularly sensitive moment” given rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians.

Israel did one win diplomatic engagement in Europe on Wednesday, this one at the European Parliament. The lawmakers meeting in Strasbourg, France, stopped short of pushing for an outright recognition of a Palestinian state, urging renewed peace talks instead.

Legislators voted 498-88 in favor of a compromise resolution supporting “in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood” — but as part of a two-state solution with Israel. The resolution supports two states on the basis of 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both.

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Dahlburg reported from Brussels. Associated Press writers John Heilprin reported from Geneva, Mohammed Daraghmen in Ramallah, West Bank; Peter Enav in Jerusalem; Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip; Angela Charlton in Paris; Cara Anna at the United Nations and Lara Jakes in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Crime

Montana Man Convicted in Exchange Student’s Death

(MISSOULA, Mont.) — A Montana man who shot and killed a German exchange student caught trespassing in his garage was convicted of deliberate homicide Wednesday in a case that attracted attention as a test of “stand your ground” laws in the U.S. that govern the use of deadly force to defend life and property.

Cheers erupted in the packed courtroom when the verdict in the case of Markus Kaarma, 30, was read.

Kaarma shot 17-year-old high school student Diren Dede in the early hours of April 27 after being alerted to an intruder by motion sensors. Witnesses testified Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts at Dede, who was unarmed.

The teen’s parents were in the courtroom Wednesday and hugged and cried at the jury’s decision, while others applauded.

“It is very good,” Dede’s father, Celal Dede, said with tears in his eyes. “Long live justice.”

Kaarma remained stoic as he was led from the courtroom. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 11. His lawyers plan to appeal.

Outside court, a neighbor who testified against the Missoula man called the verdict a “huge weight lifted.”

“The man was a threat to our neighborhood,” Terry Klise said.

Kaarma’s attorneys argued at trial that he feared for his life, didn’t know if the intruder was armed, and was on edge because his garage was burglarized at least once in the weeks before the shooting. They said under Montana’s “stand your ground” law, Kaarma’s actions were justifiable because he feared for his family’s safety.

Prosecutors maintained that after the previous burglary, Kaarma was intent on luring an intruder into his garage and then harming that person. That night, Kaarma left his garage door partially open with a purse inside.

The case generated outcry in Germany, where the government said it launched its own investigation.

Julia Reinhardt, with the German consulate in San Francisco, said in court that the German government has been closely following the proceedings.

“We are really grateful to everybody involved and particularly impressed by the outpouring of sympathy that Diren’s parents experienced here in Missoula,” she said Wednesday.

At trial, Klise and other neighbors testified that Kaarma’s girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, told them of the couple’s plans to bait an intruder and catch a burglar themselves because they believed police weren’t responding to area break-ins.

Prosecutors said Kaarma fired a pump-action shotgun four times into the garage — pausing between the third and fourth shots. During that pause, police testified, Kaarma might have adjusted his aim before he struck Dede in the head.

Dede’s parents attended the entire trial, often leaving the crowded courtroom during emotional testimony. The Hamburg teen was studying at Missoula’s Big Sky High School and was to leave the U.S. after the school term ended in just a few weeks.

More than 30 U.S. states have laws expanding the self-defense principle known as the “castle doctrine,” a centuries-old premise that a person has the right to defend their home against attack. The name evokes the old saying, “my home is my castle.”

Since Florida in 2005 became the first of several states to expand the castle doctrine’s use outside the home, a flurry of cases has tested the boundaries of self-defense law.

Most famously, a Florida jury acquitted security guard George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman followed the teenager, contended the boy attacked him, and was acquitted of murder charges even though he was not at his home at the time of the shooting.

In Germany, Hamburg prosecutor Carsten Rinio said his office was still looking into the Dede case after opening an investigation as required under German law. U.S. authorities were sent a request for documents several months ago, he said, but have not yet provided them.

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Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

TIME States

Doctor Says Oklahoma Inmate Suffered in Execution

(OKLAHOMA CITY) — A doctor who examined the body of an Oklahoma inmate who died during a botched execution told a federal judge Wednesday that he is convinced the man suffered after being declared unconscious.

Dr. Joseph Cohen, a pathologist hired by the inmate’s lawyer, said that recently released witness statements corroborate his belief that Clayton Lockett was conscious when given drugs to stop his heart and breathing. Several witnesses, including an Associated Press reporter, saw the inmate struggle against his restraints, mumble and try to raise his head.

“Mr. Lockett had been deemed unconscious but became conscious again,” Cohen testified at a hearing on whether Oklahoma should resume executions Jan. 15 after a self-imposed moratorium. Death row inmates say they fear the state is conducting human experiments on them by using newly approved drug combinations during executions.

The state maintains that Lockett’s problematic execution was an anomaly caused by an improperly set intravenous line and not the result of using the sedative midazolam as the first in a three-drug combination.

Assistant Attorney General John Hadden said Oklahoma and other states have been forced to look for other drug alternatives after more commonly used short-acting barbiturates became scarce because of manufacturers’ opposition to the death penalty.

Oklahoma was the first state ever to use 100 milligrams of midazolam as part of a three-drug protocol during Lockett’s execution. Florida has used 500 milligrams, the level Oklahoma’s new protocol calls for using.

But a Florida anesthesiologist, Dr. David Lubarsky, testified that midazolam has a ceiling effect, and that increasing the dose does not increase the effect. He also said it’s used mostly to calm a patient before a surgery, and not as an anesthetic that produces unconsciousness.

“It’s simply not strong enough to reduce all electrical activity in the brain,” Lubarsky said.

Based on his belief that Lockett was conscious when the second and third drugs were administered, Lubarsky said it’s likely Lockett felt a progressive suffocation and then an intense pain once the potassium chloride was injected.

“It’s been described as liquid fire,” Lubarsky said.

Hadden noted that Lubarsky also testified in a Florida case challenging the use of midazolam, in which a judge determined that state’s protocol was constitutional.

Karen Cunningham, a victim services coordinator for the state attorney general’s office who has witnessed about a dozen executions, said that although Lockett mumbled and moved, it didn’t appear as though he was struggling.

“He didn’t seem uncomfortable. It didn’t seem like suffering,” Cunningham told Department of Public Safety investigators in a statement she reaffirmed Wednesday. She added, however, “he did raise up more than what I had ever seen.” Cunningham does not have any medical training.

Cohen was hired by Lockett’s lawyer to perform an autopsy after the body was returned to Oklahoma from Dallas, where doctors performed an exam on the state’s behalf. Lockett’s lawyer, David Autry, said it was apparent to him that Lockett became conscious after being declared unconscious. Autry also is not a medical professional.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot opened the three-day hearing Wednesday. Oklahoma has four executions scheduled from Jan. 15 to March 5.

The judge also heard from Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell, who was inside the death chamber during Lockett’s execution. Trammell acknowledged that the execution team, including the doctor inside the chamber, was not adequately trained and did not have the proper supplies.

Since Lockett’s execution, prison officials have purchased new medical equipment and renovated the death chamber to give the executioners more room.

Lockett was convicted of shooting Stephanie Nieman, 19, with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in 1999.

TIME Crime

Ax, Machete, Pill Bottles Near Pa. Rampage Suspect

Home Shootings Pennsylvania
Investigators work in a wooded area near where an unidentified body was discovered during a search for suspect Bradley William Stone, Dec. 16, 2014, in Pennsburg, Pa. Matt Rourke—AP

(PHILADELPHIA) — Former Marines who served with a man believed to have killed his ex-wife and five of her relatives said he fought constantly with her, although a Veterans Administration psychiatrist deemed him free of any suicidal or homicidal thoughts a week before the deadly rampage.

Bradley Stone had an ax, a machete and two prescription pill bottles beside him when he was found dead Tuesday in woods near his suburban Philadelphia home. The ax and the machete may have been used on some of his ex-wife’s relatives, the youngest two of whom suffered what officials called “chopping wounds.” The adults were shot.

Stone and his ex-wife had been locked in a five-year custody battle that sparked frequent calls to the police.

An autopsy Wednesday showed that Stone neither shot nor fatally stabbed himself, although he had some non-fatal cuts on his legs. Toxicology tests were being done to determine how he died.

Fellow veterans Adam Perone and Robert Groover said they served with Stone in Pennsylvania, trained with him in California and deployed to Iraq with him in 2008.

They said Stone complained frequently about his then-wife, Nicole Stone, and often fought with her on the phone. Perone said he does not want people to assume Stone’s experience in the service sparked the Monday morning rampage.

“These veterans come back, 99.9 percent of them are doing the right thing. They’re changing their lives for the better,” said Perone, now a sales manager at an international trading firm in Somerset, New Jersey. “Something like this takes away from those people.”

Stone’s violent rampage across three towns in Montgomery County happened before dawn Monday. A week earlier, he had lost an emergency petition to amend a shared custody agreement.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Stone had post-traumatic stress disorder and received full service-related disability of about $3,260 a month. However, the VA said, he didn’t have any suicidal or homicidal thoughts when he was evaluated by a psychiatrist on Dec. 8, a day before the custody ruling.

Stone, 35, spared his two young daughters in the attack, but authorities said he broke into three homes early Monday and killed his ex-wife, her mother, her grandmother, her sister, her brother-in-law and her 14-year-old niece. A 17-year-old nephew survived by barricading himself in the third floor of his home, but not before he suffered a skull fracture, lacerations and several severed fingertips.

Nephew Anthony Flick was in the house injured for more than seven hours Monday because police thought the person they had briefly seen in the upstairs window before he retreated was the gunman — especially after SWAT teams entered the home and found three bodies on the lower floors, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said. Stone had broken into the home at about 4 a.m., police said.

A Philadelphia hospital declined to release updates on the teenage nephew’s condition Wednesday.

Stone’s other victims ranged in age from 14 to 75.

Groover, now a social worker in Pittsburgh, said he served with Stone in Ramadi. He said the job mainly involved watching a computer monitor to track missiles during four-hour shifts. He did not consider the assignment stressful, and he said the base was safe enough to go running.

He said the base took a few hits from missiles but those were after Stone had returned to the U.S.

Stone’s body was found Tuesday afternoon a half-mile from his home in Pennsburg, 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, ending a day-and-a-half manhunt. Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman said he hopes to get toxicology tests back early next week. One of the pill bottles contained crushed powder, Ferman said.

Stone and his ex-wife had been fighting over their children’s custody since she filed for divorce in 2009. Stone may have visited with his daughters as recently as Saturday. A photo on his new wife’s Facebook page shows their infant son and his daughters, ages 5 and 8, sitting on Santa’s lap that day.

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Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, New Jersey.

TIME States

Missouri Governor Ends State of Emergency for Ferguson Protests

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon takes questions at a news conference after swearing in the Ferguson Commission in St. Louis
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon takes questions at a news conference after swearing in the Ferguson Commission in St. Louis, Mo., on Nov. 18, 2014. Nixon named 16 members to a panel charged with addressing social and economic inequalities in Ferguson. Adress Latif—Reuters

(ST. LOUIS) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday ended the state of emergency that he declared for the St. Louis area ahead of unrest over the Ferguson grand jury decision, praising the work of police and the National Guard in preventing any protest-related deaths.

He issued his executive order on Nov. 17. Protests, including some that turned violent, broke out on Nov. 24 after St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced that the grand jury wouldn’t indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, for the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old. Wilson has since resigned from the department in the St. Louis suburb.

“I want to thank state and local law enforcement, the leaders of the unified command, and the members of the Missouri National Guard for working tirelessly to protect the public,” Nixon said in a statement. “As the hard work of healing and rebuilding continues, the fact that not a single life was lost as a result of the unrest is a credit to the hard work and dedication of these brave men and women.”

On the night of the grand jury announcement, 700 members of the Guard were deployed in the St. Louis region. Nixon sent in 1,500 more troops after some of the unrest became violent that first night and led to looting and fires that destroyed 12 Ferguson-area businesses.

After deployment of the additional troops, scattered violence erupted the night of Nov. 25.

Protests continued in the following days but the violence ceased as local and state police stayed in charge of crowd control and the Guard protected buildings.

The actions of police have been widely criticized, with protesters and others saying officers were too quick to arrest peaceful demonstrators and displayed tactics that were too militarized.

Alexis Templeton, a 20-year-old college student and co-founder of Millennial Activists United, said Nixon sent the large number of Guard members and police officers to “instill fear.”

“I feel he was trying to run the narrative that protesters were dangerous,” she said Wednesday.

Templeton was among about 75 people who marched from St. Louis police headquarters to St. Louis City Hall — a frequent target of activists — to protest how police handled demonstrations related to the Brown shooting. They also claimed police have been intentionally targeting demonstration leaders for arrest.

Their protesting led to City Hall being quickly shut down. The closing affected office workers and citizens attempting to do city business. The city also canceled several public meetings scheduled for Wednesday.

“They have been changing up the tactics,” said Derek Laney, a community organizer charged with assault on a law enforcement officer who accused him of accidentally making contact while falling to the ground at an earlier City Hall “die-in” demonstration. “They want to intimidate us, they want to smear our names. They’re attempting to paint a picture to promote a narrative of violence.”

Several members of the city’s Board of Aldermen joined protesters outside the building in support of their efforts to gain entry. No arrests were reported and the protest was peaceful.

“This is a public building,” Alderwoman Megan Green said. “We support your right to be here.”

The Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation related to the Brown shooting. It’s not clear when those findings will be released.

___

Associated Press writer Alan Scher Zagier contributed to this report.

TIME Colombia

Colombian Rebels Announce Unilateral Cease-Fire

COLOMBIA-FARC-ATTACK
A Colombian soldier stands guard in the town of Tame, Columbia on Aug. 25, 3013. Daniel Martinez—AFP/Getty Images

(HAVANA) — Colombian rebels at peace talks with government representatives in Cuba have announced an indefinite, unilateral cease-fire as long as military units don’t attack them.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia made the announcement in a communique published on its Twitter account Wednesday.

Representatives of the rebel group known as the FARC and the government since 2012 have held a series of talks in Havana aimed at ending the conflict of more the five decades.

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