TIME Crime

Texas Girl Shot to Death by 3 Police Officers

A 17-year-old girl was fatally shot by three police offers in the lobby of the Longview Police Department, public information officer Kristie Brian confirms to PEOPLE.

“Kristiana Coignard was shot after she was brandishing a weapon at the officers,” Brian said. “The officers are now on an administrative leave.”

When Coignard entered the station last Thursday around 6:30 p.m in Longview, Texas, she picked up a lobby phone that rings directly to police dispatch, and said that she needed an officer.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials have declined to identify the weapon, but Longview Mayor Jay Dean said he was told a “female wielding a knife entered the police department,” according to the Marshall News Messenger.

Coignard had been in Longview since December, her aunt, Heather Robertson, told Think Progress.

“I think it was a cry for help. I think they could have done something,” Robertson told the news outlet. “They are grown men. I think there is something they are not telling us.”

She also told them that her niece had been struggling with mental illness, including bipolar disorder, since her mother died when she was four.

Coignard had been hospitalized twice in recent years after suicide attempts.

The investigation of Coignard’s death is now being handled by the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME Crime

Jury Convicts 2 Ex-Vanderbilt Players of Rape

Former Vanderbilt football players Batey and Brandon Vandenburg trial on Jan. 26, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn.
Former Vanderbilt football players Batey and Brandon Vandenburg at trial on Jan. 26, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. AP

(NASHVILLE, Tenn) — A jury has convicted two ex-Vanderbilt football players of raping a former student inside a dorm room.

The jury deliberated for about three hours before finding Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey guilty. They face decades in prison.

Prosecutors say Vandenburg brought an unconscious 21-year-old woman he had been seeing back to his dorm room after a night of drinking in 2013 and the assault occurred as he took pictures.

Defense attorneys say Vandenburg took “deplorable” photos but did not take part in the assault. Batey testified that he was so drunk he didn’t remember what happened until he later saw cellphone photos and video.

The alleged victim testified she didn’t remember the alleged assault.

Two other former players are facing charges. Their trials have not been set.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Two former Vanderbilt football players accused in the rape of a woman in a dorm room believed they were entitled athletes who could “get away with anything,” prosecutors said Tuesday.

Defense attorneys countered that the teammates were extremely drunk on the night of the alleged assault, and blamed a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex.

Jurors started deliberating Tuesday about 2:30 p.m. EST.

Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are each charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. If convicted, they could face dozens of years in prison.

During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told jurors that the college culture argument was a “red herring” and that the athletes thought the law didn’t apply to them.

“That’s the culture that you really saw here . their mindset that they can get away with anything,” Thurman said.

Earlier, one of the defense attorneys conceded that Vandenburg took “deplorable” photos, but shouldn’t be convicted of rape because he didn’t take part in it.

“He took photographs that he never should have taken,” Vandenburg attorney Fletcher Long said.

Prosecutors say Vandenburg encouraged three of his teammates to have sex with the unconscious 21-year-old woman in June 2013 and didn’t participate because he couldn’t perform.

Batey testified Monday that he was so drunk he didn’t remember what happened that night in Vandenburg’s dorm room until he later saw cellphone images on his phone.

“I was just drunk out of my mind,” Batey said. “This is something I would never do in my right state of mind. I’m just sorry.”

The woman, who earlier testified that she didn’t remember anything that night, was crying as Batey was on the stand and appeared to be vomiting at one point.

Two other players were also accused in the rape. They have pleaded not guilty. Their trial dates have not been set.

Vandenburg and Batey are on trial together, but represented by different attorneys. Batey’s defense said the photos and videos don’t actually show him having sex with the woman and one of his lawyers blamed a college culture so accepting of binge drinking that many people saw the unconscious woman that night but did nothing to help.

The woman testified that Vandenburg plied her with alcohol at a Nashville night spot and the last thing she remembers is waking up alone in a strange dorm room and feeling sick. She said she still has no memory of what happened.

Police officers who testified said they didn’t find evidence of body fluids on the dorm room floor that would indicate a sexual assault, but they did not go to the dorm room until four days later.

Throughout the trial, jurors have seen graphic images and videos recovered from cellphones and a laptop. Prosecutors said that players took pictures of the assault and that one sent videos to his friends as it was happening.

Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, who is also charged, testified that Vandenburg was “amped” and coaching the players. McKenzie testified that he did not touch the woman himself but took pictures.

A trial date for McKenzie and Brandon Banks, the fourth player accused, has not been set.

TIME Crime

Boy Scouts’ ‘Perversion Files’ to Be Unveiled in Molestation Trial

Boy Scouts, Parents Deliver Petition To Boy Scout HQ To End Ban On LGBT Scouts
A detail view of a Boy Scout uniform. Tom Pennington—Getty Images

The trial will focus on documents between 1971 and 2007

Nearly 100,000 pages from the Boy Scouts of America’s so-called “perversion” files – documenting the alleged sexual abuse of scouts by adult volunteers – will play a key role in a civil trial that began on Monday in Santa Barbara, California.

“The Boy Scouts of America has a long and sordid history of child sexual abuse committed against young Scouts, committed by Scout leaders, and that timeline goes back, the files show, until at least the 1920s,” attorney Tim Hale told the jury in his opening statements, according to the Associated Press.

Hale represents a now 20-year-old former Scout who was sexually molested seven years ago by volunteer Al Stein, 37, while the two worked in a Christmas tree lot in Goleta, California, Stein later served time in prison for the assault that his victim contends resulted in depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress so severe that he cannot leave his home.

Hale maintains that the organization did little to properly educate and train adult volunteers and parents about sex abuse. He told the jury that once deliberations begin they will receive a CD containing thousands of abuse cases gathered by the organization.

“You are going to be the first people in the United States with the opportunity to review these files,” said Hale, who got the green light to use the files as evidence by a judge earlier this month.

Nicholas Heldt, an attorney for the Scouts, argued that the “perversion” files, aka ineligible volunteer (IV) files, were used to develop a list of adults who shouldn’t be allowed to participate in Scouts. He added that while the organization may have made mistakes in the past, it currently maintains an intensive program to protect children from pedophiles and the files will reveal what strides have been made in recent years to protect children.

“I think this is a case in which the one instance of sexual abuse against [the plaintiff] could not have been prevented and it wasn’t prevented,” Heldt said in his opening statements, per the AP. “But the training program may have helped prevent the second or the third instance of sexual abuse.”

In this particular case, Heldt maintained that the training program helped the victim understand what was happening during his sexual assault and resist the attack. He quickly notified his mother and she alerted Scout leaders about the incident, who informed police.

“The behavior described in this suit is absolutely unacceptable and runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands,” Deron Smith, communications director for the organization, tells PEOPLE. “The ineligible volunteer files (IV) exist solely to keep out individuals whose actions are inconsistent with the standards of Scouting and Scouts are safer because those files exist. Experts have found that the BSA’s system of IV files functions well to help protect Scouts by denying entry to dangerous individuals, and Scouting believes that they play an important role in our comprehensive youth protection system.”

In 2012, an Oregon Supreme Court judge first ordered the release of the “perversion” files from 1965 to 1985 after a former scout was awarded a $20 million settlement in a molestation case. The records revealed that many of the abuse allegations brought to the attention of the national organization were never reported to police.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times created a detailed database documenting the nearly 5,000 men and several women expelled from the organization between 1947 and 2005 after being suspected of sexual abuse.

In the ongoing trial, Hale plans on focusing on documents between 1971 and 2007.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Crime

Suspect Charged With Murder of Georgia Couple

Ronnie Adrian “Jay” Towns, who was charged on Jan. 26, 2015 with making false statements to investigators and with attempting to commit theft by deception. Telfair County Sheriff’s Office/AP

Ronnie Adrian "Jay" Towns, 28, is charged with malice murder and armed robbery

(McRAE, Ga.) — Authorities have positively identified two bodies as those of a Georgia couple who disappeared after driving three hours away to buy a classic auto, and the suspect already in custody has been charged with murder and armed robbery.

Telfair County Sheriff Chris Steverson said 69-year-old Elrey “Bud” Runion and his 66-year-old wife, June, were shot to death and that 28-year-old Ronnie Adrian “Jay” Towns of McRae has been charged with malice murder and armed robbery.

Towns was initially charged with giving false statements and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception.

Authorities have said Bud Runion posted a Craigslist ad last week seeking a classic car and traveled to Telfair County with his wife to meet the potential seller. The two were reported missing and their SUV and bodies were found Monday.

TIME Crime

Two Police Officers Injured as Gunman Opens Fire at Minnesota City Hall

The man was fatally shot after other officers returned fire

A man was killed in Minnesota on Monday after he opened fire on two police officers after a swearing-in ceremony at New Hope city hall.

The shooter, who has not yet been named, was fatally shot after exchanging fire with other officers at the scene, Reuters reports.

The shoot-out occurred after the wounded two officers, who had just been sworn-in, left the chambers. They have also not been identified but are in good condition and are expected to survive.

In a video of the council meeting, a series of gunshots can be heard followed by council member John Elder urging everyone to “get down.”

Elder, who used to work for the local police department, can be seen holding a handgun as he takes cover behind the desk.

No one inside the meeting was hurt, and authorities say they don’t know why the gunman opened fire.

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

Mommy Blogger Stands Trial Accused of Killing Her 5-Year-Old Son With Salt

Lacey Spears
This undated photo provided by the Westchester County District Attorney’s office shows Lacey Spears, who was indicted June 17, 2014, in White Plains, N.Y., on charges of depraved murder and manslaughter in the death of her son, 5-year-old Garnett-Paul Spears. Westchester County District Attorney’/AP

Lacey Spears tweeted updates on her son's worsening condition

A mommy blogger is on trial outside New York City regarding the death of her 5-year-old son, whom she allegedly poisoned with high levels of salt while sharing his worsening medical condition over the Internet.

Lacey Spears, 27, of Scottsville, Ky., has been charged with the depraved murder and manslaughter of Garnett-Paul Spears. She allegedly fed him salt through a hospital tube at the Westchester Medical Center, White Plains, N.Y., precipitating a spike in his sodium levels that led to seizures, brain swelling and eventually death.

“This mother was intentionally feeding her child salt at toxic levels,” said prosecutor Doreen Lloyd, according to the Associated Press.

Spears, originally from Alabama, kept her social-media followers appraised of Garnett-Paul’s worsening medical condition during the last few days of his life, writing “My sweet angel is in the hospital for the 23rd time” and “Please pray he gets to come home soon.”

On her son’s final day, she wrote, “Garnett the great journeyed onward today at 10:20 a.m.”

The trial continues.

[AP]

TIME Crime

The U.S. Is Exonerating More People Than Ever

But not because of DNA evidence

The U.S. exonerated a record number of people in 2014, according to a new report, continuing a steady increase over the last decade as cultural shifts have made some law enforcement agencies more willing to re-examine long-closed criminal cases.

The National Registry of Exonerations, a project on wrongful convictions at the University of Michigan Law School, recorded 125 exonerations in 2014, up from 91 in both 2013 and 2012, according to totals released Tuesday. “This is part of a long-term trend,” says Samuel Gross, a Michigan law professor who wrote the report.

The jump was driven largely by a high concentration of exonerations in three densely-populated counties: Dallas County and Harris County, which includes Houston, in Texas, and Kings County, New York, home to Brooklyn.

(MORE: The Changing Face of Exonerations)

In Dallas, a crime lab has been working through a backlog of decades-old cases using DNA testing. In Brooklyn, the district attorney’s office has been investigating dozens of murder charges traced back to a detective accused of manufacturing evidence in the 1980s and ’90s. And in Harris County, which had only three recorded exonerations in 2013, there were 33 exonerations related to false guilty pleas in drug cases.

The registry has logged 1,535 exonerations since 1989, with most coming in the last decade. Yet exonerations based on DNA evidence, one of the main sources for the initial rise, have declined. DNA exonerations accounted for 40% of all exonerations in 2005. Last year, researchers say that figure was down to 18% as the supply of old cases with faulty or missing DNA evidence dwindles.

(MORE: Texas Justice Goes Soft)

Gross says that police officers and prosecutors are increasingly willing to cooperate in re-opening old cases, part of what he calls a “cultural shift” toward preventing mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions.

“Everybody has become more aware that errors can be made,” Gross says. “And I think that after some prosecutors like those in Dallas and Harris County took on this issue, other prosecutors begin to think, that’s probably true here and maybe we should do something about it.”

TIME Crime

Bodies Found Near Vehicle of Missing Georgia Couple

From left: Elrey "Bud" Runion and his wife, June Runion Cobb County Police Department/AP

The bodies haven't officially been identified

(ATLANTA) — The car belonging to a Georgia couple who disappeared after traveling to meet a man claiming to sell a classic auto has been found in a lake with two bodies nearby.

Telfair County Sheriff Chris Steverson said Monday that the bodies were found near the vehicle 69-year-old Elrey “Bud” Runion and his wife, 66-year-old June Runion, had been traveling in toward McRae, in southern Georgia. Steverson says the bodies haven’t officially been identified and authorities have contacted the Runion family. He said the car was found not far from McRae.

Authorities have said 28-year-old Ronnie Adrian “Jay” Towns has been arrested on charges of giving false statements and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception.

Steverson says Towns was the last person to speak with the couple by phone.

TIME

Man Shoots Himself Outside News Corp. Building in New York

The building houses Fox News, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal

(NEW YORK) — Police say a man has apparently shot himself to death outside the News Corp. building in midtown Manhattan.

The 41-year-old man died after the shooting at about 9 a.m. Monday.

Authorities aren’t certain what prompted the shooting, which occurred outside the building that houses Fox News, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. The media conglomerate News Corp. is controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

It’s not clear if the man had any ties to News Corp. or if he was just standing outside the building.

A weapon was recovered at the scene, and no one else was injured.

Traffic was snarled in Midtown as police investigated.

TIME Crime

Catholics Selected for the Boston Bomber Jury Could Be Going Against Their Faith

Jury Selection Begins For Tsarnaev Trial
Jury selection for the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber started on Jan. 5, 2015 at Moakley Federal Court. A jogger runs past police vehicles in front of the courthouse John Tlumacki—Boston Globe/Getty Images

There's a potential clash between jury selection criteria and Catholic teachings

There is a distinct possibility that many of Boston’s 2 million Roman Catholics won’t be able to perform jury service in the trial of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without violating their faith.

The criteria for selecting jurors requires them to be able to sentence the accused to death should that eventuality arise, USA Today reports.

According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, however, the death penalty must not be used if “nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor.”

“It is both ironic and unfortunate that Catholics who understand and embrace this teaching will be systematically excluded from the trial,” the Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College, told USA Today.

Read more at USA Today.

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