TIME

Same-Sex Marriage Ban Struck Down for Miami Area

(MIAMI) — A Florida judge on Friday overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling that applies to Miami-Dade County, agreeing with a judge in another county who made a similar ruling last week.

The ruling issued by Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel mirrors the decision made earlier by Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia. Both judges found the constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2008 discriminates against gay people and violates their right to equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

“Preventing couples from marrying solely on the basis of their sexual orientation serves no governmental interest,” Zabel wrote. “It serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society.”

The effect of Garcia’s ruling was put on hold when Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi filed notice of appeal. Zabel also stayed the effect of her ruling indefinitely to allow time for appeals, which could take months. The upshot is that no marriage licenses will be issued for gay couples in either county any time soon.

Both judges were appointed by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and re-elected subsequently.

The legal battleground will next shift to the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal for both cases, and most likely after that to the state Supreme Court.

Same-sex ban supporters argue that the referendum vote should be respected and that Florida has sole authority to define marriage in the state. The Florida amendment defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, although those rulings remain in various stages of appeal. Many legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately have to decide the question for all states.

Bondi said in a statement about the Monroe County case that “with many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow gays to marry.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has said he supports the amendment but opposes discrimination. His top Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, supports efforts to overturn it.

Florida has long been a gay rights battleground. In the 1970s, singer and orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays. The county commission reinstated those protections two decades later.

In 1977, Florida became the only state prohibiting all gay people from adopting children. A state court judge threw out that law in 2008, finding “no rational basis” for that ban, and two years later, the state decided not to appeal, making gay adoption legal.

Gay marriage opponents said the rulings overturning the same-sex marriage ban disenfranchise nearly five million voters — the 62 percent who approved it nearly six years ago. Repealing the amendment would require at least 60 percent support.

“With one stoke of a pen, a mere trial judge has attempted to overthrow an act of direct democracy by five million Floridians who defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said John Stemberger, president Florida Family Policy Council, which pushed for passage of the amendment.

The cities of Orlando, Miami Beach and Key Biscayne filed legal papers supporting the gay couples’ quest to have the marriage ban ruled unconstitutional. A separate lawsuit is pending in Tallahassee federal court seeking to both overturn Florida’s gay marriage ban and force the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

TIME Immigration

Obama: Migrant Children Without Humanitarian Claims Will Be Sent Back

U.S. President Obama speaks to the media while he hosts a meeting with El Salvador's President Sanchez Ceren, Guatemala's President Perez Molina and Honduras' President Orlando Hernandez in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington
President Obama speaks to the media while hosting a meeting with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss the flow of undocumented migrants from their countries, at the White House in Washington on Friday, July 25, 2014. Larry Downing—Reuters

An estimated 90,000 migrant children could cross into the U.S. before September. The President met with leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss ways to slow the influx

President Barack Obama took a tough line on the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have crossed the nation’s southern border in recent months, saying those without humanitarian claims will be subject to return to their home countries eventually.

Meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Obama continued his efforts to dissuade parents from sending their children on the often dangerous journey to the United States. “Children who do not have proper claims,” Obama said, “will at some point be subject to repatriation to their home countries.”

But Obama did preview what the administration is calling a “pilot program” that he is considering in Honduras to allow those with refugee claims to make them from that country without physically making the journey to the United States.

“Typically refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty,” Obama said. “It’s typically defined fairly narrowly.”

“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” he added. “If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”

Obama said such a system would keep smugglers from profiting off families seeking better lives for their children, and “makes this underground migration system less necessary.”

Earlier this month Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson estimated that up to 90,000 migrant children will attempt to cross into the U.S. during the fiscal year ending this September.

TIME

Sheriff: 300 Homes Burned in Washington Wildfire

(TWISP, Wash.) — A sheriff in Washington state says a massive wildfire has burned 300 homes, double the number previously estimated.

Frank Rogers, the sheriff of Okanogan County in north-central Washington, said Friday that the Carlton Complex of fires has consumed about 300 homes this month. His office previously placed the number at 150, but he said then he knew it would rise because officials hadn’t been able to reach some burned areas.

Rogers said he and his deputies have driven 750 miles of roadway through the devastated area, and “every road lost something.” He said the blackened area looks like a moonscape, and he’s seen hundreds of dead livestock.

The fire was started by lightning and has burned about 400 square miles northeast of Seattle.

TIME Crime

America’s Execution Problem

Lethal Injection Execution Prison
A lethal injection chamber in Huntsville, Texas. Jerry Cabluck—Sygma/Corbis

The prolonged execution in Arizona was the fourth troubled lethal injection death this year. If our most modern form of capital punishment isn't working, what happens to the death penalty?

Joseph Wood had been snoring and gasping in the lethal injection chamber at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence for more than an hour on July 23 when one of his lawyers placed an emergency call.

“Mr. Wood’s execution started at 1:52,” Robin Konrad, one of the convicted murder’s public defenders, said to Arizona Supreme Court Judge Neil Wake in a last-ditch attempt to have the execution stayed. “He was being sedated at 1:57. Since that time he has been gasping, snoring and unable to breathe and not dying. And we’re asking—our motion asks for you to issue an emergency stay and order the Department of Corrections to start lifesaving techniques as required under their protocol.”

At some point during the execution Wood had been given a second dose of lethal drugs, and the conversation on the emergency conference call hearing turned to whether he could feel pain. Jeff Zick, a lawyer representing the Arizona attorney general’s office, said medical personnel inside the chamber believed that Wood was effectively brain dead. “The brain stem is working but there’s no brain activity,” he said.

About 18 minutes later, as the judge was about to issue a ruling, Zick confirmed that Wood had died. The entire process took one hour and 57 minutes—an extraordinarily long time for a procedure that under normal circumstances lasts no more than 15 minutes.

Wood’s prolonged execution was the third troubled state-sanctioned killing this year. In January, Dennis McGuire, a convicted rapist and murderer, reportedly gasped and snorted through a 25-minute-long lethal injection in Ohio that used a then-experimental cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone, the two drugs used on Wood in Arizona. In April, Oklahoma’s execution of Clayton Lockett was so poorly administered that it took nearly 45 minutes. President Obama called that episode “deeply troubling” and ordered the Department of Justice to review the process of capital punishment in the U.S.

As these executions renew the debate over the legality and morality of capital punishment, they are also undercutting the rationale for adopting lethal injection in the first place: once considered the most advanced and humane method of doing away with society’s most gruesome criminals, the practice increasingly appears no more safe or effective than its predecessors.

Lethal injection has been in use since 1982, largely without the kind of prolonged executions that have occurred this year. That was by design: it was a procedure developed to take a human life as painlessly as a pet is put to sleep. But the drugs used for the long-established protocol have been increasingly hard to come by as pharmaceutical companies balk for ethical reasons. Facing shortfalls, states have been turning to loosely regulated compounding pharmacies and trying new combinations of drugs.

The result has been a series of experiments, with occasionally disastrous outcomes. And it has meant that lethal injection is now facing the same questions as the electric chair, the gas chamber and the hangman’s rope before it. The difference this time is that there is no obvious substitute.

“The history of capital punishment over the last 100 years is largely a story of the belief in scientific progress,” says Austin Sarat, a professor of political science at Amherst who studies executions in the U.S. “And the story told was the same: the latest method is safe, reliable and more humane than its predecessor. But there is nothing over the horizon that portends that for the American death penalty.”

That’s one reason U.S. 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski recently called for bringing back firing squads while acknowledging that executions cannot be neat and tidy. “Executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality,” Kozinski wrote in a dissent involving Wood’s case just days before he was put to death. “If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

Kozinski’s solution was to stop pretending that a practice so grisly can ever be sanitized:

If some states and the federal government wish to continue carrying out the death penalty, they must turn away from this misguided path and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution. The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising. Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time. There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true.

Some state lawmakers have also suggested firing squads, and Tennessee recently passed a bill allowing the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. But most of the 32 states with capital punishment appear committed to lethal injection. In April, Ohio announced that it was upping lethal injection dosages after a review of McGuire’s execution, but insisted that his lethal injection was “conducted in a constitutional manner.” Results of Oklahoma’s investigation into the exact causes of Lockett’s death have yet to be released.

In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer said she was “concerned by the length of time it took for the administered drug protocol” to complete the execution and promised a full review of the process, but she denied that Wood was in pain and said he died in a “lawful manner.” In a statement confirming the opening of an investigation July 24, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan called reports that the execution was botched “pure conjecture because there is no medical or forensic evidence to date that supports that conclusion. In fact, the evidence gathered thus far supports the opposite.”

The questions over the use of lethal injection are further complicated by the horrific acts that lead inmates to the death chamber. Lockett was sentenced to die for shooting a young woman and ordering accomplices to bury her alive. Wood was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989.

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let’s worry about the drugs,” Richard Brown, a family member of one of Wood’s victims said after the execution. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”

Nevertheless, the drumbeat against lethal injection, and capital punishment in general, is growing. Among the critics of Wood’s execution are Arizona Senator John McCain, who called it “torture.”

“Never before, at least in recent American history, have botched executions raised issues of the death penalty itself,” Sarat says. “They have raised questions about the technology, but there was some other method waiting. Today, botched executions fit in with this narrative of the broken machinery of the death penalty.”

TIME

Sailor Charged With Attempted Murder for Naval Base Stabbing

The Navy charged the alleged assailant, 3rd class petty officer Wilbur Harwell, in the barracks stabbing

The sailor who stabbed another serviceman at a naval base in Portsmouth, Virginia last month has been charged with attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, Navy spokesperson Jim Moir announced Friday afternoon.

The alleged perpetrator, Wilbur Harwell, an active-duty 3rd Class Petty Officer, is in the Navy’s custody and awaits a hearing scheduled for August 18, Moir wrote. The victim, Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin D. Powell, was released from the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center on June 20, two weeks after the stabbing in a barracks room of the Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads Portsmouth Annex.

It took more than eight hours for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to find Harwell at a “oceanfront hotel” in Virginia Beach, wrote Moir.

The stabbing spawned an emergency lockdown at the base. Moir, citing Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, wrote that another service member may have aided Harwell’s escape before the gates closed.

TIME

Carjacked Vehicle Hits Crowd, Killing 2 Kids

(PHILADELPHIA) — Police say a vehicle that had been carjacked plowed into a group of people on a corner in Philadelphia, killing two children and critically injuring three other people.

Homicide Capt. James Clark says a woman was carjacked at gunpoint in the Tioga section of north Philadelphia on Friday morning by two men who drove off with her in the back seat.

Clark said “something obviously went horribly wrong” and the vehicle went out of control and struck a group of five adults and children on the corner around 11:15 a.m.

Two of the children were killed. Clark said an adult and two other children were taken to hospitals in critical condition. The two men fled the scene and are being sought.

TIME Crime

10-Month-Old Foster Child Left in Hot Car Dies in Wichita

Foster Child Car Wichita
NBC News/Today

Foster parents booked on a charge of child endangerment

A 10-month-old foster child died in Wichita, Kansas, after being left inside a hot car for two hours on a 90-degree day, police said Friday.

The foster parents, two men ages 26 and 29, were questioned and the older one, Seth Michael Jackson, was booked on a charge of child endangerment while the investigation in the Thursday evening tragedy continues.

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME Immigration

Migrant Girls Share Haunting Stories About Why They Fled

Central American Female Immigrants
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

A recent UN report gives haunting accounts from some of the girls who fled

The number of young girls captured at the US-Mexico border has increased by 77 percent this year, according to Pew Research Center analysis released Friday.

The number of girls under the age of 18 apprehended at the border this fiscal year was 13,008 compared to last year’s 7,339, according to Pew. The number of boys under 18 apprehended is still much higher at 33,924, but that represents only an 8% increase from 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report earlier this year that included haunting accounts from some of the young girls apprehended, in an analysis of 404 children from Mexico and Central America who had been detained at the border.

“The head of the gang that controlled her neighborhood wanted Josefina to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap her or to kill one of her family members if she didn’t comply,” the report writes, of one 16-year-old from El Salvador. “Josefina knew another girl from her community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members.”

Two-thirds of the children from El Salvador, both male and female, reported threats of violence from organized crime as one reason for fleeing. “One of [the gang members] ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm,” said 15-year-old Maritza. “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

Other girls reported domestic violence as a reason for leaving. Lucia, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, escaped her abusive grandmother’s home only to move in with an abusive boyfriend. “He beat me almost every day,” Lucia said. “I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left that same day.”

The increasing numbers of children from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge in the United States has prompted a legislative battle in Washington. It remains unresolved.

TIME cities

This Drone Video Reveals Downtown LA’s Hidden Architectural Gems

See the City of Angels from a whole new perspective

+ READ ARTICLE

Downtown Los Angeles has been undergoing a visible revitalization for years, but this aerial video from a downtown resident shows that many of the city’s gems have been hiding in plain sight.

“One of the things you’re told growing up in New York City is that only the tourists look up,” said Ian Wood, who used a GoPro camera attached to a drone to capture the city. “Now with this project in mind I was looking up and seeing all these amazing things.”

Among the sights in the video are the colorfully-designed tiled tower atop the Los Angeles Public Library, breathtaking murals and street art, and a whole lot of art deco architecture.

Sit back and enjoy.

TIME

Andrew Cuomo Meddled With His First ‘Independent’ Commission, Too

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during an economic development news conference at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, N.Y. on July 15, 2014. Mike Groll—AP

The New York Governor pressured members of a utility commission to vote for privatization of the Long Island Power Authority, sources say

Before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set up a supposedly independent commission to investigate political corruption in Albany—a commission he later shut down after it began poking around his own operations, a commission that is now causing him serious political headaches that could become legal headaches—he set up a supposedly independent commission to investigate the state’s electric utilities.

Mark Green, Cuomo’s fellow Democrat and onetime political opponent, says he was surprised when Cuomo tapped him to serve on the utility commission in November 2012. He says he was less surprised when Cuomo’s aides quickly began pushing the commission to propose privatizing the dysfunctional Long Island Power Authority, which was still struggling to get the lights back on after Superstorm Sandy. Several sources confirm the governor’s office pressured the commission to issue a report recommending privatization less than two months after its creation, and that Green threatened to resign when a Cuomo press release incorrectly suggested the recommendation had been unanimous.

“Independent?” Green said. “They tried to ram privatization down our throats. I told them I wasn’t going to be a fig leaf for Andrew.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo declined to comment.

Green, who lost to Cuomo in a Democratic primary for attorney general in 2006, was the commission’s most strident opponent of gubernatorial interference. But sources say members with no axe to grind—notably Peter Bradford, who had led the state Public Service Commission under Cuomo’s father Mario, and former attorney general Robert Abrams, a co-chair of the commission—objected as well.

“Several of us felt we needed to get further into our investigation before settling on one particular recommendation,” Bradford said. “There was definitely back-and-forth with the governor’s office about that. They had a viewpoint, and they wanted us to endorse it so quickly, we risked being perceived as a rubber stamp.”

Still, Bradford believes that Cuomo’s first Moreland Commission—the name comes from the state’s century-old Moreland Act—did good work without too much meddling. “It’s fair to say the governor didn’t have a truly independent process in mind,” Bradford said. “But nobody stopped us from issuing subpoenas. Nobody shut us down. The interference wasn’t as heavy-handed as it seems to have been later.”

Bradford was referring to Cuomo’s second Moreland Commission, the one that was supposed to root out corruption in state politics, the one that Cuomo disbanded in April. The New York Times reported this week that Cuomo’s aides forced it to withdraw a subpoena issued to the governor’s media-buying firm, and “objected whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo.” Federal prosecutors are now investigating what happened with the commission.

The response from Cuomo’s office, laid out in this 13-page letter to the Times, has been rather novel: The commission was never intended to be truly independent, because it was a creature of the executive branch. “You know that’s f-cking ridiculous, right?” Jon Stewart asked on The Daily Show.

In fact, Cuomo, who’s running for reelection, aired a campaign ad bragging about the “Independent Commission” he established to fight corruption, but apparently, independence is a matter of degree. The letter to the Times argued that a commission created by the governor that reported to the governor and had the power to investigate the governor “would not pass the laugh test.” In fact, Cuomo said last August that the commission would investigate “anything they want to look at—me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general,” and so on.

It’s an awkward position for Cuomo, but he’s still an overwhelming favorite to beat his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, who recently lashed out at Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie for suggesting the race was a lost cause, as well as a liberal Democratic challenger, Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo has governed from the center on economic issues, working with Republicans to cut spending and cap property taxes, while tacking left on social issues, passing gay marriage and gun control laws. He lacks his father’s flair for rhetoric, but he’s seen as a more effective political operator, transactional rather than inspirational, pursuing the possible rather than the ideal. Albany has seemed a bit less dysfunctional during his tenure; politicians are still getting hauled off to jail but they’re at least finally passing budgets on time. Cuomo is often talked about as a potential presidential candidate—presumably not unless Hillary Clinton passes on the race in 2016, but quite possibly in 2020 or beyond.

The corruption commission could put a serious dent in that talk. It plays into the dark side of Cuomo’s reputation, persistent since he served as his father’s top aide, as a control freak and a bully. Several sources who declined to talk on the record cited fear of retribution. “I don’t want to poke that bear,” one official said.

On the other hand, Cuomo’s defenders say his aggressive approach has helped him break through the usual chaos of Albany to get things done—including, incidentally, the privatization of LIPA. Bradford said he was uncomfortable with the idea at first, and with Cuomo’s efforts to claim phantom unanimity. But by the time the commission finished its work, Bradford no longer felt uncomfortable.

“In the end, privatization seemed like the best way to shake things up,” he said. “Things worked out.”

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