Defense in brutal death: He did it

PEORIA, Ill. — As a federal prosecutor on Wednesday shared with jurors grisly details of how authorities claim a former University of Illinois doctoral student kidnapped a visiting scholar from China, then beat her to death with a baseball bat, defense attorneys intent on sparing their client a possible death penalty offered an exceptional claim: He did it. Opening statements began in the death-penalty trial of Brendt Christensen, a case which is being closely watched in China and by Chinese students across the U.S. Christensen is accused of posing as an undercover officer to lure 26-year-old Yingying Zhang into his car on June 9, 2017, as she headed to sign a lease off campus. Christensen, who is over 6-foot, took Zhang to his apartment where he raped, choked and stabbed her in his bedroom, as the 5-foot-4 Zhang tried to fight him off, prosecutor Eugene Miller said in his opening statement to jurors Wednesday. Christensen then dragged Zhang into his bathroom, and pummeled her in the head with the bat before decapitating her, Miller said. With Zhang’s father, a part-time trailer-truck driver from China, sitting just a few feet away on a courtroom bench, Miller also revealed for the first time that Christensen was captured on an FBI wiretap bragging that Zhang had been his 13th victim. But the prosecutor didn’t offer additional details, nor did he say if authorities believed him. Miller appeared to broach the issue in order to demonstrate Christensen’s quest to be known as a serial killer. It was not immediately clear if authorities were investigating Christensen’s alleged claim. Prosecutors have said they won’t comment on the trial while it’s ongoing.

Maine legalizes assisted suicide

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine legalized medically assisted suicide on Wednesday, becoming the eighth state to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with prescribed medication. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who had previously said she was unsure about the bill, signed it in her office. Oregon was the first state to legalize such assistance, in 1997, and it took over a decade for the next state, Washington, to follow suit. While still controversial, assisted suicide legislation is winning increasing acceptance in the United States, and this year at least 18 states considered such measures. Maine’s bill would allow doctors to prescribe terminally ill people a fatal dose of medication. The bill declares that obtaining or administering life-ending medication is not suicide under state law, thereby legalizing the practice often called medically assisted suicide. The proposal had failed once in a statewide vote and at least seven previous times in the Legislature. The current bill passed by just one vote in the House, and a slim margin in the Senate.

Six arrested in Ortiz shooting

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Six suspects, including the alleged gunman, have been detained in the shooting of former Red Sox star David Ortiz, the Dominican Republic’s chief prosecutor said Wednesday. Four other suspects were also being pursued in the shooting, which witnesses said was carried out by two men on a motorcycle and two other groups of people in cars. “At this moment, they are being interrogated and we will continue deepening the investigation to get to the truth about what happened,” Chief Prosecutor Jean Alain RodrÌguez said. “Nobody involved in this lamentable episode will remain in impunity, not even the material or intellectual author” of the crime, he said. Authorities have declined to give a motive for the shooting at a popular Santo Domingo bar Sunday night.

$4.1M in neo-Nazi website suit

COLUMBUS — A federal judge awarded a Muslim-American radio host $4.1 million in monetary damages Wednesday after he successfully sued a neo-Nazi website operator who falsely accused him of terrorism. SiriusXM Radio show host Dean Obeidallah (oh-bee-DAHL’-ah) filed the civil complaint against The Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin, who hasn’t responded to Obeidallah’s libel lawsuit. Anglin’s whereabouts are unclear. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. agreed to enter a default judgment against Anglin and his company, Moonbase Holdings LLC. Sargus said he was convinced nothing in Anglin’s statements were protected speech under the First Amendment. He also issued an injunction ordering the materials about Obeidallah taken down from the website and forbidding Anglin from discussing them further. Obeidallah, a comedian and Daily Beast columnist, says Anglin falsely labeled him as the “mastermind” behind a deadly bombing at a concert in England.

Back priest up for sainthood

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Pope Francis has positioned for sainthood a former slave and the first known black Roman Catholic priest in America. The pontiff on Wednesday declared the Rev. Augustine Tolton, of Quincy, to be “venerable.” The Diocese of Springfield announced that the designation means that Tolton lived a life of “heroic virtue.” Tolton was born into slavery in Missouri in 1854. He, his mother and two siblings escaped to freedom across the Mississippi River in 1862 with Confederate soldiers firing on them. Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept a black man. But upon his ordination at age 31, he was returned to his home in Quincy, a Mississippi River city about 110 miles northwest of St. Louis. He later moved to Chicago and ministered to the poor. Church officials are investigating possible miracles attributed to Tolton which could lead to his canonization. Tolton died in 1897 at age 43.

Resignation ends Boren probe

OKLAHOMA CITY — The University of Oklahoma’s Board of Regents says it has concluded its investigation into former president David Boren after Boren chose to terminate his contract and sever ties to the university he led for 24 years. Regents chair Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes said in a statement Wednesday that the board’s decision to accept Boren’s resignation terminates his transition agreement and “brings this matter to a close.” The university was investigating whether Boren sexually harassed male subordinates. A former student alleges Boren touched and kissed him on several occasions almost a decade ago when the man worked as a teaching aide for the onetime governor and senator. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation also is investigating the claims.

Gooding accused of groping

NEW YORK — Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. will turn himself in to New York City police on Thursday to face allegations he groped a woman at a Manhattan night spot. Gooding, the Oscar-winning star of “Jerry Maguire” is expected to face a charge stemming from an alleged incident over the weekend at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge, lawyer Mark Heller said. A 29-year-old woman told police Gooding grabbed her breast while he was intoxicated around 11:15 p.m. Sunday. Gooding, 51, denies the allegations. He told TMZ that he was at the bar partying with friends but didn’t touch anyone. He said there’s a video that shows “what really happened.” Video posted on social media show Gooding at Magic Hour on Sunday night singing the Journey hit “Faithfully” and posing for pictures with fans. The bar, on the roof of the Moxy Hotel south of Times Square, features a mini-golf course and sweeping views of the Empire State Building and other Big Apple landmarks.

Elderly Wyoming inmate dies

TORRINGTON, Wyo. — An 80-year-old Wyoming inmate who was convicted of murder nearly 40 years after her husband went missing has died. Alice Uden died Wednesday from chronic health issues at a hospital in Scottsbluff, Neb. Uden was convicted of second-degree murder in 2014 for killing Ronald Holtz in the mid-1970s in Cheyenne and throwing his body down an abandoned gold mine shaft. His body wasn’t found until 2013. In addition, Uden’s husband, Gerald Uden, pleaded guilty in 2013 to killing his ex-wife and two of her children in 1980 in a separate Wyoming case. He also was sentenced to life in prison.

Sorvino a survivor of date rape

ALBANY, N.Y. — Mira Sorvino has revealed that she’s a survivor of date rape in an attempt to lend her voice to a push for stronger sexual assault laws in New York. The Oscar-winning actress choked up during a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Sorvino says that she has never spoken publicly before about the assault and that she was “doing it here to try and help.” She said she wouldn’t go into details and didn’t name the man involved. Sorvino was also one of the first women to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment.

Teen left newborn in dumpster

STOCKTON, Calif. — A teenager accused of abandoning her newborn baby in a building’s dumpster in Northern California in scorching heat was cited for child abuse and will be released to her parents after she leaves the hospital. Two people found the boy wrapped in a blanket inside a plastic bag Tuesday afternoon in Stockton. Officers later found his 15-year-old mother while canvassing the apartment complex, but it’s unclear if she lives there. An apartment complex resident heard cries and notified the manager, who pulled the child from the building’s dumpster. The boy, who weighed 6 pounds and 7 ounces and was 20 inches long, still had his umbilical cord and was taken to a hospital, where he was doing well Wednesday.

Paul neighbor sells his home

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — The neighbor convicted of attacking U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has sold his home next door to the senator. Rene Boucher pleaded guilty last year to assaulting Paul. Paul also won a civil verdict against Boucher for more than $582,000 in January. Boucher sold his Bowling Green home in May and delivered the proceeds of the sale, about $482,000, to the court. The records say the money will be held in an account until the civil proceedings are resolved.

Sea turtles nest at record pace

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The number of sea turtle nests along the Georgia coast is on pace to set a record this year. Kris Williams is director of Caretta Research Project, a sea turtle conservation organization. She told the Savannah Morning News that beach patrols along the Georgia coast between Tybee and Cumberland islands had recorded 1,726 nests by Tuesday. Last year’s season total was 1,742. Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Mark Dodd said if nesting continues increasing, he expects up to 4,500 nests by the end of the season. The previous record, set in 2016, is 3,289 loggerhead nests. Loggerhead sea turtles are the species seen most often in Georgia. Nesting season usually reaches its peak in June and continues into early July.

Crawling journey to new spot

The largest ancient sphinx in the Western Hemisphere was on the prowl Wednesday for the first time in nearly 100 years. Philadelphia’s Penn Museum relocated its 3,000-year-old sphinx of Pharaoh Ramses II from the Egypt gallery, where it had resided since 1926, to a featured location in the museum’s new entrance hall. Workers used air dollies to painstakingly maneuver the priceless artifact up a specially constructed ramp and through a series of doorways, windows, sharp turns and tight squeezes, a distance of about 250 feet. The sphinx was as inscrutable as ever throughout. Museum officials, on the other hand, were a little more animated. The monument, which was carved out of a single block of red granite and has the head of a man and the body of a lion, was unearthed in 1913 by famed British archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whose excavations the museum funded. It was relocated as part of the museum’s extensive, multi-year makeover.

Woman sues UCLA gynecologist

LOS ANGELES — A woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by a gynecologist who worked for the University of California, Los Angeles, has sued the university’s regents, the doctor and 20 other parties. A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court says Dr. James Heaps inappropriately touched her genitals, breast and buttock at his office in 2017 while having her intrauterine device removed. She also claims he made inappropriate sexual comments. The woman has suffered “tremendous and lasting harm,” the lawsuit states. Heaps, 62, is criminally charged with two counts of sexual battery by fraud and pleaded not guilty on Monday. The woman’s attorney, Jennifer McGrath, confirmed her client is one of two unidentified women cited as victims in that case.

Guilty to killing Muslim students

DURHAM, N.C. — Moments after a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to gunning down three Muslim university students, a prosecutor played a cellphone video of the slayings in the courtroom Wednesday as one of the victims’ relatives fainted, others wept openly and a man hurled an expletive at the confessed killer. Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, entered the plea to three counts of first-degree murder in a packed Durham courtroom. It came more than four years after the February 2015 slayings and two months after incoming District Attorney Satana Deberry dropped plans to seek the death penalty in hopes of concluding a case that she said had languished too long. “I’ve wanted to plead guilty since day one,” Hicks told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. The judge said Hicks had agreed as part of his plea to accept three consecutive life sentences without parole and 64 to 89 months for the crime of discharging a gun into a building. At the time of the shootings, Chapel Hill police said Hicks claimed he was provoked by competition over parking spaces at the condo complex. Relatives of the victims said they were targeted because they were Muslim.

To keep fighting extradition law

HONG KONG — Following a day of sit-ins, tear gas and clashes with police, Hong Kong students and civil rights activists vowed Wednesday to keep protesting a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the former British colony. The violence marked a major escalation of the biggest political crisis in years for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory and forced the delay of legislative debate on the contentious bill. College student Louis Wong said he considered the blockade of government headquarters and the Legislative Council a success because it appeared to prevent Beijing loyalists from advancing amendments to a pair of laws that would make it easier to send suspected criminals to China. “This is a public space and the police have no right to block us from staying here,” Wong said, surveying a garbage-strewn intersection in the Admiralty neighborhood that had been blocked off by security forces after protesters broke through a police cordon and entered the government complex. “We’ll stay until the government drops this law and (Chinese President) Xi Jinping gives up on trying to turn Hong Kong into just another city in China like Beijing and Shanghai,” he said.

Hicks agrees to Judiciary interview

WASHINGTON — Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks has agreed to a closed-door interview with the House Judiciary Committee, the panel announced Wednesday. The panel subpoenaed Hicks last month as part of its investigation into special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and obstruction of justice. The interview will be held June 19 and a transcript will be released. The appearance is a breakthrough for the panel, which has been holding hearings with experts as Trump has broadly obstructed congressional investigations. Hicks, a longtime aide to Trump, is mentioned throughout Mueller’s report. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the interview will include questions about her time on Trump’s presidential campaign and in the White House. “It is important to hear from Ms. Hicks, who was a key witness for the special counsel,” Nadler said. “Ms. Hicks understands that the Committee will be free to pose questions as it sees fit.”

An ‘accidental conflict’ possible

TEHRAN, Iran — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Tehran on Wednesday to warn that an “accidental conflict” could be sparked amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S., a message that came hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people. Abe’s trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year. It’s also the first visit of a sitting Japanese premier in the 40 years since the Islamic Revolution. But success may prove difficult for Abe, as the Houthi rebel attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha regional airport underscored. The attack is just the latest in a wave of rebel drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom, which has been mired in a yearslong war in Yemen that has killed an estimated 60,000 people and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade level on July 7 if European allies fail to offer it new terms. While President Donald Trump says he wants to talk to Tehran, the U.S. has piled on sanctions that have seen Iran’s rial currency plummet along with its crucial oil exports. The U.S. also has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region, along with hundreds more troops to back up the tens of thousands already deployed across the Middle East. The U.S. blames Iran for the Houthi assaults, as well as a mysterious attack on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Chopper crash renews 9/11 worry

NEW YORK — It was an accident, not terrorism, but this week’s helicopter crash on the roof of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper has raised serious security concerns because of the ease with which the chopper ventured into one of the nation’s most tightly restricted no-fly zones. Some of the questions being posed are the same ones that bedeviled authorities after 9/11 nearly two decades ago: Are they able to react quickly enough to a rogue aircraft? What can they realistically do? Is scrambling fighter jets and shooting down the intruder really feasible over densely populated city streets? Experts say the answers are not so reassuring. “If someone had bad intent and they took off from the heliport and made a beeline to Trump Tower, none of the good guys are going to get in the air fast enough to stop him,” said Steven Bucci, a retired Army Special Forces officer who help design the post-9/11 system to guard U.S. airspace. Ever since President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, a one-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius around Trump Tower has been designated National Defense Airspace, one of the highest-level restrictions, requiring express permission from the Federal Aviation Administration for any flights below 3,000 feet (914 meters) and constant radio communication with air-traffic control.

Guilty to killing 3 Muslim students

DURHAM, N.C. — Moments after a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to gunning down three Muslim university students, a prosecutor played a cellphone video of the slayings in the courtroom Wednesday as one of the victims’ relatives fainted, others wept openly and a man hurled an expletive at the confessed killer. Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, entered the plea to three counts of first-degree murder in a packed Durham courtroom. It came more than four years after the February 2015 slayings and two months after incoming District Attorney Satana Deberry dropped plans to seek the death penalty in hopes of concluding a case that she said had languished too long. “I’ve wanted to plead guilty since day one,” Hicks told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. The judge said Hicks had agreed as part of his plea to accept three consecutive life sentences without parole and 64 to 89 months for the crime of discharging a gun into a building. Police say Hicks burst into a condo in Chapel Hill owned by 23-year-old Deah Barakat and fatally shot Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha. At the time of the shootings, Chapel Hill police said Hicks claimed he was provoked by competition over parking spaces at the condo complex. Relatives of the victims said their family members were targeted because they were Muslim, and they asked federal authorities to pursue hate-crime charges. Authorities later indicated they did not have sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute Hicks on those charges.

Zuckerberg focus of doctored video

NEW YORK — Three weeks after Facebook refused to remove a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slurring her words, Mark Zuckerberg is getting a taste of his own medicine: fake footage showing him gloating over his one-man domination of the world. It’s the latest flap over deviously altered “deepfake” videos as Facebook and other social media services struggle to stop the spread of misinformation and “fake news” while also respecting free speech and fending off allegations of censorship. The somewhat crude video of the Facebook CEO, created as part of an art project and circulated on Facebook-owned Instagram over the past few days, combines news footage of Zuckerberg with phony audio. “Imagine this for a second, one man with total control over billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures,” Zuckerberg seemingly intones in a voice that does not sound very much like Zuckerberg’s. “I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data controls the future.” (Spectre is the evil organization in the James Bond movies.) The video was created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe with help from artificial intelligence companies and displayed over the past week or so at an art show in Britain on the influence of technology. Posters also put the footage on Instagram and Vimeo.

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