Month: August 2019

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TVs to shoes: This time consumers face pain of Trump tariffs
By PAUL WISEMAN and ANNE D’INNOCENZIO | Fri, August 30, 2019 07:26 EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, until now mainly an abstraction for American consumers, is about to hit home.
Beginning Sunday, the U.S. government will begin collecting 15% tariffs on $112 billion in Chinese imports — items ranging from smartwatches and TVs to shoes, diapers, sporting goods and meat and dairy products. For the first time since Trump launched his trade war, American households face price increases because many U.S. companies say they’ll be forced to pass on to customers the higher prices they’ll pay on Chinese imports.
For more than a year, the world’s two largest economies have been locked in a high-stakes duel marked by Trump’s escalating import taxes on Chinese goods and Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs.
The two sides have held periodic talks that seem to have met little progress despite glimmers of potential breakthroughs. All the while, they’ve imposed tariffs on billions of each other’s products in a rift over what analysts say is Beijing’s predatory tactics in its drive to become the supreme high-tech superpower.
American consumers have so far been spared the worst of it: The Trump administration had left most everyday household items off its tariff list (valued at $250 billion in Chinese products so far) and instead targeted industrial goods.
That’s about to change. “They’re on. They’re on,” Trump said Friday about the new tariffs that are set to kick in at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. Under the new schedule, 69% of the consumer goods Americans buy from China will face his import taxes, up from 29% now.
That isn’t all. Higher tariffs are set to kick in for another batch of Chinese products — $160 billion’ worth — on Dec. 15. By then, roughly 99% of made-in-China consumer goods imported to the United States will be taxed, according to calculations by Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Overall, Trump’s trade war will have raised the average tariff on Chinese imports from 3.1% in 2017, before the hostilities began, to 24.3%.
“The bottom line is that, for the first time, Trump’s trade war is likely to directly raise prices for a lot of household budget items like clothing, shoes, toys, and consumer electronics,” Bown wrote in an report.
For months, Trump — who famously declared that trade wars are “easy to win” — falsely claimed that China itself paid the tariffs and that they left Americans unscathed. In fact, U.S. importers pay the tariffs. They must make a high-risk decision: Whether to absorb the higher costs themselves and accept lower profits. Or pass on their higher costs to their customers and risk losing business.
This has become an ever-more-difficult decision. After years of ultra-low inflation, consumers have grown more resistant to price hikes, especially when they can easily compare prices online for household products and choose the lowest-price options. For that reason, many retailers may choose not to impose the cost of Trump’s higher tariffs on their customers.
And the higher costs U.S. importers face could be offset somewhat by the declining value of China’s currency, which has the effect of making its products somewhat less expensive in the United States.
Still, the prices of certain goods will cost Americans more. Trump tacitly acknowledged this a few weeks ago by announcing a delay in his higher tariffs on $160 billion in imports until Dec. 15 — to keep them from squeezing holiday shoppers.
Even before the December tariffs, though, 52% of shoes and 87% of textiles and clothing imported from China were to be hit by Trump’s tariffs, according to Peterson’s Bown. And not even counting the increase — from 10% to 15% — that Trump announced for his new tariffs a week ago, J.P. Morgan had estimated that his import taxes would cost the average household roughly $1,000 a year.
“The story that holiday goods (were) given a reprieve is fake news,” said Stephen Lamar of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Overall, the 15% September and December tariffs will force Americans to pay an extra $4 billion a year for shoes and boots, according to a footwear trade group.
Retailers, engaged for a battle for survival with Amazon and other e-commerce rivals, are bracing for the worst. Macy’s raised an alarm when it reported earnings in August: In May, Trump had raised separate tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. In response, Macy’s tried to raise prices of some items on the hit list — luggage, housewares, furniture. But according to CEO Jeff Gennette, customers just said no.
Some retailers are trying to force their suppliers to eat the higher costs so they won’t have to raise prices for shoppers. Target confirmed to The Associated Press that it warned suppliers that it won’t accept cost increases arising from the China tariffs. Some small retailers are even more vulnerable.
“Any cost increase puts us in a tough place,” said Jennifer Lee, whose family owns the Footprint shoe store in San Francisco. “It makes it tough for business owners because we will have to take a hit on our margins, but it will also be difficult for us to pass it on to our shoppers.”
Albert Chow, who owns Great Wall Hardware in San Francisco, said he’s already raised prices on some Chinese-made products because an earlier round of tariffs led his suppliers to raise prices 10% to 20%.
“I will try to keep the prices down for as long as I can,” Chow said. “But at some point, when the tariffs are just too much, we have to eventually raise the prices, and then it goes down to the end user — the customer.”
What’s frustrating for retailers is that consumers might otherwise be in an exuberant mood this holiday season: For most Americans, their jobs are safe and their wages are rising. Unemployment is near a half-century low.
Yet the economy itself looks increasingly fragile. Growth is slowing as the global economy weakens. And Trump’s mercurial approach to trade policy — imposing, delaying, re-imposing import taxes via tweet — makes it nearly impossible for companies to decide on suppliers, factory sites and new markets. So they delay investments, further straining the economy.
“We worry about the average family in this country paying $500, $600, even $1,000 more annually because of the impact of tariffs,” said Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We worry about what it means for business confidence, business certainty and investment.”
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D’Innocenzio reported from New York. AP Video Journalist Terry Chea contributed from San Francisco.

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Though comments veiled, Mattis repudiates former boss Trump
By ROBERT BURNS | Fri, August 30, 2019 05:24 EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Try as he might, Jim Mattis can’t seem to hide his real feelings about Donald Trump – that the president is leading the world’s most powerful nation down a dangerously wrong path.
Mattis, the retired Marine general who resigned as defense secretary last December in a military policy dispute with Trump, says he owes the nation public silence while his former boss remains in office. Yet the comments Mattis is making as he promotes his new book suggest a strong, if implicit, message: Trump’s leadership is diminishing America.
From the day he accepted Trump’s offer to lead the Pentagon, Mattis knew his views didn’t align entirely with those of the president-elect, particularly on what Mattis considers a central pillar of American global power and influence: respect for allies. Trump often denigrates allies, calling them ingrates and freeloaders.
Mattis, who spent more than four decades in the Marines, is a former NATO supreme allied commander. Strengthening alliances was No. 2 on his list of strategic priorities as defense secretary, behind only his push to restore what he saw as America’s eroding military edge.
Nations with allies prosper, Mattis likes to say, while those without them wither. Trump prefers to largely go it alone, America first.
During his two-year tenure at the Pentagon, Mattis was consistently circumspect. He shied from news cameras, concerned that any utterance could offend his boss or amplify the daylight between the two men on any number of issues. To preserve his influence, he felt he must hold his tongue.
Nine months after resigning, Mattis still won’t spell out his views on Trump, even when pushed in recent interviews lined up to discuss his book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,” to be released Tuesday.
He is leaving it to others to interpret his dancing around the question he knows many Americans would like him to answer: Does he think Trump is fit to lead for another four years?
“You don’t endanger the country by attacking the elected commander in chief,” he told Jeffrey Goldberg for a portrait in The Atlantic that sums up Mattis as “the man who couldn’t take it anymore.”
Mattis, known as a man who is nothing if not calculating, then came as close as he ever has to putting a verbal knife in Trump.
“I may not like a commander in chief one fricking bit,” he said, “but our system puts the commander in chief there, and to further weaken him when we’re up against real threats — I mean, we could be at war on the Korean peninsula every time they start launching something.”
A companion concern that Mattis has expressed, sometimes obliquely, is that the political climate in which Trump was elected in 2016 has grown even more divisive, to the point of endangering the future of what Mattis likes to call America’s experiment in democracy.
“We all know we’re better than our current politics,” he wrote in an essay for The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.”
Thus, Mattis is sticking with his favorite understated description of a president who defies convention, sows confusion and sometimes abandons truth.
“He’s an unusual president, our president is,” Mattis told correspondent David Martin in an interview for “CBS Sunday Morning.” ”And I think that especially with the — just the rabid nature of politics today we’ve got to be careful. We could tear this country apart.”
Critics say Mattis is using veiled attacks on Trump to preserve his own legacy after having chosen to serve in an administration that injected politics into the military in ways Mattis himself was known to abhor.
Others say he is doing his best to walk a fine line between explaining himself and violating an unwritten rule: military officers don’t attack a president in office.
Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, whose long career overlapped Mattis’s and who later served as national security adviser to President Barack Obama, credits Mattis with a “high-minded” approach.
“He always took the high road,” Jones said. “Mattis doesn’t take cheap shots.”
In his essay for The Wall Street Journal, which was adapted from his book, Mattis described his view of what makes a good leader, which by implication suggested it is not the Trump model.
“Wise leadership requires collaboration; otherwise it will lead to failure,” he wrote, adding, “A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed.”
It was that Mattis measure of leadership — loyalty to allies — that triggered his decision to quit last December. By then it was only a question of time, since Trump has begun publicly mocking Mattis, and Mattis had become upset with a growing list of Trump decisions, including naming Army Gen. Mark Milley to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mattis had recommended another general.
One day after Trump announced he was pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were partnering with local Syrians to fight the Islamic State, Mattis tried but failed to change Trump’s mind. So, he resigned.
“You’re going to have to get the next secretary of defense to lose to ISIS. I’m not going to do it,” Goldberg Quote: d Mattis as telling Trump.
Trump soon turned on Mattis, calling him a failure. He said falsely that he had fired Mattis.
“What’s he done for me?” Trump said Jan. 2. “How had he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. I’m not happy with what he’s done in Afghanistan, and I shouldn’t be happy.”

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Dorian becomes a Category 4 monster powering toward Florida
By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON and ELLIS RUA | Fri, August 30, 2019 11:14 EDT
MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Dorian powered toward Florida with increasing fury Friday, becoming an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm but leaving forecasters uncertain whether it would make a direct hit on the state’s east coast or inflict a glancing blow.
The storm’s winds rose to 130 mph (215 kph) and then, hours later, to a howling 140 mph (225 kph) as Dorian gained strength while crossing warm Atlantic waters. The hurricane could wallop the state with even higher winds and torrential rains late Monday or early Tuesday, with millions of people in the crosshairs, along with Walt Disney World and President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Though Dorian is growing in intensity, some of the more reliable computer models predicted a late turn northward that would have Dorian hug the coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
“There is hope,” Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said.
The faint hope came on a day in which Dorian seemed to get scarier with each forecast update, growing from a dangerous Category 3 hurricane to an even more menacing Category 4 storm. And there were fears it could prove to be the most powerful hurricane to hit Florida’s east coast in nearly 30 years.
Late Friday, the National Hurricane Center’s projected new track showed Dorian hitting near Fort Pierce, some 70 miles (115 kilometers) north of Mar-a-Lago, then running along the coastline as it moved north. But forecasters cautioned that the storm’s track was still highly uncertain and even a small deviation could put Dorian offshore or well inland.
Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts. He told reporters that “Mar-a-Lago can handle itself” and is more worried about Florida.
“This is big and is growing, and it still has some time to get worse,” Julio Vasquez said at a Miami fast-food joint next to a gas station that had run out of fuel. “No one knows what can really happen. This is serious.”
As Dorian closed in, it upended people’s Labor Day weekend plans. Major airlines began allowing travelers to change their reservations without a fee. The big cruise lines began rerouting their ships. Disney World and the other resorts in Orlando found themselves in the storm’s projected path.
Jessica Armesto and her 1-year-old daughter, Mila, had planned to have breakfast with Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy at Disney World. Instead, Armesto decided to take shelter at her mother’s hurricane-resistant house in Miami with its kitchen full of nonperishable foods.
“It felt like it was better to be safe than sorry, so we canceled our plans,” she said.
Still, with Dorian days away and its track uncertain, Disney and other major resorts held off announcing any closings, and Florida authorities ordered no immediate mass evacuations.
“Sometimes if you evacuate too soon, you may evacuate into the path of the storm if it changes,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Homeowners and businesses rushed to cover their windows with plywood. Supermarkets ran out of bottled water, and long lines formed at gas stations, with fuel shortages reported in places. The governor said the Florida Highway Patrol would begin escorting fuel trucks to help them get past the lines of waiting motorists and replenish gas stations.
At a Publix supermarket in Cocoa Beach, Ed Ciecirski of the customer service department said the pharmacy was extra busy with people rushing to fill prescriptions. The grocery was rationing bottled water and had run out of dry ice.
“It’s hairy,” he said.
As of 11 p.m. EDT, Dorian was centered about 375 miles (605 kilometers) east of the northwestern Bahamas. That was also about 545 miles (880 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach with the storm packing sustained winds of 140 mph (225 kph). It was moving west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph). Forecasters warned that its slow movement could subject Florida to a prolonged and destructive pummeling from wind, storm surge and heavy rain.
Coastal areas could get 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain, with 18 inches (46 centimeters) in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods, the hurricane center said. FEMA official Jeff Byard said Dorian is likely to “create a lot of havoc” for roads, power and other infrastructure.
Also imperiled were the Bahamas , where canned food and bottled water were disappearing quickly and the sound of hammering echoed across the islands as people boarded up their homes. Dorian was expected to hit by Sunday with the potential for life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels 15 feet above normal.
“Do not be foolish and try to brave out this hurricane,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. “The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life.”
In Florida, the governor urged nursing homes to take precautions to prevent tragedies like the one during Hurricane Irma two years ago, when the storm knocked out the air conditioning at a facility in Hollywood and 12 patients died in the sweltering heat. Four employees of the home were charged with manslaughter earlier this week.
DeSantis said the timely message from those arrests is: “It’s your responsibility to make sure you have a plan in place to protect those folks.”
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, NASA moved a 380-foot-high mobile launch platform to the safety of the colossal Vehicle Assembly Building, built to withstand 125 mph (200 kph) wind. The launcher is for the mega rocket that NASA is developing to take astronauts to the moon.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sept. 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.
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Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Michael Balsamo in Washington; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Freida Frisaro and Marcus Lim in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; and Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida,
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For AP’s complete coverage of the hurricane: https://apnews.com/Hurricanes

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Suit settled in teen suicide that led to Illinois law change
By MICHAEL TARM | Sat, August 31, 2019 11:03 EDT
CHICAGO (AP) — The case of a suburban Chicago teenager who killed himself after being confronted at his high school about whether he made a video of himself having sex with a classmate raised uncomfortable questions about how aggressively school officials should question kids suspected of wrongdoing and whether they should wait until a parent arrives.
A wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of 16-year-old Corey Walgren that focused on those questions has been resolved, with the city of Naperville expected to approve a settlement on Tuesday in which it and the local school district each agree to pay the Walgren family $125,000.
Walgren’s death on Jan. 11, 2017, three hours after a dean and in-school police officer at Naperville High School told the honor-roll student he might face child pornography charges also prompted a change in Illinois law.
As of August, a parent, guardian, family lawyer or designated advocate must be present before police can begin questioning students at school who are younger than 18 and suspected of crimes, unless they pose an imminent threat.
“The Corey Walgren story hits at every single parent’s heart,” Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, who introduced the legislation, said Friday. “We need to recognize that the brains of young people are not fully developed and they need to be dealt with differently. … What happened to Corey should never happen again.”
The most sensitive question surrounding the tragedy — whether school authorities shared responsibility for what happened to Walgren — was addressed by the federal judge in the civil case. Her answer: They weren’t legal liable for his death, including because they couldn’t have known Walgren was suicidal.
That finding this year by U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood prompted her to toss the suit. But the family hoped the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago would revive it. The sides agreed to settlement terms while that appeal was still pending, rendering the appeal moot.
While Wood concluded officials hadn’t broken the law, she said that determination shouldn’t be construed as condoning how they dealt with Walgren, especially telling him he could be charged and may have to register as a sex offender. The judge said child pornography was not found on Walgren’s phone as suspected and that officials had falsely accused him.
“Faced with the implied threat of such consequences, it is perhaps unsurprising that a previously well-adjusted teenager’s emotional state could deteriorate to such a point that he would contemplate taking his life,” Wood wrote in a 22-page written opinion.
She added that while the officials’ conduct “was problematic and had tragic consequences,” it didn’t make them liable for Walgren’s death.
Among the claims Wood rejected was that school authorities were “deliberately indifferent” to signs of emotional distress. There were no outward signs Walgren was in a fragile mental state, and he had no history of harming himself, Wood wrote.
Legal liability, she went on, required conduct “so extreme as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as intolerable in a civilized community.” And while the deans’ and the in-school officer’s “interrogation tactics were harsh and aggressive, they were nonetheless ordinary police interrogation tactics.”
The suit named the city of Naperville, the Naperville Community Unit School District 203, two deans and the in-school officer as defendants. Wood’s ruling dismissed the allegations against them all. The defendants do not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, which ends all legal action against them by the Walgren family.
A Naperville spokeswoman said the city would not comment on the proposed settlement until all the parties had approved it. Lawyers for the defendants and the Walgren family didn’t return messages seeking comment.
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National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Correction: Immigration-Citizenship story
Fri, August 30, 2019 12:19 EDT
PHOENIX (AP) — In a story Aug. 28 about a new policy for military members, The Associated Press misidentified the name of a military news site. It is Task and Purpose, not Task and Report.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Immigrants in US military face new citizenship rule for kids
The Trump administration has unveiled new rules that will make it harder for children of some immigrants serving in the military to obtain citizenship.
By ASTRID GALVAN
Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled new rules that will make it harder for children of some immigrants serving in the military to obtain citizenship.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released updated guidance Wednesday that appears to mostly affect non-citizen service members but which caused confusion among immigration lawyers and advocates after a document appeared to show children of American citizens would also be affected.
Department of Defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla M. Gleason said in a statement that the department worked closely with USCIS and “understands the estimated impact of this particular change is small.”
“However, we are committed to ensuring affected families are provided the appropriate information, resources, and support during this transition,” Gleason said.
The policy manual update is highly technical and contradicts parts of an 11-page memo the agency initially put out that implied American citizens were among those whose children would no longer be automatically granted citizenship if born abroad.
Agency spokeswoman Meredith Parker told the military news organization Task and Purpose that the policy change “explains that we will not consider children who live abroad with their parents to be residing in the United States even if their parents are U.S. government employees or U.S. service members stationed outside of the United States, and as a result, these children will no longer be considered to have acquired citizenship automatically.”
Her boss, acting director Ken Cuccinelli, played down the changes in a Twitter statement, saying the update doesn’t deny citizenship to children of government and military members.
“This policy aligns USCIS’ process with the Department of State’s procedures for these children — that’s it. Period.”
The policy change is yet another roadblock that the administration of President Donald Trump has placed for people to live legally in the United States, said immigration attorney Martin W. Lester, who is based in Tennessee and who serves on the military assistance committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
It appears to target children of service members who are legal permanent residents and not U.S. citizens, but could also affect citizens if they can’t prove they lived in the U.S. for a certain amount of time. People in those scenarios would have to undergo a more cumbersome process for obtaining American citizenship for their kids.
“It’s gonna take time, money, it’s gonna cause stress. There’s gonna be some people whose kids aren’t gonna qualify and that’s gonna cause a huge problem,” Lester said.
Parker, the USCIS spokeswoman, repeatedly refused to answer questions from The Associated Press, referring only to Cuccinelli’s Twitter statement.
Immigrant advocates have said the Trump administration has unfairly treated members of the military who aren’t American citizens. The AP reported last year that the Army was quietly and abruptly discharging soldiers who enlisted through a special recruitment program that promised a path to citizenship.
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Associated Press reporter Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, D.C.,

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ARY News Headlines |UNSC obligated to resolve lingering Kashmir dispute| 8PM |31 August 2019

US House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss situation in occupied Kashmir.

ATM thief who stuck out tongue towards CCTV arrested.

‘Zardari’s accomplices looking for some deal,’ claims Rasheed.

Protection of minorities top priority of govt: Governor Punjab.

Fascist Modi writing a gruesome chapter of tyranny in occupied Kashmir: Awan.

Pakistan committed to open Kartarpur Corridor in November: Minister.

UNSC obligated to resolve lingering Kashmir dispute: Maleeha.

Kohistan bus incident: 24 passengers dead; two injured.

Modi’s ethnic cleansing of Muslims should ring alarm bells across world: PM.

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Jury deliberating in Utah case involving major opioid ring
By LINDSAY WHITEHURST | 08:44 EDT
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A jury began deliberating Thursday in the case of a Utah man accused of running a multimillion-dollar opioid ring that shipped potentially poisonous, fake prescription drugs across the country, causing at least one fatal overdose.
Prosecutors said during closing arguments that Aaron Shamo’s operation helped fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic by making hundreds of thousands of pills available to addicts and other users. They say it might have been responsible for dozens of other fatal overdoses.
“Shamo was a master manipulator. He knew what buttons to push to get people to do what he wanted, which was to keep working for his organization and keep making more money, more money, more money,” U.S. prosecutor Vernon Stejskal told jurors.
Defense attorneys countered that the 29-year-old Shamo wasn’t a kingpin, just a “dummy” who was desperate to make friends and ended up taking blame for the operation.
Shamo testified during the trial that he convinced himself that he was helping people who needed the drugs, while making money for himself and his friends.
He is facing 13 counts of operating a criminal enterprise, selling drugs that caused a death and other charges.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes Thursday without reaching a verdict. They are expected to continue Friday.
Authorities have said the 2016 bust of the operation run from Shamo’s basement in suburban Salt Lake City ranked among the largest in the country. More than $1 million was found in his dresser, according to court documents.
With the help of a handful of friends, Shamo bought the powerful opioid fentanyl online from Chinese manufacturers, pressed it into fake oxycodone pills and sold it on the dark web, prosecutors said.
Two friends Shamo had met while working at eBay packaged the pills, sometimes processing so many that they had to vacuum them off the floor, prosecutors said.
Another former co-worker sent them out through the U.S. mail.
In 2016, prosecutors said, some of those drugs reached 21-year-old Ruslan Klyuev, a baby-faced, curly haired technophile who lived in a working-class suburb of San Francisco.
He died hours after crushing and snorting the fake oxycodone.
A medical toxicologist testified that he would not have died if the fentanyl from the pills had not been in his system.
Shamo’s lawyers downplayed those findings and blamed the mixture of substances in the young man’s system, including alcohol and cocaine additives.
Defense attorney Greg Skordas argued that Shamo was a college dropout who was naive enough to buy much of the drug-making equipment in his own name.
He started with a partner who set up the pill press to make counterfeit Xanax before another friend suggested scaling up to make fake oxycodone, and yet another buddy handled most of the manufacturing of the pills, authorities said.
Shamo is a “follower, he’s a pleaser … he’ll do anything these kids tell him to do because he wants to be friends,” Skordas said.
The drug ring began to fall apart when customs agents intercepted a fentanyl package from China. From there, investigators say they worked their way up to the raid on Shamo’s home in November 2016, apparently in the middle of a pill-pressing run.

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Air Force veteran convicted in terror case to be resentenced
By LARRY NEUMEISTER | 01:42 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. Air Force veteran was properly convicted on terrorism charges for trying to join the Islamic State group and die a martyr, an appeals court said Thursday, but it ordered a judge to resentence him and better explain his reasons behind any penalty.
Tairod Pugh, 51, of Neptune, New Jersey, is serving a 35-year prison sentence, the maximum possible penalty he faced after a Brooklyn jury convicted him in 2016 of trying to provide material support to a terrorist organization and obstruction of justice.
It was the first verdict in more than 70 cases the U.S. brought against Americans suspected of supporting the militant group.
Pugh’s lawyer Eric Creizman didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Prosecutors said Pugh, who was an airplane mechanic in the Air Force from 1986 to 1990, was seeking a route into Syria to join the Islamic State group in 2015 when he was stopped at a Turkish airport.
They said he had a laptop with information on Turkey-Syria border crossing points; 180 jihadist propaganda videos, including footage of an Islamic State prisoner beheading; and a letter declaring: “I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic States.”
Trial evidence included a letter Pugh wrote to his wife saying, in part: “There is only two possible outcomes for me: Victory or martyr.”
A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan said in a written ruling that the letter to his wife was properly allowed into evidence and that other challenges by defense lawyers to the trial provided no basis to overturn the verdict.
But it also said U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis provided an inadequate explanation for why he imposed the maximum allowable sentence on the military veteran, who moved to the Middle East to work for aerospace companies after he left the military.
The appeals panel noted that most of the court’s comments at sentencing related to Pugh’s guilt rather than why the sentence he was announcing was appropriate.
“The present record does not permit meaningful appellate review of the substantive reasonableness of Pugh’s sentence,” the 2nd Circuit said.
At his 2017 sentencing, Pugh said he was innocent. During a lengthy rambling statement, Pugh was cut off by the judge as he started to cry and after he had spoken long enough to fill over 17 transcript pages.
“I can’t listen to this whole thing. I just can’t. … I’m not the psychiatrist. I’m the judge, and I’m limited in what I can do,” Garaufis said. He allowed Pugh time to refocus his remaining statements, but Pugh chose not to resume.
Creizman, his attorney, said Pugh was feeling small after losing his job when he started researching the rise of the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014, impressed that Muslims were trying to create a country and wouldn’t “back down from anything.”

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Marshal: Murder suspects faked medical emergency to escape
By TERRY TANG | Thu, August 29, 2019 08:02 EDT
PHOENIX (AP) — A husband and wife being transported across the country to face murder charges used a medical emergency ruse and then overpowered two security guards, tied them up and left them and a third uninvolved prisoner outside a rural Arizona town, authorities said Thursday.
David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal for Arizona, told The Associated Press that a privately operated prison transport van had departed from Blanding, Utah, on Monday afternoon when Susan Barksdale pretended to have an “intestinal issue.”
“It was compelling enough that they felt the need to pull over,” Gonzales said.
The guards were unarmed and did not feel the need to take a handgun that was inside a locked box. But Susan and Blane Barksdale charged at them once they opened the rear compartment, the marshal said. The male and female guards weren’t physically injured, Gonzales said, but the Barksdales used shoelaces to bind them and then put them in the back with a third inmate. They also took a key to free themselves of a waist restraint.
Blane Barksdale, 56, “is not a big guy but he can be very imposing,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think these two guards were equipped physically and emotionally with the experience needed for these types of individuals.”
The Barksdales drove the van to the town of Vernon, Arizona, where they met up with a friend who gave them access to his red GMC pickup truck. The friend has not been charged but law enforcement continues to question him, Gonzales said.
From there, each drove away in a vehicle for about 40 miles (65 kilometers) and abandoned the van near the town of St. Johns, Arizona. The couple took off with the money in guards’ wallets, which “wasn’t much,” according to Gonzales. They were likely unaware of the handgun, which was still in its box. The guards and the third prisoner were left behind.
“This other prisoner, he wanted no part of this deal,'” Gonzales said. “He was very forthcoming.”
It took the guards two to three hours to break free, eventually kicking out some windows. By the time authorities reached the area, the Barksdales had been gone for several hours. The third prisoner has since been taken to his intended destination — a southern Arizona jail.
The Barksdales were arrested May 24 near Rochester, New York, on suspicion of first-degree murder and other crimes related to the April death of a 72-year-old man in Tucson. Tucson police say a fire followed by an explosion broke out in April at the home of Frank Bligh. His car was found abandoned the next day.
While his body has not been found, investigators say evidence in the car indicated he was likely dead. The Barksdales were later identified as suspects.
Gonzales said multiple agencies including the FBI and Tucson police are interviewing people from Arizona to New York. The Marshals Service on Wednesday offered a $20,000 reward — $10,000 for each suspect — for information leading to their arrest. He believes they are somewhere in the Southwest, possibly Arizona or New Mexico. He also thinks they likely have since shed their prison uniforms.
“In any crime or situation like this, somebody knows something. Sometimes a reward can be that little push to make a call to us,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said Blane Barksdale has a criminal history and his arms are covered in tattoos, including swastikas. He served two prison terms, according to online records. He spent nearly eight years in Arizona prisons for theft and drug convictions dating to 1984. He was released in January 1993.
Barksdale also was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a 2003 federal marijuana possession convictions in Taylor County, Kentucky, and was released in early 2012, according to records.
In a letter to the judge in the Kentucky case, Barksdale said he was thankful that he didn’t receive a stiffer sentence. “I sir, will not ever make you regret giving us this second chance either,” Barksdale said in the handwritten letter.
After his release he married Susan Barksdale, now 59, in December 2013.
Officials in Pima County, where Tucson is located, announced Wednesday they were suspending use of the transport company, Security Transport Services, pending a review of the escape. A spokeswoman at the Topeka, Kansas-based company did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.
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Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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This story has been changed to correct the spelling of David Gonzales’ last name from Gonzalez.

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Atmospheric battle will determine where Dorian hits Florida
BY SETH BORENSTEIN | 04:47 EDT
It’s a battle of mammoth meteorological forces, and at stake is where Hurricane Dorian strikes the United States.
Four days before the system is expected to come ashore, Dorian could hit practically anywhere in Florida because the weather forces that will determine its path have not yet had their showdown, meteorologists said. As of Thursday, the National Hurricane Center had practically all of eastern Florida in a cone of uncertainty, meaning the entire region was at risk.
Forecasters are fairly confident about one thing: Dorian will be powerful.
With 86-degree water as fuel and favorable moist winds, there’s little to prevent the storm from powering up Friday. On top of that, the warmer-than-normal water is running deeper than usual, adding more fuel. The hurricane center predicts Dorian will make landfall on Labor Day as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds.
Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the center, said there’s a chance for a “fairly dramatic” change in storm direction on Saturday based on what’s happening in the atmosphere and the storm altering its own environment, helping to steer its own path.
The forces that will determine Dorian’s fate — and that of Florida — are already at work.
A high pressure system is building over Bermuda, acting as a wall and blocking storms from curving north, which is a natural pathway. It is essentially pushing Dorian westward, more toward densely populated southern Florida, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
Meanwhile, a low pressure system in the Midwest is chugging eastward. When it clashes with the Bermuda high, there’s a chance it will nibble away at the western edges, allowing a weakening in that wall and pulling Dorian to the northwest toward Cape Canaveral or Jacksonville, with a small chance of the storm heading north of Florida, said Weather Underground Meteorology Director Jeff Masters, who used to fly into hurricanes for forecasts.
Whichever one of those forces wins — the blocking high or the pulling low — Florida is likely to lose.
Dorian will have a lot to say about its own movements. Stewart said the storm can feed back on its surroundings and modify them, effectively allowing the hurricane to chart its own course.
Stewart sees the high pressure system winning, with an assist from Dorian itself. That means following a track that points generally toward Palm Beach County and President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Colorado State hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said the slower the storm moves, the more time there is for the atmospheric wall to weaken and Dorian to be pulled farther north. That’s why Klotzbach sees similarities between Dorian and 2004’s Frances , which hit Stuart, Florida, with 105 mph winds and caused nearly $9 billion in damage in the United States.
So far, Dorian is a relatively small storm. Because of that “a small change in track can make big differences in terms of where it ends up,” Klotzbach said.
A slower speed also means Dorian can dump more rain and bring more opportunities for storm surges to hit during high tide. And a new moon means extra high tides, Masters said.
“If it makes landfall as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that’s a big deal,” McNoldy said. “A lot of people are going to be affected. A lot of insurance claims. It’s still quite an ordeal.”
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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears
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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Where did the Sacklers move cash from their opioid maker?
By ADAM GELLER | Fri, August 30, 2019 01:41 EDT
Ninety minutes outside London, a turn down a narrow lane leads past fields of grazing cattle to a sign warning “Private Keep Off.” Around an elbow bend, a great stone manor, its formal gardens and tennis court hidden behind thick hedges, commands a 5,000-acre estate.
The estate is a pastoral prize — proof of the great wealth belonging to the family accused of playing a key role in triggering the U.S. opioid epidemic. But there’s little evidence of that connection. On paper, the land is owned by a handful of companies, most based in distant Bermuda, all controlled by an offshore trust.
The haziness surrounding the estate hints at one of the challenges for government lawyers as they eye a potential settlement with Purdue Pharma L.P. and its owners, the Sackler family, for their alleged role in flooding communities with prescription painkillers.
All but two U.S. states and 2,000 local governments have taken legal action against Purdue, other drugmakers and distributors. Sixteen states have sued family members by name, alleging they steered Purdue while draining more than $4 billion from the company since 2007. That’s when the Oxycontin maker pleaded guilty to misleading doctors, patients and regulators about the drug’s risks.
Purdue’s CEO has said the company could file for bankruptcy. And this week, news organizations reported that Purdue, the family and government lawyers are negotiating a possible settlement , valued at $10 billion to $12 billion, that would see the Sacklers give up company ownership and contribute $3 billion of their own money.
But where, exactly, did the money withdrawn from Purdue over the years end up? And how much might the family be holding that state and local governments should consider fair game?
Answers are complicated by the way the Sacklers have shielded their wealth in a web of companies and trusts, a review by The Associated Press has found. Some are registered in offshore tax havens far from Purdue’s Connecticut headquarters.
The web’s complexity and offshore reach could affect the calculus for government lawyers as they weigh how to go after Purdue, including how to calibrate demands in settlement talks.
“The Sacklers allegedly moved significant money offshore, which potentially would make it harder for any judgment creditor to reach,” said Mark Chalos, a lawyer representing counties and cities including Nashville, Tennessee, in suits against opioids makers.
“This is the real question and you’re seeing it playing out in a lot of different states in different ways,” said Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, a professor of law at the University of Georgia. “How do you make sure that they (the Sacklers) are not siphoning off those assets and hiding them away?”
A representative for the family of Purdue co-founder Mortimer Sackler declined to comment for this story, as did a company spokeswoman. A representative for the relatives of Raymond Sackler, Purdue’s other scion, did not respond to a request for comment.
Purdue and the Sacklers have long relied on a coterie of attorneys and accountants, as well as the family’s closely held ownership of the company, to keep their business and personal dealings private.
But AP’s review of court papers, securities filings by companies that have had dealings with Purdue, and documents leaked from an exclusive Bermuda law firm, show how the family has tried to protect their wealth.
Purdue — controlled through layers of limited partnerships, holding companies and trusts — is at the center of the family’s web. But it hardly ends there.
In Purdue’s 2007 plea agreement with federal prosecutors, it listed 215 companies under its corporate umbrella. But that list did not include a number of companies used to manage property and investments for family members or the trusts, some offshore, set up to administer their fortunes.
Some offshore entities “appear to have served as conduits for monies from Purdue,” a lawyer for New York’s attorney general wrote recently to the judge presiding over the state’s lawsuit.
New York has issued subpoenas to 33 Sackler companies, advisers and banks in the U.S., seeking details about money transferred out of Purdue. It is asking for court assistance to demand that four offshore entities also provide information about millions of dollars that “should be clawed back.”
Many companies set up limited partnerships and country-specific subsidiaries to cap liabilities for shareholders, and many wealthy individuals manage their investments through opaque entities.
But an examination of the Sacklers’ web shows striking complexity and a desire for secrecy, while revealing links between far-flung holdings.
The British estate, known as Rooksnest and acquired before Purdue introduced Oxycontin, is one example. The manor is the domain of Theresa Sackler, widow of one of Purdue’s founders and, until last year, a member of the company’s board of directors. Set in the West Berkshire countryside, it includes a stone mansion that dates to the 16th century, 10 acres of formal gardens and expansive pastures for heritage cattle, red deer and wheat.
It’s run by a Bermuda company called Earls Court Farm Limited, records filed with UK authorities show. But some of the land is owned by five more companies, three also in Bermuda. Earls Court is owned by yet another offshore company. And all the companies are controlled by a trust, based on Jersey in the Channel Islands.
Public filings don’t show who actually owns the estate, and gardeners at the site told an AP photographer they could not answer questions. But documents leaked from Appleby, a Bermuda law firm employed by numerous wealthy clients, show that the companies belong to the Sacklers, among at least 30 island-based entities controlled through family trusts.
Indeed, the leaked documents show that the trustee of the British estate also controls a Sackler company named in U.S. securities filing as one of Purdue’s two “ultimate parents.”
Some states have also sued that firm, Beacon Co., based in the Channel Islands, along with Purdue and the Sacklers. New York state is seeking to subpoena the offshore trust company used to control both Beacon and the British estate.
It has long been known that the Sacklers use Bermuda as a base for Mundipharma, a network of companies set up to do business outside North America. But their island portfolio also includes family foundations, real estate holding companies and an insurer, according to documents leaked in 2017 to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. The documents are part of millions known as the Paradise Papers that were shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which provided access to the AP.
The Sacklers’ use of offshore holding companies and trusts is telling, said Jeffrey Winters, a Northwestern University professor whose research focuses on how the powerful protect their fortunes.
“One would not put those trusts there if you didn’t see some wealth defense benefit,” Winters said. “It’s very hard to see what’s in there and it’s very hard to seize what’s in there. That’s the purpose.”
But David S. Neufeld, an international tax lawyer who works with wealthy clients and closely held companies, said the layered, partly offshore structure used to control Purdue, while not typical, is also not that uncommon.
“Somewhere in this picture is a desire to limit exposure to business liabilities. That’s not, in and of itself, a problem. That’s the very nature” of setting up a corporation, Neufeld said.
The Sacklers had an estimated net worth of $13 billion as of 2016, making them America’s 19th-richest family, according to Forbes magazine. One of their largest holdings outside pharmaceuticals appears to be an estimated $1.7 billion portfolio in a family company, Cap 1 LLC, that recently sold a stake in 17 U.S. ski resorts.
Massachusetts, New York and other states are alleging that the family has worked methodically to move money out of Purdue to insulate their fortune.
At a meeting in December 2010, for example, the Sacklers and other board members approved the withdrawal of $261.3 million from Purdue, according to company records recently made public in the Massachusetts case, the first to name individual family members. Until recently, eight Sacklers served on Purdue’s board.
The board instructed that the money be passed through three layers of holding companies, then split equally between Beacon Co. and Rosebay Medical Co., the other “ultimate parent” of Purdue. Both are controlled by Sackler trusts.
“Do you know whether any of these sums distributed between 2008 and 2011 made their way into any bank account over which you had control?” an attorney asked Dr. Kathe Sackler, one of the family members who approved the transfers, during a deposition this past April.
“I hope so,” she answered, according to a partial transcript recently made public in court filings. “I think so.”
The family’s withdrawal of substantial sums from Purdue was noted by Dr. Richard Sackler, the former president and chairman, in a 2014 email to his sons, filed as an exhibit in court proceedings.
“In the years when the business was producing massive amounts of cash,” he wrote, “the shareholders departed from the practice of our industry peers and took the money out of the business.”
He did not need to remind his sons that the only shareholders of Purdue are Sacklers.
It is not clear where the money drawn from Purdue ended up. New York’s attorney general alleges that the Sacklers sent it offshore to “unknown trusts, partnerships, companies” and other entities they control.
The possibilities are numerous. When family members directed payments to Rosebay Medical, for example, the company served as much more than a parent of Purdue. It is also the owner-of-record for Sackler companies spread from Poland to New Zealand, corporate registries in those countries show.
Rosebay is run from an office in Oklahoma City that manages many family holdings. When David Sackler, son of one of Purdue’s founders, paid $22.5 million last year for a mansion in Los Angeles’ Bel Air neighborhood, the executive who administers Rosebay served as his representative for the purchase.
Lawsuits allege that the Sacklers’ money management decisions were framed by their awareness of state investigations of Purdue.
“Despite this knowledge, the Sackler defendants continued to vote to have Purdue pay the Sackler Families significant distributions and send money to offshore companies,” Nevada’s lawsuit says.
Family members voiced concerns about threats to their holdings.
“While things are looking better now,” Mortimer D.A. Sackler wrote to his cousins months after Purdue’s 2007 guilty plea, and Quote: d in Connecticut’s lawsuit, “I would not count out the possibility that times will get much more difficult again in the future and probably much sooner than we expect.”
Purdue agreed in March to a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma to avoid going to trial. That included $75 million from the Sacklers.
A federal judge in Cleveland overseeing suits by local governments has pushed all parties to work toward a nationwide settlement. The resulting negotiations have included representatives for some of the state attorneys general who have filed suit.
The first federal trials are scheduled to start in October. Unless there’s a settlement, family members could face more questions about their decisions to move money out of Purdue, some of it offshore.
At trial, lawyers for states and cities would “need to prove that the transfer of the money to these offshore accounts were made with fraudulent intent,” said William J. Moon, a professor of law at the University of Maryland.
States can ask courts to order the return of such money to satisfy a legal judgment. But going after money moved offshore would be time-consuming and expensive, with few guarantees, Moon and others said.
Governments suing the company could start by asking judges to order the seizure of Sackler assets in the U.S., pending an eventual verdict, said Gregory Grossman, a Miami attorney specializing in international insolvency. That would require convincing a judge that they’re likely to win the case. But it would be far easier than getting a U.S. judge to freeze offshore assets, he said.
“How comfortable is the court with ordering the seizure of things that are not in their jurisdiction?” Grossman said. “If they are comfortable, will they get cooperation with folks on the other side of the pond?”
If Purdue files for bankruptcy, all the company’s assets would be considered fair game for creditors. But the company’s coffers are separate from the family’s own wealth.
Unless a state had already won their case by that point, a bankruptcy filing by Purdue would put lawsuits against it on hold, said Jessica Gabel Cino, a professor of law at Georgia State University.
As states decide how to proceed, they could find lessons in efforts to recover money lost in broker Bernard Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme.
A court-appointed trustee has long sought money Madoff paid out to investors in offshore “feeder funds,” using cash others entrusted to him. Madoff was arrested in December 2008. But just this February, a federal judge ruled that the money Madoff directed offshore had to be returned.
The ruling, though, is likely to be appealed.

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US agency sees low risk in contaminated blood pressure drugs
By MATTHEW PERRONE 10:44 EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health officials on Wednesday tried to reassure patients that they face very low risks from ongoing contamination problems with widely prescribed blood pressure drugs.
Drugmakers have issued more than 50 recalls since last July linked to low levels of a probable cancer-causing chemical found in generic drugs taken by millions of Americans. The contamination underscores the Food and Drug Administration’s struggle to police an industry that increasingly relies on overseas manufacturing plants in China and India.
On Wednesday, an FDA official said the actual risk to patients from the tainted medications is likely lower than originally stated.
The FDA said last year that if 8,000 patients took the maximum dose of the drugs for four years, the contamination issue could cause one extra case of cancer over their lifetimes.
The agency now says that the actual risk to patients is likely much lower than this “worst case scenario.” That’s because most patients likely “received much smaller amounts of the impurity,” because not all blood pressure drugs on the market contain the hazardous chemicals.
The FDA’s drug center director, Janet Woodcock, said patients should continue taking their medication, because the risk of untreated high blood pressure and heart failure “greatly outweighs the potential risk of exposure to trace amounts” of contaminants.
The affected medications are low-cost versions of lifesaving heart-regulating drugs, including valsartan, losartan and irbesartan. They are designed to allow blood to flow more easily and are sold as single-ingredient pills and tablets and in combination with other drugs.
The FDA is responsible for ensuring that U.S. medicines are produced in safe, sanitary conditions that meet quality standards. But regulators have struggled for years to inspect the supply chain as pharmaceutical production spread globally.
For decades the FDA focused its manufacturing inspections on U.S. factories. More than 90 percent of the drugs prescribed in the U.S. are generics, and over time, most companies have moved their manufacturing overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor and materials. Today roughly 80 percent of the ingredients used in U.S. medicines are made abroad, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The FDA did not open its first permanent offices in China and India until 2008 and 2009, respectively. That followed dozens of deaths and hundreds of allergic reactions in the U.S. linked to a contaminated blood thinner made at a Chinese facility.
The FDA has tried to keep pace with foreign inspections. But when the GAO’s watchdog investigators last examined the issue in 2016, they estimated the FDA had never inspected nearly 1,000 of the 3,000 foreign manufacturing facilities that export drug ingredients to the U.S.
Earlier this summer House lawmakers asked the FDA to provide information about its oversight of facilities in China and India linked to the recent recalls.
“We remain concerned about whether FDA has the appropriate resources, policies, management practices, and authorities to oversee adequately foreign drug manufacturing,” wrote members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in a June letter to the FDA.
On Wednesday, Woodcock noted that the FDA recently issued a warning letter to an India-based manufacturer, Lantech Pharmaceuticals, over traces of a carcinogen found at one of its facilities. The FDA said the company failed to “control and monitor” its manufacturing to prevent the chemical from making its way into pharmaceutical shipments.
The FDA notes that 43 blood pressure medications have not been affected by the contaminations issues. No drug shortages have been reported due to the issue, the agency noted .
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Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter
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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Italy’s soft-spoken Conte raises his voice, wins new mandate
By GIADA ZAMPANO | Thu, August 29, 2019 04:58 EDT
ROME (AP) — Once viewed as a figurehead who took orders from his deputies, Italy’s premier-designate Giuseppe Conte has raised his profile amid the country’s sudden political crisis, emerging as Italy’s best bet to avoid early elections and derail right-wing leader Matteo Salvini’s bid to clinch the helm of government.
Days after handing in his resignation, the 55-year-old law professor, who emerged from anonymity a year ago to head a populist coalition forged by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and Salvini’s right-wing League party, has surprisingly won a fresh mandate.
On Thursday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella asked Conte to explore an alternative coalition of two bitter political rivals — the 5-Stars and the center-left Democratic Party — with the aim of avoiding a snap election as Italy faces domestic and international instability.
Conte was forced to resign earlier this month after Salvini abruptly pulled the plug on his shaky government in a bid to force new elections he was convinced the League would win. It was a risky gamble that ended up backfiring when the 5-Stars joined forces with the opposition Democrats.
Conte is seen as an ally of the 5-Stars, even though he had no party affiliation when he became premier in June 2018. He kept a relatively low profile throughout his 14-month mandate, but before handing in his resignation on Aug. 20, he blasted Salvini for forcing his government to collapse.
In a speech before the Italian Senate, Conte accused Salvini of putting Italy at risk during a delicate political phase in order to purse his own “personal interests” and capitalize on his rising popularity as he implemented an anti-migrant agenda in his role as the country’s powerful interior minister that included blocking Italy’s ports to rescue ships carrying migrants.
During much of his time at the helm of government, Conte had acted as a mediator between his warring coalition partners, Salvini and 5-Stars’ leader Luigi Di Maio. Then the lawyer-turned-politician started showing growing confidence and winning international backing during key summits.
“He started feeling at ease with his European and global partners and was increasingly seen as an anchor amid the stormy Italian politics, which seemed completely out of control,” said Massimiliano Panarari, a political analyst and professor at Rome’s LUISS university.
Salvini had easily overshadowed Di Maio, hammering home a tough “law-and-order” message against migrants, widely perceived as a threat by many Italian voters in the poorer south of Italy. He also appealed to the richer north and its small- and medium-sized businesses with an economic agenda that included lower taxes, turning the League — once a regional party — into a powerful national force even as the 5-Star’s backing plummeted.
Now, Conte — known for his soft-spoken approach and passion for pocket handkerchiefs and brightly colored ties — has grabbed the chance to emerge out of Salvini’s shadow, replacing Di Maio as the real leader of the struggling 5-Stars.
Conte’s new role was quickly embraced by European Union leaders, worried that a possible ascent to power by euroskeptic Salvini would push Italy on a collision course with Brussels over key policies, including a critical budget law that Italy has to submit to the European Commission by mid-October and approve by the end of the year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron warmly greeted Conte at the Group of Seven summit last weekend and he even won a public endorsement from U.S. President Donald Trump on Twitter. Trump called him “a very talented man who will hopefully remain Prime Minister” in a tweet that went viral after Trump misspelled Conte’s first name as “Giuseppi.”
None of that obscures the fact that Conte faces an uphill battle in cobbling together a coalition between two parties that only days ago were bitter enemies with rival political agendas.
In his acceptance speech on Thursday, Conte said he wanted to win back lost time “to allow Italy, a founding member of the EU, to rise again as a protagonist” and transform this moment of crisis into an opportunity.
“He’s a chameleon and he used this unique window of opportunity to gain his own political space, filling the vacuum left by the other leaders,” political analyst Panarari said. “It remains to be seen if he will succeed in this bold move and how long his fragile coalition would be able to survive.”

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Teen activist sails across Atlantic to go to climate meeting
By VERENA DOBNIK 08:09 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York City to chants and cheers Wednesday after a trans-Atlantic trip on a sailboat to attend a global warming conference.
Thunberg, 16, and her crew were escorted into a lower Manhattan marina at about 4 p.m., concluding a two-week crossing from Plymouth, England. Hundreds of activists gathered on a Hudson River promenade to cheer her arrival.
Thunberg waved, was lifted onto a dock, then took her first wobbly steps on dry land.
“All of this is very overwhelming,” she said of the reception, looking slightly embarrassed.
The teenager refused to fly because of the carbon cost of plane travel. A 2018 study said that because of cloud and ozone formation, air travel may trap two to four times more heat than that caused by just emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Speaking to reporters after she landed, Thunberg said the trip wasn’t as uncomfortable as she expected. She didn’t get seasick once, she said. But she stressed that “this is not something I want everyone to do.”
“It is insane that a 16-year-old would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to make a stand,” she said. “The climate and ecological crisis is a global crisis, the biggest crisis that humanity has ever faced, and if we don’t manage to work together and to cooperate and to work together despite our differences, then we will fail.”
Thunberg has become a symbol of a growing movement of young climate activists, leading weekly school strikes in Sweden that inspired similar actions in about 100 cities.
She’s in New York to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit next month. There, she’ll join world leaders who will present plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The boat carrying Thunberg, the Malizia II, encountered rough seas that slowed it down for a day. Taking turns steering the 60-foot (18-meter) racing yacht were two skippers Boris Herrmann and Pierre Casiraghi, the grandson of Monaco’s late Prince Rainier III and American actress Grace Kelly.
This was no pleasure cruise. The Malizia is built for high-speed, offshore racing, and weight is kept to a minimum. There is no toilet — just a bucket — or fixed shower aboard, no windows below deck and only a small gas cooker to heat up freeze-dried food.
The sailboat’s onboard electronics are powered by solar panels and underwater turbines.
Thunberg, the daughter of an actor and an opera singer, became a European celebrity last year when she refused to go to school in the weeks before Sweden’s general election to highlight the impact of climate change.
She continued her school strike on Fridays after the election, spurring thousands of young people to follow suit. Since then, she’s met the pope, spoken at Davos and attended anti-coal protests in Germany.
She is now taking a year off school to pursue her activism.
Her father, Svante Thunberg, crossed the ocean with her.
“He had to, because I had made up my mind I was going to go and he has to take care of me,” she told The Associated Press, standing on a swaying dock by the sailboat. “He didn’t want to, but I sort of forced him to do it and I think he’s happy he did it.”
The most dramatic moments came “when you’re doing like 27, 28 knots and it’s very, very bumpy and you just try to hold on and not fall,” she said.
The boat was accompanied into New York by a flotilla of 17 sailboats the United Nations organized — one for each of the 17 U.N. goals to end poverty and preserve the environment by 2030, including action to prevent climate change.
Upon her arrival in New York, Thunberg was asked whether she had a message for U.S. President Donald Trump, who rejects mainstream climate science.
“My message for him is just: listen to the science,” she said. “And he obviously doesn’t do that. So as I always say to this question: If no one has been able to convince him about the climate crisis, the urgency, then why should I be able to do that? So I am just going to focus on spreading awareness.”
But far simpler things took precedence in her first hours in Manhattan. She said she can finally rest, take a shower and enjoy meals of “fresh vegetables, not freeze-dried food” like canned beans and corn.
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Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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Africa is the ‘fire continent’ but blazes differ from Amazon
By CARLEY PETESCH | 12:44 EDT
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — As the world has watched with fear and fascination the fires burning in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, satellite images show a far greater number of blazes on the African continent.
NASA has called Africa the “fire continent” that’s home to at least 70% of the 10,000 fires burning worldwide on an average August day, though the agency says the number of fires is consistent from year to year.
While French President Emmanuel Macron has said he is considering launching an international campaign to help sub-Saharan African countries fight fires, experts say the situation there is different and not yet a growing problem — though it could become a threat in future.
Angola had almost three times more fires than Brazil over a period last week, according to NASA satellite imagery, which indicated around 6,000 fires in Angola, more than 3,000 in Congo and just over 2,000 in Brazil.
Though Angola and Congo dominate in numbers of fires, they often occur in sparsely wooded savannas and on fields cultivated by small farmers, making them less of a concern for deforestation than those in the Amazon, said Sally Archibald, a professor at Wits University in Johannesburg.
“There are fire management questions in these (African) ecosystems, but fire is part of their ecology,” said Archibald, who studies fire management and savanna dynamics. “In South America, the equivalent non-forest woodlands have been largely converted to soybean agriculture already, but in Africa they are largely untransformed.”
Savanna fires release carbon dioxide, but within a year the grass regrows, sucking much of the carbon out of the atmosphere again. The fires may push toward the forests, but are mostly snuffed out at that border, Archibald said, unless trees are cut down making tropical forests more vulnerable. When a tropical forest is burned, the trees die and the carbon dioxide goes up and doesn’t return to the system quickly.
“The main message is: yes we have a lot of fire, but it’s not bad and can be very good for the ecology,” she said. “We don’t know how many deforestation fires we have but the best evidence is that our forests are not decreasing, they are in fact increasing.”
Most deforestation occurred in West Africa in the 19th century, Archibald said, adding that Cameroon and Gabon show increased forestation.
However, ecosystems such as the Miombo Woodlands, which covers 10% of the continent over nine countries, do need to be managed. These woodlands push up against forests and because of an increase in population, more people are planting crops along the edges.
The Miombo Network, an advisory and sustainability group that Archibald is a member of, is working with the World Bank and policymakers to make sure there is proper fire management in these areas, she said.
NASA research scientist Niels Andela also said that savanna fires have shaped Africa’s landscape for thousands of years.
“Fires are therefore often a critical component of these ecosystems and are not perceived as harmful by local communities,” he said. “Indeed, fires are often used for agricultural purposes, for example to keep the landscape open to support livestock, as well as sometimes as part of shifting cultivation.”
Andela said deforestation isn’t occurring on the same scale as in South America.
“In part that may be simply due to limitations of existing infrastructure and lack of access to global markets, processes that drive large scale agricultural expansion elsewhere,” he said. “It is therefore certainly a possibility that this may change in future.”
Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, former chief negotiator for the Africa Zone at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference, said agricultural practices known as “slash and burn” need to be better managed, citing the over 3,000 fires in Congo.
“It is a great threat to our forests,” he said of the technique used by farmers in Congo and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. “You need a global ambitious program or you train people to use other practices for people to go into intensive agriculture. You have to organize these small farmers by giving them fertilizer, seeds.”
The European Space Agency estimates 25-35% of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions come from so-called biomass burning, which includes fires that are intentionally set to clear land for agriculture.
The majority of those fires occur in tropical regions of Africa.
Using satellite data from the agency’s Copernicus program, researchers said in a December study that the total area burned in 2016 was 4.9 million square kilometers (1.89 million sq. miles).
Most of the fires are 100 hectares (247.1 acres) or smaller in size.
Other areas with extensive biomass burning are Australia, South America and southeast Asia.
Globally, the amount of area burned declined by about 25% over the past two decades, largely because of savannas and grasslands being converted to agriculture, said James Randerson, an earth systems scientist at the University at California, Irvine.
Randerson said the tropical forests of Africa have yet to see widespread deforestation driven by industrial-scale agriculture that is transforming parts of the Amazon. But, he said, global economic forces could potentially change this as countries in east Asia, particularly China, seek to expand trade relations with African nations.
“That could put more pressure on the African forests,” Randerson said.
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AP writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana and Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo contributed to this report.
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Follow Carley Petesch on Twitter at https://twitter.com/carleypetesch

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US agency: Hospital forced nurse to participate in abortion
By WILSON RING 05:08 EDT
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s largest hospital forced a nurse to participate in an abortion procedure over her moral objections in violation of federal law, a government civil rights agency said Wednesday.
The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington could lose some federal funding if the two parties cannot agree within 30 days on the hospital’s policies on employee participation in abortions, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced.
The nurse believed she would be participating in a procedure after a patient had suffered a miscarriage, office Director Roger Severino told reporters on a conference call. Instead, he said, she was told “‘Please don’t hate me’ by the doctor” when it became clear it was an abortion.
The nurse asked to be relieved during what Severino described as an elective abortion and was told no. Faced with the prospect of losing her job, Severino said, “she relented and has been traumatized ever since.”
The abortion took place in 2017, and the nurse filed a complaint with the civil rights office in May 2018. A subsequent investigation by the office “uncovered serious discrimination by UVMMC against nurses and staff who cannot, in good conscience, assist in elective abortion” in violation of federal laws known as Church amendments.
In a statement, the hospital said it was disappointed by the action of the civil rights office.
“The University of Vermont Medical Center has robust, formal protections that strike the appropriate and legal balance between supporting our employees’ religious, ethical and cultural beliefs, and making sure our patients are not denied access to safe and legal abortion,” the hospital said. “These protections cover initiation and cessation of life support, organ transplant, sterilization, and termination of pregnancy.”
Susan Berke Fogel, director of reproductive health at the advocacy organization National Health Law Program, said the Vermont case is missing details of what the nurse was being asked to do. The Health and Human Services Department, she said, has been expanding the definition of what it means to assist in abortion procedures.
“They are definitely highlighting and putting forward cases that will achieve that goal that anybody can refuse to participate in anything,” she said. “And surely, the long-term goal is to get hospitals and other systems to stop providing abortions and gender-affirming care.”
The nurse, who declined to be named publicly, no longer works at the university hospital, said her lawyer, Francis Manion, a senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, which works to “defend the rights of conscience of pro-life health care workers.”
Federal laws protecting the rights of health workers who object to participating in abortions and some other procedures have been on the books for years. But religious conservatives who form a key part of President Donald Trump’s base have long complained they were not enforced.
Setting up the Health and Human Services “conscience office” last year was among a series of administration actions to address longstanding priorities of religious and social conservatives, who are key to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
A new rule banning federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions has led Planned Parenthood and other providers to leave the government program that provides for the funding. Another rule, not yet final, would revoke sex discrimination protections for transgender people in health care.
The civil rights office is mainly known for handling privacy violations. Severino said the Vermont case was the third enforcement action since the launch of the new division last year.
The other two involved pregnancy resource centers, one in California and one in Hawaii, that he said were discriminated against because they refused to make abortion referrals.
Before Trump’s election, Severino said, the civil rights office averaged 1.25 conscience complaints a year. “Now we are in the hundreds of complaints,” he said.
The Vermont Legislature this year passed a law, signed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, ensuring a woman’s access to abortion. The Legislature also took the first step in a years-long process to amend the state constitution to achieve the same goal.
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Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.
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This story has been updated to correct the timing of the abortion to 2017, instead of 2018.

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Kashmir: Indian Army accused of torture – BBC News

A BBC investigation has uncovered allegations of brutal beatings and torture by soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Indian government withdrew the region’s semi-autonomous status in early August. There’s since been a clampdown on dissent and thousands of arrests, and it’s being seen by some as a drive by the Hindu nationalist government for more control over India’s only Muslim majority state. The Indian Army has described the allegations as baseless.

BBC News at Ten’s Sameer Hashmi has been inside Kashmir and sent this report, which some people may find distressing.

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245 rescued from burning ferry in Philippine waters, 3 dead
By JIM GOMEZ | Wed, August 28, 2019 06:54 EDT
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Fishing boats and passing ships rescued 245 people from a ferry that burned overnight in choppy waters in the southern Philippines but at least three people perished, including a child, coast guard officials said Wednesday.
Survivors described how they feared being killed by either the fire or waves while waiting for hours to be rescued as bright-orange flames engulfed much of the vessel, the M/V Lite Ferry 16, off Dapitan city in Zamboanga del Norte province.
The fire apparently started in the engine room, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said. Despite the damage, the ferry stayed afloat about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) off Dapitan city, where it was heading from Santander in central Cebu province.
The victims were a 1-year-old girl and two male passengers in their 60s, Balilo said.
“I was thinking of the Lord because I thought there were only two ways that I could end: I could get burned alive or I may drown,” Wilfredo Castro, a businessman, told The Associated Press by telephone after being rescued.
Some passengers jumped off the ferry in panic when the fire broke out before midnight Tuesday and were rescued by passing vessels. Castro said he and about 30 mostly male fellow passengers allowed a group of the elderly, women and children to be rescued first by a passenger speed boat but when their turn came, the waves grew more dangerous in the darkness.
“The waves were too strong and rescue boats may not be able to find us if we jumped into the sea,” Castro said. After about five hours of frantic waiting in the ferry’s cargo loading bay, one of the parts of the ferry untouched by the flames, he said he and the others decided to go for it and dove into the sea.
They struggled in the strong waves but reached a waiting rescue boat, he said.
“This is my second life,” the 30-year-old businessman said with relief, although he lost a laptop, a camera, a cellphone, clothes and other belongings.
Balilo said the coast guard did not have any patrol ship in the area, so it alerted nearby vessels to help in the rescue. “It’s good that a number of ships immediately responded,” he said.
It was unclear whether any people were missing, but none was reported by relatives. The search would nevertheless continue, Balilo said around noon Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in the northern Philippines, ferries were warned not to venture to sea after a fast-moving storm blew across the main island of Luzon overnight. Heavy rain fell in some northern provinces, but no casualties or major damage were reported, officials said.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and weak enforcement of safety regulations. In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,341 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
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Associated Press journalists Bullit Marquez, Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.

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AP PHOTOS: Painter-caste Nepal couple tries saving dying art
By NIRANJAN SHRESTHA | Tue, August 27, 2019 11:44 EDT
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Chitrakar families in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu were renowned traditional painters and sculptors who depicted gods and goddesses on temples, masks of Hindu deities and posters for various religious celebrations.
The art and tradition, however, is dying because of mass machine printed posters and card-size pictures of gods that are cheaper and more popular. There are just 10 or fewer families now painting in this style, which is denoted by its vivid palette of plant-based paints. New generations of Chitrakars are going into other professions, or leaving Nepal for work or education abroad.
For Chitrakar couple Tej Kumari and Purna, who have been following the tradition at their home in Bhaktapur, a suburb of Kathmandu, it is a struggle to keep the dying art alive against the modern mass produced prints.
The Chitrakars were given their title, which became their family name, by 14th century King Jayasthiti Malla. Malla classified the Newar ethnic group of Kathmandu under a caste system according to occupations passed down from generation to generation, with different families taking on roles as priests, artisans, fishermen, cleaners, farmers, traders and many more. With this, higher and lower castes were also formed.
Nepal history and culture expert Satya Mohan Joshi said there were positive and negative aspects of this system back then.
“The bad thing was it created a basis for discrimination. The good thing was it created expertise in each sector,” he said, allowing the Chitrakar’s distinct painting style to continue and flourish.
“Even if the painter’s son, a Chitrakar, wanted to do the coppersmith job of a Tamrakar, they weren’t able to,” he said, referring to another Hindu ethnic group. “It is still the same now. But passing these skills on to people from different castes and backgrounds who want to learn the craft could save these traditions.”
Tej Kumari and Purna learned how to paint in the Chitrakar style from their fathers and grandfathers, knowledge passed down over generations. However, they are not sure if the next generation will continue the tradition. Their two sons work in business but their third son is showing some interest in learning the trade.
While painting snake gods for the Hindu festival of Naag Pancahami, Tej Kumari recalls days when she would make thousands of posters for people to paste on their doors in August. This year she made only about 50.
She said machine printed ones have gained popularity, leading to a drastic reduction in the number of customers. Many of the older generation who appreciated the art form have died.
“It is a craft I have known and practiced for ages,” she said. “If anyone in Nepal would like to learn it and keep the culture alive, I would happily teach them.”

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Ukrainian court frees Russian journalist
Wed, August 28, 2019 06:48 EDT
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian court on Wednesday released a Russian journalist on parole after more than a year in jail, an apparent signal that a much-anticipated prisoner exchange with Russia is getting on track.
Kirill Vyshinskiy, the Kyiv bureau chief for the Russian state RIA-Novosti news agency, had been in custody since his arrest on treason charges in May 2018. The journalist, who has Ukrainian citizenship, has rejected the charges, saying that he only did his work as a journalist.
Speaking after the court’s ruling, Vyshinskiy expressed his gratitude to Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who has pushed for his release.
The court’s decision to set Vyshinskiy free appears to herald the start of a prisoner swap with Russia that has been discussed since former comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the Ukrainian presidency in April.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin welcomes Vyshinskiy’s release, but he wouldn’t say if Russia would respond in kind and release Ukrainian prisoners.
Ukraine has urged Russia to release 24 Ukrainian sailors captured off Crimea in November, along with other prisoners, while Russia has demanded the release of some other prisoners in Ukrainian custody.
Zelenskiy, who was elected in a landslide, has made getting Ukrainian prisoners home and settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine his top campaign promise and policy priority.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the expected exchange of prisoners would involve Oleg Sentsov, arguably the highest-profile Ukrainian imprisoned in Russia. A native of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2015 for conspiracy to commit terrorism. His supporters call the prosecution of Sentsov, who staunchly opposed the annexation of Crimea, politically motivated.
Last October, the European Union awarded its human rights prize to Sentsov.

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Lawyer: Slain immigrant likely didn’t understand police
By STEFANIE DAZIO 06:56 EDT
ROSEMEAD, Calif. (AP) — A Chinese immigrant fatally shot by a Southern California police officer as he hid behind a door during a raid on a marijuana growing operation didn’t speak English and likely didn’t understand he was being told to show his hands, lawyers for the man’s family said Wednesday in alleging the officer had no reason to open fire.
Attorneys representing the family of 49-year-old Li Xi Wang said they have filed a claim against the city of Chino for damages, a prerequisite for a lawsuit. Wang was shot July 3 while police were searching a home.
Body camera video released by Chino police shows officers slowly going through the home and repeatedly calling out in Spanish and English for anyone inside to come out with their hands up. As they were walking through the house, an officer spotted Wang, said “Let me see your hands, dude,” and gunfire quickly rang out.
It wasn’t clear from the video whether Wang attempted to comply or made any other movement before the gunfire. He was unarmed.
Brian Dunn, a lawyer representing the Wang family, said the shooting violated protocols for police to use deadly force because Wang did not pose a threat to the officers.
“Mr. Wang was passive,” Dunn said. “He had nothing in his hands.”
Another attorney, Daniel Deng, said Wang came to the United States in 2005 and didn’t speak English. Deng said Wang may not have understood it was police officers in the home or what they were telling him to do.
“He could have believed he was being robbed,” Deng said.
Chino police, in a statement Wednesday, offered their condolences to the Wang family.
“Our department is also reviewing the shooting from all angles and if we find any tactics, policies, procedures or other issues or actions that need to be addressed, we will address them,” the statement said.
Police suspected drug trafficking after receiving complaints and obtained a warrant to search the home in a neighborhood of tidy two-story residences in Chino, a bedroom community of about 90,000 people east of Los Angeles. Wang lived in Fontana, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away
The police video shows officers speaking outside the home to Ai Yue Cai, a 53-year-old woman also from Fontana. Cai, who was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana and grand theft of electricity, is seen shaking her head as officers ask her if anyone else is in the house.
While police say she “indicated” no one else was inside, the lawyers for the Wang family said they believe she does not speak English and may not have understood the officers.
Officers then entered the home and began calling out to anyone who might be inside. In the video, Wang can be seen hiding behind an open door. One officer walks through the door, unaware Wang is there, and an officer behind then shouts for Wang to show his hands before a shot is fired. Police have not said how many rounds were fired but the video indicates only one.
Wang died later at a hospital. Authorities said they seized about 16.5 pounds (7.48 kilograms) of processed marijuana, 1,500 marijuana plants, $35,000 in cash, and evidence of identity theft at the Chino home and a residence in Fontana.
Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and an expert on use-of-force law, said the video is “completely uninformative.”
Weisberg said he’s unable to see if Wang was doing anything that appeared threatening to the officer or if he understood the command to raise his hands.
He said it’s unclear if the officer fired because he believed he was in danger or from the “shock” of seeing Wang behind the door.
Weisberg also said while officers are not required to get an additional interpreter, they could have postponed going into the home until they had a Chinese speaker present.
The Wang family attorneys acknowledged he had been working at the home for two to three months. He was a single father with an ailing mother who remained in China.
“He was hired to take care of the marijuana house,” Deng said. “He is not a drug dealer, he is not a smuggler, he’s just a simple worker trying to make a living by taking care of marijuana.”
Dunn said they have not interviewed Cai or seen an autopsy report. The county coroner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for the report.
The attorneys are working with Dr. Henry Lee, a forensic scientist who testified at the O.J. Simpson murder trial and other high-profile criminal cases.
The district attorney’s office says the case remains under investigation by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which referred questions to Chino police.

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After daring escape, suspects in slaying may be in Arizona
By TERRY TANG 09:03 EDT
PHOENIX (AP) — Authorities searched for clues Wednesday on how an Arizona couple suspected of murder were able to overpower guards, escape a transport vehicle bringing them across the country and evade a two-day manhunt.
The U.S. Marshals Service has been poring through dozens of tips since Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59, fled in small-town Utah on Monday. The agency is hoping to get more by offering $20,000 in reward money — $10,000 per fugitive — for information leading to their capture.
“We’re getting tips left and right and looking into the validity of each one,” U.S. Deputy Marshal Michael Adams said.
While it wasn’t clear if the couple had weapons or had taken any from the guards, Adams warned that people should consider them armed and dangerous.
They somehow overpowered two guards in a prison transport company vehicle on the way from upstate New York to southern Arizona and escaped in Blanding, Utah.
Authorities believe they may be driving through Arizona, and they were last seen in a Red GMC pickup. Digital signs on highways throughout the state flashed alerts about the outlaw couple.
Blane Barksdale is described as having numerous tattoos on his arms and hands.
The law enforcement agencies looking for the couple, including the FBI, did not say whether the couple was restrained during their cross-country transport, why the route from New York passed through rural Utah or how they overtook the guards.
The fugitives spent Sunday night in a county jail in Monticello, Utah, San Juan County Sheriff Jason Torgerson said.
Torgerson didn’t find out until hours later about the escape in Blanding, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the jail. He still doesn’t know exactly where or how it happened, he said.
The news caused some panic in the small city of 3,600 residents. A high school volleyball team sent players home early Tuesday, fearing the fugitives were loose in the community, Torgerson said.
He said authorities have since spread the word that the fugitives aren’t likely in Utah anymore, but he’s still asking residents to be vigilant.
Law enforcement officials in Arizona said they had no details about the escape and referred inquiries to Security Transport Services, based in Topeka, Kansas. When reached by phone, an employee who declined to give her full name said the company expected to get more information from the guards Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in southern Arizona announced it will halt use of Security Transport Services pending a review. The county has contracted the Topeka, Kansas-based company’s services since 2016 and it has transported about 70 inmates this year at the cost of $88,500.
A man who was extradited from Texas to Arizona accused Security Transport Services of treating inmates improperly and keeping poor travel logs, Tucson TV station KVOA-TV reported earlier this month. Thomas Bray’s charges were later dropped, the station said.
Under its contract, the company’s logs must include records of breaks and meals and be signed by the prisoner. In response, president Thomas Baumann acknowledged the company “did not notate as agreed” on its logs.
The Barksdales were arrested May 24 near Rochester, New York, on suspicion of first-degree murder and other crimes.
Tucson police say a fire followed by an explosion broke out in April at the home of Frank Bligh. The 72-year-old’s car was found abandoned the next day.
While his body has not been found, investigators say evidence in the car indicated he was likely dead. The Barksdales were later identified as suspects.
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Associated Press writer Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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UN says 40 migrants feared drowned in capsizing off Libya
By SAMY MAGDY | 01:43 EDT
CAIRO (AP) — A boat carrying dozens of migrants bound for Europe capsized Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, with at least 40 people missing and presumed drowned, U.N. officials said, as a support group reported it had gotten a call from someone on the vessel “crying and shouting” that passengers had died already.
At least 65 migrants, mostly from Sudan, were rescued, said Ayoub Gassim, a spokesman for Libya’s coast guard, with a search halted for those still missing. The coast guard gave a lower estimate for those missing and feared drowned, saying it was 15 to 20 people.
Gassim told The Associated Press that five people were confirmed dead, including a woman and a child from Morocco whose bodies were recovered near the western town of Khoms, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli. The other dead were men from Morocco, Sudan and Somalia.
Tuesday’s shipwreck was the latest maritime disaster involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe. One month ago, up to 150 Europe-bound migrants, including women and children, were missing and feared drowned when two boats carrying about 300 people capsized off Libya. In January, 17 died or were missing off Libya and in May, about 65 drowned when their boat sank off Tunisia.
“If today’s tragic numbers are confirmed, the number of people drowned in the Mediterranean in 2019 will have reached close to 900,” said Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, who gave the estimate of at least 40 dead or missing, among them women and children, based on eyewitness accounts of the survivors.
The U.N.’s migration agency said a total of 859 migrants have died in the Mediterranean as of Aug. 22. It said 45,505 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, which represents a 30 percent drop from 2018.
Alarm Phone, an independent support group for people crossing the Mediterranean, said about 100 were aboard the capsized vessel. The group said it received a call from migrants on the boat, who “were in severe distress, crying and shouting, telling us that people had died already.”
Libya’s coast guard says it has intercepted hundreds of migrants at sea so far in August.
The country became a major crossing point for migrants to Europe after the overthrow and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, when the North African nation was thrown into chaos, armed militias proliferated and central authority collapsed.
In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the coast guard and other Libyan forces to try to stop the dangerous sea crossings. Rights groups say those efforts have left migrants at the mercy of brutal armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers that lack adequate food and water.
At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention facilities in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses. There are limited supplies for the migrants, who often end up there after arduous journeys at the mercy of abusive traffickers who hold them for ransom from their families.
More than 3,000 migrants are in danger because the detention centers in and around Tripoli are close to fighting between forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and an array of militias loosely aligned with a U.N.-recognized government since April.
At least 44 people were killed in July by an airstrike on a detention center for migrants near the Libyan capital in an attack that the U.N. human rights chief said could amount to a war crime.
The government blamed the airstrike on Hifter’s forces, which denied responsibility and accused government-linked militias of storing weapons at the facility.
In Europe, meanwhile, two humanitarian groups that have been flying search-and-rescue missions for migrants out of the Italian island of Lampedusa are protesting a move by Italy’s civil aviation authority to ground their planes.
The authority, ENAC, confirmed the grounding of the Moonbird, a Cirrus SR22 single-engine aircraft operated by the German group Sea-Watch, and Colibri, a MCR-4S aircraft operated by French group Pilotes Volontaires. ENAC said the light aircraft are approved for recreational and not professional use.
Both groups dispute the decision.
Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer called the grounding political, saying the Moonbird is in compliance with Italian and national norms. He said the planes document human rights violations by ships that do not respond to rescue calls or by EU-deployed aircraft that signal the presence of migrant boats to Libyan authorities so they are returned to Libya. Both the EU and the U.N. have said Libya is not a safe port for migrants.
Also Tuesday, hard-line Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini banned a German humanitarian ship carrying migrants rescued off Libya from entering Italian territorial waters.
This one targeted a vessel operated by the German group Lifeline that picked up about 100 people Monday in a rubber lifeboat some 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the Libyan coast. Lifeline has urged the German government to help identify a safe harbor.
Malta on Monday said its armed forces rescued 162 migrants in two operations.
While Italy and Malta are the closest European ports, Italy has enacted a policy to exclude humanitarian rescue ships from bringing migrants to its ports. Malta generally has accepted migrants rescued in its area of responsibility. The positions have led to numerous standoffs.
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Associated Press writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed.

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Iranian president: First lift sanctions, then let’s talk
By NASSER KARIMI | 10:47 EDT
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president back-pedaled Tuesday on possible talks with Donald Trump, saying the U.S. president must first lift sanctions imposed on Tehran, otherwise a meeting between the two would be a mere photo op.
Hassan Rouhani’s change of heart came a day after Trump said Monday that there’s a “really good chance” the two could meet on their nuclear impasse after a surprise intervention by French President Emmanuel Macron during the G-7 summit to try to bring Washington and Tehran together after decades of conflict.
“Without the U.S.’s withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development,” Rouhani said in a televised speech on Tuesday, adding that Washington “holds the key” as to what happens next.
“If someone intends to make it as just a photo op with Rouhani, that is not possible,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, Rouhani expressed readiness to negotiate a way out of the crisis following America’s pullout from the nuclear deal.
“If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country’s development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it,” he had said. “Even if the odds of success are not 90% but are 20% or 10%, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.”
Rouhani also shielded his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, against criticism from hard-liners over his surprise visit Sunday to France’s Biarritz, where leaders of the Group of Seven rich democracies were meeting.
Iran’s English-language Press TV issued a vague, anonymous statement later on Monday, rejecting Macron’s initiative.
Macron said he hoped Trump and Rouhani could meet within weeks in hopes of saving the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers, but which the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from last year. Under the deal, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
On Tuesday, Macron acknowledged his efforts to bring Iran and the U.S. together are “fragile” but said he still sees a “possible path” to rapprochement between the two.
Inviting Zarif to the G-7 summit as a surprise guest was a risky diplomatic maneuver but it helped create “the possible conditions of a useful meeting,” Macron said.
It’s France’s responsibility to play the “role of a balancing power,” Macron said, adding that his efforts allowed hope for a “de-escalation” of tensions.
Since the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal, Iran has lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the accord as the U.S. re-imposed and escalated sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude abroad, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic.
Rouhani’s U-turn can be seen as a result of pressure from hard-liners in the Iranian establishment who oppose taking a softer tone toward the West.
But it could also reflect that the paradigm of grand photo op summits in exotic locations — such as Trump’s meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — while stringent sanctions remain in place, does not necessarily appeal to Rouhani, whose signature accomplishment was the nuclear deal, which started unravelling with Trump’s pullout.
The hard-line Javan daily, which is close to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, warned Rouhani in large font on its Tuesday front page: “Mr. Rouhani, photo diplomacy will not develop the country.”
___
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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‘Coward’: Epstein accusers pour out their anger in court
By TOM HAYS and LARRY NEUMEISTER | Tue, August 27, 2019 08:22 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — One by one, 16 women who say they were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein poured out their anger Tuesday, lashing out at him as a coward and a manipulator, after a judge gave them the day in court they were denied when he killed himself behind bars.
“The fact I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at my soul,” said Jennifer Araoz, who has accused Epstein of raping her in his New York mansion when she was a 15-year-old aspiring actress.
“Even in death, Epstein is trying to hurt me. I had hoped to at last get an apology, but this evil man had no remorse or caring for what he did to anyone,” she said.
The hearing was convened by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, who presided over the case after federal prosecutors had Epstein arrested last month.
The question before the judge was whether to throw out the indictment because of the defendant’s death, a usually pro forma step undertaken without a hearing. But the judge offered Epstein’s accusers an extraordinary opportunity to speak in court.
In addition to the women who spoke — some publicly for the first time — statements from several others were read in court by their lawyers.
They vented their fury over Epstein’s alleged crimes and his suicide in his jail cell Aug. 10 while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges involving dozens of teenage girls. Repeatedly, the women described themselves as survivors and said they hoped coming forward would help others.
“I was a victim, but I will not remain a victim and be silent for one more day,” said actress Anouska De Georgiou, who said she was sexually abused by Epstein as a teenager. “Although I think it’s tragic when anybody dies before their time, I’m extremely relieved that Jeffrey Epstein will not be in a position to hurt any more children or any more women.”
Courtney Wild, who has said she was sexually abused by Epstein in Florida at age 14, called him a “coward” who had “robbed myself and all the other victims of our day in court to confront him.”
Araoz said she felt let down by Epstein’s jailers, too.
“They let this man kill himself and kill the chance for justice for so many others in the process,” she said.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who has said she was a 15-year-old working at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club when she was recruited to perform sex acts on Epstein, told the court: “My hopes were quickly dashed, and my dreams were stolen.”
Sarah Ransome, who said Epstein pressured her into sex when she was in her early 20s, pleaded with prosecutors to go after those who helped the financier in his pursuit of victims.
“Please, please finish what you started,” she said.
Among those under scrutiny: Epstein’s girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been accused of recruiting young women for his sexual pleasure and taking part in the abuse. She has denied wrongdoing.
In opening the session, the judge called the 66-year-old Epstein’s suicide a “rather stunning turn of events.” He defended his decision to let the women speak, saying public hearings “promote transparency.”
During the 2½-hour proceeding, the women sometimes clutched one another to lend support. Most remained composed, but several cried as they described falling into Epstein’s web.
Some women described their shame and embarrassment, saying Epstein manipulated them, dangling his wealth and power and connection to celebrities and political figures, while seizing on their vulnerabilities.
Several of the women chose to testify anonymously, including one who said she was 15 when she was flown to Epstein’s New Mexico ranch. While molesting her, he was also “explaining to me how beneficial the experience was for me and how he was helping me grow,” she said.
She said that as he abused her, she could see framed pictures of him on a dresser, smiling with celebrities.
Teala Davies, taking deep breaths to steady her voice, said she was 17 when she was victimized. She said she thought Epstein was the most powerful person she would ever meet.
“But the end is here, and here I stand, becoming more powerful than he will ever be,” she said.
A New York City coroner ruled that Epstein hanged himself . But one of Epstein’s lawyers, Martin Weinberg, challenged that finding during Tuesday’s hearing, saying “we are told by a very experienced forensic pathologist” that broken bones in his neck were more consistent with strangulation than with suicide.
“Find out what happened to our client,” the lawyer told the judge.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey, though, said the manner of Epstein’s death was irrelevant to Tuesday’s proceedings.
The judge said he thought it was “fair game” for the defense to raise concerns, but took no immediate action on the request. Prosecutors noted that a grand jury is already investigating the death.
Dr. Michael Baden, the pathologist hired by Epstein’s representatives to observe the autopsy, told The Associated Press Tuesday he is awaiting the report from the medical examiner’s office before offering his opinion on the cause of death.
Comey said the dismissal of an indictment against Epstein “in no way lessens the government’s resolve to stand up for the victims”
At his death, Epstein was being held without bail, accused of abusing girls in the early 2000s at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida.
In the wake of his suicide, the warden of the federal jail and the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons were removed, and two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein were placed on leave.
Epstein’s lawyers contended he could not be prosecuted because he signed a non-prosecution deal with federal authorities over a decade ago in Florida that resulted in a 13-month stint in jail on state prostitution-related charges. Federal prosecutors in New York said that deal did not prevent the new charges.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes unless they give their consent, which several Epstein accusers have done.

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EarthLink – News

BP to shed Alaska assets, sell to Hilcorp Alaska for $5.6B
By BECKY BOHRER | Tue, August 27, 2019 08:33 EDT
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — BP plans to sell its interests in Alaska’s once prodigious North Slope to a company seen as having a reputation of giving new life to aging fields.
The sale to Hilcorp Alaska, an affiliate of Texas-based Hilcorp Energy Co., would be worth $5.6 billion, and include interests in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, Point Thomson gas field and the trans-Alaska pipeline system, BP said in a release. Harvest Alaska, another Hilcorp affiliate, will acquire BP’s stake in the pipeline.
The sale announced Tuesday would be subject to state and federal approval. The sale comes as BP attempts to divest $10 billion in assets by 2020.
Energy analyst Phil Flynn said since Bob Dudley became BP’s chief executive, the company has been shedding older fields and those seen as more inefficient and expensive. He sees BP’s announcement as strategic.
Jason Rebrook, president of Hilcorp Energy Co., in a statement said his company has a record of “bringing new life to mature basins, including Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the North Slope, and we have a clear understanding that an experienced local workforce is critical to success.”
Larry Persily, a former federal coordinator for Alaska gas projects, said Hilcorp has made a mark by picking up projects others moved away from and “wringing more money out of them,” citing Cook Inlet as an example.
But he noted it wasn’t one of the major energy companies buying the BP assets “because they tend not to buy declining assets. And that’s what this is.” He said BP hasn’t been in exploration mode in Alaska for years.
Kara Moriarty, head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said the purchase is a reflection of what happens in mature fields, like Prudhoe Bay and before this, Hilcorp buying platforms in Cook Inlet, some of which have been out there 60 years.
“There’s only a finite amount of capital in the world and within oil and gas companies, so they have to do what they think is best to get a return for their shareholders and that’s what BP is doing and that’s what Hilcorp is doing,” she said.
Changes in corporate direction are not uncommon in the industry. Chevron left Cook Inlet, Shell left Alaska and Anadarko left the Gulf of Mexico and the Lower 48 before selling to another company, she said.
“It’s just a reflection of how the industry works, and it’s a reflection that nothing is guaranteed,” she said. “You know, it’s an ever changing global industry.”
About 2.1 million barrels a day of North Slope oil flowed through the pipeline at its peak in the late ’80s; so far this year, the average is about 500,000 barrels a day.
Analysts and observers Tuesday said they weren’t surprised by the announcement. Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said he sees “at least some mild upside.”
He said Hilcorp will want to invest more money to keep the assets producing longer
Michael Noel, an associate professor of economics at Texas Tech University, said it’s good to see another company excited about the profit opportunity in BP’s assets. But he said there’s also uncertainty, including around jobs and the markets.
“The ownership matters but the price of oil matters so much more,” he said.
Justin Furnace, a vice president for Hilcorp Energy Co., said in an email to The Associated Press that plans for the BP workforce “will develop as we determine how we will integrate the acquisition into Hilcorp’s existing operations.” BP employs about 1,600 workers in Alaska.
Under terms of the agreement, Hilcorp will pay $4 billion in the near-term and $1.6 billion later. Both companies expected the deal to close some time next year.
Meg Baldino, a BP spokeswoman, said BP earlier announced $1.5 billion in divestments.
___
Associated Press reporter Mark Thiessen contributed from Anchorage, Alaska.

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EarthLink – News

Teen told uncle ‘please don’t hurt us’ before Texas shooting
By JUAN A. LOZANO | Tue, August 27, 2019 08:05 EDT
HOUSTON (AP) — A young woman told jurors Tuesday that she begged her uncle “please don’t hurt us” and then began to pray before he fatally shot her parents and four siblings and shot her in the head in their suburban Houston home.
Cassidy Stay testified at the trial of Ronald Lee Haskell, who is charged with capital murder in the July 2014 attack. Stay, who was 15 at the time, survived by playing dead.
Haskell had been married to one of Stay’s aunts, Melannie Lyon. Prosecutors allege Haskell wanted to hurt his ex-wife’s family after their divorce and hatched a plan in which he traveled from California to Texas to carry it out.
Haskell’s attorneys have said their client admits to the killings but wasn’t responsible because he was insane.
While testifying for nearly two hours, Stay told jurors about her family before detailing the afternoon of the shootings.
Stay was taking care of her siblings while her parents ran errands when Haskell came to their home, posing as a FedEx delivery driver.
Stay, who didn’t recognize Haskell as her “Uncle Ronnie,” first told him her parents weren’t home to sign for a package and he left. Haskell returned a few minutes later and then forced his way into the house.
Stay said when she realized who Haskell was, she told him, “Please don’t hurt us, because I knew how awful he was.”
Lyon had accused him of domestic violence when they lived in Utah and she and their four kids had moved to Houston after the divorce to be with her family.
Haskell then pulled out a gun and ordered Stay and her siblings — 4-year-old Zach; 7-year-old Rebecca; 9-year-old Emily; and 13-year-old Bryan — to go into the living room.
Stay said she focused on keeping her siblings calm. She had them watch a show on Netflix to keep them distracted.
Stay said she told Haskell each of her siblings’ names and ages as part of an “appeal to his humanity. I didn’t think someone would hurt kids.”
When her parents — 39-year-old Stephen and 34-year-old Katie Stay — returned home, Haskell ordered them inside.
Haskell had the family members sit in the living room and told Cassidy Stay’s mother that, “I’ve come to get my kids.”
Haskell then had the family lie face down on the living room floor and took out his gun. Stay said when her mother realized what Haskell was going to do, she jumped up and screamed “No” and began to fight him. Haskell then shot her mother.
“I just saw her fall,” Cassidy Stay said. “I looked down and I covered my ears and I started screaming.”
Stay, now 20, told jurors she heard Haskell go down the line, in rapid succession, “boom, boom, boom,” and shoot her family members.
Stay said she stopped screaming after a voice whispered in her ear to “be quiet” and then she went limp after being shot in the hand and head. The bullet ended up grazing her head and Stay pretended to be dead until Haskell left her home.
She then saw her father’s body and it was holding her brother Zach. It appeared that her father had tried to shield Zach from the gunfire, she said.
Stay said she then called 911. Authorities said Haskell planned to go to the homes of his ex-wife’s other family members and kill them as well.
Aurielle Lyon, one of Stay’s aunts, testified earlier Tuesday that after the shooting, she and other family members fled her parent’s Houston home, without shoes or diapers for their kids, because they feared Haskell was headed their way.
“We were frantic,” Aurielle Lyon said.
After the shooting at the Stays’ home, Haskell tried going to the houses of his ex-wife’s parents and brother before officers took him into custody.
Stay told jurors it never seemed Haskell was disoriented or listening to voices when he held her family captive.
“No, it was all him,” Stay said before finishing her testimony.
Haskell’s trial could last up to two months. He faces the death penalty, if convicted.
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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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