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Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- The first batch of defendants ensnared in a nationwide college entrance scam are expected to appear in a Boston courtroom on Monday to face charges stemming from a federal investigation alleging dozens of wealthy parents, including chief executive officers and Hollywood actresses, lied and paid massive bribes to get their children into elite schools.

At least 14 of the 50 people charged in the scandal earlier this month have been ordered to attend the first in a series of hearings on Boston federal court.

Those indicted in the investigation, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues," allegedly paid bribes of up to $6.5 million to get their children into some of the nation's top colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors say the ringleader of the scam, William "Rick" Singer, bought off numerous coaches, college entrance exam administrators, one exam proctor and a college administrator to help him in his years-long scheme to academically benefit the children of wealthy families.

Singer has pleaded guilty in a Boston federal court to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice.

Among the 33 parents indicted are Academy Award-nominated actress Felicity Huffman and actress Lori Loughlin, best known for her character Aunt Becky in the ABC sitcom "Full House." Loughlin's husband, fashion designer, Mossimo Giannulli, was also charged in scam.

Tens of thousands of dollars in bribes allegedly went to a sham charity Singer set up called the Key Worldwide Foundation. Singer, according to prosecutors, would funnel the money to those working in cahoots with him, including coaches who listed college applicants as recruited competitive athletes despite some of them never having played sports, according to prosecutors.

At least seven of the nine coaches charged in the scam are scheduled to make court appearances Monday in Boston.

Legendary USC water polo coach Jovan Vanvic, who has been fired by the school, is one of the coaches expected to appear in court Monday. Also set to appear in court Monday are Laura Janke, the former USC women's soccer coach; former Georgetown University tennis coach Gordon Ernst; former UCLA men's head soccer coach Jorge Salcedo; former Wake Forest head volleyball coach William Ferguson and former USC women's head soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin.

Martin Fox, president of a Houston-area tennis academy, has also been ordered to appear in court. Fox, who is also involved in guiding student basketball players to college, allegedly accepted at least $250,000 in bribes to help Singer with both athlete recruitment and test-taking fraud, prosecutors said.

Donna Heinel, the former senior associate athletic director at USC is also expected to appear in court.

"These charges come as a complete shock," Heinel's attorney, Nina Marino, said in a statement. "Anyone who knows Donna Heinel knows she's a woman of integrity and ethics with a strong moral campus. We look forward to reviewing the government's evidence and fully restoring Donna's reputation in the college athletic community."

"He'd have to be dumber than a bucket of hair not to be devastated by the accusation," Cogdell said. "But he's a strong person, he's got great character, and he'll get through this."

The nationwide scheme was prosecuted in Boston partly because it was uncovered by FBI agents working there on an unrelated case, officials said. Fake test scores were submitted to Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern University, officials said, but none of those schools were named in the indictment.

Some members Singer's inner circle are also scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Boston, including his bookkeeper Steven Masera. Mikaela Sanford, who was also employed by Singer, allegedly took online classes for certain students and is accused of "secretly taking" art history and biology classes so that the daughter of Robert Zangrillo, founder and CEO of Dragon Global, a Florida-based private investment firm, could get into USC, according to the federal indictment.

Igor Dvorskiy and Niki Williams, who both served as a college entrance test administrators, are to appear in court Monday to face charges they both allowed Mark Riddell, a private school counselor in Florida, to take entrance exams for students or correct them on the sly, according to the indictment.

Riddell, 36, who is charged with two criminal charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, has apologized for his involvement in the scam.

"I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions. I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process," Riddell, who is scheduled to appear in Boston federal court in April, said in a statement earlier this month. "I assume full responsibility for what I have done."

Loughlin and Giannulli have also been ordered to appear in federal court in Boston in April. They are charged with allegedly paying Singer a bribe of $500,000 "in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team -- despite the fact that they did not participate in crew -- thereby facilitating their admission to USC," according the indictment.

Loughlin's two daughters, including Olivia Jade Giannuli, a popular YouTube vlogger with more than 2 million online followers, are among numerous students under investigation at USC and could face discipline, including being removed and banned from the school, officials said.

Huffman's husband, actor William H. Macy, was not indicted, but according to court documents he and Huffman were caught on a recorded conversation with a corroborating witness in the case, allegedly discussing a $15,000 payment to ensure their younger daughter scored high on a college entrance exam. Huffman was indicted on charges stemming from the $15,000 she allegedly disguised as a charitable donation so her older daughter could take part in the college entrance cheating scam, the indictment reads. But Huffman and Macy apparently decided not to go through with scheme for their younger daughter.

Huffman is scheduled to appear in Boston federal court on Friday.

Singer, owner of a college counseling service called Edge College & Career Network, allegedly accepted bribes totaling $25 million from parents between 2011 and 2018 to guarantee their children's admission to elite schools, according to the indictment.

"This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud," Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said at a news conference on March 13. "There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy and, I'll add, there will not be a separate criminal justice system either."

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images(PARKLAND, Fla.) --  A second teen from Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, has died from an apparent suicide in less than a week, according to authorities.

Officers from the Coral Springs Police Department found the student dead after they were called to a residence Saturday night, Coral Springs Public Information Officer Tyler Reik told ABC News.

The student's identity was not released.

Police were unable to confirm to ABC News whether the student was enrolled at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. Sources told the Miami Herald that the teen was a sophomore at the school.

The death is the second apparent suicide to hit the Parkland community in less than a week. On March 17, former Stoneman Douglas student Sydney Aiello, 19, died at her home in Coconut Creek from a gunshot wound to the head, according to the Broward County medical examiner's office.

Aiello's mother told CBS Miami station WFOR that she suffered from survivor's guilt and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Aiello was friends with victim Meadow Pollack, 18, Pollack's brother, Hunter Pollack, tweeted last week.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.

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ABC News(CHICAGO) --  Detectives with the Chicago Police Department are working "around the clock" to find the shooter who gunned down an off-duty police officer, an official tweeted Sunday.

Officer John Rivera, 23, was shot and killed early Saturday, a few hours after he finished his shift and handled paperwork for a homicide earlier in the night, police said. He was with another off-duty officer and two friends when a gunman opened fire on the car they were in, officials said Saturday.

One of Rivera's friends was also shot and wounded, police said. On Saturday, police said that the victim, an unidentified man, was in critical condition and undergoing surgery.

The shooter and at least one other suspect remained at large Sunday.

But a spokesman for the police department, Anthony Guglielmi, tweeted Sunday that investigators were working non-stop to try to find the killer.

"Investigators have been working around the clock to follow evidence & review dozens of cameras feeds," Guglielmi wrote.


Case Update: investigators have been working around the clock to follow evidence & review dozens of camera feeds. We continue to identify persons of interest based on the investigation and we are speaking to those individuals.

— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) March 24, 2019


Eddie Johnson, the department's superintendent, said they would be poring over the network of cameras in the downtown area where the shooting occurred.

"Mark my words," he said Saturday during a news conference, "we will find them."

Rivera and the other officer, who had just finished a "tour of duty," left a nightclub with their two friends at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday and returned to their vehicle, officials said. Two men approached their vehicle, and one opened fire, killing Rivera and wounding one of the friends.

The other off-duty officer and a woman with the group were not injured, police said.

The Chicago Police Department tweeted photos showing a procession of police vehicles transferring the officer's body to the Cook County medical examiner's office.


The body of the off-duty Chicago Police Officer that was killed is escorted to the Cook County Medical Examiners Office this morning. #CPDMediaCar

— Chicago Police (@Chicago_Police) March 23, 2019


A person of interested was interviewed Saturday. Guglielmi said detectives had identified other people.

"We continue to identify persons of interest based on the investigation and we are speaking to those individuals," he tweeted.

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iStock(ATHENS, Ga.) -- A fraternity at the University of Georgia has been suspended after video allegedly showing members whipping someone and referring to them picking cotton surfaced on social media.

Georgia's chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon was suspended by the national chapter and the video was condemned by the university. The frat also announced it had expelled four members who were involved in the video on Saturday.

"Tau Kappa Epsilon is disgusted, appalled and angered by the remarks shown in the video," the national chapter said in a statement. "TKE does not condone or support any actions by its members that would be defined as racist, discriminatory, and/or offensive."

"Since 1899, our fraternity has taken much pride in the diversity and uniqueness of our membership," the statement continued. "Tau Kappa Epsilon has never had an exclusionary clause in our membership. Our founders believed, as we do today, in the personal worth and character of the individual, not his wealth, rank or honor."

The video, which has circulated on social media at the school, shows a member of the fraternity lightly hitting another with a belt and saying, "Pick my cotton, b----." The person being hit responds, "I'm not black."

Another person in the room says, "You're not using the right words," to which the member with the belt says, "Pick my cotton, n-----."

All four members in the video have been kicked out of the fraternity.

The school chapter said the video was not filmed during an official fraternity function and did not take place on the chapter's premises. It referred to the video as "racist," "discriminatory" and "offensive."

The university also released a statement condemning those involved and said an investigation was being conducted. For now, the members remain enrolled at the school.

"The University of Georgia condemns racism in the strongest terms," the school said in a statement. "Racism has no place on our campus. We will continue our efforts to promote a welcoming and supportive learning environment for our students, faculty and staff."

"The fraternity has been suspended by its national organization," it continued. "Whenever we receive complaints of racist or discriminatory conduct, we refer such matters to our Equal Opportunity Office in accordance with applicable laws and policies."

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A storm over the central Plains is expected to move eastward through the day Sunday, bringing the next round of severe weather to parts of the Deep South.

The storm currently is bringing some bands of heavier rain across parts of Kansas and Nebraska, while a couple of thunderstorms are forming across Oklahoma, Arkansas and southern Missouri.

The storm brought severe weather to parts of Oklahoma on Saturday night, where accumulating hail was reported in and around the Oklahoma City metropolitan region. Hail almost the size of golf balls was reported in Oklahoma County, which includes Oklahoma City.

Strong thunderstorms with heavy rain and gusty wind will fire up throughout the day across parts of the Midwest, before moving into the Tennessee Valley by Sunday night.

As the cold front associated with the storm taps into moisture coming from the Gulf of Mexico, severe storms will develop during the afternoon and early evening hours in parts of the Deep South.

There is a slight risk for severe weather Sunday from northeast Texas to southern Missouri, including Dallas and Little Rock, Arkansas.

In the slight-risk region, there is a chance for some damaging winds and large hail. Although this threat does not look conducive to tornadoes, a brief tornado or two cannot be ruled out.

Some of these storms will fire up from Louisiana to Kentucky by early Monday morning, and could be strong over parts of Mississippi and Alabama.

River flooding continues to be a threat

This storm is also bringing some precipitation to parts of the Midwest that are still dealing with river flooding due to snow melt and ice jams.

The Mississippi River at St. Paul, Minnesota, will rise into major flood stage late Sunday or early Monday and will remain in that state through the end of the week. However, the main impacts from this river flooding are likely going to be park and road flooding. Additionally, some bridges along the Mississippi River could be affected by high water.

Moderate to major river flooding is still ongoing across parts of Kansas and Missouri. However, the Missouri River is now receding in St. Joseph, Missouri; Atchison, Kansas; and Leavenworth, Kansas. The Missouri River is cresting in Parkville, Missouri; Kansas City; Missouri; and Sibley, Missouri, and will begin receding late Sunday.

New Pacific storm moves in

In the western U.S., one storm will quickly move through the northern Rockies and southern Cascades Sunday, as a new, more-potent storm will approach the West Coast by Monday morning.

This next storm will bring heavy rain to much of Northern California by Monday morning and eventually bring mountain snow to parts of the Sierra Nevadas.

However, high pressure building over the central U.S. will initially prevent the storm's impacts from moving inland. Locally, 1 to 2 inches of rain are possible along the coasts of Northern California and Oregon. As much as 1 to 2 feet of mountain snow is possible in some of the Sierra Nevada range. This could cause significant travel impacts in the mountain passes of Northern California on Monday and Tuesday.

Another Pacific storm will move toward the West Coast later in the week. After about a week or so of relatively quiet weather, it appears that the atmosphere is getting ready once again to turn active as we head toward the end of March and beginning of April.

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Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department(INDIANAPOLIS) -- A week after an 8-month-old baby was reported missing in Indianapolis, her mother's boyfriend was named as a suspect in the newly classified "homicide investigation," police announced on Saturday.

Robert Lyons was last seen with Amiah Robertson on March 9 near Rockville Road and South Mickley Avenue. But, Amiah Robertson's mother, Amber Robertson, did not report her baby missing to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department on March 16, police said.

"We are frustrated and quite frankly angry because of misinformation and lack of information and lack of cooperation from those who are most closely involved," said Police Chief Bryan Roach in a statement before a press conference on Saturday.

Roach announced that Lyons, the boyfriend of the baby's mother, is a suspect in what has been deemed a "homicide investigation," but is not being actively sought. Amber Robertson is not a suspect and is cooperating with police.

After days of hunting for the infant and receiving conflicting statements from family members, investigators had concerns for the welfare of the baby and issued a Silver Alert on March 19.

Items found on March 20 near the bank of White River belong to Amiah, police said. The police did not specify what the items were.

Police are asking for anyone, who saw a 1996 maroon Isuzu Rodeo SUV in "poor condition," to call the police tip's hotline 317-262-TIPS.

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iStock/LPETTET(NEW YORK) --  This weekend's Powerball jackpot is inching toward $1 billion.

There was no winner in Wednesday's drawing so the prize is now $625 million or, for those who want the one-time cash payment, $380.6 million.

The unclaimed winning numbers for Wednesday night were 10-14-50-53-63 with a Powerball of 21. The game's drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday at 10:59 p.m. Eastern Time.

Despite the lack of a big winner this week, one person in South Carolina matched all five balls and chose the Power Play option to take home $2 million. Four states — Florida, Kentucky, New Jersey and South Carolina — had $1 million winners.

The jackpot keeps climbing, but your odds of winning stay the same in every single Powerball drawing. Whether it's the starting jackpot of $40 million or $1 billion, your chance to win remains 1 in 24.9, according to the Powerball site.

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ABC News

(CHICAGO) --  A Chicago police officer who had just finished his shift was shot and killed early Saturday in an apparently random attack, officials said.

Officer John Rivera, 23, and another victim were ambushed and shot about 3:30 a.m. local time while sitting in a vehicle in the Downtown section of the city, police brass said in a news conference Saturday morning. The two shooting victims and two other people, including another off-duty police officer, had just left a nightclub, officials said.

"It's just a shame, this kid, 23 years old, had his whole life and career ahead of him, and he gets gunned down senselessly," said Eddie Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department at an afternoon news conference.

"Right now, I'm disgusted," Johnson said.

An off-duty Chicago police officer was shot and killed while sitting in a vehicle early Saturday morning, March 23, 2019.

Johnson said his son, also a police officer, served alongside Rivera.

"My heart aches for his entire family," he added.

The other victim who was shot, an unidentified man who is not a police officer, was in critical condition and in surgery, officials said. He is expected to survive, police said.

Johnson and the other officer, who had just finished a "tour of duty," had left the club with their two friends and returned to their vehicle, officials said. That's when two men approached them, said First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio.

"One of them pulled a gun and fired," he said during the news conference.

Riccio said there were no words exchanged.

"It does appear to be random. They did not have any confrontations with anybody," he added, referring to the police officers.

There was "no indication whatsoever" why the group was targeted, Johnson said.

Nothing was taken from the car, either, Riccio added.

The shooter is still at large, officials said, but detectives are interviewing a "person of interest." The gun used in the shooting has not been recovered, Johnson said.

Detectives were looking for cameras that may have captured the shooting, Riccio said.

"There's an abundance of video," he said. "Detectives are combing through that video."

Johnson made a pledge to catch the shooter and anyone else involved in the shooter.

"Mark my words," he said, "we will find them."

Rivera had been on the job for close to two years, Riccio said.

"He's the kind of officer that we want in Chicago," Johnson said.

He had handled paperwork on a killing that occurred Friday night, he added.

The Chicago Police Department tweeted photos showing a procession of police vehicles transferring the officer's body to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

The body of the off-duty Chicago Police Officer that was killed is escorted to the Cook County Medical Examiners Office this morning. #CPDMediaCar

— Chicago Police (@Chicago_Police) March 23, 2019

A spokesman for the police department, Anthony Guglielmi, called the shooting a "devastating incident."

Devastating incident for CPD as an off duty #ChicagoPolice officer has been shot in the 700 block of N. Clark around 330am. People of interest are being questioned & Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio is headed to Northwestern hospital. Media briefing will occur soon. Stby for details.

— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) March 23, 2019

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ABC News(KANSAS CITY, Missouri) -- The Missouri River and Mississippi River continue to wreak havoc on parts of the Plains and Midwest as record river flooding continues to pose a threat to communities.

Parts of the Missouri River near St. Joseph, Missouri; Atchison, Kansas; Leavenworth, Kansas; and Parkville, Missouri, are seeing river flooding currently at -- or expected to rise to -- moderate and major flood stage. The Missouri River is receding below notable flood stage in Omaha.

However, the Missouri River is expected to flood downstream near Plattsmouth, Nebraska, through next week. The flooding will continue to cause stress on levees along the Missouri River.

There is also river flooding on the Mississippi River along the borders of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. The river will likely remain high through the weekend.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, gradual snow melt will cause rising river levels into next week. Flooding could occur due to ice jams as well.

Rainfall is expected to move into this area on Saturday, with a storm developing and moving across the Plains. Locally, a half inch or more of rain is possible in this region through this weekend.

The rain should not have a major influence on area rivers, but there is potential for some local exacerbation of ongoing river flooding.

The storm entering the Plains was responsible for three reported tornadoes on Friday in parts of Texas and Colorado and hail over 2 inches in diameter across parts of Texas.

The storm will move fairly quickly and not strengthen tremendously, therefore impacts should be marginal across the Plains this weekend. Some rain will move across Plains into Sunday morning. A few strong thunderstorms will move across Oklahoma and Arkansas, however, the threat should remain marginal, with gusty winds and some hail being the concern.

Northeast feels chill on Saturday, spring on Sunday

A coastal storm that brought rain and some coastal flooding to the Interstate 95 corridor is moving out of the area Saturday morning.

Parts of the interior Northeast, especially in the higher elevations west of Albany, New York, reported nearly 4 inches of snow on Friday. Overnight, there were reports of over 10 inches across the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Northeast feels chill on Saturday, spring on Sunday

A coastal storm that brought rain and some coastal flooding to the Interstate 95 corridor is moving out of the area Saturday morning.

Parts of the interior Northeast, especially in the higher elevations west of Albany, New York, reported nearly 4 inches of snow on Friday. Overnight, there were reports of over 10 inches across the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.

A couple of snow showers will be in the region Saturday, along with gusty winds at time approaching 45 mph. It will feel quite cold in the Northeast for late March with wind chills in the 20s and teens for a large part of the region.

Relief will come as early as Saturday afternoon, with Sunday temperatures much more seasonable. Temperatures will rise into the 50s, and evens some 60s, across the I-95 corridor.

Another March chill will arrive on the East Coast early next week.

Weak storms impacting West Coast

A storm is arriving Saturday in the western U.S. and bringing some heavy rain to parts of California and some mountain snow to parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Locally, up to 1 foot of snow is expected in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this weekend.

Another storm will arrive in the region on Sunday night and early Monday with heavy rain mainly concentrated in Northern California.

A more-potent storm will arrive in the middle of the upcoming week that could have significant impacts across parts of the region.

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ABC News(DALLAS) -- While the governor of the country’s most populous state halted death penalty executions, that decision may not have a national impact.

Within two southern states, Texas and Oklahoma, five counties are responsible for one in five executions since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, according to data from the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Those counties – Harris, Dallas, Bexar and Tarrant Counties in Texas and in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma – are responsible for 315 out of the 1,493 executions that have taken place in those 43 years.

Prior to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on executions, his state performed 13 executions during the same time frame. Data from the DPIC show there are 11 individual counties across the country that had the same number or more executions themselves during that time period.

"It doesn’t really make sense to talk about the death penalty in the United States. The death penalty is exclusively a Southern phenomenon," said Evan Mandery, a professor at the John Jay College for Criminal Justice.

There are 30 states that have the death penalty in the U.S., though four of those states – now including California – have governors who have issued suspensions on executions.

New Hampshire has the death penalty, but hasn't executed anyone since 1939.

Since the 1976 ruling, there have been 56 executions in Ohio, seven in Utah, four in South Dakota, three in Montana and one in Utah, according to data from the DPIC. By comparison, there were 72 executions in Georgia, 97 executions in Florida, 112 executions in Oklahoma, and 113 executions in Virginia, the data shows.

To date, the largest amount of death penalty executions occurs in Texas, where there have been 560. That represents 37.5 percent of the total 1,493 executions in the United States since 1976.

"Texas is an outlier among outliers," Mandery said.

Mandery said that in spite of its prevalence in certain counties, the death penalty on the whole is "an extraordinarily rare event – many, many things have to go wrong for someone to be executed in the United States."

"No rich white murderer has ever been sentenced to die, so you need to be almost certainly a person of color, probably killed a white person who did it in a state with the death penalty, who did it in a county within that state where the prosecutor aggressively supports the death penalty and where that prosecutor isn’t replaced in office during the time you're on death row by someone who either opposes the death penalty or takes seriously the appellate process," Mandery said.

The role of individual lawyers and prosecutors

There are murderers in every state and crimes committed in every county, but experts suggest that key individuals not connected to the crime itself are the ones, who could ultimately be deciding factors in whether or not a criminal is executed.

Jennifer Laurin, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was the chair of the task force assembled by the American Bar Association that worked on their 2013 assessment on Texas' use of the death penalty. The group’s report found that "the state’s death penalty system falls far short."

Laurin told ABC News that "there are features of Texas's system that we could potentially explain why it is Texas produces so many more death sentences and executions."

One such factor, Laurin said, was that "up until about 1995, Texas had ultimately a sort of notoriously deficient system for providing lawyers to poor defendants including poor defendants facing the death penalty."

"In Texas there was very, very, very low quality of defense lawyering provided at every stage from trial through to execution. Texas has made some significant progress but it remains, as compared to other jurisdictions, a place where the provision of council to individuals facing the death penalty is much less consistent in terms of resources and quality as compared to other states, and across cases in Texas," she said.

Beyond the quality of the defendant’s representation, another factor is how determined the lawyer on the other side of the courtroom was to get a death penalty sentence.

"The death penalty is really driven by individual aggressive prosecutors and there's some sense of it that it almost feels like vigilante justice," Madery said.

That sentiment could be seen by some previously in the Harris County District Attorney’s office – the prosecuting office for the county with the highest number of executions in the country, with 128 deaths.

Patrick McCann, a lawyer in Harris County who has worked on more than 50 death penalty cases, said that "the corporate culture inside the DA's office among the senior people [was that] you were promoted and achieved respect within the office by how many people you sent to death row."

McCann said that one major change came in 2005 when Texas introduced the sentencing option of life in prison without the possibility of parole. According to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice publication, Texas was one of only four states that did not have that sentencing option when they made the switch.

"Since then there's been a gradual decline in the trials they have for death [penalty] in this county, but the prior years means there is still a long line for Harris County folks to get executed,” said McCann.

McCann thinks that the aforementioned culture in a number of key prosecutors’ offices across Texas have “undergone a sea change," including the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

In 2016, Harris County voters, for the first time in nearly four decades, elected a Democratic district attorney. Kim Ogg, who took office in January 2017, was public about how she had previously opposed the death penalty but, came around to allowing it only in the most extreme circumstances.

Ogg told The Houston Observer in June of that year that she doesn't view the death penalty as "a deterrent," saying "it's just pure retribution."

"I’m a human being, and my views have changed before. It’s possible they could change again. But while I ran, I left the death penalty on the table. I said I believed in it at the time. I still do," she told the magazine.

There has been something of a slowdown in the rate of executions in Harris County in recent years, both before and during Ogg’s administration.

In 1997, Harris County executed 11 people, and in the mid-2000s, there were two consecutive years where nine people were executed. But since 2010, there have been three or fewer people executed each year in the county.

"District Attorney Ogg has said that among the most serious actions a government can take is to take a person's life and that the death penalty must only be used for the worst of the worst and most only be done in accordance with the Constitution," Ogg’s spokesman Dane Schiller told ABC News.

"While under Texas law, defendants convicted of capital murder face a penalty of life in prison or death, under this administration, zero defendants have been given death sentences by Harris County juries," Schiller said, though he noted that there was one death sentence issued in 2018, but that case was handled by a special prosecutor after the district attorney’s office was recused over a conflict of interest.
Not overly optimistic

The decrease in executions in Texas may indicate a slow change in attitudes in the state – as well as the qualms that jurors may now have as science advances as well as reporting of wrongful convictions continue – but experts still point to racism at the root of the use of capital punishment as something that would need to be addressed in conjunction with any major changes.

"One idea is that [the use of the death penalty is] tied to the culture of lynching in the South and that the dehumanization of prisoners is an artefact of the commodification of people, and there's clearly something to that," Mandery said.

McCann echoed that – while not unique to Texas – the origin and use of the death penalty are tied to "mostly racism and corruption, but that’s my personal view."

"I think the more difficult problem in every state – and this goes from Pennsylvania and Philadelphia to Houston to Los Angeles – is that we as a people don’t want to acknowledge the vast problems we have in overcoming a legacy of racism that still infects the death penalty," McCann said.

As for Texas specifically, McCann said that capital punishment is "deeply ingrained in the culture here."

McCann said that while the rate of executions "may slow, I don’t see it stopping, short of a national decision by someone like the Supreme Court, that we are simply incapable of doing this properly," he said.

Mandery agreed, and handicapped the odds of such a ruling happening with the current bench of justices unlikely.

"The only mechanism that would end the death penalty in Texas is Supreme Court action. Five years ago, I would have said that was unlikely but possible [that such an action be handed down]. Now it seems quite unlikely," Mandery said.

"The fate of the death penalty rests with the balance of power on the Supreme Court, and that's hanging by a thread," he said.

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Tina Richardson(CONCORD, N.C.) -- A North Carolina woman has filed a $25,000 lawsuit against a Subway sandwich shop franchisee after he allegedly slapped her during a dispute over a sandwich.

Elizabeth Hinson, who goes by the name Tina Richardson, went to a Subway owned by Kenneth Lancaster in Concord, North Carolina, on March 8 to get a Sesame-Ginger Glazed Chicken Wrap for an elderly woman when an argument ensued, according to the lawsuit filed in Rowan County on March 18.

The elderly woman told Richardson the wrap did not appear like the picture on the flyer advertisement, nor tasted like ginger. Richardson returned to the Subway and asked for a refund, which the employee refused, according to the complaint.

That’s when Lancaster appeared from the back and yelled expletives at her and told her to leave the store. Almost immediately after Richardson began recording the dispute with her cellphone, Lancaster approached Richardson and hit her, according to the complaint.

Richardson shared the video on her Facebook page, and the post has garnered 2 million views, Bo Caudill, Richardson’s attorney, told ABC News.

“When she did not get the wrap that she ordered, Ms. Richardson returned to Subway expecting a simple refund. Instead, she received a slap in the face,” Caudill told ABC News in a statement. “The violent conduct depicted in the video is disgraceful and deplorable, and should greatly concern everyone who eats at Subway and expects Subway stores and their owners to provide a safe, family-friendly environment, free of sexist discrimination and violence.”

Subway, on behalf of Lancaster, released a statement expressing regret for the incident, and saying it does not meet the company's standards.

"Providing an excellent guest experience is important to us and our expectation is that everyone is treated with respect," Subway said in a statement to Charlotte ABC affiliate WSOC earlier this month. "The local team has reached out to the guest to apologize on behalf of the restaurant as this incident is inconsistent with the high standards Subway restaurants requires of its Franchise Owners. The Franchise Owner expressed his regrets for how he handled the situation."

Caudill disputed that the company had reached out to Richardson directly.

Richardson is seeking compensation for physical and emotional harm.

"He doesn't get to treat anybody like that. ... Get somebody into Subway to treat people with respect and fix problems when you're wrong," Richardson told WSOC. "That's what you're supposed to do."

ABC News' efforts to reach Lancaster for comment were unsuccessful.

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iStock_dkfielding(WASHINGTON) -- A flight attendant detained by immigration authorities for more than a month after traveling to Mexico for work was set for release Friday, her lawyer and husband said.

Selene Saavedra Roman was living in the U.S. under the Obama-era program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA is a program that allows young immigrants brought to the country as children to stay and work legally.

Roman, who is 28 years old, came to the U.S. from Peru as a 3-year-old.

When President Donald Trump ended DACA enrollment for new applicants in 2017, he also prevented those currently in the program from leaving the country with the promise of legal reentry.

“It’s been extremely difficult,” Roman’s husband said on a call with reporters. “I could only visit her once a week through two inches of glass.”

The online travel site “The Points Guy” first reported on her detainment Thursday.

Thousands reacted to the news calling for her release including members of the flight attendants’ association as well as immigration activists. It even prompted a response from 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“This is an awful story,” Clinton tweeted Friday. She encouraged her followers to sign an online petition calling for the flight attendant’s release.

“What happened to Selene reminds us that our DACA positions are not stable,” said Damaris Gonzalez, a DACA recipient and immigration activist.

Roman’s lawyer said she had informed her employer of her situation and they assured she would not have an issue returning to the U.S.

U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, which administers DACA, would not comment on the specifics of Roman’s immigration status.

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iStock/Graffizone(NEW YORK) --  A former New York City police officer was indicted for attempting to cover up a crime scene after shooting a man in the face, multiple sources confirmed to ABC News.

Ritchard Blake turned himself in to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office on Friday and is expected to get arraigned on two counts of tampering with physical evidence charges, sources said.

Blake, 41, is alleged to have gotten into an altercation with Thavone Santana during the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 2, 2018 and fired one shot at the man, according to police officials. The bullet struck Santana in the mouth.

It lodged in his neck, where it remains, according to a civil lawsuit Santana filed in Brooklyn federal court in January.

After the shooting, Blake allegedly told 911 he opened fired in self-defense because he was being robbed. Blake was fired from the force in August, following an internal NYPD investigation.

Based on video surveillance, the grand jury determined that the shooting was justified because the victim had his hand in his pocket and had previously motioned as if he had a weapon, sources told ABC News.

Blake is not charged in the shooting itself but in the cover-up -- after police, citing the video surveillance, said he hovered over Santana and removed a knife from his own back pocket and dropped it on the ground next to Santana.

After noticed the security cameras on a lamppost, Blake "picked the knife back up and put it back into the same back...pocket," Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a press release.

According to the lawsuit, Blake has a history of violence.

"Sgt. Blake has a prominent and long history of violence, assaults and was the subject of Internal Affairs investigations of his actions in 2010, 2011 and 2016 and was disciplined for his violations of NYPD Policies."

Blake's attorney, Abe George, previously told ABC News that his client acted in self-defense and that Santana was the aggressor.

"Mr. Blake is relieved that the grand jury has finally exonerated him with any wrongdoing related to the shooting," said George, who said Blake did not testify in the grand jury. "We are confident when a trial jury hears Mr. Blake's version of what happened on that night, he will be cleared of any wrongdoing pertaining to the incident."

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said in a press release that the charges filed against Blake should be a warning to fellow officers.

“By swiftly moving to terminate former Sergeant Ritchard Blake in August of 2018, the department sends a clear and unambiguous message that criminal conduct will not be tolerated within the ranks of the NYPD.”

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Mario Tama/Getty Images(SAN YSIDRO, Calif) -- Federal officials at the Mexico border detained a 9-year-old U.S. citizen for 32 hours without her parents in order “to perform due diligence in confirming her identity and citizenship,” according to a statement released Friday by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The girl’s mother told NBC San Diego that her daughter and son cross the San Ysidro checkpoint daily to attend school. With traffic backed up, a family friend driving the siblings allowed them to walk so they wouldn’t be late, the mother said.

ABC News was unable to reach the family for comment.

Both children carried passport cards, but only the teenage boy was allowed entry into the U.S. while the girl was taken into custody, according to CBP. The agency said the 9-year-old had provided "inconsistent information during her inspection." She was taken into custody at 10:15 a.m. Monday and released to her mother on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s important that CBP officials positively confirm the identity of a child traveling without a parent or legal guardian,” the CBP stated.

Border officials have come under intense scrutiny especially in San Diego, which has been used as a testing ground for the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy. First implemented at the San Ysidro port of entry, the new plan requires asylum applicants to return to Mexico while they wait for a court date.

The policy is designed to address the recent influx of Central American asylum seekers at the southern border. It does not apply to Mexican citizens who are allowed to wait in the U.S. while they make their case.

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WBRZ(NEW ORLEANS) -- Three people testified that he was asleep at home when the rape occurred.

The fingerprints at the scene were not a match.

He is several inches shorter than the sole witness's description of the suspect and the witness didn't point to him as the suspect in two photo line ups.

But he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a 1982 rape and stabbing.

Thirty six years later, Archie Williams had his wrongful conviction vacated, as the Innocence Project detailed in a statement.

"Being innocent is a thing where you never give up on yourself, you always fight for your freedom no matter what," Williams said in a video from outside a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, courthouse shared by The Advocate, a New Orleans newspaper.

He left the 19th Judicial District courthouse on Thursday joined by relatives including his aunt, who said his mother and father died while their son was in prison.

"There is no way to quantify the loss and pain he has endured," Vanessa Potkin, the director of post-conviction litigation at the Innocence Project, which worked on Williams' case since he reached out to them in 1995, said in a statement. "The Innocence Project fought alongside Mr. Williams for close to two and a half decades to be able to utilize advancements in forensic testing to prove his innocence," Potkin said in a statement.

Williams, who was 22 years old at the time of the rape he was charged with, is now 58 years old.

The decades-long gap between his conviction and his charge being vacated included a series of problems complicated by the absence of certain legal rights.

For instance, when the Innocence Project took on his case, they requested DNA testing for Williams, but their statement notes it took over a decade for that to happen because Louisiana didn't have a law allowing convicted prisoners to access DNA testing after trials.

There were also legal hurdles surrounding the testing of fingerprints, and as the technology progressed, that led to the key to Williams' release.

Next Generation Identification, a new type of fingerprint testing system, began being used in 2014, but it wasn't used in Williams' case until last week, the Innocence Project states.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III told The Advocate outside court Thursday that the system for "matching latent fingerprints changed significantly."

"These prints have been run before with no match, and then run again with no match," Moore said, "and now it's run this time and the system has been a lot better, and so now these prints come back to a different person."

The testing of nine prints from the crime scene, which were selected by fingerprint experts based on their viability, led to the identification of a different man -- Stephen Forbes, a man with a history of committing similar assaults in the same neighborhood -- as the attacker.

The Innocence Project reports that Forbes was arrested in 1986, confessed to four other rapes -- not including the one Williams was convicted for -- and died in prison in 1996.

"This decision today ... was the right, honest, ethical and, now, factual thing to do. We believe that this was a wrongful conviction based on technology processes that were in place then; things have truly changed since," Moore said in the video shared by The Advocate.

Williams thanked God for carrying him through, saying, "I just fought for this moment here; I never gave up because he wouldn't let me give up."

Though he's happy for his own freedom, he told The Advocate, he's "not completely happy" because he can't forget the people he's leaving behind at the Angola prison who may also have had wrongful convictions.

"I'm not free until they're free," Williams said.

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