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Baltimore Mayor Seeks U.S. Probe Of Police; Governor Lifts Emergency

By Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan lifted the state of emergency in Baltimore on Wednesday, shortly after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she has asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the city’s Police Department.

Hogan praised the National Guard and the police officers who “quickly brought calm and order back to the city.”

“We touched every corner of the city we could reach. We saw devastation and destruction, but we also saw incredible acts of kindness,” Hogan said during a televised news conference. “We saw neighbors helping neighbors. We saw a community that cares about each other.”

Rawlings-Blake, who also announced that Baltimore officers would have body cameras by the end of the year, told reporters that she aimed to ensure the department is not engaging in “a pattern of stops, searches, or arrests that violate the Fourth Amendment.”

“Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community,” she said. “We have to get it right. Failure is not an option.”

The Justice Department said it is weighing the mayor’s request for a “pattern or practice” investigation.

“The Attorney General is actively considering that option in light of what she heard from law enforcement, city officials, and community faith and youth leaders in Baltimore yesterday,” Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement emailed to reporters.

Rawlings-Blake’s announcement comes one day after a visit by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who pledged to improve the police department. Lynch met with members of Freddie Gray’s family, community, civic leaders, and police.

Gray died April 19, a week after he was arrested by Baltimore officers, who had placed him in a police van to take him to precinct headquarters. But Gray, handcuffed with feet shackled, arrived unconscious and with a severed spine.

His death set off days of rioting and tense standoffs between protesters and police. Hundreds of demonstrators set police cars and businesses ablaze, throwing rocks and looting stores.

Of that rioting, Hogan said he “will never forget the lawlessness and violence” but will remember the “individual acts of charity and forgiveness” he saw.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby last week announced criminal charges against the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport. The six, who face charges ranging from assault to second-degree murder, are free on bail.

City officials last year requested the Justice Department’s help in examining police practices and procedures, a long-simmering issue in Baltimore that became more urgent after a Baltimore Sun series found the city had paid nearly six million dollars since 2011 in court judgments and settlements for lawsuits alleging brutality and other misconduct.

Photo: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake via Facebook

Utah Proposal To Revive Firing Squads Raises Concerns; A Question And Answer

By Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Utah is poised to bring back death by firing squad.

Republican state Rep. Paul Ray introduced the legislation in December, calling firing squads “the most humane” method out of all options. The legislation, which passed the state Senate on Tuesday, would require the use of a firing squad if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

The bill now goes to Republican Governor Gary Herbert, who has not said whether he will sign it.

Ray said he began drafting the bill last March, before a host of executions by lethal injection last year in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio in which inmates appeared to writhe in pain and gasp for air. Witnesses said a condemned murderer in Arizona snorted and struggled for breath for more than 90 minutes before he died.

Those executions have stirred debate about allowing alternative methods. This, coupled with a national shortage of the anesthetic that is part of the three-drug cocktail used in some lethal injections, has complicated the most-used method of capital punishment.

Here’s a look at the some of the questions surrounding Utah’s proposal.

Question: Has Utah used firing squads before?

Answer: Utah allowed inmates to choose death by firing squad after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state adopted lethal injection as its preferred method in 2004 after heightened media attention, but that didn’t apply to inmates already on death row. Inmates who chose execution by firing squad before May 3, 2004, are entitled to that method.

Q: What other states use firing squads?

A: Oklahoma authorizes firing squads only if lethal injection and electrocution are held unconstitutional. The state would first use the electric chair if lethal injection is ever held to be unconstitutional, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Utah is essentially the only state where firing squad is a viable option, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the center.

Q: When was the last death by firing squad in the U.S.?

A: The last firing squad execution occurred in Utah in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner chose the method.

Q: Are any other states considering firing squads now?

A: Wyoming proposed a bill that would allow firing squads, but it fell apart Friday. Arkansas is considering a similar bill, Dieter said, but it has not passed either chamber of the Legislature.

Q: Are firing squads effective?

A: Execution by firing squad is not foolproof.

Dieter recalled a case in Utah from 1879 when a firing squad missed murderer Wallace Wilkerson’s heart. Wilkerson wanted to face the executioners without a hood over his face as a show of bravery.

With a white target pinned over his heart, Wallace straightened up and braced himself. But that move raised the target and the firing squad missed, according to newspaper reports. It took him 27 minutes to die.

“Compared to a botched execution, I guess firing squad is at least quick,” Dieter said. “But compared to a properly administered lethal injection, it’s a step backward.”

Q: Is the use of firing squads humane?

A: Proponents argue that the method is more humane than lethal injection. Lethal injections, they say, can lead to prolonged suffering if improperly administered.

Paul Cassell, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah, said Ray’s proposal was a “common-sense backup plan.” Those who oppose the legislation appear to be essentially motivated by opposition to the death penalty, not to this method of execution, he said.

“The first choice for an execution is lethal injection, in Utah and elsewhere,” Cassell said. “But death penalty opponents have succeeded in making the availability of the required drugs uncertain.”

To avoid any unnecessary delay of executions — and further trauma to victims’ families — it makes sense to have an alternative method in place, he argued.

Q: What do opponents of capital punishment say?

A: Death penalty opponents say their distaste for the legislation is two-pronged: They disagree with the death penalty, but also find execution by firing squad especially egregious. If the shooters miss the heart, the inmate could bleed to death slowly.

“This particularly barbaric method does draw attention to the barbaric nature of the practice,” said Anna Brower, a public policy advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. “We’ve rushed to make sure we have a way to kill people instead of questioning whether the death penalty is a responsible way to handle criminals in Utah.”

Q: Do other countries use firing squads?

A: Yes. For example, an Indonesian firing squad executed six convicted drug traffickers in January, five of them foreigners. Two years ago, Somalia’s government used a firing squad to execute a man convicted of murdering a journalist. A Saudi firing squad killed seven men convicted of armed robbery in 2013.

Q: How are firing squads used in Utah?

A: The inmate is typically bound to a chair with a leather strap, with a hood over the head, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Then, a doctor pins a target over the inmate’s heart. Five shooters — one of them given a gun with blank rounds — fire at the inmate. The chair is surrounded by sandbags to absorb the inmate’s blood.

Q: Is the use of firing squads tied to Utah’s founding by Mormons?

A: There has been speculation that the practice was once tied to the Mormon principle of “blood atonement,” which says certain sins are so serious that people must spill their blood to make amends. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounces any connection between firing squads and blood atonement.

“Mormons disown that idea now,” Dieter said. “They say, ‘We do not require bloodletting.'”

The church said in a statement that it regards capital punishment as “a matter to be decided solely by the prescribed processes of civil law. We neither promote nor oppose capital punishment.”

Photo: 17th Century firing squad re-enactment performed by The Sealed Knot at Stockwood Park (cenz via Flickr)

Three More Women Allege Assaults By Cosby

By Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Sitting with three more women who say that they were sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, attorney Gloria Allred renewed her call for the comedian to waive the statute of limitations that blocks some women from suing him or allow arbitration so the women can be compensated.

The women shared their stories at a news conference hosted by Allred on Wednesday, bringing the number of women who have stepped forward with similar accusations to more than two dozen.

Allred represents many of the women who claim to have been assaulted. The women who came forward Wednesday contend that they were assaulted years ago, with two saying that they were attacked during the 1980s, and the third in the 1990s.

Linda Kirkpatrick said she met Cosby when she was 25, during a mixed doubles tennis tournament at the Cambridge Racquet Club in Las Vegas in 1981. She said Cosby invited her to his show that night and said that when she arrived at the Last Vegas Hilton for the show, Cosby handed her a tall, thin flute filled with a drink she didn’t recognize.

“The next thing I remember, I was sitting on a large plastic box in a very dark room where the spotlight was being operated by a man. … I was told this is where Cosby wanted us to sit,” Kirkpatrick said.

Her next memory, she said, was being back in the dressing room alone with the comedian.

“I was lying down. Cosby was on top of me kissing me forcefully,” she said.

Kirkpatrick said the alleged sexual assault was the first of two instances in which Cosby forced himself on her.

Lynn Neal alleged that Cosby removed her clothing and began sexually assaulting her, despite her protests.

A third woman, identified only by a first name, Kacey, told reporters that she met Cosby while working for the William Morris Agency. During her six years with the company, she said, she developed a “cordial professional relationship” with Cosby.

“I considered him a father figure or a favorite uncle, so without hesitation I accepted invitations to have dinner with him. … I accepted phone calls from him to my home,” she said.

At one point in their relationship, Kacey said, she met with Cosby for lunch at his bungalow at the Hotel Bel-Air. Food and wine were brought into the suite, and he gave her a large white pill to help her relax, she said.

After declining several times, she finally took the pill, she said. Kacey awoke later in a bed with Cosby wearing only an open robe, she said.

Los Angeles police have opened a criminal investigation and last month detectives interviewed a woman who says that she was sexually assaulted by Cosby at the Playboy Mansion decades ago.

An attorney representing Cosby dismissed the accusation as being “patently false.” Calls to Cosby’s attorney regarding Wednesday’s allegations were not immediately returned.

No criminal charges have been filed.

“Predators have no right to prey upon women, to drug them, to sexually assault them, to hurt them and to target them, humiliate them and force them to endure physical and emotional pain,” Allred said Wednesday.

Allred also fired back at Phylicia Rashad, who played Cosby’s wife in his long-running television sitcom The Cosby Show and who has supported him in the face of the mounting accusations.

“Forget these women,” Rashad reportedly said in an interview earlier this week. “What you are seeing is the destruction of a legacy and it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.”

But Allred said that if Cosby’s legacy is destroyed by these accusations, he had no one to blame but himself.

Cosby has been dropped from television projects and some appearances since the women started coming forward, though the embattled comedian is currently hosting a three-night tour in Canada.

AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary

Xbox Live Up After Cyberattack, PlayStation Network Still Down

By Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

So much for the Christmas spirit. Sony’s PlayStation Network and Microsoft’s Xbox Live continued to battle network errors Friday morning after hackers attacked the gaming networks on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Xbox Live service was “limited,” according to its support page, while PlayStation was still offline. Users reported difficulty logging into both servers, suggesting that logon servers were the weak point in the networks’ security.

Hacker group Lizard Squad claimed responsibility for disrupting both video game networks, launching massive distributed denial-of-service attacks that overwhelm compromised servers with an onslaught of traffic.

“10,00RTS and we will stop smacking #Xbox and #PSN offline,” Lizard Squad tweeted on Thursday.

Lizard Squad announced plans to take down the servers earlier this month, calling itself the “next generation Grinch,” according to Polygon.

Neither company has confirmed the server errors are due to the cyber attack, but the cause is under investigation. Both Sony and Microsoft expected a surge in their networks this week as new players who received PlayStations and Xboxes for the holidays hooked up and logged in for the first time.

Lizard Squad also claimed it was behind the August attacks that took down PlayStation Network and Blizzard, disrupting connections for games such as League of Legends.

Most Xbox Live services are up and running, but access to some apps, such as IGN and Maxim, is shaky. There is no evidence the attacks are linked to the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking.

AFP Photo/Kevork Djansezian