U.S. Supreme Court turns away murder case highlighted in ‘Serial’ podcast

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – A Baltimore man will remain behind bars for the 1999 murder of his former high school girlfriend after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected his bid for a new trial in a case that captured public attention after the podcast “Serial” raised questions about his prosecution.

The justices turned away an appeal by Adnan Syed, 39, who has been serving a life sentence since 2000 after being convicted in the strangling death of high school classmate Hae Min Lee. Maryland’s highest court in March ruled out a new trial for Syed despite his attorney’s failure to properly defend him.

Prosecutors said Syed killed the 17-year-old Lee in 1999 in the parking lot of a Best Buy store shortly after school, and then buried her body in a shallow grave later that evening. He was jealous, the state argued, because she had started dating someone else. Lee’s body was found three weeks later.

There were no eyewitnesses to the murder but one witness said he helped Syed bury the body. A jury in Baltimore convicted Syed of first-degree murder and other charges in 2000.

In 2015, a state court reopened the case to allow Syed to argue that his initial defense lawyer had been ineffective because she failed to contact and interview a witness, Asia McClain, who could have provided a potential alibi. McClain had said she remembered speaking with Syed at the school library during the time prosecutors had said Syed killed Lee.

A new trial was ordered for Syed after a state intermediate appeals court said the attorney’s incompetence resulted in impermissible prejudice to Syed’s defense.

Syed’s case won public attention in 2014 when it was the subject of the “Serial” podcast, produced by public radio station WBEZ Chicago and downloaded tens of millions of times. It has since inspired news articles and a documentary on HBO.

Last March, in a closely divided 4-3 ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, overturned that decision because the jury could have disregarded prosecutors’ timeline for when Lee was killed, but still believed that Syed murdered her.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

‘Multiple victims’ reported in shooting in Maryland

Pol;ice on scene at work place shooting. Active shooter

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Several people were shot on Thursday in Perryman, Maryland, near an Army facility, and residents were asked to avoid the area, according to authorities.

“The situation is still fluid,” the Harford County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter, adding that officers were dispatched to the incident shortly after 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).

Agents from the Baltimore offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI were also responding, the agencies said.

Perryman is 34 miles (55 km) northeast of Baltimore. The area of the reported shooting includes a church and a business district, and is near the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army facility.

Details of the shooting were still largely unknown around 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT).

A witness told NBC’s affiliate in Baltimore that the shooting occurred in a warehouse and that 20 to 30 officers, as well as ambulances, responded to the scene.

“They’re telling that there is an active shooter,” said the witness, whom the station identified as a man named Bo who did not want to provide his last name.

Governor Larry Hogan said his office was “closely monitoring the horrific shooting.”

“Our prayers are with all those impacted, including our first responders,” Hogan wrote on Twitter. “The State stands ready to offer any support.”

The shooting occurred a day after a man shot and wounded four people, including a police officer, at a Pennsylvania court building before he was killed by police, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Pope orders investigation of bishop as U.S. Church leaders meet on abuse crisis

Pope Francis meets U.S. Catholic Church leaders Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop of Los Angeles JosŽ Horacio G—mez, Cardinal Sean Patrick OÕMalley, Archbishop of Boston, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a private audience at the Vatican, September 13, 2018. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of an American bishop accused of sexual misconduct with adults and accepted his resignation, the Vatican and U.S. Church officials said on Thursday.

The announcement was made as the pope was meeting U.S. Catholic Church leaders to discuss the fallout from a scandal involving a former American cardinal and demands from an archbishop that the pontiff step down.

The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors. Surveys show plummeting confidence in the Church the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland where the scandal has hit hardest, as well as in other countries.

The bishop who resigned is Michael J. Bransfield, 75, of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. The Vatican said the pope had appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to run the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

Neither the Vatican nor the Archdiocese of Baltimore gave any details of the specific allegations against Bransfield.

Neither Bransfield nor his legal representative could immediately be reached for comment.

The archdiocese of Baltimore’s website said the pope had instructed Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield.

“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time,” Lori said in a statement.

“I further pledge to conduct a thorough investigation in search of the truth into the troubling allegations against Bishop Bransfield and to work closely with the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop,” he said.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Police seek motive in shooting at Florida video game contest

Police officers cordon off a street outside The Jacksonville Landing after a shooting during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Police on Monday were trying to determine why a gunman opened fire at a Jacksonville, Florida, video game tournament, killing two people and injuring 11 others before fatally shooting himself.

The Sunday shooting immediately became an issue in Florida primary elections set for Tuesday when voters choose candidates for governor and the U.S. House of Representatives. Some Democrats called for stricter gun laws while other candidates canceled events.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office identified the shooter as David Katz, 24, of Baltimore, and said they found his body near those of his two alleged victims at The Landing, a popular riverside shopping and dining location. The shooting broke out during a regional qualifier for the Madden 19 online football game tournament at the GLHF Game Bar and witnesses told local media Katz was angry because he lost the tournament.

It was not clear if Katz knew his victims.

Local media identified the dead victims as Eli Clayton, 22, of Woodland Hills, California, and Taylor Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia. Both had been competitors in the tournament, local media reported, citing family of the victims.

Robertson, a husband and father, won the tournament last year and Katz won it the year before, the Miami Herald reported, citing family and friends posting on the Internet.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office said nine people were wounded by gunfire and at least two others were injured while fleeing the scene. Officials did not respond to calls seeking updated information on Monday.

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

FLORIDA HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Six months ago 17 students and educators were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, an incident that inflamed the United States’ long-running debate over gun rights.

In 2016 a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in the second-deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

The Sunday attack drew immediate statements from two Democratic candidates for governor – former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

“We need to end these mass shootings – and the only way to do that is to vote out the politicians complicit in this cycle of death,” Graham said on Sunday on Twitter. Levine sounded a similar note, saying, “It’s time for new leaders.”

Graham and Levine are seeking the office currently held by Republican Governor Rick Scott, who in turn is challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination for governor, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, canceled campaign events and urged cooperation with law enforcement.

The bar was livestreaming the gaming competition when the gunfire started, according to video shared on social media. In the video, players can be seen reacting to the shots and cries can be heard before the footage cuts off.

Taylor Poindexter and her boyfriend, Marquis Williams, who had traveled from Chicago to attend the tournament, fled when the gunfire erupted. She said she saw Katz take aim at his victims.

“We did see him, two hands on the gun, walking back, just popping rounds,” Poindexter told reporters. “I was scared for my life and my boyfriend’s.”

Another gamer, Chris “Dubby” McFarland, was hospitalized after a bullet grazed his head. “I feel fine, just a scratch on my head. Traumatized and devastated,” he wrote on Twitter.

Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is treating three people wounded in the attack, said spokesman Peter Moberg. All were listed in good condition and one was expected to be discharged later on Monday, he said.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Jacksonville Fla., Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore: media

(Reuters) – Work crews took down four Confederate monuments in Baltimore overnight into Wednesday, days after white nationalists led a deadly protest over the planned removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Monuments to Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army in the American Civil War, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate general, were dismantled from the city’s Wyman Park Dell after the city council on Monday approved the removal of four statues, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“It’s done,” Mayor Catherine Pugh told the newspaper on Wednesday. “They need to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could.”

The swift dismantling of the monuments, which Pugh said began at 11:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday (0330 GMT on Wednesday) and finished at 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT), comes after a rally by white nationalists protesting against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee sparked clashes with anti-racism demonstrators in Charlottesville on Saturday.

The rally turned deadly when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring 19 other people.

“Following the acts of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacist terrorist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, cities must act decisively and immediately by removing these monuments,” Baltimore city councilman Brandon Scott wrote in a resolution calling for the removal of the statues, according to the Sun.

Saturday’s violence appears to have accelerated the drive to remove memorials, flags and other reminders of the Confederate cause across the United States.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

Two Baltimore murders break 72-hour anti-violence ‘ceasefire’

Two Baltimore murders break 72-hour anti-violence 'ceasefire'

(Reuters) – A 37-year-old man was shot and killed in Baltimore late on Saturday, police said, in the second murder since activists called for a 72-hour “ceasefire” this weekend in response to the city’s record homicide rate.

The unidentified victim suffered multiple gunshot wounds just before 10 p.m. on Saturday, a few hours after a 24-year-old man was reported shot and killed. Another shooting, which was not fatal, occurred earlier in the day, police said.

Community leaders had pleaded for a 72-hour pause in the violence during Friday, Saturday and Sunday, using the hashtag #BaltimoreCeasefire on social media. No murders were reported until Saturday afternoon.

The city had recorded a record 204 homicides for the first seven months of the year.

Following the first shooting on Saturday, Baltimore Ceasefire’s organizers said on Facebook that the killing would not stop their mission.

“It’s not that we EITHER keep celebrating life this weekend OR honor the life that has been lost to violence today,” the post read. ” … We will honor the life that was lost to violence, and raise our vibration even higher, and keep celebrating life.”

The Rev. Grey Maggiano, a rector at the Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, said on Twitter: “The victory in #BaltimoreCeasefire is not whether someone got shot or not – it’s that so many ppl mobilized to say ‘we are tired! No more.'”

Despite the shootings, activists held marches, cookouts and vigils on Saturday night, paying tribute to the city’s murder victims and hugging residents affected by the violence, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Riots convulsed the majority-black city in April 2015 after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died in police custody.

Prosecutors charged six officers in connection with the incident but secured no convictions. Gray’s death also prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation, which concluded that the city’s police department routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

People participate in the "Peace Walk" event at Patterson Park during the 72 hour community-led Baltimore Ceasefire against gun violence in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

People participate in the “Peace Walk” event at Patterson Park during the 72 hour community-led Baltimore Ceasefire against gun violence in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

In violence-plagued Baltimore, weekend ceasefire offers glimmer of hope

In violence-plagued Baltimore, weekend ceasefire offers glimmer of hope

By Ian Simpson

BALTIMORE (Reuters) – After the deaths of nearly 20 of her friends and relatives, Erricka Bridgeford said she wanted to take a stand against Baltimore’s worst wave of deadly violence in a generation.

It was with that sense of urgency that the 44-year-old community mediation trainer and other activists decided to organize a grassroots “ceasefire” to stop the killings, at least for 72 hours, starting at midnight on Thursday (0400 GMT on Friday).

“We want to purposefully just have a pause and a sacred space where everybody’s intention is that nobody gets killed,” Bridgeford said.

The ceasefire has the support of gang leaders, drug dealers and others linked to the violence, she said.

The slogan selected by organizers gets straight to the point: “Nobody kill anybody.”

That immediate goal is ambitious, given the spotty response to the last Baltimore ceasefire, when two people died in May on Mother’s Day weekend, slightly above the average weekend toll.

As a consequence, there is plenty of skepticism in the city, where rioting broke out in 2015 over the death of a black man in police custody.

Even so, the organizers hope that this time Maryland’s largest city can take a first, tentative step in changing a culture of violence that has fueled one of the highest homicide rates in the United States.

So far this year, there have been 206 homicides in Baltimore, putting it on a pace to break the record of 353 in 1993.

Baltimore, along with Chicago and Detroit, is among cities that Republican President Donald Trump has mentioned in criticizing the failure of local politicians, mostly Democrats, to stop the violence.

T.J. Smith, a Baltimore police spokesman whose own brother was shot to death last month, said the department backed the ceasefire as a grassroots effort to curb violence.

He blamed the trend on repeat offenders caught up in the drug trade, gang rivalries and other disputes.

But on the streets of West Baltimore, where riots erupted after a young African-American man named Freddie Gray died from an injury in the back of a police van, retiree Todd Douglas sounded a note of skepticism, saying the killings would simply resume once the ceasefire ended.

“They’ll just wait and make up for lost time,” Douglas said.

Ceasefire organizers are planning almost 50 events -cookouts, peace walks, a basketball tournament and prayer meetings – across the largely African-American city of 615,000 people.

The Rev. Scott Slater, an Episcopal priest, will lead prayers at 10 spots where people have been killed in the past year.

“The intent is to honor the people who never make the news, except as a statistic,” Slater said by phone.

If nothing else comes from the ceasefire, such gestures were a first step in helping residents feel that they were regaining control of neighborhoods, said Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins-Baltimore Collaborative for Violence Reduction.

“Even if it ends up being only one day without a shooting, that’s going to be good for the city,” Crifasi said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Grant McCool)

Baltimore to review about 100 cases of officers in suspected drug planting

A still image captured from police body camera video appears to show a Baltimore police officer retrieving a small plastic bag in a trash-strewn yard which was placed earlier by the officer according to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in this image released in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. on July 19, 2017. Courtesy Baltimore Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Prosecutors will review about 100 cases involving three Baltimore police officers who took part in an arrest captured on body camera video that appears to show them planting drugs, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said on Thursday.

Charges against the suspect were dropped last week after a review of the video released by the public defender’s office. A minute-long video shows an officer placing a small plastic bag in a trash-strewn yard as two colleagues look on.

All three officers then walk to a sidewalk. An officer returns to the yard and retrieves the bag filled with capsules, which an arrest report said contained heroin powder.

The team of prosecutors will review evidence provided in about 100 cases involving the three officers, who have not been formally identified, she said.

“This is a matter of public safety and we are laser-focused on this particular incident,” Mosby said in a statement.

The union for Baltimore City police was not immediately available for comment.

The incident was another black eye for a police department under a U.S. Justice Department consent decree to overhaul operations that includes changes in training and the use of force after officers were found to have routinely harassed minorities.

The decree followed Justice Department findings that Baltimore’s 2,600-member police department regularly violated African-Americans’ civil rights, including through strip searches, unlawful stops and excessive force.

Close to two-thirds of Baltimore’s roughly 615,000 residents are African-American.

A public defender alerted prosecutors about the video a few days before the case was set to go to trial last week, Mosby said. Police were also investigating the incident.

One officer seen in the video has been suspended, while the two others have been placed on administrative duty, the Baltimore Police Department said on Wednesday. [nL1N1KB00J]

The department showed other videos on Wednesday, recorded the same day as the footage released by the public defender, that it said raised the possibility the officer genuinely discovered the drugs at the scene but inappropriately chose to stage and film a recreation of the discovery.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)

Baltimore to flood streets with police after rash of killings

FILE PHOTO: Police are seen as demonstrators gather near Camden Yards to protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. on April 25, 2015. REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz/File Photo

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – Baltimore police will put more officers on the street to battle a surge in killings that included six homicides in seven hours this week, part of a wave of deadly violence not seen in the port city in years, authorities said on Tuesday.

Patrol officers and detectives will go on 12-hour shifts through the weekend, instead of the normal 10-hour stints, and all other officers will be placed in squad cars or on foot patrols, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said.

The six homicides raised the number of killings in the city of 620,000 people to 158 for the year. The pace is 27 percent ahead of that in 2015, when Baltimore notched its second-highest number of homicides this century, according to police figures.

“We’re just as angry and frustrated and ticked off about it as anyone else watching, and I expect people to be upset,” Davis said at a news conference.

The police commissioner said Baltimore was facing a lethal combination of drugs, guns and gangs as crime groups battled for turf. Officers this month seized 30 kg (66 pounds) of the opioid fentanyl and 15 kg (33 pounds) of heroin bound for West Baltimore, one of the deadliest gang battlegrounds, he said.

The overnight violence on Tuesday included a woman gunned down by a masked shooter and two people fatally shot in an apparent drug dispute, Davis said.

The East Coast city has increased coverage by officers during prior spikes in violence. Davis, who did not specify how many more officers would be on the streets, said officials would evaluate the effort’s results next week.

The violence comes as the Baltimore police department, the nation’s eighth biggest, is under a federal court order to remedy widespread civil rights abuses uncovered by a U.S. Justice Department review. The review was triggered by the 2015 death of a suspect from injuries in police custody that sparked arson and rioting.

Mayor Catherine Pugh, during activities last weekend dubbed “Call to Action,” urged city residents to do more to help combat crime, such as mentoring young people or giving ex-offenders jobs.

Baltimore’s rise in homicides has tracked an uptick in U.S. murders. Preliminary Federal Bureau of Investigation data shows a 5.2 percent increase of murders in the first half of 2016 from the year before.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)

Justice Department asks for 90 days to review agreement with Baltimore

A young boy greets police officers in riot gear during a 2005 march in Baltimore. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday asked a federal court for 90 days to review an agreement reached with Baltimore for the city to enact a series of police reforms in how officers use force and transport prisoners, court documents showed.

The city and justice department reached the agreement, known as a consent decree, in January, almost two years after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, of injuries sustained while in police custody sparked a day of rioting and arson in the majority-black city. It also led to an investigation that found the city’s police routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

Gray, 25, died of injuries sustained in the back of a police van in April 2015. His was one of a series of high-profile deaths in U.S. cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked an intense debate about race and justice and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Justice Department needs the 90 days to review the agreement as it develops strategies to support law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., lawyers for the department said in a motion filed in United States District Court for the District of Maryland.

“The Department has determined that permitting it more time to examine the consent decree proposed in this case in light of these initiatives will help ensure that the best result is achieved for the people of the City,” they wrote, asking for a hearing set for Thursday to be postponed until June.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh opposes the request for an extension, she said in a statement.

“Much has been done to begin the process of building faith between the police department and the community it seeks to serve. Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish,” she said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a memo also filed to the court that the Justice Department will review all consent decrees and other police reform agreements that are in place with more than a dozen cities.

The 227-page consent decree agreement in Baltimore was reached in the final days of the Obama administration. It was the result of months of negotiations after a federal report released in August found that the city’s 2,600-member police department routinely violated black residents’ civil rights with strip searches, by excessively using force and other means.

(This version of the story was refiled to add word “with” in headline)

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Michael Perry)