Citing racial bias, U.S. high court tosses black man’s murder conviction

Death row inmate Curtis Flowers. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Corrections/via REUTERS

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court, confronting racial bias in the American criminal justice system, on Friday threw out a black Mississippi death row inmate’s conviction in his sixth trial for a 1996 quadruple murder conviction, finding that a prosecutor unlawfully blocked black potential jurors.

The court, in a 7-2 ruling written by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, found that the prosecutor’s actions violated the right of Curtis Flowers, 49, under the U.S. Constitution to receive a fair trial. The ruling does not preclude Mississippi from putting Flowers on trial for a seventh time.

Kavanaugh, appointed by President Donald Trump last year, wrote that the prosecutors sought to strike black jurors through all six trials. Prosecutors “engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors” at his sixth trial, Kavanaugh added.

The prosecution’s decision in the most recent trial to strike one black juror in particular “was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent,” Kavanaugh wrote.

The decision was the latest of several in recent years in which the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of individual criminal defendants on race-related issues.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump in 2017, and fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the case.

In his dissenting opinion, Thomas described the ruling as “manifestly incorrect.” Thomas noted the court’s majority “does not dispute that the evidence was sufficient to convict Flowers or that he was tried by an impartial jury.”

Thomas, the only black Supreme Court justice and one of its most conservative members, asked his first questions during an oral argument in three years when the case was argued in March. His questions centered on whether defense lawyers for Flowers during his trials had excluded white potential jurors.

In U.S. trials, prosecutors and defense lawyers can dismiss – or “strike” – a certain number of prospective jurors during the jury selection process without stating a reason. Some prosecutors, including in Southern states like Mississippi, have been accused over the decades of trying to ensure predominately white juries for trials of black defendants to help win convictions.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that people cannot be excluded from a jury because of their race, based on the right to a fair trial under the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment and the 14th Amendment promise of equal protection under the law. Friday’s ruling applied that precedent and, Kavanaugh wrote, “we break no new legal ground.”

Flowers was appealing his 2010 conviction, in his sixth trial, on charges of murdering four people at the Tardy Furniture store where he previously worked in the small central Mississippi city of Winona. There were 11 white jurors and one black juror.

His lawyers accused long-serving Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans, who is white, of engaging in a pattern of removing black jurors that indicated an unlawful discriminatory motive. Evans has given non-racial reasons for striking black potential jurors.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, said it is now up to Evans to decide whether Flowers will face another trial. Evans could not immediately be reached for comment.

Flowers’ lawyer, Sheri Lynn Johnson, expressed hope Flowers would not face another trial.

“A seventh trial would be unprecedented, and completely unwarranted given both the flimsiness of the evidence against him and the long trail of misconduct that has kept him wrongfully incarcerated all these years,” Johnson said.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law civil rights group, said the ruling should “sound an alarm” for prosecutors who engage in racial discrimination during jury selection.

“Racial bias continues to infect virtually every stage of our criminal justice system, including the jury selection process,” Clarke added.

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a black Georgia death row inmate who also said black potential jurors were excluded by the prosecution in his case. In 2017, the court ruled in separate cases that a Hispanic man could challenge his conviction based on a juror’s racist comments and that a black Texas death row inmate could seek to avoid execution due to testimony from an expert witness at trial who said the man was more likely to commit future crimes because of his race.

Flowers was found guilty in his first three trials – the first one with an all-white jury and the next two with just one black juror – but those convictions were thrown out by Mississippi’s top court. Several black jurors participated in the fourth and fifth trials, which ended without a verdict because the jury both times failed to produce a unanimous decision.

Prosecutors have said Flowers was upset with the store owner for firing him and withholding his paycheck to cover the cost of batteries he had damaged. Flowers was convicted of killing store owner Bertha Tardy, 59; bookkeeper Carmen Rigby, 45; delivery worker Robert Golden, 42; and part-time employee Derrick Stewart, 16. All except Golden were white.

 

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Ireland pleads with religious orders for answers on baby deaths

FILE PHOTO: A shrine dedicated to children lost at the site of the Tuam babies graveyard where the remains of 796 babies were uncovered at a former Catholic home in Tuam, Ireland, September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland pleaded with religious orders on Wednesday to reveal where decades-old remains of all babies who died in their care are buried, after an official inquiry found they provided remarkably little evidence about their deaths.

Findings by the inquiry two years ago that remains ranging in age from 35 fetal weeks to 3 years were stored in underground chambers at a former church-run home for unwed mothers revived anguish over how women and children were once treated at state-backed Roman Catholic institutions.

Investigators confirmed on Wednesday that 802 children died at the home in the western town of Tuam between 1925 and 1961 but said some were likely buried elsewhere on the site.

They expressed surprise at the lack of knowledge about the burials from the local council and the nuns from the Bon Secours order who ran the home.

Their latest interim report also found that over 3,000 children died in five other institutions over a similar time period. In one case investigators could only establish where 64 of the 900 children recorded to have died at the County Cork home of Bessborough were buried, despite extensive searches.

“My plea this morning, especially to the relevant people who may be out there: Let us know where they are buried,” Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone told a news conference.

“Please come forward. Tell the truth. Let us acknowledge them with that truth, that they lived and died and then maybe they could be treated with dignity in death. This is my hope as the minister for Christens in Ireland.”

The infant mortality rate at Church-run institutions was significantly higher than in wider Irish society at that time, with death certificates blaming mainly infections like measles, gastroenteritis, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.”

Relatives have alleged that the babies were mistreated because they were born to unmarried women.

As part of the inquiry, nuns from the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary order who ran the Bessborough institution provided affidavits and oral evidence but gave “remarkably little evidence about the burial arrangements”, the report found.

One member of the order who was in Bessborough for most of the 1948-1998 period told the Commission that she did not remember any child deaths during her time there.

The Catholic Church’s once powerful position and prestige in Ireland have been greatly diminished over the past three decades by a series of scandals over pedophile priests, abuse at Magdalene laundries (workhouses), forced adoptions of illegitimate babies and other painful issues.

The commission is due to submit its final findings by February 2020.

“I did not think in assuming the children’s ministry (that) I would be spending so much time talking about death,” Zappone said.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Turkey’s Erdogan says Khashoggi recordings ‘appalling’, shocked Saudi intelligence

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his AK Party (AKP) in Ankara, Turkey, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin/File Photo

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said recordings related to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, which Turkey has shared with Western allies, are “appalling” and shocked a Saudi intelligence officer who listened to them, Turkish media reported on Tuesday.

Khashoggi, a critic of de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2 in a hit which Erdogan says was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Six weeks after Khashoggi’s death, Turkey is trying to keep up pressure on Prince Mohammed and has released a stream of evidence that undermined Riyadh’s early denials of involvement.

Prine Mohammed won support on Tuesday from U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who said he did not think recordings of the killing shared by Turkey implicated the young crown prince.

Erdogan told reporters on his plane returning from a weekend visit to France that he discussed the Saudi journalist’s killing with the U.S., French and German leaders there, adding that Turkey had played the recording to at least six countries.

“The recordings are really appalling. Indeed when the Saudi intelligence officer listened to the recordings he was so shocked he said: ‘This one must have taken heroin, only someone who takes heroin would do this’,” he added.

Khashoggi’s murder has provoked global outrage but little concrete action by major powers against Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a strong proponent of U.S. policy to contain Iranian influence across the Middle East.

President Donald Trump has expressed reluctance to punish Saudi Arabia economically, citing its multi-billion-dollar purchases of military equipment and investments in U.S. firms.

Bolton said he did not think that people who heard the recordings concluded that the crown prince was linked to the killing. “And certainly that is not the position of the Saudi government,” he said in Singapore.

Asked again if the audio tape provided by Turkey did not link Prince Mohammed to the killing in any way, Bolton said: “I haven’t listened to the tape myself but in the assessment of those who have listened to it, that is right.”

Bolton shares with Saudi Arabia a hawkish stance against Riyadh’s biggest Middle East rival Iran, and he championed Washington’s resumption of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

ELECTRIC SHOCK DEVICES

The New York Times, in a report confirmed by a Turkish official, said a member of the Saudi team which was sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi told one of his superiors after the killing to “tell your boss” – which the newspaper said was believed to be a reference to Prince Mohammed.

The individual was identified as Maher Mutreb, who reports to an aide to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani. Mutreb was also quoted as saying words to the effect that “the deed was done”.

In his comments to reporters, Erdogan said it was clear the killing was planned and that the order came from the top level of Saudi authorities, but that he could not think such a thing of King Salman, for whom he has “limitless respect”.

“The crown prince says ‘I will clarify the matter, I will do what is necessary’. We are waiting patiently,” Erdogan said, adding that the perpetrators of the killing were among 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia.

“It must be revealed who gave them the order to murder.”

Last month two separate intelligence sources told Reuters that Qahtani gave orders over Skype to Khashoggi’s killers at the consulate. More recently, a government source familiar with the matter said Qahtani featured prominently throughout the recordings.

Saudi state media said King Salman sacked him and other officials over the killing, and a senior Saudi official said last month that Qahtani had been detained. But four sources based in the Gulf told Reuters this week that he was still at liberty and continued to operate discreetly.

“He still has the same influence,” one of the sources said. Qahtani has wielded that influence over the last three years, with his authority growing alongside that of the young prince.

He ran social media for Prince Mohammed, masterminded the arrest of hundreds of Saudi Arabia’s elite late last year in a campaign Riyadh said aimed at rooting out corruption, and took a harsh line against neighboring Qatar when Saudi Arabia imposed an economic boycott of the Gulf state in June 2017.

He also supervised the brief detention, humiliation and beating of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri last year.

Turkey’s pro-government newspaper Sabah reported on Tuesday that the luggage of the Saudi team that was sent to Istanbul at the time of Khashoggi’s killing contained syringes, large scissors, staple guns, walkie-talkies, electric shock devices and a signal jammer.

It published photos of X-rays of bags taken as the Saudis passed through security checks at the airport when they left. Reuters could not immediately verify the Sabah report.

Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge or involvement in Khashoggi’s killing, but Saudi public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb later said it was planned in advance. Another Saudi official said Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the specific operation.

(Additional reporting by John Geddie in Singapore; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

Saudis sent ‘clean-up’ team to Turkey after Khashoggi killing, official says

A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Orhan Coskun

ANKARA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia sent a two-man “clean-up team” to erase evidence of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing a week after he disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a Turkish official said on Monday, calling it a sign top Saudi officials knew of the crime.

Confirming a report in Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper, the official said the chemist and toxicologist were tasked with erasing evidence before Turkish investigators were given access to the Saudi consulate and consul’s residence.

Sabah identified the two men as Ahmed Abdulaziz al-Jonabi and Khaled Yahya al-Zahrani, saying they arrived in Turkey as part of an 11-person team sent to carry out the inspections with Turkish officials.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared at the consulate on Oct. 2.

Saudi officials initially insisted Khashoggi had left the consulate, then said he died in an unplanned “rogue operation”. The kingdom’s public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb later said he was killed in a premeditated attack.

Turkish and Saudi officials have carried out joint inspections of the consulate and consul’s residence in Istanbul, but President Tayyip Erdogan says some Saudi officials are still trying to cover up the crime. Ankara has also demanded Riyadh cooperate in finding Khashoggi’s body, which Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said had been dismembered.

A senior Turkish official confirmed the names of the men identified on Monday by Sabah. “We believe that the two individuals came to Turkey for the sole purpose of covering up evidence of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder before the Turkish police were allowed to search the premises,” the official said.

The two individuals carried out clean-up operations at the consulate and the consul’s residence in Istanbul until October 17 and left the country three days later, he said.

“The fact that a clean-up team was dispatched from Saudi Arabia nine days after the murder suggests that Khashoggi’s slaying was within the knowledge of top Saudi officials,” the official said.

Saudi Arabia says 18 people have been detained over Khashoggi’s killing and the head of its human rights commission told a meeting in Geneva on Monday Riyadh was investigating the case with a view to prosecuting the perpetrators.

ACID REPORTS

Saudi Arabia’s conflicting accounts of Khashoggi’s killing have prompted international outcry against the world’s top oil exporter, upending the young crown prince’s international image as a reformer.

Turkey has released a stream of evidence challenging the initial Saudi denials of involvement and continues to press Riyadh for details.

On Monday Vice President Fuat Oktay called for an investigation into newspaper reports last week that Khashoggi’s body was disposed of by dissolving it in acid.

“The question now is who gave the orders. This is what we are seeking answers to now,” Fuat Oktay told Anadolu news agency. “Another question is where the body is… There are reports of (the body) being dissolved with acid now. All of these need to be looked at”.

In an article in the Washington Post on Friday, Erdogan said the order to kill Khashoggi came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government and called for the “puppetmasters” to be unmasked.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Dominic Evans)

Special Report: How Myanmar punished two reporters for uncovering an atrocity

Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo leave Insein court after listening to the verdict in Yangon, Myanmar September 3, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

By John Chalmers

YANGON (Reuters) – Time and again, Myanmar’s government appeared at risk of blowing its prosecution of two young journalists who had exposed a massacre of 10 Muslim men and implicated security forces in the killings.

On April 20, a prosecution witness revealed in pre-trial hearings that police planted military documents on Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in order to frame them for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act. That admission drew gasps from the courtroom.

A police officer told the court that he burned notes he made at the time of the reporters’ arrest but didn’t explain why. Several prosecution witnesses contradicted the police account of where the arrests took place. A police major conceded the “secret” information allegedly found on the reporters wasn’t actually a secret.

And outside the courtroom, military officials even admitted that the killings had indeed taken place.

These bombshells bolstered central assertions of the defense: The arrests were a “pre-planned and staged” effort to silence the truthful reporting of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

In the end, the holes in the case were not enough to stop the government from punishing the two reporters for revealing an ugly chapter in the history of Myanmar’s young democracy. On Monday, after 39 court appearances and 265 days of imprisonment, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty of breaching the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Yangon northern district judge Ye Lwin ruled that the two reporters had breached the secrets act when they collected and obtained confidential documents. Delivering his verdict in the small courtroom, he said it had been found that “confidential documents” discovered on the two would have been useful “to enemies of the state and terrorist organizations.”

After the verdict was delivered, Wa Lone told a cluster of friends and reporters not to worry. “We know we did nothing wrong,” he said, addressing reporters outside the courtroom. “I have no fear. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”

The prosecution of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo has become a landmark press freedom case in Myanmar and a test of the nation’s transition to democratic governance since decades of rule by a military junta ended in 2011. The military, though, still controls key government ministries and is guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats, giving it much power in the fledgling democracy.

During the court hearings, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and leaders from several Western countries had called for the reporters’ release. After the verdict, Scot Marciel, the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, said the ruling was “deeply troubling” for everybody who had struggled for media freedom in the country. “I’m sad for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their families, but also for Myanmar,” he said.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said the two reporters had been convicted “without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police set-up.” The verdict, he said, was “a major step backward in Myanmar’s transition to democracy.”

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to requests for comment about the verdict.

FILE PHOTO: Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. REUTERS/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. REUTERS/File Photo

A week before the ruling, United Nations investigators said in a report that Myanmar’s military had carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent,” and that the commander-in-chief and five generals should be punished. The report also accused the government of Aung San Suu Kyi of contributing to “the commission of atrocity crimes” by failing to shield minorities from crimes against humanity and war crimes. Myanmar has rejected the findings.

Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader who spent some 15 years under house arrest during the junta era, has made few public statements about the case. In a rare comment in June, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the reporters weren’t arrested for covering the violence in western Myanmar. “They were arrested because they broke the Official Secrets Act,” she said.

The act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar – then known as Burma – was under British rule. The charge against the reporters carried a maximum sentence of 14 years. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty under Section 3.1 (c) of the act, which covers obtaining secret official documentation that “might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy.”

At the time of their arrest in December, Wa Lone, now 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, now 28, were working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers during an army crackdown in Rakhine State in the west of the country. The violence has sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, where they now live in vast refugee camps.

The United States has accused the government of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are widely reviled in this majority-Buddhist country. Myanmar says its operations in Rakhine were a legitimate response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya insurgents.

Reuters published its investigation into the massacre on Feb. 8. An account of the killing of eight men and two high school students in September in the village of Inn Din, the report prompted international demands for a credible probe into the wider bloodshed in Rakhine.

The story and its accompanying photographs provided the first independent confirmation of what took place at Inn Din. Two of the photos obtained by the reporters show the men kneeling, in one with their hands behind their necks and in a second with their hands tied behind their backs. A third picture shows their bodies, some apparently with bullet wounds, others with gashes, in a blood-stained, shallow grave.

SLEEP DEPRIVED

The prosecution of the reporters put Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, in the glare of an uncomfortable global spotlight. Hailed as a champion of democracy for standing up to the junta, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010. Her party won a general election in 2015 and formed Myanmar’s first civilian government in more than half a century in early 2016. Her cabinet includes three generals, however; in a speech last month, she called these military men “all rather sweet.”

Earlier this year, veteran U.S. politician Bill Richardson said Suu Kyi was “furious” with him when he raised the case of the Reuters journalists with her. Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member, resigned in January from an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis, saying the body was conducting a “whitewash” and accusing Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership.” Suu Kyi’s office said at the time that Richardson was “pursuing his own agenda” and had been asked to step down.

As leader of the opposition, Suu Kyi had criticized the junta’s treatment of journalists. In 2014, she reportedly described as “very excessive” a prison sentence of 10 years with hard labor handed down to four local journalists and their boss. They were found guilty of trespassing and violating the Official Secrets Act, the same law used to prosecute the Reuters reporters. “While there are claims of democratic reform, this is questionable when the rights of journalists are being controlled,” the local Irrawaddy newspaper quoted her as telling reporters in July 2014.

A government spokesman did not answer calls by Reuters seeking comment on Suu Kyi’s statement.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on the evening of Dec. 12. During hours of testimony in July, they described that night and the interrogations that followed. They told the court that their heads were covered with black hoods when they were transported to a police interrogation site. They testified they were deprived of sleep for three days during their grillings. At one point, Kyaw Soe Oo said, he was punished and made to kneel on the floor for at least three hours. A police witness denied that the reporters were deprived of sleep and that Kyaw Soe Oo was forced to kneel.

Describing the night of their arrest, Wa Lone said he and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained almost immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by a police lance corporal he had been trying to interview for the massacre story. The policeman had invited Wa Lone to meet and Kyaw Soe Oo accompanied him, Wa Lone testified.

When the two reporters exited the restaurant, they were grabbed by men in plain clothes, handcuffed and shoved into separate vehicles, they both testified. As they were driven to a police station, Wa Lone recalled in court, a man who appeared to be in charge called a senior officer and told him: “We’ve got them, sir.”

The interrogation centered on the journalists’ reporting and their discovery of the massacre, not on the allegedly secret state documents, Wa Lone told the court. One officer, he said, offered “possible negotiations” if the massacre story wasn’t published. Wa Lone said he rejected the overture.

At one point, Wa Lone testified, the police chastised him for reporting on the Rohingya. “You are both Buddhists. Why are you writing about ‘kalars’ at a time like this? They aren’t citizens,” Wa Lone recalled being told. ‘Kalar’ is a slur widely used in Myanmar to describe Muslims, especially Rohingya and people of South Asian origin.

It was two weeks from the time of their arrest before Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were allowed contact with their families and lawyers.

In late December, they were sent to Yangon’s Insein Prison, a colonial-era building that became an emblem of the former military junta’s repressive rule. For decades, dissidents were held alongside murderers, thieves and drug dealers. Suu Kyi spent a brief period there.

“I found out my cell was built in 1865. It was used for the prisoners before they were killed,” Wa Lone told a colleague before one court hearing, amused to have discovered he was living on a Victorian-era death row.

THUMBS-UP SIGN

The first hearing came on Dec. 27, which was overcast with a few specks of drizzle. Some reporters had gathered outside the courthouse before dawn in case police tried to rush through the proceedings. Many from local media wore black T-shirts in solidarity with the Reuters reporters.

Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, mouthed quiet prayers between interviews with journalists. Kyaw Soe Oo’s sister, Nyo Nyo Aye, kept near her side, barely speaking.

When a white Toyota police van swung into the yard, Pan Ei Mon and Nyo Nyo Aye pushed through scrambling photographers and hugged the two men as they were led into the courthouse. Within minutes, the court extended their remand for 14 days. An application for bail was refused on Feb. 1.

After that, the two reporters were put in a pick-up truck almost weekly to make the roughly half-kilometer journey to Yangon’s Northern District Court, a dilapidated two storey red-brick building. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo would arrive at court handcuffed. Holding his hands clenched and at chest-level, Wa Lone looked like a boxer entering a ring, smiling and giving a thumbs-up sign for the cameras.

If there was a break in proceedings, the men were allowed to join their families in a side room, where they were fed and hugged. Kyaw Soe Oo’s daughter, Moe Thin Wai Zan, now three, would cling to her father. From time to time, he carefully lowered his handcuffs over her head and peppered her face with kisses.

Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, sat as close to her husband as she could during the hearings. She gave birth to a girl, the couple’s first child, on Aug. 10.

The courtroom could hold around 40 people and was invariably packed with family, friends, reporters and foreign diplomats. Sparrows flitted through gaps above the saloon-style doors and nested in the rafters; a cat sometimes wandered through the court. From a nearby room sounded the clacking of an old-fashioned typewriter. Power cuts were routine, and during the humid summer, the room warmed quickly as the single ceiling fan slowed to a halt. In a familiar drill, a court official would hustle spectators aside to fetch a generator and lug it into a hallway, where it chugged until the session was over.

Flanked by policemen, Wa Lone would often make an impassioned statement to the media outside court after hearings. On the day the court charged the reporters, he raised his voice and spoke quickly: “For us, no matter what, we won’t retreat, give up or be shaken by this. I would like to say that injustice will never defeat us.”

Police said Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were caught in Yangon with secret information about the operations of security forces in Rakhine, the state where the Inn Din massacre took place. The reporters, they said, were detained after being searched at a traffic checkpoint by officers who didn’t know they were journalists.

But early in the proceedings, the police version of events began to fray. At a hearing on Feb. 1, a police major, who led the team of arresting officers, conceded that the information in the documents had already been published in newspaper reports. It was one of many inconsistencies to surface during testimony from the 22 witnesses called by the prosecution.

The precise location and circumstances surrounding the arrests emerged as a key point of contention in court. The police said the reporters were stopped and searched at a traffic checkpoint at the junction of Main Road No. 3 and Nilar Road by officers who were unaware they were journalists – not at a restaurant, as Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified.

One prosecution witness, civilian official Kyaw Shein, supported the police on the location of the arrests. Then, in a moment of courtroom drama, defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung reached through the wooden bars of the witness stand and turned over Kyaw Shein’s left hand, which the witness had been glancing at while giving testimony. On it were written the words “Thet Oo Maung” – the official name of Wa Lone – and below it, “No. 3 Road and Nilar Road junction.” (It is common for people in Myanmar to use more than one name, as Wa Lone does.)

Asked if someone had told him to write down the address where police say the arrest took place, Kyaw Shein said no. He wrote on his hand because he was “forgetful,” he said.

‘ENTRAP HIM AND ARREST HIM’

On April 10, in a move that acknowledged the truth of the Reuters report on the Inn Din massacre, the army announced that seven soldiers had been sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area” for participating in the killings.

Ten days later, the state’s case against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo appeared to suffer a setback when the court heard the reporters’ version of events – astonishingly, from a prosecution witness. They had in fact been arrested as they left a restaurant still holding in their hands documents they had just been given by police officers as part of a plan to ensnare them, said Captain Moe Yan Naing of the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion.

Before the reporters were arrested, Wa Lone had interviewed several members of Battalion 8 about the army crackdown in Rakhine. At least three police officers told him that the unit supported military operations there.

Moe Yan Naing testified that he was interviewed by Wa Lone in November, and had himself been under arrest since the night of Dec. 12. Earlier that day, he said, he had been taken to Battalion 8’s headquarters on the northern edges of Yangon. When he arrived, he said, he found himself among a group of several policemen who were believed to have given interviews to Wa Lone. They were interrogated about their interactions with the Reuters reporter.

Moe Yan Naing told the court that police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko, who led an internal probe into what the reporters had been told, ordered an officer to arrange a meeting with Wa Lone that night and hand over “secret documents from Battalion 8.”

Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko gave the documents to a police lance corporal “and told him to give them to Wa Lone,” Moe Yan Naing testified. When Wa Lone left the restaurant, the general continued, the local police were to “entrap him and arrest him,” according to Moe Yan Naing. He told the court he witnessed Tin Ko Ko giving these orders.

“Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko told the police members, ‘If you don’t get Wa Lone, you will go to jail’,” Moe Yan Naing said.

“This officer spoke based on his own feelings,” police spokesman Colonel Myo Thu Soe told Reuters, referring to Moe Yan Naing.

In the days following his testimony, Moe Yan Naing’s wife and three children were evicted from police housing in the capital city of Naypyitaw, and he was sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Police Disciplinary Act by having contact with Wa Lone. The prosecution sought to have Moe Yan Naing declared an unreliable witness. Nevertheless, Judge Ye Lwin declared he was credible. The captain returned to court two weeks later – this time in shackles and wearing a dark blue prison uniform – to give further testimony.

A police lance corporal, who met the reporters in the restaurant moments before they were arrested, contradicted Moe Yan Naing’s account of a set-up operation. Naing Lin, the lance corporal, denied giving the Reuters reporters secret documents to incriminate them. He also denied calling Wa Lone to invite him to a meeting on Dec. 12. During cross-examination, though, defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said phone records showed that Naing Lin had called the journalist three times on that day.

In the end, the defense’s ability to punch holes in the prosecution’s case proved to be insufficient ammunition. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s exposure of atrocities against a despised minority had put them on a collision course with Aung San Suu Kyi, the generals and their nation’s Buddhist majority.

(Edited by Peter Hirschberg and Michael Williams.)

Turkey says it has new evidence of Gulen coup links, will discuss with U.S

FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has obtained fresh evidence linking supporters of a U.S.-based cleric to a 2016 failed military coup, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said, adding he would discuss the new information with his U.S. counterpart later on Friday.

Turkey’s so far fruitless two-year effort to seek cleric Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the United States has deepened strains between the NATO allies. Washington has asked Ankara to produce more persuasive evidence against Gulen.

Gulen, who has lived in the United States since 1999, has denied involvement in the coup attempt and condemned it.

State news agency Anadolu quoted Gul as saying new evidence was found on the phone of a follower of Gulen.

“We obtained a new piece of evidence showing FETO was directly connected to the coup that night, strengthening all of the hypotheses and information that we have already given,” Anadolu reported Gul as saying.

FETO is the term the Turkish government uses to describe Gulen’s network.

Gul said he planned to discuss the new evidence in a phone call with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later on Friday. A spokeswoman for Sessions declined to comment.

U.S.-Turkish relations took another hit this week when a Turkish court ruled to keep an American pastor in prison on terrorism charges that the United States rejects.

A U.S. official in Turkey said on Friday that cooperation between Turkish and U.S. law enforcement agencies over Gulen had improved in recent months, but Ankara needed to produce evidence of his involvement that would be persuasive enough for a U.S. court to authorize his extradition.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said U.S. Justice Department authorities were working closely with their Turkish counterparts to ensure that any extradition request Turkey submits to a U.S. court is “detailed enough to have a chance of success.”

“My colleagues at the Justice Department tell me that they have spent more time on the Gulen extradition request than on any other extradition request in their memory… thousands of hours,” the official said.

The official said that the U.S. Justice Department has been separately probing a network of American charter schools run by Gulen’s followers since long before Turkey began investigating the cleric. Gulen and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan were close allies until the two men had a public falling-out in 2013.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Gulsen Solaker; Editing by Dominic Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky)

North Korea is dismantling its nuclear site, but is it abandoning its arsenal or hiding evidence?

A satellite photo of the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site in North Korea May 14, 2018. Planet Labs Inc/Handout via REUTERS

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – Satellite imagery shows North Korea dismantling facilities at its nuclear test site, but experts say the images can’t reveal whether it is the first step toward full denuclearization, or an attempt to cloak nuclear capabilities from outside observers.

North Korea’s intentions were thrown further into doubt on Wednesday, when it abruptly announced it may “reconsider” meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in June if the United States continues to insist on unilateral denuclearization.

Commercial satellite imagery – including photos taken by Planet Labs as recently as May 14 – show North Korea removing some structures around its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, experts say.

“So far it looks like the surface-level support structures are being dismantled,” said Scott LaFoy, an open source imagery analyst. “This would be consistent with the site being closed, as you need engineers and working teams on-site to prepare and maintain the site.”

Among the facilities that appear to have been razed are an engineering office, as well as buildings housing the air compressor used to pump air into the tunnels where the bombs were detonated, said non-proliferation expert Frank Pabian.

“This is entirely in keeping with the official North Korean news report that ‘technical measures’ associated with the shutdown were underway,” Pabian said.

North Korea has said it plans to use explosives to collapse the tunnels; “completely” block up the tunnel entrances; and remove observation facilities, research institutes and guard structures.

A limited number of foreign media have been invited to view the ceremonial closure of the site, but so far no international inspectors, leading some experts to suspect that North Korea is seeking to hide details of its nuclear capabilities.

“North Korea might seem like they’re being generous in holding this event, but this is the actual testing ground we’re talking about here – The smoking gun,” said Suh Kune-yull, professor of nuclear energy system engineering at Seoul National University. “It seems like they’re trying to erase any evidence of the nuclear capabilities they have.”

“SOME RED FLAGS”

In a statement on Wednesday, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan sharply criticized American officials – especially national security adviser John Bolton – for suggesting that Libya could be a template for denuclearizing North Korea.

Bolton has proposed Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un make a deal similar to the one that led to components of Libya’s nuclear program being shipped to the United States in 2004.

In 2011, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebel forces backed by a NATO air campaign.

While the technical aspects of a North Korea deal could mirror some aspects of the Libya effort, Pyongyang has a much more advanced weapons program and Gaddafi’s fate is not encouraging, Andreas Persbo, the executive director of VERTIC, a London think tank that focuses on disarmament verification and implementation, said in a recent interview.

“Libya is a horrible example to make out of that perspective because of course the North Koreans have their own teams advising Kim Jong Un on what this meant, and they will highlight the fact that this is not a good solution for North Korea,” he said.

North Korea appears instead to be proposing a longer-term general commitment to “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which could take years even under the best circumstances, experts say.

LaFoy said North Korea’s actions so far are “not necessarily nefarious,” but that it does raise some “red flags” about complete permanent denuclearization.

“That imagery tells us the site appears to be in the process of decommissioning,” he said. “But we can’t yet tell if it is going to be closed for years or something that can ultimately be reversed in a few weeks or months.”

(GRAPHIC: Nuclear North Korea – https://tmsnrt.rs/2Kql12i)

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Malcolm Foster in TOKYO. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Pushing to bury Iran deal, Israel insists nobody wants war with Tehran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

By Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Tuesday it does not seek war with Iran, a day after presenting purported evidence of past Iranian nuclear arms work, but suggested President Donald Trump backed its latest attempt to kill a deal aimed at curbing Iran’s atomic ambitions.

A senior Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed Trump on March 5 about alleged evidence seized by Israel in what Netanyahu on Monday presented as a “great intelligence achievement”.

Trump agreed at the meeting that Israel would publish the information before May 12, the date by which he is due to decide whether the United States should quit the nuclear deal with Iran, an arch foe of both countries, the Israeli official said.

Word of the consultations between Trump and Netanyahu serve to underscore perceptions of a coordinated bid by both leaders to bury the international agreement, which Trump has called “horrible” and Netanyahu has termed “terrible.”

In a televised statement on Monday night Netanyahu detailed what he said were Iranian documents that purportedly prove Iran had been developing nuclear arms before the 2015 deal that it signed with the U.S. and world powers. [L8N1S7531]

On Tuesday Netanyahu told CNN that “nobody” sought a conflict with the Islamic Republic, a prospect seen by some as a possible result of the deal’s collapse.

Asked if Israel is prepared to go to war with Tehran, Netanyahu said: “Nobody’s seeking that kind of development. Iran is the one that’s changing the rules in the region.”

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

But Netanyahu’s presentation said the evidence showed Iran lied going into the deal, a landmark agreement seen by Trump as flawed but by European powers as vital to allaying concerns that Iran could one day develop nuclear bombs.

Tehran, which denies ever pursuing nuclear weapons, dismissed Netanyahu as “the boy who cried wolf,” and called his presentation propaganda.

“We warn the Zionist regime and its allies to stop their plots and dangerous behaviors or they will face Iran’s surprising and firm response,” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by Tasnim on Tuesday.

Hatami called Netanyahu’s accusations “baseless”.

International and Israeli experts said Netanyahu had presented no evidence Iran was in breach of the deal. Rather, it appeared the presentation, delivered almost entirely in English, was composed as an Israeli prelude to Trump quitting the accord.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli minister for regional development and a Netanyahu confidant, said the presentation was meant to provide Trump with the grounds to bolt the deal.

“In 12 days a huge drama will unfold. The American president will likely pull out of the deal,” Hanegbi said in an interview to Israeli Army Radio. “What the prime minister did last night, was to give Trump ammunition against the European naiveté and unwillingness regarding Iran.”

Under the deal struck by Iran and six major powers Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.

Trump gave Britain, France and Germany a May 12 deadline to fix what he views as the deal’s flaws – its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the terms by which inspectors visit suspect Iranian sites, and “sunset” clauses under which some of its terms expire – or he will reimpose U.S. sanctions.

The senior Israeli official said Israel knew about the Iranian archive for a year, got hold of it in February and informed Trump about it at a meeting in Washington on March 5.

REVIEW

Israel had updated China on its Iran material and by the end of this week was scheduled to host experts from Britain, Germany and France who would inspect it, the senior official said.

Most of the purported evidence Netanyahu presented dated to the period before the 2015 accord was signed, although he said Iran had also kept important files on nuclear technology since then, and continued adding to its “nuclear weapons knowledge”.

Although the presentation was live on Israeli television, Netanyahu made clear his audience was abroad, delivering most of his speech in English, before switching to Hebrew.

A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate judged with “high confidence” that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003. The IAEA later reached a similar judgment.

One Vienna-based diplomat who has dealt with the IAEA for years, when asked what he made of Netanyahu’s speech, said: “Nothing new. Theatrics.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Netanyahu did not question Iran’s compliance with the deal. She noted the deal was made “exactly because there was no trust between the parties, otherwise we would not have required a nuclear deal to be put in place”.

Hanegbi acknowledged Netanyahu had not shown Iran had violated the agreement: “The Iranians are clean in regard to the nuclear deal because it is a gift given to them by an exhausted, tired, naive world.”

An Israeli official familiar with Netanyahu’s telegenic style – one the Israeli leader has refined over decades in the international arena – said that the two-word headline “Iran Lied” that appeared beside him during the presentation was tailor-made for Trump’s own short, pithy, rhetorical style.

Noting Trump’s own use of short epithets, the Israeli official said Trump “responds to pithy messaging, and that is what we were going for with this briefing.”

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, François Murphy in Vienna, Mark Heinrich in London, Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Bozorgmehr Sharefedin in London, Editing by William Maclean)

Israel presents Iran nuclear files, putting pressure on U.S. to scrap deal

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

By Stephen Farrell

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up pressure on the United States to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, holding a primetime address on Israeli TV to present what he called evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Intelligence experts and diplomats said he did not seem to have presented a “smoking gun” showing that Iran had violated the agreement, although he may have helped make a case on behalf of hawks in the U.S. administration who want to scrap it.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Most of the purported evidence Netanyahu unveiled dated to the period before the 2015 accord was signed, although he said Iran had also kept important files on nuclear technology since then, and continued adding to its “nuclear weapons knowledge”.

Tehran dismissed Netanyahu as “the boy who cried wolf”, and called his presentation propaganda.

President Donald Trump has threatened to pull the United States out of the international deal unless it is renegotiated by May 12. After Netanyahu spoke, Trump repeated his criticism of the deal, suggesting he backed the Israeli leader’s remarks.

“Iran’s leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said at Israel’s Defence Ministry, standing in front of stacks of files representing what he described as a vault full of Iranian nuclear documents obtained weeks before.

“Tonight I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied.”

“Iran lied about never having a nuclear weapons program,” he said. “One hundred thousand secret files prove it did. Second, even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowledge for future use.”

Although the presentation was live on Israeli television, Netanyahu made clear that his audience was abroad: he delivered most of his speech in English, before switching to Hebrew.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Netanyahu said he had already shared the new intelligence with the United States and would dispatch envoys to France and Germany to present it. He also spoke by phone to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tehran has denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and accuses its arch-foe Israel of stirring up world suspicions against it.

However, much of what Netanyahu presented is unlikely to surprise world powers, which have long concluded that Iran was pursuing atomic weapons before the agreement was signed in 2015: that is why they imposed sanctions in the first place. The agreement lifted those sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear work.

The French ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, tweeted that information about past Iranian nuclear activity was in fact an argument in favor of the nuclear deal, not against it.

Washington’s European allies say Tehran has generally abided by the terms of the deal since then, and have urged Trump not to scrap it. Some independent analysts and diplomats said Netanyahu appeared to be presenting old evidence.

Eran Etzion, former deputy Israeli national security adviser who now heads the Israeli-European think-tank Forum of Strategic Dialogue, said on Twitter: “No ‘smoking gun’ was revealed this evening, nor was it proven that Iran is today developing nuclear weaponry or violating the (nuclear deal) in any other way.”

A senior European diplomat told Reuters: “We knew all of this and what especially stands out is that Netanyahu doesn’t speak of any recorded violations” of the deal itself.

Speaking after Netanyahu’s presentation, Trump told a White House news conference the nuclear deal was “a horrible agreement for the United States”. He said it would let Tehran develop nuclear arms after seven years and had “proven right what Israel has done today” with Netanyahu’s disclosures.

However, Washington itself has concluded that Iran has not violated the deal’s terms. Two U.S. intelligence officials who have monitored Iran’s nuclear weapons program for years said nothing in Netanyahu’s remarks appeared to contradict that view.

“We have seen no new and credible evidence that Iran is violating the agreement, wither in the Prime Minister’s remarks today or from other sources,” said one of the officials, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Moments before Netanyahu spoke Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again”.

Abbas Araqchi, a senior Iranian foreign ministry official, was quoted by Iran’s Tasnim news agency as calling Netanyahu’s presentation “a childish and ridiculous game” with the goal of influencing Trump’s decision ahead of the May 12 deadline.

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, though it neither confirms nor denies possessing atomic weapons.

(Reporting by Rami Amichay, Stephen Farrell, Ori Lewis, Ari Rabinovitch, Dan Williams, Arshad Mohammed, John Irish, John Walcott, Parisa Hafezi, Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Graff)

Genealogy websites help California police find Golden State Killer suspect

By Fred Greaves

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California investigators tracked down the man they suspect is the Golden State Killer by comparing crime scene DNA to information on genealogy websites consumers use to trace their ancestry, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested on Tuesday outside the Sacramento-area home where he has lived for at least two decades, not far from the site of the first of eight murders he is charged with committing 40 years ago.

DeAngelo, described by neighbors as an oddball and loner known to fly into occasional fits of solitary rage, is suspected of 12 slayings in all. He also is accused of committing 45 rapes and scores of home invasions in a crime spree that spanned 10 years and 10 California counties during the 1970s and 1980s.

Announcing his arrest on Wednesday, authorities said DeAngelo’s name had never surfaced as a suspect prior to last week, when a DNA match was made.

Officials initially did not disclose how their investigation led to DeAngelo, whose DNA had never previously been collected.

But on Thursday, Steve Grippi, chief deputy district attorney for Sacramento County, said detectives narrowed their search by using genetic information available through commercial genealogy websites furnishing personal family histories to consumers who send DNA samples in for analysis.

Confirming details first reported by the Sacramento Bee newspaper, Grippi said investigators compared DNA samples left by the perpetrator at a crime scene to genetic profiles on the ancestry sites, looking for similarities.

He did not address whether the websites volunteered the information or were subject to a search warrant or subpoena.

Detectives followed the family trees of close matches, seeking blood relatives who fit a rough profile of the killer. The process produced a lead a week ago, pointing to DeAngelo based on his age and whereabouts at the time of the attacks, Grippi said.

Investigators found DeAngelo, placed him under surveillance and obtained his DNA from a discarded object, finding a match to a crime scene sample. A second, more decisive sample was collected from him days later and came back positive on Monday.

Authorities have not disclosed the relative whose DNA helped solve the case. DeAngelo is known to have at least two adult children.

DeAngelo is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Sacramento on Friday, facing two counts of murder.

On Thursday, sheriff’s detectives and FBI agents spent hours combing through his modest single-story house in Citrus Heights, a Sacramento suburb, and probing the backyard with poles for signs of digging. Red marker flags were visible in an embankment at the rear of the yard, enclosed by a tall wooden fence.

“Those are fairly standard search techniques,” said Lieutenant Paul Belli, a homicide detective for the sheriff’s department. “There’s no reason to believe there are bodies buried back there.”

Among the items of evidence collected from the house were computers and firearms, he said.

Investigators also sought articles of clothing that might help tie the suspect to particular crimes, such as ski masks or gloves worn during the attacks, or jewelry, driver’s licenses and other personal effects taken from victims, apparently as keepsakes or trophies, Belli said.

Belli said he doubted additional victims would emerge because exhaustive DNA database searches had turned up no further matches.

Neighbor Paul Sanchietti, 58, said he was left “bone-chilled” by news that DeAngelo, who lived four houses away, had been arrested as a suspected serial killer.

In the 20 years they lived as neighbors, Sanchietti said he could recount speaking just a few words with DeAngelo on two occasions, once when they pushed a stalled car out of the middle of the street.

“It just felt like he wanted to be left alone,” Sanchietti said of his neighbor, who he said had a reputation in the community for loud, angry outbursts.

“He would be outside in his driveway working on his car or something, and he would go into these rally loud tirades, Sanchietti told Reuters, adding that he nevertheless was unaware of DeAngelo ever running afoul of law enforcement.

(Reporting in Sacramento by Fred Greaves. Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)