Netanyahu pleads not guilty to corruption as trial resumes

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty on Monday to corruption charges at the resumption of his trial, six weeks before voters again head to the polls to pass judgment on his leadership.

“I confirm the written answer submitted in my name,” Netanyahu said, standing before the three-judge panel in the heavily guarded Jerusalem District Court.

He was referring to a document his lawyers gave the court last month in which they argued that Netanyahu, 71, was not guilty of charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.

Wearing a coronavirus mask, Netanyahu, the first serving Israeli leader to be charged with a crime, seemed intent on projecting an air of business as usual, thanking the court and leaving without explanation some 20 minutes into the session.

Netanyahu was indicted in 2019 in long-running cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favors for media tycoons in return for favorable coverage.

On entering the courtroom, Netanyahu sat in a corner with his lawyers, his back to cameras. The session itself was not broadcast but reporters could monitor a closed-circuit feed elsewhere in the building.

His quick departure from the court building seemed aimed at showing the public that he would not allow the trial to interfere with government business as Israel begins to emerge from a month-long coronavirus lockdown.

Israel will hold its fourth parliamentary election in two years on March 23, with Netanyahu’s handling of the health crisis and his alleged corruption the main issues stoking weekly protests against him.

Opinion polls show the race too close to call, as right-wing rivals and center-left opponents muster against Israel’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu has been prime minister continuously since 2009 after a first term from 1996 to 1999.

(Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Nick Macfie)

Fired Ohio policeman pleads not guilty in Black man’s killing, granted bail

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A former Ohio police officer pleaded not guilty on Friday to murder and other charges in the shooting death of an unarmed Black man, the latest in a series of killings that have raised questions of racial injustice in U.S. law enforcement.

At the hearing in Franklin County court, Judge Elizabeta Saken agreed to release the former officer, Adam Coy, a 19-year-veteran of the Columbus police force, on $3 million bail.

Coy, a 44-year-old white man, was indicted by a grand jury on Wednesday in the Dec. 22 killing of Andre Maurice Hill, 47. Coy was responding to a nuisance call about car noise.

The former officer, shackled and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, appeared at the hearing through a video monitor from a jail where he has been held since his arrest on Wednesday.

Coy’s attorney, Mark Collins, told the court Friday that his client is not a danger to the public and is not a flight risk, emphasizing his connections to the community and family ties.

“This case is unique,” Collins said. “It is not a who-done-it, but whether or not his use of force was justified. He is not a threat, your honor.”

Coy was indicted on one charge of murder, one charge of felonious assault and two counts of dereliction of duty.

The case is the latest in a series of police killings of Black people that have highlighted longstanding accusations of racial injustice in U.S. law enforcement. Last summer, a handful of high-profile deaths in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Louisville and elsewhere triggered nationwide protests that pushed police reform to the top of the U.S. political agenda.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Teen charged in Wisconsin protest shootings to plead not guilty on all counts -lawyer

(Reuters) – Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with fatally shooting two men and wounding a third at a demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August, is expected to plead not guilty to all counts at an arraignment on Tuesday, his lawyer said.

Rittenhouse was charged with first-degree reckless homicide and five other criminal counts related to the shootings, which occurred on Aug. 25 at a demonstration that followed the fatal shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer days earlier.

Rittenhouse, who faces a trial in Kenosha County, will plead not guilty to all counts at the hearing, scheduled for 1 p.m. local time (1900 GMT), his lawyer Mark Richards told Reuters in an email.

The teenager was freed after his attorneys posted his $2 million bond in November. The source of the money was unclear, but his attorneys had led a drive to raise the funds from donations.

Rittenhouse’s lawyers have said Rittenhouse, who turned 18 on Sunday, acted in self defense when he opened fire with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle at the protest.

The police shooting of Blake on Aug. 23, captured on cellphone video, drew a mix of civil rights demonstrators, anarchists and right-wing militias to the streets of Kenosha, a city of 100,000 people about 40 miles (65 km) south of Milwaukee.

Officer Rusten Sheskey shot at Blake’s back seven times from close range as Blake opened the door of his car, striking him four times and paralyzing him from the waist down. Officials said there was a knife inside Blake’s car.

Blake’s lawyer, Ben Crump, disputed that there was a knife in the car and said Blake was attempting to break up a fight between two women when he was shot in front of three of his sons, aged 3, 5 and 8.

Prosecutors are expected to decide whether to charge Sheskey this week.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Older of two Colorado teens charged in deadly shooting rampage pleads not guilty

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – The older of two Colorado teens accused of a cocaine-fueled shooting spree that killed one classmate and wounded eight others at a Denver-area charter school, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to murder and attempted murder charges, prosecutors said.

Devon Erickson, 19, jailed without bond since the May 7 rampage, entered his plea in Douglas County District Court to all 44 felony counts against him, including conspiracy, weapons offenses and theft, a spokeswoman for District Attorney George Brauchler said in a statement.

Erickson’s lawyers also gave the court notice they will pursue a “mental health defense,” and the judge ruled the defendant must cooperate with any psychiatric examination ordered in the case, spokeswoman Vikki Migoya said in an email.

The judge ruled in September there was sufficient evidence for Erickson to stand trial in the attack.

Erickson is accused along with Alec McKinney, 16, of bursting into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School they attended in Highlands Ranch, south of Denver, and opening fire with guns they stole from Erickson’s parents.

The pair were arrested after several fellow students tried to fight back, including 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, who was killed. Eight students were wounded, one of them struck by errant gunfire from a private security guard.

Police say the two suspects had used an ax and crowbar to break into a safe containing the firearms they stole – three pistols and a .22-caliber rifle – and consumed cocaine before storming the school.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Erickson later told police he “didn’t want anyone to get shot” but the handgun he was carrying discharged when he was hit by the other students rushing him.

McKinney, who was born female but identifies as male, is alleged to have told investigators he was bullied at school for his transgender status and planned the attack out of revenge, enlisting Erickson to help him carry out the plot.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Erickson faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty should prosecutors seek capital punishment.

McKinney, although charged as an adult, would face a maximum punishment of 40 years in prison because he was a juvenile when the crime was committed.

The attack occurred less than a month after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in nearby Littleton, Colorado, where two students shot and killed 13 people before committing suicide.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Tom Brown)