‘How can this be?’ Victim’s father testifies in Dallas wrong-apartment murder trial

By Brad Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Texas prosecutors on Wednesday said a jury should sentence former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger to at least 28 years in prison for mistakenly entering a black neighbor’s apartment and shooting him to death as he ate ice cream.

The jury could sentence Guyger, 31, to life in prison or as little as five years behind bars for murdering 26-year-old Botham Jean on Sept. 6, 2018.

Jean’s father cried as he told the jury of his intense pain following the murder of his son, who he said brought joy to those around him.

“How could we lose Botham – such a sweet boy? He tried his best to live a good honest life. He loved God. He loved everyone,” Bertrum Jean said as he wept. “How can this be possible? I’ll never see him again. I want to see him!”

Jean’s slaying by a white police officer had provoked street protests, particularly after prosecutors initially opted to charge Guyger with manslaughter rather than murder.

Lawyers for the victim’s family said they believed the verdict was the first time a white female police officer had been found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of an unarmed black man.

“This is a historic case and history provides us with a teachable moment,” said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot and killed in 2012 by a civilian neighborhood watchman who was later cleared in court.

This case was unlike other recent high-profile killings, such as those of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota, since Guyger was not on duty or responding to a reported crime when she fired.

State prosecutors hammered at racist and violent text messages and social media posts that Guyger made in the months leading up to Jean’s killing.

One text Guyger wrote in January 2018 stated how she would like to use pepper spray on the crowd at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Dallas. In another she wrote that her black police colleagues “just have a different way of working and it shows.”

Prosecutor LaQuita Long told the jury that this past weekend marked the second birthday Jean’s family had mourned him since his death.

“I’m going to encourage you that the number you return with should be no lower than 28 years,” Long said. “That is what Botham would have celebrated on Sunday.”

Lawyers for Guyger called her mother, sister, a few fellow police officers and several acquaintances to the stand. They all said the former police officer had a caring personality.

LaWanda Clark, a longtime drug addict, told jurors how Guyger had ticketed her during a bust at a drug den a few years ago, but told the woman that she could “continue on the road that you’re on – or this can be your ticket out.”

Clark said she went through a rehab program, is now sober and employed, and credits Guyger with turning her life around.

“She let me know that I mattered,” Clark said. “That she didn’t just see me as an addict.”

Defense lawyer Toby Shook asked the jury to consider the unusual circumstances of this case, noting that Guyger “was not on duty. She just wanted to go home.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)

Jury finds Dallas police officer guilty in shooting death of her neighbor

FILE PHOTO: Amber Guyger, who is charged in the killing of Botham Jean in his own home, arrives on the first day of the trial in Dallas, Texas, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jeremy Lock/File Photo

By Bruce Tomaso

DALLAS (Reuters) – A Dallas jury found former police officer Amber Guyger guilty on Tuesday of murder when she accidentally walked into a neighbor’s apartment thinking it was her own and shot him dead as he ate ice cream.

The Sept. 6, 2018, killing of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black PwC accountant, by a white officer sparked street protests, particularly when prosecutors initially opted to bring the lesser charge of manslaughter against Guyger, 31.

“We the jury unanimously find the defendant Amber Guyger guilty of murder as charged in the indictment,” Judge Tammy Kemp read aloud to the courtroom from the jurors’ statement. A sob, which sounded like it came from Guyger’s bench, cut the judge off and Kemp paused to address the courtroom: “No outbursts.”

Guyger, who spent four years on the force before the killing, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for the slaying. She took the rare step of testifying in her own defense during her trial, tearfully expressing regret for shooting Jean but saying she had believed her life was in danger when she pulled the trigger.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I have to live with this every single day,” Guyger told the jury of eight women and four men.

In cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus asked her, “When you shot him twice, you intended to kill him, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Guyger responded, in a calm voice.

Prosecutors also argued that Guyger did little to help Jean even after realizing her mistake, calling the 911 emergency phone number for an ambulance but not administering first aid.

Hermus also told the jury that Guyger missed blatant clues that she was not in her own apartment – including the smell of marijuana smoke – because she was distracted after a 16-minute phone conversation on her commute with her former police partner. Guyger testified that the call was in relation to work.

The shooting stood in contrast to cases like the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Guyger shot Jean while she was off duty, rather than while responding to a reported crime.

In her testimony, Guyger told jurors that the shooting “is not about hate; it’s about being scared.”

Neither prosecutors nor the defense focused on race during the trial.

(Reporting by Bruce Tomaso in Dallas, additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Novichok appeared in blood test of second UK police officer in 2018

FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand on duty outside Sergei Skripal's home in Salisbury, Britain, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – British police who investigated a 2018 Novichok poisoning that was blamed on Russia said traces of the deadly nerve agent have since been found in a blood sample taken from a second officer at the time.

Police said the officer received medical treatment and returned to duties shortly after they responded to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a former Russian double agent and his daughter who were found slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.

The attack triggered a sequence of events which ended with one person dead and a deep strain on the West’s relations with Russia. Another officer, Nick Bailey, fell seriously ill at the time before eventually recovering.

Both Skripals have made a slow recovery.

The police said the poisoning of the second officer had not originally appeared in tests at the time but showed up when the sample was tested by a different method. They said officers were continuing to review the case.

Britain has blamed the attack on two agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence who visited the city. Russia has denied any involvement.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

Minnesota ex-policeman faces prison for fatal shooting of Australian woman

FILE PHOTO: Mohamed Noor, center, former Minnesota policeman on trial for fatally shooting an Australian woman, walks into the courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Craig Lassig/File Photo - RC1DDA04DCD0

By Joey Peters

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – A former Minneapolis police officer faces the possibility of stiff prison time when he is sentenced on Friday for the fatal shooting of an Australian woman nearly two years ago after she had called police to report a possible sexual assault.

In April, Mohamed Noor, 33, was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk Damond outside her home near Minneapolis.

Australia’s then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the incident “shocking.”

After the jury verdict, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he expected Noor to face 12-1/2 years in prison for the murder charge and four years for the manslaughter charge.

A sentencing hearing before Minnesota District Judge Kathryn Quaintance began on Friday morning.

Noor, who was acquitted of a more serious charge of second-degree intentional murder, has asked the judge to impose probation during which time he would report to a halfway house-type correctional facility for a week on the anniversaries of Damond’s death and birth.

Citing Noor’s community service, his clean record and his cooperation with the investigation, Noor’s attorneys asked that he be sentenced to at most a year and a day.

“There is no benefit to Mr. Noor or the community that will come from a lengthy prison sentence,” Attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold said in a memorandum submitted on Wednesday.

Noor – the first Minnesota police officer to be convicted of murder – and his partner drove to Damond’s home the night of July 15, 2017, to respond to a report she had made of a possible sexual assault. When Damond approached the patrol car, Noor fired through the car window, killing her.

Noor had testified that he shot her in self-defense after he and his partner heard a loud noise.

Minneapolis city officials last month agreed to pay $20 million to settle a civil suit brought by Damond’s family.

(Writing by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Bill Tarrant, G Crosse and Susan Thomas)

London attacker took steroids before deadly rampage, inquest told

Police officers and forensics investigators and police officers work on Westminster Bridge the morning after an attack by a man driving a car and weilding a knife left five people dead and dozens injured, in London, Britain, March 23, 2017.

LONDON (Reuters) – The man who mowed down pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge before killing a police officer outside Britain’s parliament last year had taken steroids beforehand, a London court heard on Monday.

Last March Khalid Masood, 52, killed four people on the bridge before, armed with two carving knives, he stabbed to death an unarmed police officer in the grounds of parliament. He was shot dead at the scene.

It was the first of five attacks on Britain last year which police blamed on terrorism.

A submission to a pre-inquest hearing into the fatalities at London’s Old Bailey Court said there was evidence that Masood had taken anabolic steroids in the hours or days before his death.

“A more specialist pharmaceutical toxicologist … has been instructed to prepare a report addressing how steroid use may have affected Khalid Masood,” the submission by the inquiry’s lawyer Jonathan Hough said.

The hearing also heard from Gareth Patterson, a lawyer representing relatives of four of the victims, who lambasted tech firms over their stance on encryption and failing to remove radicalizing material from websites.

Patterson said families wanted answers about how Masood, who was known to the UK security service MI5, was radicalized and why shortly before his attack, he was able to share an extremist document via WhatsApp.

He said victims’ relatives could not understand “why it is that radicalizing material continues to be freely available on the internet”.

“We do not understand why it’s necessary for WhatsApp, Telegram and these sort of media applications to have end-to-end encryption,” he told the hearing at London’s Old Bailey court.

Patterson told Reuters following the hearing that he was “fed up” of prosecuting terrorism cases which featured encryption and particularly the WhatsApp messaging service.

“How many times do we have to have this?” he said.

The British government has been pressurizing companies to do more to remove extremist content and rein in encryption which they say allows terrorists and criminals to communicate without being monitored by police and spies, while also making it hard for the authorities to track them down.

However, it has met quiet resistance from tech leaders like Facebook, Google and Twitter and critics say ending encryption will weaken security for legitimate actions and open a back door for government snooping.

Samantha Leek, the British government’s lawyer, said the issues over encryption and radicalization were a matter of public policy and too wide for an inquest to consider.

Police say Masood had planned and carried out his attack alone, despite claims of responsibility from Islamic State, although a report in December confirmed he was known to MI5 for associating with extremists, particularly between 2010 and 2012, but not considered a threat.

Coroner Mark Lucraft said the inquest, which will begin in September, would seek to answer “obvious and understandable questions” the families might have.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

Florida police officer fatally shot, deputy dies in manhunt

Police Officer Master Sgt. Debra Clayton

By Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) – A man wanted for killing his former girlfriend fatally shot an Orlando, Florida, police officer on Monday, authorities said, prompting a manhunt and a reward of up to $60,000.

Helicopters buzzed the skies while scores of police shut streets and went door to door in their search for the suspect, identified as Markeith Loyd, 41. He was considered armed and dangerous.

An Orange County sheriff’s deputy in the manhunt for Loyd was killed in a collision between his motorcycle and a van, police said. The driver of the van was a 78-year-old man, according to local TV station News 6.

“We are bringing this dirt bag to justice,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said of Loyd at a news conference, adding that federal agents had joined the search.

“We will track him down to the ends of the earth,” he told a later news conference.

Authorities said the slain officer, Master Sergeant Debra Clayton, was shot while responding to a sighting of the suspect at a local Walmart. Loyd fired at her and she returned fire, Mina said, adding that he did not believe Loyd was hit.

Loyd fled the shooting scene outside the store in a car and fired at a deputy who tried to the stop him, authorities said. The deputy was unharmed.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared a day of mourning after the officers’ deaths.

Authorities have been trying to capture Loyd in connection with the December murder of a pregnant woman who was once his girlfriend, the Orange County Sheriff’s office said.

Clayton, a decorated 17-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, died at a hospital, the department said. Photos posted on social media showed her at community events, working to improve relations between police and residents.

“The Orlando Police Department family is heartbroken today,” the department said on Twitter, showing a video of officers escorting a U.S. flag-draped gurney.

Local media said Clayton was one of the first officers to respond to the Pulse gay nightclub massacre in Orlando last June, the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history, where a gunman killed 49 people.

Deputy First Class Norman Lewis, an 11-year-veteran, was killed in the manhunt for Loyd, the Orange County Sheriff’s office said. Lewis, 35, once played football for the University of Central Florida. it said.

“Norm will be deeply missed. Rest in peace, gentle giant,” it said on its Facebook page.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Dan Grebler and Andrew Hay)