National News

Michelle Carter, convicted in texting-suicide case, to be released for good behavior

DNY59/iStock(DARTMOUTH, Mass.) -- Michelle Carter, the woman who sent texts to her boyfriend urging him to kill himself when they were both teenagers, is scheduled to be released from prison early due to good behavior.

Carter, now 22, has been a "model inmate" at the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth, Mass., Jonathan Darling, public information officer for the Bristol County Sheriff's Office, told ABC News. Carter is expected to be released Thursday during jail business hours -- between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Inmates can earn "good time" -- up to 10 days a month -- by attending programs, having a job and avoiding disciplinary problems, Darling said. Carter would attend some vocational and educational programs and held a job serving meals in the cafeteria.

In addition, she was "polite" to jail staff and volunteers and got along well with fellow inmates, Darling said.

"We've had no problems with her at all," he added.

Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after texts she sent to her then-boyfriend, Conrad Roy, before he died by suicide in 2014, were deemed "reckless" by a Massachusetts juvenile court judge.

Carter was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison with 15 months served and the rest suspended. She'll remain on probation for five years after she's released.

Her case was the first in which someone was convicted of manslaughter for using his or her words.

The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal for Carter last week after her attorneys argued that a conviction based on her words alone was a violation of the First Amendment.

In September, Carter was denied parole by the Massachusetts Parole Board, as members stated they were "troubled that Ms. Carter not only encouraged Mr. Conrad to take his own life, she actively prevented others from intervening in his suicide."

An attorney for Carter did not immediately provide comment to ABC News regarding her release.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Iguanas are falling from trees in Florida due to cold weather

Ralf Geithe/iStock(MIAMI) -- As temperatures drop in Florida, so do the iguanas.

With lows hitting the 30s and 40s in the Miami area Tuesday night, iguanas have become so cold that they slow down or become entirely immobile and fall from the trees, according to the National Weather Service Miami-South Florida.

"This isn't something we usually forecast, but don't be surprised if you see iguanas falling from the trees tonight," a tweet from the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

I can confirm that falling iguanas are a real thing#FloridaWinter

— Maria M. Bilbao (@mariagarciafl) January 22, 2020

The surprising notice was still in place Wednesday morning.

"Definitely not your average day in South Florida this morning," the National Weather Service tweeted, along with a photo of a fallen iguana.

The NWS assured the public that the lizards, which are cold blooded, are not dead.

Iguanas are not native to Florida and considered an invasive species, according to the state's Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission. They were first reported in the state in the 1960s in Hialeah, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne along Miami-Dade County’s southeastern coast.

Social media posts poured in Wednesday morning, as early risers got a first-hand look at the downed iguanas.

Verification of the @NWSMiami iguana warning! That boy ain’t going nowhere... young one couldn’t take it (might be dead)

— Eric Blake 🌀 (@EricBlake12) January 22, 2020

⚠️WATCH OUT! ⚠️Here’s proof of cold stunned iguanas. They can fall from trees. Thank you to our Storm Team 5 meteorologist @SteveWPTV for snapping this picture. FYI It’s not dead. @WPTV #FloridaWinter #amcrew

— Janny Rodriguez (@JannyReports) January 22, 2020

Just FYI.... everyone in #SouthFlorida is FREAKING OUT right now..

It’s 40 degrees outside.... feels like 32... and frozen iguanas are falling from the sky. #FrozenFlorida #FloridaWinter

— Amanda Guerra (@AmandaGuerraCBS) January 22, 2020

While cold temperatures continued Wednesday, they have not yet broken any records.

The coldest temperature for Jan. 22 was back in 1985, when Miami saw a low of 30 degrees and Fort Lauderdale felt a low of 29 degrees, according to NWS.

In the Florida Keys, residents experienced the coldest temperatures in five years, ranging from the low 40s to low 50s.

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More than 50% of homeless families are black, government report finds

MattGush/iStock(NEW YORK) -- African Americans, despite making up just 13% of the U.S. population, account for a staggeringly disproportionate chunk of the nation's homeless population, according to a government report.

In 2019, an estimated 568,000 Americans experienced homelessness, with African Americans making up about 40% of that total, according to the annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. The total figure in 2018 was about 553,000.

The disparity was starker when looking at the number of homeless people with children: African Americans accounted for about 52% of that population, with whites accounting for about 35%, the report said.

In contrast, 48% of all people experiencing homelessness were white compared with 77% of the total U.S. population, while people who identify as Hispanic or Latino represented about 22% of the homeless population, but only 18% of the overall population.

"African Americans have remained considerably overrepresented among the homeless population compared to the U.S. population," the report said. "This report demonstrates continued progress toward ending homelessness, but also a need to re-calibrate policy to make future efforts more effective and aligned with the unique needs of different communities."

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development report, which came out earlier this month, was based on "Point-In-Time Estimates of Homelessness" taken on a single night in January 2019.

Advocates point to the compounding effects of long-standing discrimination and inequalities within the country's housing, criminal justice and health care systems to explain why African Americans make up such a large portion of the homeless population compared with their overall proportion of the general population.

"This year's report is as an urgent call to action to federal, state, and local leaders," Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said in a statement in response to the report's findings. "Now is not the time to abandon the practices that drove those results. Now is the time to get serious about funding them to scale."

The organization's research found that poverty was a strong predictor of homelessness, and noted that African American households are much more likely to experience poverty than their white counterparts. About 21% of African Americans live in poverty -- nearly 2.5 times the rate of whites, the organization said.

"This isn't the fault of the homelessness sector, and it is not the fault of people experiencing homelessness," Roman said. "It is the fault of systems that have failed our most vulnerable populations, and leaders who have failed to protect them. Our charge for 2020 is to remain committed to the best practices in ending homelessness, and to remain resolved to addressing the systems that cause people to become homeless."

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Man allegedly kills pro-Trump boss after argument, throws American flag on his body

Orange County Sheriff's Office(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- A construction worker in Florida has been accused of murdering his pro-Trump boss with a trowel after a political argument on the construction site where they both worked and then throwing an American flag on the man’s body.

The incident occurred on Monday at approximately 10:30 a.m. when emergency dispatchers received a call from co-workers saying that Mason Trever Toney, 28, had stabbed and killed their boss, 28-year-old William Steven Knight, on the Florida Turnpike job site, according to the arrest affidavit obtained by ABC News’ Orlando affiliate WFTV.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office says that the murder appears related to a political dispute between the men. Knight was a big supporter of President Donald Trump while Toney was anti-government.

“[Toney is] anti-government and very outspoken about his beliefs that the government is bad and out to get him,” said Toney’s arrest affidavit.

When deputies arrived they found Knight’s body lying next to an excavator on the job site with a brand new American flag thrown onto the side of the victim’s body that didn’t belong to anybody on the site, according to the arrest affidavit.

A preliminary report determined that the weapon used to murder Knight was a trowel, according to ABC News’ Houston station KTRK-TV.

After Toney allegedly killed Knight, he stole a white pick-up truck and fled the scene of the crime but was taken into custody shortly after crashing the vehicle in a brief pursuit in Brevard County, Florida.

Police confirmed that Toney was arrested and taken into custody without incident in a statement on social media.

Toney is currently being held in Orange County without bond.

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Grandma getaway driver runs over, kills accomplice in U-Haul on high speed chase

volkan.basar/iStock(HOUSTON) -- A Houston grandmother has run over and killed one of her accomplices with a U-Haul truck while acting as the getaway driver in a high speed chase after a burglary.

The incident occurred early Tuesday morning when Diwanna Corstera Thomas, a 54-year-old grandmother of seven, pulled up to a Sunny’s Food Mart in northern Houston with three accomplices in the truck.

The three men she was driving then jumped out of the U-Haul and broke into the store by using bolt cutters to cut off the locks while Thomas acted as the getaway driver by waiting outside while the men burglarized the inside of Sunny’s Food Mart, according to ABC News' Houston station KTRK-TV.

While inside the store, surveillance footage shows the suspects stealing beer, t-shirts and smoking paraphernalia. They also tried to break into the ATM inside with the bolt cutters but failed before making off with their loot.

An off-duty officer who happened to be at the scene witnessed the burglary and called other officers for support as the high speed chase began.

"The chase was 25 miles and lasted 26 minutes," a prosecutor said in court.

At one point during the chase, one of the suspects jumped out of the moving vehicle but was arrested by some of the pursuing officers. But when the second man tried to do the same thing he fell off the U-Haul while clinging to the passenger side mirror and ended up being run over and killed when he went under the rear passenger-side tire of the truck.

"He fell off and this caused the complainant to fall and become run over by the passenger side rear tires, resulting in the death of the complainant," the court prosecutor continued.

Thomas allegedly has a lengthy criminal history including charges of robbery, auto theft and drug convictions. Police also believe that the grandmother was either drunk or high during the criminal activity.

Thomas had her first court appearance on Tuesday evening and could be seen wiping away tears as she stood before the judge. During the hearing, the public defender asked for $60,000 bond for the felony murder charge and $40,000 for the second charge. The judge ended up settling on $75,000 for each charge.

She was also charged with aggravated assault against a public servant after she allegedly struck a police car with her truck while a police officer was inside.

Thomas is next due back in court on Thursday.

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Baby boy rescued after falling 8 feet down home heating vent

Courtesy Saydie Reedy(COBURG, Ore.) -- An Oregon mom of two is urging parents to think of every possible safety hazard in their homes after her 10-month-old son opened a heating vent and fell 8 feet below their house.

"I didn't think I had to worry about the vents," Saydie Reedy told ABC News' Good Morning America. "There's other dangers in the world to worry about, I thought, than heating vents."

Reedy, of Coburg, Oregon, was doing dishes last week just a few steps away from where her sons, 10-month-old Kolson and 3-year-old Jackson, were playing.

Reedy was about to check on her sons when she said Jackson ran to her and said, “Baby in." The 3-year-old eventually pointed to an open heating vent on the floor and said "Baby in" again, at which time Reedy called 911, panicked.

"I couldn't even fathom that my baby was down a vent," she said. "I never even thought of that."

Reedy and her family just moved into their 1920s-built home in August and were in the process of renovating it, which is why the heating vent cover was not properly screwed in.

When police officers and firefighters arrived at the home, they could not hear Kolson crying through the vent opening. They then searched for and found the crawl space under the home.

Officer Kevin Wilson, of the Coburg Police Department, took off all his gear and climbed into the crawl space to find Kolson.

"I crawled about 15 to 20 feet back to where the heat register was and I could hear him crying," said Wilson. "I cut the strap that was holding the heat tube and kind of accordioned it all the way to him and grabbed his arm."

"As soon as I grabbed his arm he stopped crying and then he just looked at me like, 'What are you doing here?'" Wilson recalled.

Wilson then scooted on his back with Kolson to the heat vent's opening in the floor and lifted Kolson up to a waiting police officer.

The toddler emerged with just a few scratches on his face and hands, according to both Wilson and Reedy.

"He was totally unfazed by it," Reedy said of her son. "I took him to the doctor and they said he was fine."

Reedy later brought Kolson to the police department so they could personally thank Wilson and the other police officers and firefighters who saved his life.

"It was really emotional," Wilson said of the reunion. "I think afterwards you look back and think, 'Was it really that bad?' and then you think it through and it was bad and could have been way worse. The reality of what you did kind of hits you."

Reedy said she and her husband immediately screwed all the heat vents in their house into place and are taking a second look at safety hazards they may not have initially considered.

Wilson recommends parents walk through their homes and take inventory while thinking like their kids.

"The very thing you're thinking a kid would never do, they'll do," he said. "You have to think the way they'd be thinking and think of the things their fingers can get on."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Michigan state senator files sexual harassment complaint against male lawmaker, supports journalist's claim

iStock(NEW YORK) -- A female state senator from Michigan has come forward with a sexual harassment complaint against a male lawmaker in the wake of recent claims from a reporter regarding his conduct, to help show that "this behavior is a pattern."

Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, told ABC News she "felt a level of responsibility" to tell her story about an incident she says occurred with Sen. Peter J. Lucido, R-Shelby Twp., after a claim last week he made inappropriate comments to a young capitol reporter.

"My heart sank because she said, 'It made me feel small.' And that's exactly how I felt in November of 2018," said McMorrow, responding to recent allegations against Lucido by Allison Donahue, a reporter for the Michigan Advance.

"I felt a level of responsibility for not having said something then, and I wanted to support her reporting with a story that's corroborated to show that this is a pattern of behavior, not just an isolated incident," McMorrow added.

Thinking back to her orientation day at the Senate building in Lansing two days after the November 2018 election -- which, she said, included sexual harassment training -- McMorrow said her introduction to Lucido turned into a "degrading and deflating" moment.

"As we shook hands, he held his other hand very, very low on my back, so his fingers were grazing my hip. So it was a very close conversation and he held it there," she said. "I told him that I just beat incumbent Marty Kollenberg. And he looked me up and down, while still holding onto my low back, raised his eyebrows and said, 'I can see why.'"

"It felt like it reduced everything I had accomplished," she continued. "It didn't matter to him that I had just run a really hard campaign for a year and a half or that I have a successful career or whether or not I was qualified -- it was just, 'Of course you won, because of what you look like.'

"In terms of the sexual harassment spectrum, this is more on the creepy scale. It unnerved me and made me feel gross and degraded."

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, confirmed to Crain's Detroit Business that she witnessed Lucido with his arm "reaching around [McMorrow's] back."

McMorrow told ABC News she told her husband the day it happened, but as a woman in the minority party and one of the youngest people in the Senate, she "shrugged it off and sat back down."

"I recognize that as another sitting senator that I'm in a position of power to come forward -- so if I can, and that helps make this a safer place to work, then I will sleep better at night," McMorrow added. "Even if that means the end of my political career."

In a statement provided to ABC News on Tuesday, Lucido denied the sexual harassment allegations, calling them "completely untrue and politically motivated."

McMorrow told ABC News she was "disappointed by his response" and that Lucido has not reached out to her, adding, "For him to say my claim is politically motivated is obscene."

"The reaction from Lucido to Allison's story has morphed to portray this as a one-off or joke that she somehow interpreted in the wrong way. I hope to show that it's a pattern of his behavior," she said.

Donahue says Lucido told her last week she could "have a lot of fun" with a group of boys who were there on a visit from De La Salle Collegiate, an all-boys Catholic high school and Lucido's alma mater.

"'You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you,'" he said, according to Donahue.

Donahue wrote in a first-person account for the nonprofit politics news site that she told Lucido the comment was unprofessional and that he would not have said such a thing to an older journalist or male counterpart.

According to Donahue, Lucido assured her he meant no harm and that it was a reference to how students at an all-boys school didn't know how to act around women.

"It was nothing disingenuous. It was no harm," the state senator, who's married with three children, told the Detroit Free Press. Lucido also said he didn't feel he owed Donohue an apology because he thought the quotes were taken out of context."

He changed course and later issued a statement apologizing "for the misunderstanding" and "for offending Allison Donahue."

"His response went from acknowledgment to victim-blaming to deflecting," McMorrow said. "From my understanding, over the course of an entire week, he didn't once call Allison Donahue to apologize."

McMorrow told ABC News that in the wake of what happened between Lucido and Donahue, all eight female state senators convened on Thursday to "talk about improved response mechanisms."

"The culture feels like, as long as you're effective we turn a blind eye to how people are treated, and I felt like that needed an immediate response," she said. "So I wanted to make sure to explain and share that I have a story."

McMorrow said that "immediately" Sen. Rosemary Bayer told her, "'Oh, I remember that his hand was way down there.'"

McMorrow said she shared her story with Donahue "in confidence last week," and then, "I called her back last night to let her know that I would be filing a report."

"I give her a lot of credit for standing up at 22 years old. I wouldn't have done this had she not shared what happened," McMorrow said.

She says her hope now is that this acts as a catalyst for change within the Lansing capitol building and beyond.

"What I hope changes, cause there's always going to be people who cross the line -- particularly in politics -- is that we can talk to each other," she said. "If someone tells you they're offended, reach out and find out why -- don't immediately go on defense."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Northeastern University student removed from country before court appearance

iStock(BOSTON) -- Civil rights attorneys said they will fight back against U.S. Customs and Border Protection after they claim the agents violated a judge’s order and deported an Iranian student Monday night who was held at Boston's Logan International Airport over a visa issue.

Shahab Dehghani, 24, who was studying economics at Northeastern University, was supposed to face a judge in Massachusetts in his immigration case after he was given an emergency stay following his arrest at the airport Sunday night, according to the ACLU of Massachusetts. The organization, however, said he was put on a plane bound for Europe Monday night, contrary to the order.

Carol Rose, the executive director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the judge ruled Tuesday that their request for an injunction was moot because Dehghani was already out of the country.

“We’re going to try and follow up this week to challenge the rulings,” she told ABC News.

Representatives from U.S. Customs and Border Protection told ABC News they could not discuss Dehghani's case.

"Applicants must demonstrate they are admissible into the U.S. by overcoming all grounds of inadmissibility including health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds," an agency spokesperson said in a statement.

Rose said Dehghani was in France Tuesday afternoon and didn’t know where his next location would be later that day. She said that he could be brought back to the country to face the judge if it was determined that CBP agents violated the initial stay order.

Rose said Dehghani was certified for a U.S. visa for his studies and was in Iran while he waited for his application to be processed.

“He has gone through extensive clearances by our government. If he were a security threat it would come up in his nine-month vetting process,” she said.

Word of Dehghani’s arrest at Logan International sparked an immediate protest at the airport and demonstrators called on the federal government to release the student. Several prominent Massachusetts leaders also chimed in including Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“His deportation must be halted, and we must fight the Trump administration's xenophobic policies,” she tweeted.

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Harvey Weinstein defense to cite 'dozens of loving emails' accusers sent after alleged attacks

iStock(NEW YORK) -- Harvey Weinstein's defense attorneys on Tuesday signaled their intent to highlight "dozens and dozens and dozens of loving emails" sent by accusers to the producer after he is alleged to have sexually assaulted them.

With jury selection done, the New York trial is set to have opening arguments on Wednesday. Six women are expected to testify that Weinstein sexually assaulted them. Weinstein is charged with crimes related to two of the six women, and the rest are being called in support of prosecutors' efforts to demonstrate a pattern of sexual predation.

"What we will counter with are their own words, where they describe loving relations, sensual encounters with Mr. Weinstein," defense attorney Damon Cheronis said during oral arguments Tuesday. "Mr. Weinstein is described as someone they care about both before and after the alleged sexual assault."

"Another complaining witness who claims Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted her sent him an email wanting to introduce him to her mother," Cheronis argued at another point, though he never specified to whom among the six he was referring.

It's been more than two years since bombshell reports from The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine triggered an avalanche of sexual assault allegations against the once-indomitable Hollywood producer, reducing him to a pariah and turning the #MeToo hashtag into a movement that forced a reckoning among powerful men across American industries.

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and denied ever engaging in non-consensual sex with anyone.

Following multiple indictments, a changing series of criminal charges and complaining witnesses, three sets of defense attorneys, a lead detective thrown off the case, and midstream changes to the prosecution's team, opening arguments are scheduled to get underway on Wednesday morning.

The witnesses

Weinstein stands charged with raping one still-unidentified woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman, who has since identified herself as former Weinstein production assistant Mimi Haleyi, in 2006.

In addition to the testimony of those two women, three more women who have not been publicly identified are expected to testify to similar alleged sexual assaults by Weinstein, for which he has not been charged, as prosecutors seek to show a pattern of predatory behavior.

At a closed hearing earlier this year, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge James Burke allowed the introduction of three "prior bad acts" witnesses -- women who claim Weinstein sexually assaulted them but whose accusations fall outside the statute of limitations for prosecution, according to court documents that reference the decision. In New York, such witnesses are known as "Molineaux" witnesses, in reference to a landmark 1901 New York State Court of Appeals decision.

While these three women have not been publicly identified either, court papers indicated that "Jane Doe 1" said she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein in a New York hotel in 2004; "Jane Doe 2" said she was assaulted at Weinstein's New York home in the summer of 2005; "Jane Doe 3" claims she was assaulted in February 2013 at a Beverly Hills hotel.

A sixth woman, "Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra, is expected to testify in support of the state's claim that Weinstein is a sexual predator. Sciorra claims Weinstein raped her in her Manhattan apartment in the winter of 1993-94. Predatory sexual assault requires that prosecutors prove to a jury that Weinstein seriously sexually assaulted at least two women.

The charges include: first- and third-degree rape for the alleged 2013 NYC hotel attack; one count of criminal sexual assault based on Haleyi's 2006 account; and two counts of predatory sexual assault, one for each complaining witness. These two top charges each carry a max life sentence if convicted.

Prosecutors remained circumspect on Tuesday about their own opening arguments, but have said in court papers that they intend to call Dr. Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist with an expertise in the behavior of sexual assault victims whose testimony kicked off the prosecutors' case in Bill Cosby's Pennsylvania sexual assault trial last year.

'Counterintuitive' behavior

By testifying first in the Cosby trial, Ziv helped inoculate the accounts of complaining witness Andrea Constand and five "prior bad acts" witnesses in that trial from dogged attempts by the defense to discredit the women.

Ziv testified that "the vast majority of victims of sexual assault do not report to authorities," and that sexual assault reporting can be delayed "from days to weeks to months to years."

She testified to how common counterintuitive behavior is in victims of sexual violence and how they rarely act the way you would think they would.

"Most people don't fight back, don't say anything, and don't, you know, immediately, when it's over, don't jump up and leave," Ziv said. "They are in a state of shock, that's how they describe it."

Ziv will face a formidable foe in Elizabeth Loftus, a veteran expert witness for the defense on the malleability of human memory who has testified for decades in dozens of high-stakes criminal trials. Loftus' testimony in the 1980s about recovered memories helped acquit a California couple who had been charged with sexual abuse of nine children at their day care center, the McMartin preschool.

She has also testified in the criminal trials of O.J. Simpson, Oliver North and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers tried in the Rodney King beating. While allowing Loftus and another memory expert in as defense witnesses in Weinstein's trial starting next week, Judge Burke also placed restrictions on the topics about which they could testify.

The jurors

The jury selected consists of seven men and five women. Six of the seven men are white and one is African American. Three of the women are African American -- with one sharing African American and Latino heritage -- and two are white.

Defense attorneys have vigorously contested the inclusion of one of the jurors, who acknowledged under questioning during the "voir dire" part of jury selection that she has written an upcoming novel about a trio of young women who deal with life and love in the 1980s, including "predatory older men." Defense attorneys have claimed that the female juror was evasive during jury selection, while prosecutors note she included the phrase "novel-writing" among her hobbies on a prospective juror questionnaire.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Burke indicated in court on Tuesday that he was still considering defense concerns about this juror -- though it remained unclear what, if anything, he intended to do about those concerns.

Among three alternate jurors chosen to complete jury selection, one is a white man, one is an African American woman and a third is a Hispanic woman.

Meanwhile, in a separate, bombshell indictment announced on the first day of his trial earlier this month, Los Angeles prosecutors charged Weinstein with raping a woman at a Los Angeles hotel on Feb. 18, 2013, after forcing his way inside her room, and then sexually assaulting a second woman in a Beverly Hills hotel suite the next night.

He is facing up to 28 years in prison on charges of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery if convicted in that case.

One of the two women Weinstein is alleged to have attacked in California is the same woman expected to testify as a "prior bad acts" witness in the New York trial.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

1st confirmed US case of new coronavirus reported in Washington state: CDC

iStock(SEATTLE) -- The first case of a new coronavirus that's sickened nearly 300 people in Asia has been reported in a patient in Washington State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday at a news conference.

At least six people have died, according to officials.

Chinese authorities have said the outbreak began in a seafood and live-animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The virus, in the same family as SARS, MERS and the common cold, often circulates among animals. It can jump from animal to human, and in rare cases can mutate and spread from person to person.

The Washington patient, a man in his 30s, had traveled to Wuhan, but said he did not visit the market in question or know anyone who had the virus.

Cases also have been reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.

"Information is rapidly evolving. We hope over the coming days the situation will become clear," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday.

The key information, according to Messonnier, will be determining how easily the virus can spread from person to person.

The U.S. began screening for the new virus at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles on Jan. 17. The Washington state patient entered the United States before the screening system was implemented and before any of his symptoms developed.

Health officials said Tuesday they'll expand screenings to airports in Chicago and Atlanta.

Health officials also are doing a contact investigation from China to Washington State, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington State’s epidemiologist for communicable diseases.

As authorities in China try to contain the outbreak, the World Health Organization plans to meet Wednesday in Geneva to decide whether or not to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

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Census kicks off in Alaska as outreach teams work to reach remote residents

liveslow/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Alaska in January is cold and icy and its population is spread out over 665,000 square miles, but that’s not going to stop a group of advocates from ensuring every resident living in the state is accounted for.

The 2020 Census began Tuesday in rural areas of the state, and the Alaska Census Working Group, a coalition of nonprofits, government agencies and businesses, said they will be hitting the ground running, promoting the count and answering any questions Alaskans may have about the questionnaire.

Gabriel Layman, the chairman of the group, told Start Here it was critical that they get an accurate count of the state, which is set to collect $3.2 million annually in federal funding based on the Census data.

“That money is used for everything from maintaining our airports in remote communities to ensuring that children have school new nutrition programs so that that allocation,” he said.

Although the Census rolls out for the rest of the nation in March, the count has traditionally begun in rural Alaska months earlier because residents in those areas tend to leave in the spring for fishing and hunting grounds. Layman said the frozen January ground, surprisingly, gives Census outreach teams easier terrain to traverse.

“In Alaska, it's often much easier to get around by snow machine when the ground is frozen than to try to navigate that environment, which tends to be very wet, very soft when the ground is not frozen,” Layman said.

He noted that he and his team will be frank and informative with residents about the 10-question form. They will emphasize that every answer provided to the Census is confidential and they won’t ask about immigration status.

Layman acknowledged that some Alaskans, particularly the indigenous community, have had a strong distrust in the government and his group’s challenge is to help them understand the Census will help them in the long run.

“You're talking about peoples that have a very long history of engagement with the tribal government. That has not always been something that we're all proud of,” he said.

Overall, Layman said he is confident -this year’s Census participation will be high and their efforts will encourage more Alaskans to help get the word out.

“There's a really good vibe on the ground,” he said.

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Puerto Rico refers investigation into unused emergency supplies to DOJ

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Government officials in Puerto Rico have referred an investigation into why the much-needed disaster aid went unused for years to the Department of Justice.

The office of Gov. Wanda Vazquez announced Monday night that the Bureau of Special Investigations -- which had 48 hours to conduct a preliminary investigation -- recommended referring its preliminary conclusions to the DOJ "so that a thorough investigation continues with priority and the corresponding actions are taken by law," according to a statement.

The aid, believed to have been delivered during Hurricane Maria in 2017, was discovered in an abandoned government-operated warehouse in the southwestern city of Ponce over the weekend, sparking a wave of angry protests.

Authorities began distributing the aid to residents on Monday in the wake of a deadly hurricane and more recently a batch of crippling earthquakes.

The once-abandoned supplies -- which included thousands of sealed cases of water bottles, pallets of food, diapers, baby formula and cots -- were distributed to shelters in communities where powerful earthquakes leveled homes in recent weeks and caused an estimated $110 million in damages, according to government officials.

Some residents gathered outside of the Governor’s Mansion in San Juan to call for the governor's resignation amid questions over why the aid didn't make it to those in need earlier.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vazquez fired the island's chief of emergency management, Carlos Acevedo, and temporarily called for the National Guard to oversee the agency amid an ongoing investigation into why the aid was left to sit while residents were in need.

"In the last days there have been actions by members of the government that are not acceptable," Vazquez told reporters Sunday. "I will not permit this type of conduct in my government."

She also called for the resignation of Family Affairs Secretary Glorimar Andujar and Housing Secretary Fernando Gil after they were unable to provide the information she requested on their agencies’ distribution centers.

They tendered their resignations after the press conference concluded.

"I feel the indignation that the people of the island feel," Vazquez said.

When asked how it was possible she did not know about the existence of the 43,000-square-foot warehouse, Vazquez replied: "That’s what the head of agencies are for ... to inform the governor."

Vazquez has vowed that all the Ponce warehouse supplies that are not expired would be distributed to the towns that were the hardest hit by the quakes.

Acevedo defended the emergency management agency before his firing in a statement released on Saturday. He said the warehouse had been inspected after a recent earthquake by a structural engineer who recommended emptying it due to damage suffered.

"It is important to emphasize that no citizen has been denied any of the items found at this place," the statement said. "At the moment, there is no shortage of any of these articles and they are being distributed to the people who need it; data that can be verified in the shelters and base camps."

Acevedo said at one point there had been 600 pallets of water, which were distributed to the public when Hurricane Dorian and Hurricane Karen threatened Puerto Rico, but there were about 80 left.

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First mass shooting of the year leaves four family members dead, boy arrested

kali9/iStock(GRANTSVILLE, Utah) -- Residents in the town of Grantsville, Utah, are still searching for answers as to why a young boy murdered four of his family members inside their home.

Police Cpl. Rhonda Fields announced on Monday the names of the four victims of the Haynie family who were shot and killed by their juvenile relative.

The alleged shooter's mother 52-year-old Consuelo Alejandra Haynie, 15-year-old Alexis, 14-year-old Matthew, and 12-year-old Maylan were found dead around 7 p.m. on Friday in 93 Eastmoor East. The patriarch of the family, 50-year-old Colin Haynie, was injured during the mayhem, but survived.

Fields said the suspect's name, age or exact relationship he has with the family are not being released until he is formally charged by prosecutors.

The quadruple homicide is the first homicide "of this magnitude" in the town -- population 11,568, according to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau -- in almost 20 years, Fields said. It is also the first mass shooting of the year, according to the FBI's definition where three or more people -- not including the shooter -- were killed.

"The biggest question for everyone here is why," said Fields about the ongoing investigation.

The suspect was taken into custody without incident and refused to speak to police.

"Almost everyone knows everyone in this community ... multiple schools and hundreds of children are effected," said Fields. "It's been a huge incident for us to be a part of."

Two fundraisers have been launched to "help give financial relief for the family" as well as an online effort launched by Danny Haynie -- a relative of the victims -- to raise money for funeral and medical expenses.

The online fundraiser accumulated over $88,000 of the $90,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon.

Dozens of members of the community gathered on Monday night for a candlelight vigil for the slain family members.

"My heart goes out to that poor young man who was in such a dark place," said family friend Diane Passey at the vigil. "Some people have said he was lonely and needed a friend and to be loved. This may be an experience for all of us to learn from and to just be a little kinder."

The young suspect is pending arraignment on charges of four counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted aggravated murder and multiple felony counts of discharging a firearm. It's unclear who owned the murder weapon, said Fields.

"It is an active investigation, more details will be released at a later date," said Fields who also relayed that Colin Haynie requests privacy.

Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall said services, resources and grief counselors will be provided for the community for the rest of the week.

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Religion and school choice on the line in 'crucial' Supreme Court case

YinYang/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The battle over school-choice programs and state aid for religious schools returns to the U.S. Supreme Court this week as three mothers from Montana ask the justices to uphold a scholarship program that would help fund Christian education for their children.

The case is a major test for the balance between dueling constitutional principles: protection for religious freedom and a prohibition against government support of religion.

Union officials say the case could be hugely consequential for public schools.

“If the decision goes in a certain way, it will be a virtual earthquake,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who fears a blow to state funding of public education.

In 2015, the Montana legislature approved dollar-for-dollar state tax credits of up to $150 per year meant to encourage donations to a scholarship fund that supports low-income children seeking to attend private schools of their choice. Mothers Kendra Espinoza, Jeri Anderson and Jamie Schaefer, all plaintiffs in the case, say they could not afford tuition payments to send their kids to Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell without the financial aid.

But the Montana Department of Revenue imposed an administrative rule prohibiting use of the tax-credit supported scholarships for religiously-affiliated education, citing the state’s constitution, which explicitly bans use of public funds -- directly or indirectly. The parents then sued.

In 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the scholarship program in its entirety.

The plaintiffs argue that Montana’s constitution is “bigoted” towards religion and violates the First Amendment’s religious free exercise clause.

The law requires “neutrality not hostility toward religion in student aid programs,” they write in court documents.

Sixty-nine percent of Montana’s private schools are religiously-affiliated, according to the plaintiffs and “dozens” of families have taken advantage of the state’s scholarship program to send their children to those schools.

“Allowing religious schools to participate in these programs is crucial. Most private schools in America are religious, and many parents, like Kendra, prefer them,” Erica Smith and Dick Komer, attorneys at the Institute for Justice, the nonprofit group representing the parents in the case, wrote in a USA Today op-ed. “Religious schools often tout strong academics, a close-knit community and the same values that religious families teach at home.”

Montana argues its high court's decision to nullify the scholarship program is not hostility toward religion but rather “reflects the view that barring aid to religious institutions promotes religious freedom.”

“What the state has decided to do is not distinguish between schools,” said David Strom, general counsel at the American Federation of Teachers, supporting Montana in the case. “Instead, Montana simply does not have a program that is supporting vouchers for tax credits at all. States should be allowed to make that decision.”
In its brief to the court, attorneys for Montana describe their view of Supreme Court precedent: “A state can decline to rebuild church playgrounds – but only if it declines to rebuild any playgrounds. And it can decline to support religious private schools – but only if it declines to support any private school,” they say.

Thirty-seven states, including Montana, have explicit constitutional bans on any public funding for religiously-affiliated schools.

The court’s decision is expected by the end of June.

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New storm moves into West Coast Tuesday morning

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A Wind Chill Advisory has been issued in several Florida cities, like Miami, Fort Myers, Naples, Tampa and Orlando for Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. It will feel like it’s in the 20s to near 30 degrees.

If Miami falls to 44 degrees Tuesday night, it will be the coldest temperature in the city since January of 2018.

Warming centers have even been opened in the Tampa Bay area because of the cold.

It is already pretty chilly for most of the eastern U.S. from the Plains to the Northeast where wind chills Tuesday morning are near zero and even below.

Of course, the cold will not last long in the East and especially in Florida. It should begin to warm up by the end of the week in most areas east of the Rockies.

A new storm system is also moving into the West with snow, wind and rain from Washington to California. A Winter Storm Warning has been issued for northern California and Washington where one to two feet of snow is possible in the mountains.

Heavy rain is expected from Seattle to Portland, Oregon and into northern California through the day Tuesday.

This storm will cross the Rockies on Wednesday and is expected to bring an icy mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain to the Midwest and the Great Lakes on Thursday and Friday with heavy rain in the South.

This same storm could strengthen into a possible nor’easter on the East Coast by Saturday.

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