Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin

  • Obama to free 8 nonviolent drug offenders

    Part of larger push against harsh mandatory minimums

    President Barack Obama will shorten the sentences of eight prisoners serving time for nonviolent drug crimes and pardon 12 ex-convicts, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

    The act of presidential clemency is traditional around Christmastime, but Obama’s action is part of his administration’s broader push to roll back harsh mandatory drug sentences that imprisoned people for decades for nonviolent drug crimes. The “tough on crime” drug laws contributed to America’s record of locking up a larger share of its population than any other nation in the world.

    Recently, judges have been given more flexibility around mandatory minimums, and in 2010 Congress narrowed the disparity that sent crack dealers to prison for a hundred times longer than cocaine dealers. But those who were incarcerated under the old laws remained there, prompting the Justice Department to announce in April that nonviolent offenders could apply for clemency through a special initiative called “Clemency Project

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  • Relatives keep watch over ill-fated 9/11 trial

    On 13th anniversary of attacks, victims' families still wait for justice

    Rita Lasar, left, and Debra Burlingame, right, both lost brothers in the Sept. 11 attacks. The women are worlds apart politically but share a fascination with the trial of the accused attackers. (Yahoo News/Gordon Donovan - Reuters/Christof Stache)Rita Lasar, left, and Debra Burlingame, right, both lost brothers in the Sept. 11 attacks. The women are worlds apart politically but share a fascination with the trial of the accused attackers. (Yahoo News/Gordon Donovan - Reuters/Christof Stache)

    On a May morning more than two years ago, Rita Lasar and Debra Burlingame waited in silence as the lights dimmed in a movie theater on an Army base deep in Brooklyn, N.Y. The hundreds of seats in the Fort Hamilton theater are, on other occasions, filled with soldiers and their families watching blockbusters. But today, the nearly empty theater has been repurposed to show close family members of 9/11 victims the opening day of the long-awaited trial of the five men accused of masterminding the attacks that killed their loved ones.

    Both Lasar and Burlingame lost adored brothers in the Sept. 11 attacks and had waited more than a decade to see the men accused of their murders face justice. Lasar’s brother, Avrame Zelmanowitz, died while waiting for paramedics to rescue his wheelchair-bound co-worker in the North Tower — he didn’t want to leave his friend alone. Burlingame’s brother, Charles Burlingame, was the captain of the American Airlines plane that was hijacked and crashed into the

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  • How does a police department lose a Humvee?

    Theft, fraud plague controversial Pentagon program spotlighted by Ferguson

    Reacting to the outcry following the protests in Ferguson Missouri, the San Jose Police Dept will return an armored vehicle that was a gift from the U.S. military.Reacting to the outcry following the protests in Ferguson Missouri, the San Jose Police Dept will return an armored vehicle that was a gift from the U.S. military.

    One freezing day last December in the tiny town of Palestine, Ark., a young man climbed into the police department’s Humvee, turned it on, and drove off on a joy ride.

    “It never crossed my mind” that anyone would do that, Palestine Police Chief Stanley Barnes said Wednesday of the incident. The Humvee, which the town of fewer than 700 people got for free through a controversial Pentagon program that gives old military equipment to local police departments, doesn’t have keys. But it’s easy to look up how to start one.

    The possibility that the 5,000-pound Humvee might be stolen was so far from Barnes’ mind that it took a week before anyone on the small force noticed it was missing from the police station’s parking lot.

    Once Barnes noticed it was gone, he sprang into action.

    “We just do what police officers do — we find out who done it,” Barnes said. “People talk.”

    A hunter reported seeing the vehicle, which was emblazoned with the police department’s logo, in the woods a county over.

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  • Gay couple uses tribal law to marry in Oklahoma

    A same-sex couple successfully applied for a marriage license in Oklahoma despite the state’s strict rules against gay marriage. The pair used a legal loophole to get the license last Friday under tribal law, which doesn't fall under the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as occurring only between a man and a woman. They plan to wed Oct. 31.

    Darren Black Bear, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, was able to get a marriage license to wed his partner of nine years, Jason Pickel, because the tribe’s legal system does not specify two people must be of different genders to be wed.

    Rosemary Stephens, the editor in chief of the tribes’ Tribal Tribune, told Yahoo News another gay couple in the tribe wed in December 2012 under the law, but did not make their union public. At least one person in the couple must be an enrolled member of the tribe in order to get a marriage license, however. 

    Stephens said no one in the tribe has raised any objections to the practice of

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  • Boston Marathon bomber manhunt: Police nab suspect alive

    [Updated at 10:18 p.m. ET]

    BOSTON—Police have nabbed the 19-year-old suspected Boston Marathon bomber, after a day-long manhunt that completely shut down the city of Boston and several suburbs and left one police officer dead. Some Bostonians flooded into the streets cheered the news, celebrating an end to five days of fear since the bombs wounded more than 175 people and killed three.

    An ambulance arrived at the scene to take the wounded suspect, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, to a hospital. Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben said he is in serious condition.

    Tsarnaev was found in a boat in the yard of a home on Franklin Street, close to where he and his older brother engaged in a shootout with police nearly 24 hours earlier. The homeowner discovered Tsarnaev when he saw blood on the outside of his boat and then lifted the tarp to find a person, covered in blood, inside. Police used a heat-detecting device on a helicopter to find out that he was still inside, and exchanged gun fire with the suspect for the next hour, before he was apprehended.

    Watertown residents--finally able to leave their homes around 8:45 p.m.--broke into cheers and applauded police officers after word spread that the suspect was in custody.

    "We're so grateful to bring justice and closure to this case," Alben said at a 9:30 p.m. press conference. "We're exhausted ... but we have a victory here tonight." Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said he could find no explanation for the "savagery" of the attacks, but that the capture made him proud to be a Boston police officer.

    "We've closed an important chapter in this tragedy," President Barack Obama said in brief remarks at the White House Friday night, noting there were still many unanswered questions about the Tsarnaevs' actions.

    "Whatever they thought they could ultimately achieve, they failed," Obama said. Americans, he said, "refuse to be terrorized."

    Just a few hours earlier, at 6:00 p.m ET, police announced that the 19-year-old suspected bomber had eluded capture after fleeing from police on foot early Friday morning.

    Thousands of law enforcement officers conducted a nearly 24-hour door-to-door manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is suspected of helping his brother plant two bombs near the finish line at Monday's Boston Marathon that wounded more than 170 people and left three dead.

    Officials announced at 6:00 p.m. news conference that they had been unable to apprehend the suspect, despite combing through a 20-block area of the Boston suburb of Watertown and shutting down the city's entire public transportation system in an effort to prevent him from fleeing. They said they did not know if he had a car, or if he was still on foot. The home where Tsarnaev was eventually discovered was outside the 20-block perimeter, and had not been searched.

    Gov. Deval Patrick lifted his previous "shelter in place," or lockdown, order for the city of Boston and many surrounding areas of the city at 6:00 p.m.. But Patrick urged Bostonians to continue to be "vigilant" as the "very dangerous" armed suspect has not been apprehended.

    An overnight police chase and shootout left Dzhokhar's 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead and Dzhokhar on the lam.

    Federal investigators had released photos and videos of the two men hours earlier, showing them in the vicinity of the marathon finish line before the twin explosions. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was seen placing a backpack on the ground minutes before the blast, investigators said.

    One MIT police officer was killed and another transit police officer seriously wounded during the violent spree. The city of Boston and its surrounding areas ground to a standstill for hours as police went door to door searching for the suspect in the suburb of Watertown.

    Police said they had uncovered several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Watertown and in the brothers' home in Cambridge.

    Tsarnaev is a student at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. The Tsarnaev family is originally from Chechnya, a volatile and once war-torn southern Russian republic. The family fled to Kyrgyzstan and eventually immigrated to the United States as refugees about 10 years ago.

    Marathon bombing suspect Tsarnaev (FBI)

    Authorities gave no indication of what they might believe the brothers' motivations could have been in the crime.

    Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the dead suspect, studied at a local community college and was a Golden Gloves boxer. He also reportedly had a wife and young child. The FBI questioned him two years ago at the request of the Russian government, but found nothing suspicious, according to the AP.

    Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was remembered by former classmates as bright and personable, posted links to pro-Chechnyan independence sites on his social media page, and listed his "world view" as Islam.

    Tsarnaev appeared to be posting to his Twitter account even after the marathon attacks, writing in his last post on Wednesday, "I'm a stress free kind of guy." His posts covered everything from cute photos of his cat to rap lyrics.

    In an interview with The New York Times, the suspects' father said Tamerlan had been unable to become a U.S. citizen because he was arrested for hitting his girlfriend, and that he traveled to Russia last year to live for six months and renew his passport. Dzhokhar is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

    The suspects' uncle, when told that one of his nephews was killed by the local CBS News station Friday afternoon, replied that he deserved it.

    “He deserved his. He absolutely deserved his,” Ruslan Tsarni said. “They do not deserve to live on this earth.”

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