National

San Francisco police chief calls for probe of his own force, as reporter whose home was raided seeks an apology

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) -- In an extraordinary move that capped two weeks of growing outrage sparked by the court-sanctioned San Francisco police raid of a reporter’s home, the city's police chief William Scott on Friday night acknowledged for the first time that the raid may have violated California state law and called for an outside, independent investigation into his own department.

“Over the last 48 hours, I conducted a top-to-bottom review of San Francisco Police Department’s criminal investigation into the unauthorized release of the Jeff Adachi police report,” Scott wrote in a statement released Friday evening. “At the request of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, we are seeking an independent, impartial investigation by a separate investigatory body.”

Scott went even further in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle published hours later.

Police “should have done a better job,” Scott told The Chronicle. “I’m sorry that this happened. I’m sorry to the people of San Francisco. I’m sorry to the mayor. We have to fix it. We know there were some concerns in that investigation and we know we have to fix it.”

Scott's statement was followed by one from Breed, who said that Scott has "acknowledged the department's mistakes and apologized" for a controversial raid on the journalist's home and office, adding that it was "unacceptable and we have to do better."

On May 10, after freelance reporter Bryan Carmody had reportedly refused to reveal his source, police used sledgehammers to break down the door to Carmody’s home, and handcuffed him for hours while investigators scoured the premises looking for clues to the source who leaked him a police report. Hard drives, phones and other documents were seized and carted away.

California’s shield law protects journalists from being forced to reveal their sources or be compelled to turn over unpublished reporting -- including notes, recordings and pictures. The law explicitly bars police from obtaining a reporter’s sometimes highly-sensitive newsgathering through searches.

Despite this, a judge signed off on the warrant prior to the raid, though it remains unclear if the judge was aware at the time that the target of the raid was a journalist.

Carmody's attorney told ABC News in a statement that "we are pleased to see that Chief Scott apologized to Mayor Breed and to the people of San Francisco.

"We think he owes and apology to Mr. Carmody also."

"We were also encouraged to see that Mayor Breed called for an independent, external investigation of the San Francisco Police Department’s conduct in this matter. There needs to be real reform in the Department to ensure that the SFPD respects the First Amendment and the independence of a free press.”

Scott's statement was a dramatic shift from just three days ago, when he held a press conference and said his department was investigating the reporter for allegedly conspiring to steal the report.

For two weeks after the raid, police official dug in their heels, even as San Francisco’s mayor, district attorney and California Governor Gavin Newsom publicly criticized the move, and in a press conference on Tuesday Scott had said that “our actions reflect that we believe Mr. Carmody was a suspect in a criminal conspiracy to steal this confidential report.”

He charged that Carmody “went past doing [his] job as a journalist,” without specifying how.

Even then, though, Scott seemed to be starting to soften his stance on the raid, suggesting that the use of sledgehammers may not have been appropriate.

“We know that looks bad,” Scott said. “I’m not here to try to defend” the raid.

The leaked police report at the center of the raid concerned the death of a prominent San Francisco public defender and vocal critic of the city's police department, Jeff Adachi – which painted the longtime lawyer in a negative light.

The report detailed how Adachi had been with a woman who wasn’t his wife in his final hours, before he was found unresponsive in an apartment littered with empty booze bottles.

In April, one of the city’s 11 supervisors called a meeting to express her outrage over the leak of the report, according to the Washington Post. At the meeting, a deputy in the public defender’s office, Hadi Razzaq told the audience about a memo his office had compiled and forwarded to San Francisco police officials about a “stringer” – slang for a freelance reporter – who had been offering to sell Adachi’s death report to some news outlets for $2,500.

Freelance reporters as part of their job obtain information of news value – whether it be a police report, a picture or exclusive video – and negotiate to sell it to local news outlets, which are often too short-staffed or insufficiently budgeted to do much investigative reporting of their own.

That said, the news value of any specific piece of information or video is ultimately the decision of the news director who chooses to purchase or pass on the material.

“If it is true that this report was actually sold, it raises significant ethical concerns, and as you’ve mentioned and Supervisor Ronen mentioned, a betrayal of the public trust,” Razzaq noted at the April meeting.

The Post noted that police officials at the meeting "struck a tone of contrition" over the leaking of the report.

Carmody declined through his attorney to comment on Scott’s statement. He has reportedly said he did not and does not pay for information or documents.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Beloved mailman's retirement GoFundMe goal surpassed after Twitter thread chronicling last day goes viral

Jennifer Brett/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (MARIETTA, Ga.) -- A Twitter thread chronicling the story of mailman Floyd Martin's last day on the job in Marietta, Georgia, after 35 years of service, has gone viral reaching thousands and eliciting an overwhelming response both in sentiment and dollar signs.

After the thread by Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist Jennifer Brett propelled Martin to internet stardom, a GoFundMe campaign started to help Martin accomplish his retirement goal of traveling to Hawaii solicited more than $19,000 in donations and gained the attention of Delta Airlines, which offered to take care of his flight free of charge.

Brett's initial thread captured Martin doling out hugs to longtime residents and accepting gifts through his mail-truck window. Mailboxes adorned with balloons, signs and streamers congratulating Martin on his retirement dotted his route of about 500 houses.

"He always had a smile, always had a wave,” said Lorraine Wascher who has been a stop on Martin’s route for more than 20 years.

Martin began working for the U.S. Postal Service after the agency offered to double the pay of his current bank job, a few years post high school graduation.

Now, more than three decades later, at the end of his last day as a postal worker on Wednesday, more than 300 people showed up to his retirement covered dish block party on Thursday, queuing up to take photos and be on the receiving end of a hug.

"I could have left them a long time ago but I wouldn't, because I love them,” Martin told the Atlantic-Journal Constitution of the people on his route.

Besides delivering the mail, Martin is known for having treats for the dogs and cats of his route and lollipops for children. One little girl even dressed up as Martin for her school career day.

"I was so flattered," he said of the gesture. "It touched my heart."

Martin, who lives in Atlanta with his dog, Gigi, addressed the crowd at his retirement party having already said he’ll be back to visit and attend events.

“Thank you for caring about me. We’ve gone through good times and bad times together,” he said. “You were there when I needed you, even if you didn’t know it.”

The end of the Twitter thread featured Martin fittingly reading off an envelope and leaving the gathered audience with a piece of advice and a request.

“Continue to take care of each other, and smile when you think of me,” said Martin.

Now, instead of leaving letters in Marietta, Georgia mailboxes, he’ll get the chance to ship out postcards from the island of Hawaii and a well-deserved retirement.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


911 calls, body-cam footage released in fatal shooting of Australian woman by police

iStock/bizoo_n(MINNEAPOLIS) -- The 911 calls and some of the body-camera footage, capturing the scene after a Minneapolis police officer shot a woman who had called 911 repeatedly to report a possible sexual assault behind her home, have been released by a judge.

On July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk Damond called 911 to report what she feared was a woman being sexually assaulted in the alley behind her home in the city's Fulton neighborhood, according to a criminal complaint.

"I'm not sure if she's having sex or being raped," Damond tells the dispatcher in the first 911 call, which was released Thursday. "I think she just yelled out 'Help,' but it's difficult. The sound has been going on for a little while but I think, I don't think she's enjoying it. ... I don't know."

The dispatcher tells her that officers are on the way to her home and confirms with Damond that she cannot see anything in the alley behind her home.

"It sounds like sex noises but it's been going on for a while and I think I just heard 'Help' and it sounds distressed," Damond tells the dispatcher.

"OK. I've already got an officer on the way. What is your name?" the dispatcher says.

"Justine," Damond says.

She later makes a second 911 call, inquiring about the whereabouts of the officers who've been sent to investigate.

"You're hearing a female screaming?" the dispatcher says.

"Yes. The lane behind the house," Damond says.

"Yup. Officers are on the way there," the dispatcher tells her.

When Minneapolis police officers Mohamed Noor and partner Matthew Harrity arrived in the dark alley behind Damond's home, she approached the driver's side of the squad car, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Noor, who was in the passenger seat of the squad car, shot her through the open window on the driver's side, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said.

After the gunshot went off, Harrity, who was sitting in the driver's seat, saw Noor's arm stretched across him, toward the open window, Freeman said. There was "no evidence of a threat" when Noor fired the shot, he said.

 In body-camera footage released Thursday, Harrity could be heard telling an officer who'd just arrived what happened and saying that Noor is sitting in the back of a squad car.

"We had that call over here. Someone was screaming in the back. We pulled up here. Um, we were about ready to just clear and go to another call. She just came up out of nowhere, on the side of the thing, and we both got spooked. I had my gun out. I didn't fire and then Noor pulled out and fired," Harrity says.

In different body-camera footage, another officer can be heard talking to Noor who is standing outside a police vehicle.

"All right, kiddo?" the officer asks. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Noor says.

"Just keep to yourself. Keep your mouth shut," the officer tells him.

Four minutes after Damond had left her home, an officer was performing CPR on her. She died just three weeks before her wedding day.

On April 30, Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Damond's fatal shooting. He was found not guilty of the top charge of second-degree murder.

Noor, a two-year veteran at the time of the shooting, had pleaded not guilty to the charges. During the trial, his attorney maintained that he'd "acted as he has been trained" and that he should "not have been charged with any crime." Prosecutors argued that the former officer had abused his authority to use deadly force.

Noor's last day as an employee with the police department was in March 2018, but Minneapolis police would not comment on whether he resigned or was fired.

A judge ruled Wednesday that the media and public could make copies of some of the evidence used in the trial.

Damond, who had moved to the U.S. a few years earlier, was an Australian yoga teacher, counselor and meditation coach.

After the verdict, her family spoke outside the courthouse, with her father, John Ruszczyk, saying they were "satisfied with the outcome."

"The jury’s decision reflects the community’s commitment to three important pillars of a civil society. The rule of law, the respect for the sanctity of life and the obligation of the police force to serve and protect. We believe this guilty verdict strengthens those pillars. We hope this will be a catalyst for further change," he said.

"Justine lived to teach us about love. She lived to teach us about our own human potential. She taught us to live joyfully, she taught us to laugh and she demonstrated what it means to live from the heart. She was a living example of compassion. In her life she committed to transform humanity. Her legacy is continuing that work today," said her fiance, Don Damond.

Noor is scheduled to be sentenced June 7.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


'I took back my freedom': Jayme Closs' powerful statement read as her kidnapper faces sentencing

DNY59/iStock(GORDON, Wis.) -- Jayme Closs vowed to never let her kidnapper take her freedom or her spirit from her in a powerful statement read at the sentencing hearing of Jake Patterson, the 21-year-old Wisconsin man who pleaded guilty to abducting 13-year-old Closs, killing her parents and then holding her captive until she escaped.

"I was smarter," Closs said through a statement read in court on her behalf Friday. "I watched his routine and I took back my freedom. I will always have my freedom and he will not. Jake Patterson can never take my courage. He thought he could control me, but he couldn’t."

Patterson pleaded guilty in March to two counts of first-degree intentional homicide for shooting and killing Closs' parents on Oct. 15, 2018, and one count of kidnapping for taking the couple's only child from her home in rural Barron, Wisconsin.

Judge James Nadler on Friday called Patterson "the embodiment of evil" as he sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Patterson, appearing emotional, told the court that he wish he could "take back what I did. ... I don't care about me, I'm just so sorry."

Closs, in a statement read by an attorney on her behalf Friday, said of Patterson, "I was brave and he was not."

"He can never take away my spirit," she said. "He can't ever change me or take away who I am. He can't stop me from being happy and moving forward with my life. I will go on to do great things in my life and he will not."

Patterson is accused of first gunning down Closs' father, and then shooting and killing Closs' mother at point-bank range in front of the 13-year-old.

"I loved my mom and dad very much... he took them away from me forever," Closs' statement read. "I felt safe in my home and I loved my room and all of my belongings. He took all of that, too. I don't want to even see my home or my stuff because of the memory of that night. My parents and my home were the most important things in my life."

"I have to have an alarm in the house now just so I can sleep," Closs said. "It's too hard for me to go out in public. I get scared and I get anxious."

However, the teen insisted, "Patterson will never have any power over me."

"I feel like I have some power over him because I get to tell the judge what I think should happen to him," her statement read. "For 88 days he tried to steal me and he didn't care who he hurt or who he killed to do that. He should stay locked up forever."

Closs' relatives, including aunt Sue Allard and cousin Lindsey Smith, also spoke in court Friday, urging the judge to sentence Patterson to the maximum for each count.

"My sister and brother-in-law were such loving and giving and beautiful people," Allard said at Friday's sentencing. "It was senseless."

"Oct. 14 was a typical family event with nothing but happiness," said Smith. "We spent the next 88 days living in fear, pain and not knowing what happened to our family."

"On the 88th day we were finally told that Jayme would be coming home," Smith said. "We were so glad that Jayme was home... but you took so much from Jayme. You took her parents, her home, her childhood and all of her happiness."

"You took so much from all of us. You took my aunt and uncle from me," Smith said. "The last moments of my aunt's life were the worst and scariest moments of her life. No one should leave this earth in such a horrible way."

"Because of this monster, Jayme won't have her mom and dad at her dance recitals, won't have her mom and dad at her prom, homecoming dance, " said Closs' uncle, Mike Closs, overcome with emotion. "My brother won't be able to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day."

Patterson held Jayme Closs captive in his home in Gordon, Wisconsin, for 88 days, until she escaped on Jan. 10, according to court documents.

Patterson confessed to investigators that he targeted Closs after seeing her board a school bus, according to a criminal complaint.

After Patterson fled with the girl to his home, he created a space for her under his bed. When he would leave the house, he would put barbells and free weights around the bed so she couldn't escape, according to the complaint.

Patterson kept his head down as Jayme Closs' relatives spoke ahead of sentencing. As prosecutors warned the judge that Jayme Closs' life would be in jeopardy if Patterson was ever released, the 21-year-old shook his head.

Patterson's attorney asked the judge that the 21-year-old's sentence include therapy opportunities, stressing the fact that Patterson took responsibility for the crimes when he was arrested and that his decision to plead guilty has spared the community from a lengthy and emotional trial.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Rolling Thunder set to take final ride this Memorial Day weekend

Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- “Ride for Freedom”, comes to a close this Memorial Day weekend, bringing to an end a 31-year tradition of Rolling Thunder veterans riding motorcycles through the streets of Washington D.C., according to the event's organizers.

The spectacle started in 1988 and has gradually accumulated support – netting more than a half a million participants last year – and pays tribute to American veterans.

Former Army Sgt. Artie Muller, a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran and co-founder of Rolling Thunder, told the Military Times that costs have become too much to handle at the national level.

"It's just a lot of money," Muller said in an interview with the publication on the ending of the national ride.

Muller said harassment from Pentagon security and local police also played a role in the eradication of the ride.

Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough pushed back on these claims in a statement to ABC News in December.

"The department supports the peaceful, lawful exercise of American citizens' First Amendment rights, and remains focused on ensuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the Pentagon Reservation," Gough said. "The department is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride, as we have for the last 31 years."

According to the group, Rolling Thunder began as a demonstration to raise awareness about those who served in Vietnam. Muller previously told ABC News that he hopes that supporters will become involved in the 90 Rolling Thunder state chapters across the country, which are starting their own 2020 Memorial Day Weekend demonstrations.

To kick off the weekend, the event will begin Friday evening with the “Blessing of the Bikes” at Washington National Cathedral. This is followed by a candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The final ride will be Sunday at noon followed by a speech from Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


More 'Varsity Blues' parents plead guilty as one parent who previously pleaded guilty in college admissions scandal assaulted by son

iStock/Graffizone(NEW YORK) -- A few days before beverage magnate Gregory Abbott pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in connection with the college admissions cheating scam, police say he was beaten up by one of his children in the family's swank Fifth Avenue home.

Malcolm Abbott, who raps under the name "Billa," repeatedly struck his father with a ruler, and punched, bit and kicked him inside the family’s New York home on Sunday, the NYPD said.

Malcolm Abbott was arrested two days later and charged with assault in the second degree.

Gregory Abbott and his wife Marcia, who split their time between New York and Aspen, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to paying a $125,000 bribe to inflate their daughter’s standardized test scores. Prosecutors said they would recommend a sentence of one year in prison.

Abbott is the founder of the beverage distribution company International Dispensing Corp.

Malcolm Abbott has used the criminal case against his parents to sell tee-shirts on his social media page. The shirts say "Free Education: Bill You Later."

Prosecutors said parenting guru Jane Buckingham paid Singer $50,000 to have Mark Riddell take the ACT on behalf of her son. Buckingham sent Singer a copy of her son’s writing sample, telling him as the plan came together, “I know this is craziness, I know it is. And then I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.” Her family and friends sat in the front row of the courtroom during the proceedings.

Prosecutors recommend Buckingham receive a sentence of 8 months and a fine of $40,000, and her sentencing is set for October 23.

According to prosecutors, Los Angeles real estate CEO Robert Flaxman paid $250,000 to have Singer secure his son’s admission to the University of San Diego as an athletic recruit. Flaxman also paid $75,000 to have Riddell assist his daughter with her answers as she took her ACT exam.

Prosecutors recommended that Flaxman receive a sentence of 8 months and a fine of $40,000, and his sentencing is set for October 18.

Prosecutors said Marjorie Klapper, co-owner of a jewelry business in California, paid $15,000 to have Riddell proctor and correct her son’s ACT exam. Klapper told the judge today she “willingly and remorsefully” admits to her role in the scheme. Prosecutors recommend Klapper receive a sentence of 4 months and a fine of $20,000, and her sentencing is set for October 16.

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5 former priests charged with sexual misconduct: 'Just the tip of the iceberg'

WXYZ(DETROIT) -- Calls to a tip line led to the arrests of five former Michigan priests over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Michigan's attorney general announced the arrests Friday and detailed the charges against the men, who previously worked at different dioceses in the state.

Michigan is one of at least 15 states or territories that have an active inquiry into sex abuse by Catholic clergy.

Four of the five men named by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel at a Friday news conference have been arrested.

The fifth is now living in India and Nessel said authorities hope to extradite him to the U.S.

Nessel said there were "many other cases" she wanted to prosecute but didn't because they had reached the statute of limitations, the former priests were deceased or the victims did not want to come forward.

"These were cases that were chargeable cases for us," Nessel said.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” Nessel said.

“We estimate we are only 5 or 10% at most through the information that we currently possess,” Nessel said, adding that she has received more than 450 tips through the department’s tip line.

“We anticipate many more charges and arrests as we continue to move forward with our work,” she added.

The five cases involved four boys and one girl, who ranged in age from 5 years old to 26 at the time of the alleged abuse.

Patrick Casey, 55, who faces one felony count of criminal sexual conduct and was arrested in Michigan on Thursday, is accused of “performing oral sex on the victim during confession,” according to Nessel.

His alleged victim, 24, was in the process of converting to Christianity when he first reached out to Casey in 2012. "John Doe proceeded to tell Casey that he wanted to kill himself and that a voice was telling him that it would be better if he was dead," according to the criminal complaint.

"As John Doe spoke about his struggles with suicide and his concern about dying in mortal sin, Casey, who was dressed in black clerical garb, steered the conversation towards sex, telling him that he could not have a gay relationship and go to heaven," the complaint said. Casey then shared with John Doe that he too was gay and "shared a suicidal story of his own," the complaint said.

The sexual activity began "during this confession" and "the two engaged in various other sexual acts after Casey initiated groping and performed oral sex on John Doe," the complaint said.

Timothy Michael Crowley, 69, faces four felony counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and an additional four felony counts of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree. He was arrested in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday.

"Crowley would masturbate" in front of the alleged victim, who was a 10-year-old altar boy. In other instances, Crowley "provided cigarettes and alcohol to John Doe and touched his buttocks and his genitalia over top of his clothing," the complaint said.

The complaint details other forced touching and oral penetration, as well as the threat that Crowley allegedly made, telling John Doe that if he notified his parents or a nun about the abuse, Crowley would kill him.

The complaint states that the Diocese of Lansing paid John Doe and his family $200,000 in 1993 for a release of all claims against Crowley but the complaint also states that the civil agreements do not impact the criminal charges.

Vincent DeLorenzo, 80, faces three felony counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and an additional three counts in the second degree. He was arrested Thursday in Marion County, Florida.

DeLorenzo allegedly had contact with a boy around the age of 5 or 6 beginning in 1995 and continuing until 2000.

The criminal complaint details instances where DeLorenzo would inappropriately touch the boy, which happened "on many occasions" after DeLorenzo would pray.

Neil Kalina, 63, faces one felony count of criminal sexual contact in the fourth degree and was arrested on Thursday in Littlerock, California.

Kalina allegedly supplied a teen boy between 12 and 14 years old with alcohol and drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, and fondled his genitals in the early 1980s.

Jacob Vellian, who is 84 years old and is currently in India, was not arrested. He faces two counts of rape.

The female victim in this case, Jane Doe, was 15 in 1973 when she was a volunteer in the rectory of the parish where he served as a priest.

He allegedly repeatedly fondled her, touching her breasts while reportedly saying that he was "trying to fill [her] soul with the Holy Spirit," according to the criminal complaint, which also details other explicit instances.

Investigations are underway in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the Archdiocese of Anchorage in Alaska.

In March, the attorney general of West Virginia filed a civil complaint against the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, alleging that the diocese had "engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices by failing to disclose to consumers of its educational and recreational services that it employed priests and laity who have sexually abused children, including an admitted abuser who the Diocese nevertheless allowed to work in a Catholic elementary school."

Spokespeople for several state attorneys general told ABC News that their offices were reviewing options and considering taking similar actions.

Leaders from more than 100 countries and regions met in the Vatican in February to discuss the abuse epidemic.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Patrick Frazee pleads not guilty to the murder of his fiance Kelsey Berreth

Teller County Sheriff via KMGH(WOODLAND PARK, Colo.) -- Patrick Frazee, the Colorado man accused of killing his fiancé, Kelsey Berreth, in a vicious assault in her home, pleaded not guilty on Friday.

At Friday's court appearance Frazee was shackled, dressed in a jail jumpsuit with a bulletproof vest, as his mother and sister looked on. Charges against him include murder and solicitation to commit murder.

His trial was set for Oct. 28.

Prosecutors allege the attack unfolded on Nov. 22, at Berreth's Woodland Park, Colorado, home.

Frazee allegedly blindfolded Berreth and had her guess the scents of different candles, according to an arrest affidavit. While Berreth was distracted, Frazee allegedly hit her with a bat, which ultimately killed her, the document said. He allegedly hit her so hard that he even knocked a tooth out, the document said.

The couple's baby was in a playpen in Berreth's back bedroom during the alleged murder, the document said.

Frazee allegedly burned Berreth's body in a black plastic bin on his property, according to the arrest affidavit.

Frazee was arrested in December.

Frazee's ex-girlfriend, Krystal (Lee) Kenney, allegedly told two friends that Frazee had asked for help killing Berreth, according to Frazee's arrest affidavit. But neither friend came forward to alert authorities despite knowing about the alleged murder plans one month before the crime, the arrest affidavit said.

Krystal Kenney, Frazee's ex-girlfriend, who investigators say admitted to cleaning up the gruesome murder scene, admitted in court to moving Berreth's phone from Colorado to Idaho, where Kenney lives.

Frazee allegedly wanted Kenney to take Berreth's remains back to Idaho, but she refused, Kenney told investigators, according to the arrest affidavit.

Kenney pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with physical evidence. Her sentencing will take place after Frazee's criminal case has concluded.

Frazee and Berreth's daughter is in the custody of Berreth's parents.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Stormy weather awaits Plains, Midwest over Memorial Day weekend

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The storm system that brought 97 reported tornadoes to the central U.S. this week finally moved into the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday, bringing an EF-1 tornado with winds of at least 86 mph.

Meanwhile, the rain earlier in the week has caused the Arkansas River to continue to flood. It will be in record flood stage this weekend in the state of Arkansas.

A very active holiday weekend pattern is expected from the Southern Plains into the Great Lakes.

The storm system that brought 11 tornadoes to western Texas and Oklahoma on Thursday expands and moves north into the Midwest and the Great Lakes to end the work week.

The biggest threat with these storms is damaging winds, but we can’t rule out a few more tornadoes.

Stormy weather continues into the holiday weekend with it moving into Pennsylvania and western New York.

The biggest threat with these storms will be damaging winds, but more tornadoes and huge hail are possible in the Southern and Western Plains.

With all the stormy weather coming up this holiday weekend, on the heels of a week of heavy rain, numerous flood alerts have been issued for the central U.S.

Some areas could see an additional half a foot of rain and more flooding over Memorial Day weekend.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


New virtual reality training tech takes cops directly into the minds of the mentally distressed

ABC(NEW YORK) -- It seems to happen almost every week: a cop in America is called to respond to some sort of disturbance -– a man with a weapon, a woman disrupting the midnight calm at an apartment complex, an escalating domestic dispute.

Law enforcement arrives, confusion ensues, a shot is fired, and suddenly the subject is on the ground.

Only in the aftermath does it emerge that the cop was not dealing with a violent criminal but someone having a psychiatric emergency: a schizophrenic episode, a problem with their medications, drug-induced psychosis, or a person with autism who is lost and cannot find the way to where they were going.

Police in America confront these situations all the time but they are too often untrained and incapable of effectively de-escalating the incidents towards a peaceful conclusion, experts say.

Already this year, at least 53 people diagnosed with mental illness have been shot and killed by U.S. police officers, according to a Washington Post database, which experts on police use of force described as among the most comprehensive of its kind.

“If you look at fatal police encounters, a high percentage of these -- some years as much as 25 percent: in 2017 it was close to 25 percent of all fatal shootings involving a police officers -- were dealing with somebody with a diagnosed mental health issue,” said ABC News contributor John Cohen, a former street cop and senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, who studies police responses to violent encounters as a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“And, frankly, I think that understates the problem, because a number of those people will have undiagnosed mental health problems," he said. "It’s a huge issue.”

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told ABC News that "when I was out on the street [in Chicago] I would say that anywhere between ... 45 percent and maybe 55 percent of the people that I encountered on the street in an arrest situation or a disturbance situation had some type of mental health challenges -- whether it was autism, bipolar, schizophrenia, you know -- all those things factor in to people that the police encounter on a daily basis."

The reasons for the increase in police interactions with those in psychiatric or emotional crisis are manifold, said Dr. Bill Lewinski, a leading behavioral scientist and founder of the non-profit Force Science Institute in Illinois, which studies police use of force.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in officer contact with those in the midst of a personal crisis – and part of that is the opioid epidemic, part of it is a significant increase in diagnoses of those on the autism spectrum, and the third is an even greater tightening of [access to] facilities for those that have psychiatric issues.”

But a promising new pilot program in Chicago is being hailed as a potentially groundbreaking new tool that uses virtual reality (VR) to help police better understand how to handle a subject who is in the midst of psychiatric distress.

“This is really an innovative technology and it’s very compelling,” said Lewinski. “There are some verbal programs out there that allow you to hear what someone is hearing, as opposed to seeing and hearing – but virtual reality is on the forefront of teaching tools in this area.”

Using training simulations created for video-gaming goggles, cops can now literally step into the shoes -- and, more importantly, the minds – of those suffering from emotional disturbance.

“I think it’s really imaginative to provide the police officers an experience of what a person who may be having a mental health crisis – what they’re hearing, what they’re seeing, what they’re perceiving, their surroundings – because that will give the officers more insight into how to respond to the person’s behavior,” said Cohen.

“It’s part of a broader trend among law enforcement executives around the country that have recognized that their officers need to be better trained and have better resources available to more effectively deal with calls involving individual having some type of psychiatric episode,” said Cohen.

'You can't get out'


Last week, ABC News joined a training session at the Chicago Police academy, where officers donned headphones and gaming goggles to learn in the most visceral way possible what it feels like to experience a psychiatric crisis. ABC News reporters also got the opportunity to participate in the VR simulations – and they produce bracing experiences.

Once you put on the headphones and goggles, you are suddenly immersed in a jarring scene in which bright lights are flashing ominously at you from different directions, multiple voices compete at varying volumes for your attention, and your vision blurs unpredictably. While this is happening, police officers are approaching you while a parent to the side is shouting instructions frantically to the police. No matter how you turn your head, you’re trapped inside the experience.

“You can look around everywhere and not find yourself a way out of that scenario – you’re stuck in that guy’s head and you can’t get out,” said Laura Brown, senior director of training at Axon Enterprise, the Arizona-based company that develops technology and weapons products for law enforcement, formerly known as Taser International. Axon is perhaps best known for outfitting police departments around the country with body cameras that have become ubiquitous.

Brown acknowledged that the VR training can be an intense emotional experience, even for hardened veteran cops.

“We put a lot of warnings out that this could trigger folks,” Brown said, before stressing the underlying aim of the training: empathy.

“We’re helping [officers] to develop that sense of empathy [for the mentally ill] -- how people with that condition might be experiencing the world.”

She said that in her experience training officers, most are certainly aware of the symptoms of mental illness, but that few if any have ever had the opportunity to literally experience the spectrum of sensations that a person in psychiatric distress is feeling.

“The ‘aha’ moment we get is not so much, ‘oh, they hear things’ or ‘oh, they see things,’ but what the individual feels. If you’re going through a psychotic episode, you feel rational.”

Brown said that Axon has trained about 1,000 instructors to date who can implement the VR training to police nationwide.

One Chicago police officer who was particularly anxious to participate in the virtual reality training sessions is Officer John Tolley, whose son is schizophrenic.

“That’s one reason I wanted to get in on this … if I can help train officers how to deal with this, because … I have a more intimate view of it,” Tolley told ABC News correspondent Gio Benitez. “My son is now 19, and I have watched him grow with this disease since he first told it to me at 10 years old.” ‘

“And if I can break the stigma on it with some of these officers, you know, and let them understand that it’s … it’s a disease, you know? You don’t do anything yourself to get this. It just comes on you … no one is at fault for it. And if I can help officers understand that and break the stigma, that’s why I want to be in here.”

‘De-institutionalization’


The existing mental health crisis in America dates back to 1955, with the introduction of Thorazine, the first effective anti-psychotic medication, and a simultaneous nationwide push a decade later with the creation of Medicaid and Medicare towards de-institutionalization – a nationwide campaign to move the mentally-ill out of state psychiatric institutions and into community medical centers, or to live independently on their own.

The population of severely mentally ill patients in public psychiatric hospitals plunged from 558,239 in 1955 to 71,619 in 1994, according to “Out of the Shadows: Confronting America’s Mental Illness Crisis,” by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey. A study published in 2010 by the National Sheriffs’ Association and the non-profit Treatment Advocacy Center found that there were three times more severely mentally ill people in America’s jails and prisons than its hospitals.

“There’s a direct connection between decreases in funding for in and outpatient mental health services and an increase in police encounters with mental ill persons,” observed Cohen. “Increasingly, state and local law enforcement agencies have become the response mechanism for communities to deal with individuals involved in mental health crises.”

This decades-long de-institutionalization process reached a crisis point on September 24, 1987, when police in Memphis, Tennessee responded to a call about Joseph Dewayne Robinson, a 27-year-old paranoid schizophrenic who reportedly cut and stabbed himself with a butcher knife as many as 120 times. Police responded, confusion ensued, shots were fired and Robinson ended up dead.

That incident led to the creation by the Memphis Police Department of crisis intervention training (CIT) – which spread to thousands of departments around the country and the globe and is now a 40-hour course considered to be the gold standard in U.S. police training to deal with mentally and emotionally-disturbed subjects.

'I am God! I am in outer space!”


The Chicago Police Department knows this tragic scenario all too well. In 2015, Officer Robert Rialmo fatally shot Quintonio LeGrier, 19, after the teenager had called 911 three times asking that an officer be sent to his address.

During the calls, the first of which was made at 4:18 a.m. the day after Christmas and the last of which was placed three minutes later, LeGrier repeatedly said that he needed help and wanted an officer sent to his address. The 911 dispatcher sounded frustrated by Quintonio's refusal to answer her questions, and at one point, she terminated one of the calls.

When asked what was wrong, LeGrier responded: "Someone is ruining my life."

It would emerge later that LeGrier had been the subject of numerous police encounters in the months leading up to his death for exhibiting increasingly erratic behavior. After one incident in which LeGrier allegedly stared down and then chased a female student at Northern Illinois University, he was involuntarily committed to an area hospital for psychiatric evaluation after repeatedly telling cops “I am God! I am in outer space!” according to the Chicago Tribune.

When LeGrier was fatally shot by police, his 55-year-old neighbor, Bettie Jones, was also killed by police bullets -- compounding the tragedy with a collateral killing.

The shooting was ruled unjustified and Johnson, the Chicago Police Superintendent, has said that the right training could have made the difference.

"I think that if a CIT-trained officer had responded and had enough time to observe and communicate with an individual, then there may have been a different outcome," Johnson told ABC News.

Given the dramatic increase in mental health crises nationwide, the kind of deeply-engaging training that Axon’s VR simulators offer is vital to American policing, according to Lewinski, who has a PhD in police psychology and is a professor emeritus of law enforcement at Minnesota State University.

“As long as we are sending law enforcement in to be the front line responders to those in perceptual, cognitive, mental or chemically-induced crisis, they really need to know how their actions are being perceived by those subjects,” he told ABC News. “This is an important, almost foundation awareness they need. And the [Axon virtual reality training program] is “a really hot topic, the next step in police training."

"We need to get better in a number of ways to figure out how to develop social and emotional intelligence for those working in the streets with those in crisis. And this is one of the ways of helping police officers get inside the heads of those in crisis," Lewinski continued. "It’s the beginning of building social intelligence in U.S. law enforcement.”

Lewinski said that American police officers are all too aware of the gap between traditional police training and some of the clinical skill sets necessary to deal with today’s emotionally-disturbed subjects.

“We have just spent a million dollars, three years of research, two full-time PhDs, two full-time Masters-level students and made thousands of videos of police training,” he said of his institute’s most recent work.

“And our conclusion is that there is no profession whose training is so important, and so impactful, that spends so little on training,”

“No other profession sends professionals out with so little support and so little training – especially because they can take away people’s lives and liberties,” Lewinski concluded.

“And is there a crisis in the policing world over this? Yes.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Not enough 'outrage' in wake of rampant anti-transgender murders: Activists

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(DETROIT) -- Julisa Abad said she's one of the more fortunate transgender women in Detroit's Six Mile and Woodward area.

The 34-year-old said she's never worked in the sex industry, but she understands why many others feel as if they don't have a choice.

"When I first moved to Detroit, despite everything that I brought to the table, I couldn't find employment," Abad told ABC News. "I hated that the social stigma, especially within the area that I lived in, was that all trans women are sex workers."

Abad eventually landed a position as a victims' rights advocate with the Fair Michigan Justice Project, a program that assists in solving serious crimes targeting members of the LGBT community. Most of the organization's cases involve transgender women of color subjected to violence from straight men, often an intimate partner.

The Human Rights Campaign has tracked at least 136 deaths of transgender people since 2013 due to fatal violence, with most victims being black transgender women, but the organization said the violence is hard to track due to misgendering and transphobia. The actual number of killings could be much higher.

One of the most-recent victims, 22-year-old Muhlaysia Booker, was fatally shot in Dallas last week, just months after she spoke out against a gang of men who brutally attacked her while yelling transphobic slurs.

"She was always full of life, the life of the party and a jokester," Booker's aunt, Lakeitha Lemons, told ABC News. "She knew the things she would have to face. She knew about the violence, the backlash and the criticism that she would receive, but she didn't care. She would die for her cause."

Police are investigating to see if Booker's murder was a hate crime, or if it could be linked to two other attacks that targeted black transgender women in the area. Brittany White, 29, was fatally shot inside her car in southeast Dallas in October 2018 and another transgender woman was nearly stabbed to death in April.

Experts and advocates point to these violent attacks as examples of why the U.S. needs stronger anti-discrimination policies and legal protections for transgender people.

In many states, including Michigan, discrimination laws do not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, leaving transgender people more vulnerable to job discrimination and more likely to resort to illegal activity to earn a living, according to LGBTQ rights advocates. It also makes them prime targets for violence and abuse.

In 2018, advocates tracked at least 26 U.S. murders involving transgender victims, with black trans women representing an overwhelming majority, according to Human Rights Campaign, which considers itself the "largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization."

At least five transgender people have been killed so far this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. All five were women of color.

Many of the reported cases involved clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victim's transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into unemployment, poverty, homelessness or sex work, according to HRC's research.

"While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable," HRC said in a statement. "Many of these victims are misgendered in local police statements and media reports, which can delay our awareness of deadly incidents."

Rebecca Williams, a humanities professor at Essex County College in New Jersey and adviser to the school's Gay-Straight Alliance program, said she expected to see more outrage in response to such "epidemic" violence.

"Those particular incidents where these black trans women have been murdered, they haven't been met, as far as I can see, with as much outrage as they should be met with," Williams told ABC News. "Violence is a problem in our society, but we have to pay particular attention when vulnerable members of our society are murdered and when acts of violence are committed against them."

"Even though we have our civil rights and marriage equality, and laws against discrimination, there is still violence and there's still hatred and there's still harassment going on," she added.

Williams, a former city councilwoman and current freeholder of Union County, New Jersey, said a lot of the violence stems from rigid religious beliefs and a lack transgender visibility. That's an issue her county is working to change.

"Governors and mayors can issue proclamations, as we did here in Union County, stating that their municipalities are a safe space for LGBT people. It shows that violence and harassment won't be tolerated," Williams said. "They can also host training for city officials and residents to help them understand how to create positive interactions with LGBTQ folks."

Jamie Powell Horowitz, who serves as the special prosecutor for the Fair Michigan Justice Project, said her organization focuses on LGBTQ awareness and training. The project started by training local police departments on the proper ways to talk to members of the LGBTQ community, and how to make them feel comfortable.

"Unfortunately, yes, you do have to tell people how to talk to people," Horowitz said. "Basically, the point of the project is bridging that gap between the community and law enforcement, so that when they are targeted, we can actually address it and prosecute those crimes."

Now, nearly three years later, the organization said it has a 100% conviction rate.

"Today, we've had 26 cases that we've done, and I would say half, about half, of that caseload has involved biased-based crimes against transgender women of color," Horowitz said. "The whole community is changing their attitudes towards law enforcement. Now, victims are starting to report and come to court."

"I think that it helps to keep the community safe because people who go there to rob, to rape, to kill, or take advantage of them now know that they're they're going to report and that the police are going to show up immediately," she added.

Horowitz said she couldn't disclose specific details about pending cases involving transgender victims, but she said a lot of past cases dealt with transgender prostitutes who were involved with married, straight men who would "rather kill them" than be "caught" with them.

"The majority of the cases that we have involving trans women of color, they involve women who are doing sex for survival work," she said. "Something will happen -- they'll have a dispute over money, something will go wrong -- and they'll get rough with the girls, and rather than being in a position of getting caught with them, these men kill them."

Abad, who currently serves as Fair Michigan Foundation's director of transgender outreach and advocacy, said a lot of transphobic violence stems from the social stigma attached to being with a trans woman.

She said there's support groups for just about everything except for men who are attracted to trans women.

"They are struggling with it internally because society -- their families and community -- says it's not right, and they can't talk to their homeboys about it because of the stigmatization," Abad said. "So when you combine all these layers, we -- trans women -- end up with a higher rate of mortality and violence."

"We need to change the way things operate, educate people and give these men a safe space to articulate their feelings," she added. "Society shouldn't demonize them or try to take away their manhood because they like trans women."



Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Boston's Museum of Fine Arts apologizes for alleged racist behavior toward black students

Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is apologizing after a teacher posted publicly that her middle school students were the subjects of racist behavior during a visit last week.

Marvelyne Lamy, a seventh-grade teacher from Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester, Mass., just outside Boston, posted on her Facebook page on Monday that the school group was "racially profiled" during a trip to the museum on May 14. The class was made up entirely of black and brown students, she wrote.

"At the very beginning of the tour, one of the staff gave an overview on what to expect and told the kids no food, no drink, and no watermelon," Lamy wrote, saying chaperones were not aware of the watermelon comment until after the visit. "Throughout our walk through, they followed us. Many of our students grew agitated. At the end, we went through the gender bending exhibit where the security guard followed our every movement."

"It got so bad that I started gathering our students so we could leave," she added.

Lamy said she spoke to staff as they were leaving, but "they just looked on with pity."

She said all they were offered were tickets to return to the museum and did not receive an apology.

The Museum of Fine Arts did give that apology two days after Lamy's post, when it addressed the incident in a letter to the school, posted on its website, on Wednesday.

"Last week, a number of students on an organized visit encountered a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome," the museum wrote. "That is not who we are or want to be. Our intention is to set the highest of standards, and we are committed to doing the work that it will take to get there."

The museum said it immediately reached out to the Davis Leadership Academy's Christopher Coblyn, the school's interim executive director, and directly apologized for the racist behavior.

In the letter, signed by seven executives with the Museum of Fine Arts, they pledged to conduct an investigation into the incident and said that Makeeba McCreary, the museum's chief of Learning and Community Engagement, has been in contact with Coblyn.

"We want to apologize specifically to the students, faculty, and parents of the Davis Leadership Academy," the museum's letter concluded. "We deeply regret any interactions that led to this outcome and are committed to being a place where all people trust that they will feel safe and treated with respect. We look forward to ongoing conversation and commit to using this situation as an opportunity to learn and create a culture of unwavering inclusion."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Investigators say they're unlikely to find 4-year-old Maleah Davis alive

vmargineanu/iStock(HOUSTON) -- As Texas authorities plead for the public's help in the search for 4-year-old Maleah Davis on Thursday, the man leading the effort is casting doubt on the likelihood of them finding her alive.

"The evidence shows that we believe she has been murdered. Let's bring this baby home, proper burial," Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo said. "Without finding that body, there is a hole left out there. We want to give them the closure, of both charges and finding her body."

Maleah was last seen on April 30 when surveillance footage captured her going into her Houston home with her mother's ex-fiance, 26-year-old Derion Vence. Additional surveillance footage from a neighbor showed Vence leaving the couple's apartment on May 3 with his son and a laundry basket.

Vence, who was caring for the toddler while her mom was away, told police that she'd been abducted by three men, including one who knocked him out during a carjacking, but Acevedo said he doesn't believe the story.

Police located the family's car on the side of a road in Missouri City, Texas, and investigators said cadaver-sniffing dogs detected the scent of human remains in the vehicle.

"You could drive a big rig right through the tales this guy has been telling," Acevedo said, referring to Vence. "I can sit here and say we're going to find her alive, but I'd be lying to you."

Officers arrested Vence earlier this month on suspicion of tampering with a human corpse, according to police. Acevedo said he has not been cooperative throughout the investigation.

"We're hopeful that the public hasn't forgotten about little miss Davis, this little angel that went missing," Acevedo said. "We're still calling for the public to think back on what they may have seen -- any suspicious vehicle behavior, anything that they may know [to help] this case."

The child's mother, 26-year-old Brittany Bowens, said it's hard to ignore the holes in Vence's story. She was out of town attending her father's funeral when the young girl went missing,

"I wanted to believe it, I really really wanted to believe that story," Bowens told ABC's Houston station KTRK. "The thought of him actually doing something to her, or something worse, something gruesome …"

She said she's holding on for hope that Maleah will be found alive.

"As a mother, I want to hope that she is [still alive]," Bowens said. "I didn't know that after burying my father, I'd have to come home to this."

"I am a good mother. I'm hurting just like everybody else and I want answers too," she added.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Oregon State college student falls to her death from cliff while taking pictures

Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue(TILLAMOOK COUNTY, Ore.) -- An Oregon college student is being mourned after she died in a tragic fall earlier this week while taking photos at a lookout point.

Michelle Casey, 21, was hiking with her boyfriend Sunday at the Neahkahnie Mountain viewpoint area near Neahkahnie Beach along the northern Oregon coast. Casey slipped and fell about 100 feet, according to the Tillamook County Sheriff's Office.

She fell and hit a tree, which prevented her from falling into the ocean, according to Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue. Casey was unconscious but breathing when rescuers reached her after rappelling down the difficult cliffside. She was transferred to a helicopter and flown to a hospital almost two hours after the initial fall.

Casey was pronounced dead at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.

"Michelle was at her favorite place in the world, the beach," her parents said in an email to ABC News. "She grew up spending time there and enjoyed taking pictures of the surf and beach and was not a reckless person. Her fall was the result of a slip as she moved from one rock to another. She was not taking a 'selfie.'"

Casey was a student at Oregon State University in Corvallis, where she was studying kinesiology. She was an avid volleyball player and sang in choirs in both high school and college, her parents said.

Her father, Bill, called her a "bright light filled with life and laughter."

"Michelle’s heart has always been so tender and so inclusive," her parents said. "She never excluded anyone, instead, she pulled everyone in, particularly those who felt isolated, shy, or alone. She couldn’t bear the thought of anyone being left out."

The student was a registered organ donor, which her parents said led to two other people's lives being saved.

"Michelle was an organ donor; there was never any doubt in her mind about that," her parents said. "She saved two lives with that choice, a choice that should not surprise anyone who knew her."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


As more states create exoneration compensation laws, some run into funding problems

SOURCE: THE INNOCENCE PROJECT/ABC NEWS, AS OF MAY 23, 2019 (ABC News)(NEW YORK) -- Richard Phillips was just allocated $1.5 million for three decades that he wrongfully spent in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit, but he’s still going to have to wait a while to see that money.

The issue isn’t with his case, but with the money itself: the fund that pays out exoneration compensations in Michigan is nearly empty.

Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) went into effect in 2017, and the state has already spent the vast majority of the $6.5 million appropriated to the fund.

The fund was set to be refilled with an additional $10 million but that was the target of the state’s new governor’s first line-item veto on a technicality -- though the governor has expressed her support for approving the $10 million appropriation in a separate bill, which those involved believe will come in the next few weeks.

But for people close to the exonorees that have not only have spent decades unjustifiably behind bars, but continue to have to fight for compensation, it’s a slap in the face.

“To have to go through and re-litigate their innocence again, and then to find out there's no money to pay them once they're successful in re-litigating their innocence again is ludicrous,” said Gabi Silver, Phillips’ attorney.

“People are playing political ping pong with whether the fund should be made available. It’s really, really unfair,” she said.

The problem that the Wolverine State seems to have run into is one that experts say state legislators nationwide should expect to account for, as more and more states add exoneration compensation laws to their books.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer noted in her press release announcing her line-item veto on May 10 that she allocated $10 million in budgets for both fiscal year 2019 and 2020 budgets.

The release notes that there are 39 claims awaiting payout, the total of which would add up to $24.1 million.

Dan Olsen, the spokesperson for Michigan's Attorney General Dana Nessel, told ABC News that the appropriation of $10 million through the 2020 budget "to take effect on October 1, if not sooner through a supplemental appropriation."

"It’s important we continue to fulfill our obligation to the men and women who were wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and we look forward to working with the Legislature to make that happen," Olsen said in a statement.

Earlier this year, there were 33 states that agreed to pay or compensate –- at varying levels -- those who had been wrongfully imprisoned.

And then just weeks ago, Indiana passed their own law, and advocates expect that Rhode Island will join the list in the coming weeks, bringing the national total to 35 states with some form of compensation.

Those compensation levels vary greatly, however, with New York having no limit to how much someone can be compensated or California -- which allows for $140 per day of wrongful imprisonment with a cap of $2 million.

On the opposite end, New Hampshire has a $20,000 cap. Wisconsin allows for $5,000 per year wrongly imprisoned but has a cap at $25,000, though a review board has the power to petition for extra funds.

An annual compensation of $50,000 per wrongfully imprisoned year appears to be roughly in the middle of U.S. states' compensation spectrum, and that’s what Phillips is slated to be paid. Since he spent 30 years in prison for first degree murder for which he was later exonerated, Nessel announced on May 17 that her office approved a $1.5 million payout for Phillips.

Rebecca Brown, a director of policy at the Innocence Project, said that when a state first creates a compensation law, they will likely be inundated with any number of people who had been previously cleared of their wrongful convictions in the past, meaning that the payouts will add up in the first few years.

“The first couple of years that a state provides compensation, the fiscal outlay will be more substantial, but in future years, that fiscal impact is greatly reduced,” Brown said.

Jeff Gutman, a professor of clinical law at the George Washington University Law School who's studied exoneration compensation, said that “different states do this differently.”

“In some states, speaking generally, the state will purchase an annuity for the individual,” Gutman said, and that annuity is tasked with paying the individual a set amount for however many years until their total sum is reached.

In others, portions of the budget are allocated for compensations, or individual agencies or departments –- say, the state’s criminal justice division -– are responsible for paying the claims, and therefore have that money assigned to their budget. Gutman cited California and Virginia as examples where individual appropriations mean that the legislature votes on bills that specifically state the name of the exonorees.

“It always comes back to the state legislature," Gutman said. "The state always has to appropriate the money."

Marvin Zalman, a Wayne State University criminal justice professor, said that while the details of how newer exoneration compensation laws are ironed out, they should not be addressed in a silo -- as any factors that contribute to the wrongful convictions in the first place should also be addressed.

“We should be thinking about these laws," Zalman said. "I certainly don’t want my tax money going into compensating people for wrongs if the wrongs can’t be eliminated."

“I would hope that states that pass these compensation laws then say ‘we want to make the compensation rare by improving the rest of the system,’” he said.

For Silver, her biggest concern right now is making sure that her client gets what is owed to him.

She said that Phillips is “73 but a very, very young 73,” and she wants to make sure he can be comfortable in the rest of his life.

“While I think that the money is wholly inadequate to compensate for taking away most of someone’s life, I think it will enable him to live comfortably, to get a house, a car, medical treatment, travel a little bit, paint,” she said, referencing a hobby he took up while behind bars. Phillips has since been selling his art to sustain him while awaiting his compensation payout.

“He's happy. He's enjoying life right now,” Silver said. “While he likes to say that he’s not really bitter about what happened to him, I always say ‘I think you are bitter but you choose to live your life so that you don’t give in to the bitterness.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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