GOLIAD — Out in the Goliad County countryside, the opening light and fleeting notes of Robert Schumann’s “Arabesque” filled the living room of Regi Hedahl’s home Tuesday morning. …read more
Source:: Lavaca County – Victoria Advocate
(FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) — The alleged gunman in the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida wants to give any inheritance due him from his late mother’s estate to the victims’ families or an organization that will help the community heal, his attorneys said Wednesday.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, appeared at a hearing in Broward County Circuit Court in Fort Lauderdale to determine whether he is truly indigent or if he stands to collect up to $800,000 from his late mother’s estate and various other financial accounts in his name.
It was previously determined that Cruz could not afford his own attorney and the Broward County Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent him. Judge Elizabeth Scherer is attempting to determine if the public defender’s office should be dismissed from representing Cruz if he has the means to afford a private attorney.
Since his arrest on Feb. 14 in the killing of 17 people at the Parkland, Florida, high school, information has surfaced that Cruz might stand to inherit a small fortune.
“Just so the court is aware, Mr. Cruz does not want those funds,” his attorney, Melissa McNiell of the public defenders office, told Judge Scherer during the hearing. “He would like that money donated to an organization that the victims families believe would be able to facilitate the healing in our community.”
Later in the hearing, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told Scherer “whatever monies the defendant doesn’t want, let it go to those who have been hurt, period.”
But it remains unclear whether Cruz does have any funds from his mother’s estate coming to him.
McNiell said research her office has done shows Cruz has a Wells Fargo bank account with a balance of $353. She said he also has a Microsoft stock certificate worth $2,227, and a commissary account at the Broward County Jail with a little more than $650 in it.
His mother, Lynda Cruz, died Nov. 1 after contracting the flu, leaving an Allstate Life Insurance policy in which Nikolas Cruz possibly stands to collect $25,000, Finkelstein said.
McNeill said Cruz’s mother may have also left an annuity behind, but it remains unclear how much it’s worth. She said $3,333 from the annuity was deposited into a checking account Cruz had access to just prior to his mother’s death in November, but no similar deposits have appeared since.
Finkelstein said if such annuity deposits were to be made to Cruz’s account monthly, he stands to reap up to $800,000.
“It is my understanding there has been a delay in the administration of the estate that it is ongoing,” McNeill said. “Mr. Cruz is, in fact, potentially a beneficiary of those funds. However, there have been multiple claims already filed against the estate of Lynda Cruz and there are multiple lawsuits that have been filed against Mr. Cruz.”
She said the public defender’s office cannot help Cruz get access to the funds.
“We represent Mr. Cruz’s interest as it relates to the criminal matter and we as a public defender’s office do not exchange or interact with our client’s funds in any manner,” McNeill said.
Cruz’s younger brother, Zachary, who stands to share in the inheritance, attended Wednesday’s hearing, but did not speak.
Finkelstein said that given what his office currently knows about Cruz’s finances, it would not be enough to hire a private lawyer to defend him against capital murder charges the prosecution has filed in the case.
“I think it’s very important that you also consider that if you remove our office at this moment right now, in the highest profile case in America, the defendant is going to be left without a lawyer,” Finkelstein told Scherer. “From that will flow a myriad of legal problems, some for the defendant, some for the state, some for the court and some for the appellate courts.”
Scherer said she will make a decision in the case by April 27.
Finkelstein repeated an offer he made shortly after Cruz’s arrest that the defendant is prepared to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for consecutive life sentences.
“We are prepared to do it today,” Finkelstein said, prompting prosecutors to raise objections.
“OK, that’s not what we’re here for,” Scherer said.
Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
Source:: National News
(WASHINGTON) — For Jessika, standing in the Oval Office today was an emotional moment, as the president signed new legislation that would help prevent what happened to her from happening to other young girls.
Jessika is one of hundreds of young women who say they were sold for sex allegedly through Backpage.com, the highly controversial classifieds site that federal authorities shut down last week, indicting seven of its top officials with facilitating prostitution and money laundering.
President Donald Trump signed a new law today that will hold online services responsible for abusive content knowingly facilitating sex trafficking. The “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” or the “FOSTA” bill, goes into effect immediately.
Survivors of sex trafficking “are very brave,” Trump said at the White House today.
As part of the signing ceremony, Jessika got a chance to speak with Trump, as well as attend a private meeting with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump.
“I was a little nervous,” Jessika said. “For him to shake my hand and tell me thank you was really kind of the cherry on top of this whole experience, and it was worth it. It’s been a long fight, but … it’s closure.”
And today, she said she realized she has an “army of mothers and sisters” standing with her.
“It is really, truly a day for real healing to really truly begin,” Jessika’s mother, Nacole, added. “[Jessika] has been so brave, and so courageous over the years to come out and use her voice to champion good, and to not let this experience silence her.”
Jessika is not alone. ABC News’ “Nightline” has been conducting an investigation for the past two years on underage sex trafficking through ads on Backpage.com and the efforts to stop it. “Nightline” first met Tom, Nacole and their daughter Jessika in 2016.
Jessika estimates she was paid for sex over 150 times when she was 15 years old, and she firmly believes Backpage.com made it possible for her pimp to post ads offering her for sex over and over again.
Jessika is now a 23-year-old mother to two young children who is part of a major civil lawsuit against Backpage.com. In October, she won her own personal civil suits against Backpage, the first to focus on the claim Backpage knowingly facilitated prostitution of underage girls.
“I have done a lot of self-healing,” Jessika said. “I’m very confident with what I know about myself and what I’ve learned about myself, and it is something that you have to accept, you can’t ever change it. I can’t ever change it, but I can become better from it, and … I’m OK with that.”
Backpage.com operated as a website where people can sell cars, furniture and other items, but critics have said – and a Senate investigation concluded – the vast majority of the site’s revenue came from its racy adult section, with categories like “escorts” and “body rubs” — technically legal services that law enforcement described as thinly veiled codes for prostitution.
Federal authorities have seized Backpage.com and its affiliated websites, according to a notice posted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies on the site last week. The notice did not detail the reason for the seizure but noted that Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, as well as the offices of the Texas attorney general and California attorney general, were involved.
The U.S. Senate has been investigating underage trafficking on Backpage.com for years. In January 2017, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a new report saying Backpage.com had knowingly facilitated underage trafficking on its site by actively editing ads posted in the “adult services” section.
The subcommittee found that Backpage.com was erasing words that would indicate underage trafficking. Through its automatic word filtering system, the site would erase terms like “Lolita,” “Little Girl” and even “Amber Alert” from ads posted in the “adult” section, then post the “cleaned up” ads to the site.
Jessika’s parents testified at the January 2017 Senate hearing and have been by her side through every step of the way, fighting for the past seven years to get legislation passed to protect sex trafficking victims.
“I just couldn’t hear the word ‘no,’ that this was not going to happen,” Nacole said today. “For me, ‘no’ wasn’t the right answer and just working that phone every day and calling our legislators … we really we built an army, and it took everybody’s voice to get this done.”
Backpage.com has said its ads are constitutionally protected free speech. Its argument is based on the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which is a law that protects all internet hosting companies from being held legally responsible for what users post on their websites, including anything related to sex trafficking.
In the past, many women and girls who say they were trafficked on Backpage.com have tried suing the site, but nearly every lawsuit was dismissed under the CDA.
But the new law Trump signed today seeks to weaken this legal shield.
“That’s what this legislation says, is that in the U.S. we do not sell our kids,” Nacole said.
Backpage.com has repeatedly claimed that it was part of the solution, not the problem. The company told ABC News in a previous statement that it employs moderators who diligently screen ads to stop underage trafficking on its site. It added that it has voluntarily undertaken a multitiered “policing system to prohibit and report attempts at human exploitation and the advertisement of prostitution” that screens for words and phrases that might “suggest illegal activity.”
The company also has said it actively cooperates with law enforcement and reports suspicious ads to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
In 2012, Backpage’s attorney told “Nightline” that “online human trafficking exists … and the best tools to fight …read more
Source:: National News
(NEW YORK) — Two teenagers with a natural affinity for the sea assisted in rescuing two families — including a 4-year-old boy and 3-month-old baby — after the boat they were in capsized near the Florida Keys over the weekend.
Mason Baker, 17, Will Coffin, 18, and Will’s uncle, Dave Tolhurst, 54, were fishing for Yellowtail just north of the Conch Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area in the upper Keys on Saturday when Tolhurst noticed the 23-foot boat overturned about 500 yards away, Baker told ABC News.
“He asked us, ‘Is that boat upside down?'” Baker said, referring to Tolhurst’s comment after seeing the overturned boat.
Once they determined that the boat was in distress, the group decided to “go do something” about it and pulled up their anchor, calling the U.S. Coast Guard as they made their way to the scene.
Once they got there, they saw six people in the water, with the captain of the boat trying to climb on top of his capsized vessel, Coffin told ABC News.
The good Samaritans pulled five of the stranded passengers from the water — including the two young children but minus the captain — onto their own boat, Coffin explained. The teens were also able to retrieve the group’s three coolers, which still had food intact, so they handed out juice and grapes to the 4-year-old boy, who was concerned about his father who was still in the water.
Baker said he gave the “soaking wet” 3-month-old his shirt, and the Coast Guard arrived about 30 minutes later. The Coast Guard then airlifted the baby to a local hospital for the possible ingestion of salt water, officials said.
Baker, whose father is a professional captain, hypothesized that the boat overturned because the six passengers, plus three coolers were too much weight for the small boat to handle. Additionally, conditions on the water were choppier than what was initially predicted that day, he said.
Both families were from out of town, Baker said, and the boat was fairly new.
Both teens have spent extensive time out on the water and often fish on their own, their mothers told ABC News. They were both born and raised in the Florida Keys.
“I’ve been out on the water my whole life,” Baker said.
Tolhurst commended the teens for their boating expertise and for staying calm during the traumatic ordeal, Bonnie Coffin, Will’s mom, told ABC News. Bonnie added that one of the victims got hit in the head when the boat overturned and told her son that “five more minutes,” and he may not have made it.
The man was “rattled,” she said.
The teens’ mothers explained the rescue posed a valuable lesson for the boys, who are set to graduate from Coral Shores High School in Tavernier and will attend Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton in the fall.
“You can see how quickly things can go wrong out there, and you need to be aware — always — of your surroundings and always pay attention,” Bonnie said, adding that her son is “very cautious” and has good common sense.
Duane Baker, Mason’s father, taught him how to “respect the water” and understand the risks involved, his mother, Jill Miranda-Baker, said adding that he plans on taking his boat with him to college.
“His first love is being on the water,” Miranda-Baker said of her son.
Mason said he plans on studying criminal justice and hopes to become an officer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, while Will said that he plans on majoring in ocean engineering.
Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
Source:: National News