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Alleged Epstein victims recount powerful emotions after witnessing financier’s New York arraignment

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Stephanie Keith/Getty Images(NEW YORK) —  In the very last row of the 23rd floor of the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, where wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein was being arraigned on Monday, two young women sat side by side, flanked by men in dark suits – the bustling media chaos surrounding them at the high-profile criminal proceeding.

For Courtney Wild and Michelle Licata, watching Epstein dressed in blue prison garb, arraigned in federal court on sex trafficking charges, was a watershed moment.

In exclusive interviews with ABC News, both women say their pain is still fresh, their memories still vivid, even after years.

But sitting in the august federal courtroom, witnessing a moment they say they never thought they’d see, was worth the flashbacks to darker times in their younger lives.

The two had only met just moments earlier, each a member of an exclusive club no one wants to join.

Licata reflected back on that moment she met Wild: “I didn’t have to explain myself or think ‘oh God, I have this secret,’ like you’re probably not going to like me. It was really relieving that she was going through it with me.”

“We get to look him in the face today and see him in handcuffs,” Wild said at one point during a series of exclusive interviews with ABC News. “We get to see him in jail. Finally, that day has come. So it was just nice to be able to share it with somebody, you know, look at you [Licata] and say ‘OK, today’s our day.'”

On the way to court

In a car on the way to the courthouse, tears rolled down Wild’s face as she listened intently to Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman’s press conference on the radio.

“I started crying because, I just felt overwhelmed with so many emotions,” she said later. “I never felt like the U.S. Attorney was on my side,” she added, referring to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida – who the women and others claims cut a sweetheart deal with Epstein that allowed him to serve a 13-month sentence in a private wing of the Palm Beach County jail, where he was allowed out for work release, 12 hours a day, six days a week.

“So today, when I heard that [Berman press conference], it was — for once — they were reaching out and saying, ‘It wasn’t your fault if you were sexually abused by him.'”

Licata, who was 16 at the time of her first and only alleged encounter with Epstein, told ABC News that when she saw the disgraced, shackled Epstein marched into the courtroom, she experienced a moment of panic.

“I immediately was thinking, ‘OK, I’m back in that massage room where that clear shower is. It’s almost the same feeling like — God, I wanna get outta here.”

Non-prosecution agreement

Epstein, who is being held in Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan as he awaits a detention hearing scheduled for Monday, has pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking.

His defense attorney, Reid Weingarten, has signaled that the “centerpiece of our defense” will be the contention that this new indictment violates the terms of the Florida plea deal Epstein negotiated with federal prosecutors in 2008.

That deal allowed him to avoid federal charges by pleading guilty to two lesser state charges and registering as a sex offender — despite investigators at the time uncovering, according to court documents, evidence of a broad pattern of sexual abuse of minor victims.

Epstein ultimately served 13 months of an 18-month sentence in a county jail. The deal also included a non-prosecution agreement that immunized Epstein and any alleged co-conspirators from federal charges in South Florida.

Concerned about what was happening in her case, Wild filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice in 2008, seeking to assert her rights as an alleged crime victim. It was only then that she learned that the government had secretly entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein months earlier. Her lawsuit claimed that the deal violated the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004, which guarantees crime victims the right to be informed about developments in their cases.

In February, a federal judge ruled in Wild’s favor, determining that the government had failed to confer with the victims before reaching the deal.

Acosta under fire

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has already launched an investigation into alleged impropriety surrounding the deal. And Acosta is currently facing public calls for his resignation, including from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.

Acosta released a statement via Twitter today, calling the “crimes” committed by Epstein “horrific” and added that with new evidence and testimony, he is hopeful that the New York prosecutor can bring Epstein to justice.

“Courtney started this fight and the reason that she’s here and the reason that she’s willing to put a face to it is because somebody has to have the courage to say, ‘It’s OK to stand up,’ and encourage others to come forward,” said Brad Edwards, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents Wild and several of Epstein’s other alleged victims.

For Wild, Epstein’s arrest and indictment has renewed her hopes for justice.

“I feel like the U.S. Attorneys that [are currently] handling [the Epstein case] today — they have the intention to do what’s right and to take a predator off the street.”

After Epstein’s arraignment

As a crush of reporters filed out of the courtroom at the conclusion of Epstein’s arraignment, Licata lingered behind, contemplating her past.

From a distance of just five rows of courtroom benches, she surveyed the man she claims abused her.

“I was just sitting there, staring at the back of his bald spot on the back of his head. I really wanted to be like, ‘hey, do you remember me?'”

Once Licata and Wild filed out of the courtroom and down to street level together, they were recognized – and a mob of reporters clamored around them, snapping their photos, filming them and shouting questions. Back in their waiting SUV, the two women, who had only just met hours earlier, collapsed in fits of laughter like old friends, and breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“I feel like this weight has been lifted off my shoulders today. We get to be on top,” Licata said emphatically, exhibiting a sense of self-confidence she says was forcibly stripped away from her by sexual exploitation and abuse. “Our stories are mattering.”

“If they are put in the right hands, the right people know about [them],” she said of hers and Wild’s stories, “something is actually gonna get done with it.”

Licata’s growing sense of hope, she said, may extend beyond her own case and transition her into advocating and speaking out for others. “We have something specific to serve others. We all have purpose.”

Wild, who at times was emotional throughout the day, had her own message to share: “If you are the victim of sexual abuse, your voice should be heard. Period.”

As their car crawled uptown in late afternoon traffic, the two women’s faces glowed in the light of their cell phones as they sat together in the backseat of the SUV and shared the photos they’d shot of each other and together that day.

One of their favorites is a photo of the pair standing in front of New York State’s Supreme Court building.

The words inscribed above the building’s entrance, now just above their smiling faces in the photo, reads “The True Administration of Justice Is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Family of police shooting victim says Buttigieg should suspend officer without pay

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Scott Olson/Getty Images(SOUTH BEND, Ind.) — The family of a black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in South Bend, Indiana, said they delivered a petition on Tuesday to the city’s mayor, 2020 Democrat Pete Buttigieg, asking him to recommend that the officer’s pay be revoked.

Eric Logan, a 54-year-old father of seven, was leaning inside a vehicle when South Bend Sergeant Ryan O’Neill approached him and asked if the vehicle belonged to him, authorities said. The officer, a 19-year veteran of the South Bend Police Department, said Logan came toward him with a knife and refused to drop it before he fired shots.

“It’s unfair to the Logan family, it’s unfair to the taxpayers of South Bend, Indiana, and his friends as well that this officer is receiving his pay from taking a life from this community,” Vernado Malone, Logan’s friend and founder of Justice for South Bend, said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The shooting drew national attention to South Bend — home of the University of Notre Dame — last week when Buttigieg skipped a handful of scheduled campaign stops to meet with angry community members in his hometown. The police department suspended O’Neill with pay in the wake of the June 16 shooting, but Logan’s family said the mayor has the power to override that decision.

Logan’s family has also filed a lawsuit against the officer and the city, seeking undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages.

“We are asking the mayor and he has a duty to make a recommendation that Sergeant O’Neill be placed on leave, pending investigation, without pay,” Malone said. “The mayor has said he’s with the Logan family, and he wants change in this community. This here is the time, mayor.”

Buttigieg does not have the direct authority the power to unilaterally make such a decision, according to his office, but Malone said the family wants the mayor to at least make the recommendation on their behalf.

“This is the time, Mayor Pete, to step up and make your own demands and changes,” he said. “You don’t need a police board or anybody else. We are asking you, as our mayor, to obey this demand that we will be giving you today.”

Buttigieg addressed calls for him to intervene in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, saying the decision would have to come from the public review board.

“It’s a board of safety. It’s five civilians appointed by the mayor, who meet and receive evidence and in a transparent and accountable process, decide on matters like this,” he said. “I know that some people imagine that a mayor sits up there in the office and decides who’s in trouble, who’s fired, who goes up and who goes down.”

“But we have a legal system here and it’s constraining and it’s frustrating,” he added.

A judge has appointed a special prosecutor to further investigate the deadly shooting to decide if criminal charges are warranted. The local Fraternal Order of Police claims Buttigieg is prejudging O’Neill for political gain and called for him to recuse himself from any decision making.

“Mayor Buttigieg has repeatedly shown that he’s more concerned about boosting his own presidential political campaign than ensuring a fair investigation about an incident where a veteran police officer was forced to defend himself when a dangerous felon attacked him with an eight-inch hunting knife,” Harvey Mills, president of the South Bend Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement.

“If he wants to honor the oath he took, Mayor Buttigieg will recuse himself from this matter by taking no part in any decisions, conversations, or other aspects of it.”

A crowd-funding campaign, created by the organization, had raised nearly $80,000 as of Tuesday evening to support O’Neill’s legal defense.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Serena Williams says therapy helped her get past US Open controversy

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Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images(NEW YORK) —  Serena Williams is opening up about her 2018 US Open final’s loss to Naomi Osaka and what she learned from the emotional moment.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion was defeated by Osaka 6-2, 6-4, but famously argued with an umpire over a warning for coaching during the final.

She was fined $17,000 for code violations for the coaching warning, breaking her racket and alleged “verbal abuse” against the umpire.

In a first-person essay for Harper’s BAZAAR, Williams reflected on what she learned from standing up to the umpire, how she coped with the backlash she received and what messages she wants to pass on to her daughter.

“In the end, my opponent simply played better than me that day and ended up winning her first Grand Slam title,” she wrote on Osaka. “I could not have been happier for her.”

“As for me, I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love — one that I had dedicated my life to and that my family truly changed, not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning,” she continued.

She described some of her thoughts post-final and how she struggled with understanding what occurred.

“Why can’t I express my frustrations like everyone else? If I were a man, would I be in this situation? What makes me so different? Is it because I’m a woman?” she recalled thinking at the time.

“I was hurt — cut deeply,” she continued. “I tried to compare it to other setbacks I’d had in my life and career, and for some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was about so much more than just me.”

Williams said that she felt that she’d experienced gender discrimination and the ramifications for men speaking out against what they perceive are bad calls are different.

“So often, in situations similar to mine, when men fight back against the referees, they’re met with a smile or even a laugh from the umpire, as if they’re sharing an inside joke,” she wrote. “I’m not asking to avoid being penalized. I am asking to be treated the same way as everyone else.”

“Sadly, that’s simply not the world we currently live in,” she added.

In order to get past what occurred and process the situation, Williams sought out therapy and shared that she realized she wanted to apologize to Osaka.

She wrote that she sent the following message to Osaka:

“Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court, I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”

Williams’s belief that she did the right thing in speaking up for herself against the umpire was reaffirmed with Osaka’s response. “No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing,” Williams said the young woman wrote back to her.

She described that the fight she had with the umpire during the final, “exemplified how thousands of women in every area of the workforce are treated every day.”

“We are not allowed to have emotions, we are not allowed to be passionate,” she continued. “We are told to sit down and be quiet, which frankly is just not something I’m okay with. It’s shameful that our society penalizes women just for being themselves.”

Williams also promised she will never “stop raising my voice against injustice.”

The tennis legend finished her passionate letter by describing what she’s had to overcome throughout her career and what motivates her to keep pushing forward.

“As a teenager, I was booed by an entire stadium … I’ve been called every name in the book. I’ve been shamed because of my body shape,” she wrote. “I’ve been paid unequally because of my sex. I’ve been penalized a game in the final of a major because I expressed my opinion or grunted too loudly. I’ve been blatantly cheated against to the point where the Hawk-Eye rules were introduced so that something like that would not happen again. And these are only the things that are seen by the public.”

“In short, it’s never been easy,” she added. “But then I think of the next girl who is going to come along who looks like me, and I hope, ‘Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her.'”

Read Serena Williams essay in full at Harper’s BAZAAR.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Aziz Ansari says sexual misconduct allegation made him "scared," "humiliated," "embarrassed"

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Jon Kopaloff/WireImage(LOS ANGELES) — For the first time since Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct last year, the comedian has addressed the ordeal in depth.

Ansari kicked off his Netflix stand-up special, Aziz Ansari: Right Now, by delving into the allegation, noting that “it’s important to me that you know how I feel about that whole thing before we share this night together.”

The comedian said that above all, he hopes the experiences of the last year have made him “a better person.”

“There’s times I’ve felt scared. There’s times I’ve felt humiliated. There’s times I’ve felt embarrassed,” he said. And ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way,” he said. “And after a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward.”

Last January, a since-shuttered website, Babe.net, published the account of a woman who claimed that while on a date with Ansari, the comedian pressured her to have sexual intercourse after she declined. Ansari released a statement at the time, in which he said that during the date, “everything did seem OK to me,” and learning of her feelings after the fact made him “surprised and concerned.” He said he responded to her privately.

In his special, the 36-year-old actor said that the experience changed him for good. Now, he said, in addition to being more thoughtful, he’s more thankful for his career and his fans.

“…It means the world to me, ‘cause I saw the world where I don’t ever get to do this again, and it almost felt like I’d died. In a way, I did,” he continued. “That old Aziz who said, ‘Oh, treat yo’ self,’ whatever, he’s dead.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Chris Young's alma mater re-names its entertainment venue in his honor

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ABC/Image Group LA The newly-renovated live entertainment venue on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University will now be known as the Chris Young Café.

Chris attended the school on the outskirts of Nashville in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 2005. Since then, he’s funded a scholarship and donated some of his touring equipment to the university.

The “Raised on Country” hitmaker gave $50,000 toward refurbishing the building.

“MTSU will always hold a special place in my heart,” Chris reflects. “It helped me launch my music career and I’m glad for the opportunity to give back to the university.”

The Chris Young Café is located in MTSU’s dining building, and will be used for teaching and practice during the day. At night, it’ll become a performance venue.

Thursday night, Chris continues his Raised on Country Tour at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in St. Louis, Missouri.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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