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Weinstein's 1st defense witness attacks 'Sopranos' actress, surprised by texts

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JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The defense’s first witness in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial took the stand late on Thursday to challenge actress Annabella Sciorra’s account of being raped by the disgraced producer and stumbled through a cross-examination when a series of texts he sent to Weinstein were read aloud in court to the witness’ surprise.

Producer Paul Feldsher took the stand and testified that he was friends with both Weinstein and Sciorra, and said that during “an extremely long walk” in New York City in the early 1990s, “I remember Annabella saying to me that she’d done this crazy thing with Harvey.”

Feldsher said under direct examination that there was no reason to believe the incident was forced or violent.

“There was no component of what she said that was shocking or alarming. I don’t recall it being stressful. I think I would have been a horrible friend … I don’t remember having any more conversation with her about it,” he said.

Asked by a defense attorney what his understanding “of what this crazy thing was,” Feldsher testified that “my understanding was that she fooled around with him.”

But on cross-examination, a series of texts from Feldsher to Weinstein read aloud by prosecutor Joan Illuzzi undermined his credibility.

“Your appetites and ambitions for the things you wanted — a script, a movie and, yes, a girl — were, to put it mildly, voracious,” Feldsher wrote to Weinstein after dozens of sexual misconduct allegations in the fall of 2017 turned Weinstein into a national pariah.

At another point, Feldsher acknowledged texting Weinstein that “Annabella is an a——” and, “I think the dogpile of women who are suddenly recalling repressed memories is hideous.”

At one point the exasperated witness blurted out, “Listen, I’m learning a lot now and I had no idea that my text messages would end up in a courtroom.”

He also admitted texting Weinstein to say in reference to Sciorra, “Well the rape version got her an agent at CAA, so there’s that,” and, conversely, that “if a lot of these girls had been my daughter I would have wanted to beat the shit out of you.”

Feldsher stumbled through some of his explanations to Illuzzi.

“I was trying, obviously, my daughter’s 13 so the thought of anyone in that context I found abhorrent at this point. I guess I was trying to put into context … I was also trying to be a friend,” he said.

Illuzzi asked Feldsher if it was true that “in the middle of telling Harvey Weinstein she’s a liar and an a——,” he texted Sciorra herself.

Feldsher appeared to acknowledge that he did.

It was not immediately clear from the testimony exactly when Feldsher sent the texts to Weinstein and Sciorra, but their content indicated they were sent after Sciorra’s allegations against Weinstein first surfaced in the fall of 2017.

He was asked what he meant when he texted Sciorra, “Bella, Meryl Poster [former president of television at The Weinstein Co.] asked me for your number I should have asked you before I gave it to her. … I’m sorry for a lot of things. Current events are way too much for text but obviously acknowledgment goes to that awfulness.”

Feldsher denied the “awfulness” he was referring to was Sciorra’s newly surfaced allegation of being raped by Weinstein.

“The awfulness I’m talking about was Annabella was a 58-year-old woman unemployed with twins she couldn’t support. I was talking about the circumstances of her life that put her in position where I felt she was making untrue allegations.”

Feldsher acknowledged he didn’t mean some of the things he said.

“Is it correct to say that you were saying things that you thought Harvey Weinstein wanted to hear?” Illuzzi demanded.

“Um, yes,” he replied.

“And that’s what you’re doing today, aren’t you sir?” Illuzzi thundered, marching across the courtroom toward the witness stand. “Aren’t you saying things in this court that Harvey Weinstein wants to hear?”

“Categorically, no!” he shot back.

Asked to explain his “dogpile” comment, he insisted, “I meant a plethora not [the] animal.”

At one point, Feldsher tried to explain that he wrote what he did to Weinstein out of pity.

“This was somebody I knew who was in trouble,” Feldsher said. “I was talking to him partially because nobody else was. I felt badly that he was completely abandoned. I felt badly that it was difficult for him to be the recipient of due process.”

Asked when he last met with defense attorneys, Feldsher said he met with them two days ago. Feldsher completed his testimony as court ended for the day.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Alleged El Paso mass shooting suspect hit with federal hate-crime charges

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Marilyn Nieves/iStock(EL PASO, Texas) — Already facing capital murder charges, the alleged gunman who killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in August 2019 was hit with federal hate crimes on Thursday, according to a source familiar with the case.

Patrick Crusius, 21, pleaded not guilty in October to capital murder charges after being indicted by an El Paso County grand jury in September.

Crusius was indicted by prosecutors on 90 federal charges, including 22 counts of committing a hate crime resulting in death, 22 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder, 23 counts of a hate crime involving an attempt to kill and 23 counts of use of a firearm during a crime.

He is accused of being the sole gunman to carry out the Aug. 3 killing rampage that federal authorities investigated as an act of “domestic terrorism,” meaning the suspect was allegedly intent on “coercing and intimidating a civilian population,” officials said.

Crusius allegedly told investigators following his arrest that he set out to kill as many Mexicans as he could after driving from his home in Allen, Texas, about 650 miles east of El Paso, officials said.

During the investigation of the massacre, investigators discovered a screed allegedly written by Crusius and posted on the dark website 8chan, in which his discussed his hate for immigrants and Mexicans, authorities said.

Law enforcement officials told ABC News that Crusius cased the Walmart, going inside without any weapons, apparently to size up the clientele inside the store, which is about 5 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

After seeing the 1,000 to 3,000 people that police estimate were inside at the time, Crusius exited the store and allegedly armed himself, officials said. He returned wearing protective ear muffs, safety glasses and wielding a high-powered assault-style rifle, according to video surveillance of him inside the store.

Police officials said Crucius allegedly started firing indiscriminately at victims, many of whom were doing back-to-school shopping, before he even walked through the front door.

The victims killed ranged in age from 15 to 90. More than two dozen people were injured in the rampage.

Eight of the 22 people killed were Mexican nationals and nine additional Mexicans were among those wounded, officials said.

Weeks before the shooting, Crusius’ mother contacted police to express concern over her son owning an assault rifle due to his age, maturity level and lack of experience, the family’s attorneys, Chris Ayres and R. Jack Ayres, told ABC News in August.

A day after the El Paso mass shooting, another gunman killed nine people, including his sister, and injured 27 in Dayton, Ohio. Officials said the gunman, 24-year-old Connor Stephen Betts, allegedly carried out the massacre with a .223-caliber rifle that he legally purchased.

Betts was wearing a ballistic vest, a mask and protective ear muffs when he allegedly opened fire on people lined up outside bars in Dayton’s bustling Oregon District, police said. Betts was shot to death by police officers who were nearby when the shooting broke out.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Colorado district attorney 'incredibly frustrated' he's unable to prosecute cop found drunk in patrol car

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BlakeDavidTaylor/iStock(AURORA, Colo.) — A Colorado district attorney expressed frustration Thursday at not being able to prosecute an Aurora police officer who was found passed out drunk in his car last year, calling the department’s failure to launch a DUI investigation a double standard meant to protect one of its own.

Officer Nathan Meier was found unresponsive in his city-owned police car parked in the middle of an Aurora street on March 29, 2019. Meier was armed and in uniform. Officers, including Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe who was the first police official on the scene, reported smelling a faint smell of alcohol on Meier and in his vehicle.

“He’s a little intoxicated,” one lieutenant tells another in a conversation captured on body-worn camera footage.

Despite the apparent signs that the officer was intoxicated, District Attorney George Brauchler says O’Keefe later told internal affairs investigators that he felt he didn’t have enough evidence for a DUI investigation and that he “erred on the side of protecting [Meier].”

“I am incredibly frustrated,” Brauchler said. “Bottom line is if one of us had been in that car, and not officer Nathan Meier, do I think it would it have been treated differently? I do.”

Brauchler stopped short of calling the incident a cover-up, saying it appears to be an anomaly and praising the Aurora police department overall.

“I think this became an ‘ignorance is bliss’ moment,” Brauchler said. “I don’t think it’s a cover-up, but it’s a couple blocks from it.”

The Aurora Police Department has not yet offered a formal response, but told ABC News that Meier remains employed in a “non-enforcement capacity”.

Brauchler said none of the eight Aurora police officers on scene told firefighters or EMS personnel that they had smelled alcohol. As a result, paramedics suspected Meier might have been experiencing a stroke or suffering from opioid exposure. A DUI specialist dispatched to the hospital where Meier was taken was told to stand down, Brauchler added.

Brauchler said “there was no attempt, ever, to seek Meier’s” blood or begin a DUI investigation by Aurora police.

Medical staff at the hospital he was taken to had drawn Meier’s blood and results indicated his blood-alcohol level was five times over the legal limit. However, Brauchler said he couldn’t use the hospital’s test results to prosecute Meier for a DUI because of medical privacy and a law that prevents information compelled as part of an internal affairs report from being used by prosecutors.

Brauchler said that if Aurora police had handled the investigation properly, Meier could have faced several charges, including driving under the influence and being intoxicated while carrying a firearm.

“I do not believe I had a reasonable probability of success at trial on these charges,” Brauchler said.

O’Keefe, who at one time was supposed to serve as interim chief of the department, instead announced he will retire in March.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Holiday honoring Confederate generals swapped for Election Day in Virginia

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bauhaus1000/iStock(RICHMOND) — Virginia is trying to move on from its Confederate past, voting Thursday to eliminate a state holiday honoring Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

The Virginia House of Delegates, which gained a Democratic majority this year after more than 20 years under GOP control, voted 55 to 42 in favor of the change. The Virginia Senate approved a similar bill, 22 to 18, last month, and Gov. Ralph Northam said he supports the measure.

The bill will swap Lee-Jackson Day for Election Day as a state holiday.

Lee-Jackson Day, which was celebrated on the Friday before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was created in 1899 to honor Lee. Jackson was added to the celebrations five years later.

“Making election day a holiday serves a much more honorable purpose in this day and age than celebrating the ghosts of Virginia’s Confederate past,” Del. Joe Lindsey, a Democrat and the House bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.

Election Day was a state holiday in Virginia until 1989 when the Virginia General Assembly had it removed.

Lee was commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War until its surrender in 1865. Jackson was another top commander in the Confederacy until his death by friendly fire in 1863.

Over the last few years, several Virginia cities, including Charlottesville and Richmond, stopped recognizing Lee-Jackson Day as part of the ongoing debate over honoring the Confederacy.

The Virginia legislature has several bills in this year’s session that aim to make it easier to vote in the state, including one that would eliminate its 8-year-old voter ID law. The state Senate passed its version of the bill Tuesday.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Cleveland Cavaliers trade for center Andre Drummond

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Patrick Smith/Getty Images(CLEVELAND) — The Cleveland Cavaliers are finalizing a deal with the Detroit Pistons for Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder. The Cavaliers are sending the Pistons center John Henson, guard Brandon Knight, and a second-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Drummond remains under contract through next season, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent.

The move comes as a surprise, given that the Cavs currently sport a 13-39 record and sit in last place in the Eastern Conference.

Drummond was also taken aback by the move. The center took to Twitter, voicing his displeasure with the way the trade was handled.

“If there’s one thing I learned about the NBA, there’s no friends or loyalty,” Drummond wrote. “I’ve given my heart and soul to the Pistons, and to have this happen with no heads up makes me realize even more that this is just a business!”

 

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Drummond has played for Detroit since he was 19 years old. He helped lead the Pistons to two playoff appearances during that time, although the Pistons were swept both times.

Drummond, a two time All Star, is averaging a career-high with 17.8 points per game and leads the league with his 15.8 rebounds per game.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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