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Judge to finally unseal documents in murder of former state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith

No Comments National News

dlewis33/iStockBY: KATE HOLLAND AND JOSH MARGOLIN,  ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — After a year of secrecy and mystery, the public is about to start seeing records connected with the investigation into the killing of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith.

During a lengthy pretrial hearing Friday in Pocahontas, Arkansas, Judge John Fogleman said in the coming days he would be unsealing at least 51 documents filed by investigators and prosecutors under one of the strictest gag orders ever seen by legal observers in Arkansas history. Fogleman did not say when he would be releasing the documents or how many pages.

“People need to be able to see what’s going on,” Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell, who’s running the homicide investigation, said in an interview after court.

The judge’s order followed a decision earlier this year to modify the gag order in the case and restrict how much the authorities could do without the public and the media having access. His decision came after ABC News and the Arkansas Press Association sued for access to the records.

Fogleman took over the case late last year after three prior judges withdrew because of potential conflicts of interest.

Collins-Smith, 57, disappeared in May 2019 and her bloody body was found on June 4. Within days, authorities arrested Rebecca O’Donnell, 49, a longtime employee and friend of Collins-Smith, and charged her with murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against O’Donnell, who helped manage Collins-Smith’s personal finances and motel business.

O’Donnell has pleaded not guilty. She and her family have maintained she could not have killed a woman with whom she was so close for so long.

In a separate case, O’Donnell has also been charged with trying to hire fellow jail inmates to kill Collins-Smith’s ex-husband and the prosecutor and judge who used to be assigned to the murder case. O’Donnell has pleaded not guilty in that case, as well.

O’Donnell has been held without bail since her arrest last June. She sat through Friday’s court hearing without speaking and did not say anything to reporters outside the courtroom. O’Donnell wore a striped prison uniform, full body chains and a medical mask because of coronavirus concerns.

The court session had been postponed since last month because of the ongoing pandemic.

O’Donnell is due to stand trial on the murder charges in October.

The hearing was called to deal with a series of procedural and legal questions that need to be resolved prior to jury selection. There was no discussion of the prosecution’s theory of the case or what evidence authorities plan to use at trial. Those details remain shrouded in mystery.

As the hearing progressed, the defense made repeated efforts to invalidate the capital charge and have the death penalty removed from consideration. Fogleman wasted little time in ruling against O’Donnell’s team.

Other motions also dealt with procedural issues like jury instructions, O’Donnell’s access to her lawyers and courtroom etiquette for observers.

“I always try to run a tight courtroom,” Fogleman said. “I’m not in the business of wasting more time than is necessary.”

The lawyers also discussed a defense motion to “bar improper prosecutorial argument.” The new prosecutor on the case, Robert Dittrich, responded quickly: “I can assure you from the bottom of my heart, I do not intend to mess this up.”

Dittrich replaced Henry Boyce, who recused himself amid the controversy over the extreme secrecy that surrounded the case.

Court officials observed social distancing practices because of the pandemic and, during the hearing, people only took down their masks when addressing the court. Officials checked temperatures as visitors entered the courthouse.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 6 and 7.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Man threatens to burn Baptist church after minister attends George Floyd vigil, feds claim

No Comments National News

DanHenson1/iStockBY: EMILY SHAPIRO AND ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC NEWS

(VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.) — A man allegedly threatened to set fire to a predominantly African American church after one of its ministers took part in a prayer vigil for George Floyd, federal authorities said.

John Bareswill allegedly called the Baptist church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on June 7 and “stated words to the effect of ‘you [racial slur] need to shut up,'” and threatened to set the church on fire, according to an affidavit.

The call was put on speakerphone and several children overheard it, federal prosecutors said.

Days before the call, a leader of that church joined other ministers in a peaceful demonstration to honor George Floyd in the Mount Trashmore area of Virginia Beach, federal prosecutors said.

Once the threatening phone call was reported, police obtained records and determined it came from a number associated with Bareswill, the affidavit said.

Bareswill lives in North Carolina but works in Virginia Beach, federal prosecutors said.

On June 9, investigators say Bareswill consented to an interview. Bareswill confirmed his phone number but denied calling a church on June 7, and he said he was asleep at the time of the call, the affidavit said.

Bareswill gave the investigators written consent to search his phone, on which authorities found internet searches for: “Who said all whites are racist,” “Black Lives Matter protest held in Virginia” and “Who organized the protests from mount trashmore to town center,” the affidavit said.

“The review of the phone revealed that its user recently had searched for information about at least three predominantly African American religious institutions in the area, including the church that received the threatening telephone call,” the affidavit said.

Records obtained from Bareswill’s phone showed an outgoing call on June 7 to the church, the affidavit said. The records also showed “*67′” was dialed at the start of the call, a prefix code which blocks the caller’s number from being identified by the receiver.

Bareswill, 63, is charged with with making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building, prosecutors said.

Bareswill was set to make an initial appearance court appearance Friday afternoon. He has not entered a plea.

It is not clear if he has an attorney.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Dave Chappelle reflects on George Floyd in new special, "8:46"

No Comments Entertainment News

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Imagine LA(YELLOW SPRINGS, OH) — Dave Chappelle surprised fans Friday with a blistering stand-up set reflecting on police brutality and the death of George Floyd.

In a video shared to Chappelle’s Instagram page and Netflix’s YouTube account, the comedian got emotional as he discussed watching the video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

“What are you signifying that you can kneel on a man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and feel like you wouldn’t get the wrath of God?” Chappelle asked. “That’s what is happening right now. It’s not for a single cop, it’s for all of it. F****** all of it. I don’t mean to get heavy, but we gotta say something.”

Chappelle, who hadn’t performed in nearly three months, titled his set “8:46,” a reminder of how long Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck. For the comedian, the number holds a special significance.

“I can’t get that number out of my head because it was the time of my birth on my birth certificate,” he said. “I was born at 8:46 in the morning and they killed this [man] in 8 minutes, 46 seconds.”

Throughout the wide-ranging June 6 performance, which Chappelle delivered outdoors in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to an audience who’d submitted to temperature checks and observed physical distancing guidelines, he reflected on the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown and Philando Castile, and slammed conservative pundits Laura Ingraham, Candace Owens and the National Rifle Association.

The issues the nation is addressing, he added, are nothing new.

“These streets will speak for themselves whether I am alive or dead,” he closed. “I trust you guys. I love you guys.”

By Lesley Messer
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Is your movie "mask worthy"? Execs cautiously plot a return to theaters post-COVID-19 shutdowns

No Comments Entertainment News

Robert Pattinson and John David Washington in “Tenet” – Melinda Sue Gordon/©2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.(LOS ANGELES) — This summer movie season was supposed to begin May 1, with the release of Marvel Studios’ Black Widow film.  But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of theaters worldwide, that and other would-be event pictures were postponed, or released early via streaming.

But as pandemic numbers stabilize in some states and businesses begin to open, Hollywood executives are still holding out hope for July, and that moviegoers will return to their local theater. 

As an example, the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s thriller Tenet even defiantly tagged the coming attraction with the words “IN THEATERS” to its advertised release date of July 17.

“I call it ‘mask-worthy movies’,” one studio marketing exec tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Are people willing to put a mask on to see your movie?”

There is some data to back up that cooped-up movie fans may be ready to risk it.

THR notes that participants in a survey from the National Research Group said 35% would go to a movie today if they could, if the theaters would take precautions like more cleaning and staggered seating. 

The trade reports that the National Association of Theatre Owners is looking to take out star-studded ads touting such safety enhancements, in an effort to get people back to the movies.

The trade cautions studios now not only have to sell audiences on their film, “but the idea of moviegoing itself.”

Russell Schwartz, an ex-marketing exec at Relativity and New Line Cinema-turned college instructor, agrees.

“Movies are still escapist, and people want to get away more than ever,” says Schwartz.  “But now the marketing effort will be 20 seconds to sell the movie and 10 seconds to sell the audience on the idea of even going to the theater.”

By Stephen Iervolino
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tanya Tucker launches warehouse sale of music memorabilia to help those affected by COVID-19

No Comments Country Music News

ABC/Image Group LAThe COVID-19 pandemic has taken a hefty economic toll nationwide, and Tanya Tucker is helping affected workers in Nashville’s country music industry get back on their feet.

This week, the “Delta Dawn” star is helming a warehouse sale to help raise funds for those who’ve lost income during the pandemic. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Music Health Alliance and the Academy of Country Music’s Lifting Lives.

The items on offer at Tanya’s warehouse sale? Various pieces of country music memorabilia — as the singer tells the Tennesseean, “13,000 square feet of memories.”

Stage outfits, furniture, home decor, toys and more are among the items advertised at the sale, which began on Wednesday and runs through Saturday in Columbia, Tennessee. Tanya explains that for her, the event is a win-win: Not only does it help her offload some of the extra items that she’s amassed over the course of her career, but she also gets to help those who need the money most.

“We’re all struggling right now,” she explains. “Some more than others. I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t I just do this thing and contribute?’ Because I know so many people are having a hard time…It’s the perfect scenario to do it, to unload some of these things that are just weighing me down.”

Tanya has some extra time on her hands this summer.  She’s had to postpone her CMT Next Women of Country: Bring My Flowers Now headlining tour due to the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean she’s taking a break from music. On June 30, she’s scheduled to open the 2020 Concert for Love and Acceptance.  The annual event, which promotes acceptance of LGBTQ people, typically takes place in downtown Nashville but it’s going virtual this year.

By Carena Liptak
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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