Loading articles...

AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST

Case against Jussie Smollett resembles detailed movie script

CHICAGO (AP) — As authorities laid out their case against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, the narrative that emerged Thursday sounded like that of a filmmaker who wrote, cast, directed and starred in a short movie.

Prosecutors said Smollett gave detailed instructions to the accomplices who helped him stage a racist, anti-gay attack on himself, including telling them specific slurs to yell, urging them to shout “MAGA country” and even pointing out a surveillance camera that he thought would record the beating.

“I believe Mr. Smollett wanted it on camera,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters. “But unfortunately that particular camera wasn’t pointed in that direction.”

Police said Smollett planned the hoax because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to promote his career. Before the attack, he also sent a letter that threatened him to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot, police said.

Smollett, who is black and gay, turned himself in on charges that he filed a false police report last month when he said he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two masked men who hurled derogatory remarks and looped a rope around his neck.

___

New election ordered in disputed North Carolina House race

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s elections board Thursday ordered a new election in the nation’s last undecided congressional race after the Republican candidate conceded his lead was tainted by evidence of ballot-tampering by political operatives working for him.

The State Board of Elections voted 5-0 in favour of a do-over in the mostly rural 9th Congressional District but did not immediately set a date.

In moving to order a new election, board chairman Bob Cordle cited “the corruption, the absolute mess with the absentee ballots.”

The board action came after GOP candidate Mark Harris, in a surprising turn, dropped his bid to be declared the winner and instead called for a new election. He reversed course on the fourth day of a board hearing at which investigators and witnesses detailed evidence of ballot fraud by operatives on his payroll.

“Through the testimony I’ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”

___

Trump ally Stone gets gag order after ‘crosshairs’ post

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge issued a broad gag order forbidding Roger Stone to discuss his criminal case with anyone and gave him a stinging reprimand Thursday over the longtime Trump confidant’s posting of a photo of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.

She promised to throw him behind bars if he violates the court order in any way.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that it would be “foolhardy” for her not to take any action over the Instagram post and that Stone would “pose a danger” to others in the case if the conditions of his release weren’t modified to include a gag order.

“Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols and there’s nothing ambiguous about crosshairs,” the judge said. “How hard was it to come up with a photo that didn’t have a crosshairs in the corner?” she quipped at one point.

Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges he lied to Congress, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible co-ordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The charges stem from conversations he had during the campaign about WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that released material stolen from Democratic groups, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

___

Claims in El Chapo case highlight perils of ‘Googling juror’

NEW YORK (AP) — Claims of jury misconduct in the trial of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman have drawn new attention to the digital-age challenge courts face in preventing jurors from scouring media accounts or conducting their own research before rendering a verdict. It’s a phenomenon that has been called the “Googling juror.”

“Everyone has the world at their fingertips,” said Guzman defence attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. “Twenty years ago, you didn’t have to worry about that.”

Lichtman told The Associated Press on Thursday that there are now serious questions surrounding Guzman’s conviction this month on drug-smuggling and conspiracy charges, and that he plans to ask U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to bring in all 12 jurors and six alternates to question them about reports several flouted admonitions to avoid media accounts of the case.

One juror anonymously told VICE News this week that at least five members of the panel followed media reports and Twitter feeds during the three-month-long trial and were aware of explosive — and potentially prejudicial — material that had been excluded from the proceedings.

“It’s clear we have to get them back into court and get some answers about some massive misconduct,” Lichtman said.

___

Israel flying to moon after SpaceX launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — An Israeli spacecraft rocketed toward the moon for the country’s first attempted lunar landing, following a launch Thursday night by SpaceX.

A communications satellite for Indonesia was the main cargo aboard the Falcon 9 rocket, which illuminated the sky as it took flight. But Israel’s privately funded lunar lander — a first not just for Israel but commercial space — generated the buzz.

Israel seeks to become only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, after Russia, the U.S. and China. The spacecraft — called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis or “In The Beginning” — will take nearly two months to reach the moon.

“We thought it’s about time for a change, and we want to get little Israel all the way to the moon,” said Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of Israel’s SpaceIL , a non-profit organization behind the effort.

The moon, nearly full and glowing brightly, beckoned as it rose in the eastern sky. Within an hour after liftoff, Beresheet was already sending back data and had successfully deployed its landing legs, according to SpaceIL.

___

Brigade of volunteers vow to bring aid to Venezuela’s needy

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — As President Nicolas Maduro deploys missiles and infantrymen to Venezuela’s borders bracing for what he claims is U.S. coup plot disguised as humanitarian aid, his opponents are rallying their own troops. Nurses, doctors, engineers and homemakers have volunteered by the thousands to distribute the food and medicine in the face of a government ban.

The citizen brigade is one of the most ambitious undertakings Venezuela’s opposition has attempted. The plan — to bring tons of food and medicine into the country for sick and malnourished Venezuelans — is in open defiance of Maduro, who considers it a foreign military intervention.

The volunteers anticipate running into roadblocks by soldiers who remain loyal to Maduro. They know that their chances of breaking through are slim, but they’re undaunted.

“There’s a lot of concern about how it’s going to come into the country,” said Dr. Danny Golindano, speaking to a group of volunteers through a crackly microphone at a Caracas plaza. “As health providers, it’s our duty.”

The opposition plans to mobilize on Saturday. Leaders say they will make a first attempt to bring the emergency food and medicine across the border from Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean island of Curacao, all of which have been blocked by the government. Air and sea travel were halted from Curacao this week and the border with Brazil was ordered closed indefinitely on Thursday. Earlier this month, Venezuelan troops barricaded the main bridge linking the country to the Colombian border city of Cucuta, where U.S. aid is stored.

___

Threat allegations keep Coast Guard officer jailed

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A Coast Guard officer suspected of drawing up a hit list of top Democrats and network TV journalists spent hours on his work computer researching the words and deeds of infamous bombers and mass shooters while also stockpiling weapons, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, was ordered held without bail on drug and gun charges while prosecutors gather evidence to support more serious charges involving what they portrayed as a domestic terror plot by a man who espoused white-supremacist views.

Hasson, a former Marine who worked at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency, was arrested last week. Investigators gave no immediate details on how or when he came to their attention.

Federal agents found 15 guns, including several rifles, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition inside his basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In court papers this week, federal prosecutors said he compiled what appeared to be a computer-spreadsheet hit list that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Also mentioned were such figures as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Van Jones.

___

Searing testimony heard at Vatican sex abuse summit

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The day began with an African woman telling an extraordinary gathering of Catholic leaders that her priestly rapist forced her to have three abortions over a dozen years after he started violating her at age 15. It ended with a Colombian cardinal warning them they could all face prison if they let such crimes go unpunished.

In between, Pope Francis began charting a new course for the Catholic Church to confront clergy sexual abuse and coverup, a scandal that has consumed his papacy and threatens the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy at large.

Opening a first-ever Vatican summit on preventing abuse, Francis warned 190 bishops and religious superiors on Thursday that their flocks were demanding concrete action, not just words, to punish predator priests and keep children safe. He offered them 21 proposals to consider going forward, some of them obvious and easy to adopt, others requiring new laws.

But his main point in summoning the Catholic hierarchy to the Vatican for a four-day tutorial was to impress upon them that clergy sex abuse is not confined to the United States or Ireland, but is a global scourge that requires a concerted, global response.

“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” Francis told the gathering. “The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”

___

Zion’s freak injury ripples in basketball, business worlds

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Soon after Zion Williamson’s shoe ripped apart, Nike’s stock price took a hit.

The freak injury during one of the college basketball season’s marquee games immediately sparked debates about everything from the shoe manufacturer to insurance issues and whether the likely NBA lottery pick should risk his professional future by continuing to play for the top-ranked-for-now Blue Devils.

Williamson is day to day with a mild right knee sprain and is progressing as expected, team spokesman Mike DeGeorge said Thursday night.

By Thursday morning, Nike, which manufactured the shoes Williamson was wearing, also was feeling the impact of the injury.

The company’s stock closed down 89 cents at $83.95 on Thursday as the sportswear manufacturer became the target of ridicule on social media. A spokesman said Nike has begun an investigation into what it called an “isolated” event.

___

Oscars producers say the show is in ‘good shape’ for Sunday

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Academy Awards producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss have been hearing the same question a lot recently: Are you OK?

It’s an understandable query. Producing the Oscars is guaranteed to be a stressful job, but the road to the 91st Academy Awards, which will take place on Sunday, has been unusually bumpy, and public.

“We’re good! We’re good!” Gigliotti said while laughing Thursday afternoon. “Did we look like cadavers yesterday?”

Both have been working out of the Dolby Theatre, where hundreds of people are making sure everything is ready by Sunday night when the show airs live in more than 225 countries and territories.

But beyond the physical preparation, in the months leading up to the renowned show they and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been under immense scrutiny from the public and even peers for basically everything : The choice of a host, the choice to go host-less, the plan for which songs would be included in the broadcast and which awards categories would be aired live.

The Associated Press