MACON, Ga. (AP) — A Macon woman whose three young children died in a house fire while she was away visiting a boyfriend has pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children.
The Telegraph reports a judge Monday sentenced Colethia Williams to six years in prison followed by 40 years on probation after she pleaded guilty in Bibb County Superior Court.
Firefighters found Williams' four children huddled together after their home caught fire in February 2013. Three of the children — ages 10, 9 and 7 — died from smoke inhalation. The youngest child, age 3, was the only survivor.
Williams later told police she was at her boyfriend's house when the fire started. She had been charged with murder, but prosecutors allowed her to plead guilty to lesser charges.
NEW YORK (AP) — In his most extensive comments about the 2012 Connecticut school massacre, the father of gunman Adam Lanza describes his struggle to comprehend what his son did — an act that "couldn't get any more evil" — and how he now wishes that his son had never been born.
ATLANTA – Legislation allowing Savannah bars to sell alcohol on Sunday afternoons that fall in a St. Patrick’s Day weekend is awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature after the House passed it 147-7 this morning.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A military judge was considering Monday whether a top lawyer at the Pentagon unlawfully interfered in the case against a brigadier general charged with sexual assault, threatening the high-profile court martial.
The latest twist in the case comes at a time when the Pentagon and Congress are grappling with the problem of sexual assaults within the military ranks.
After lawyers for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair presented the new evidence Monday morning, military judge Col. James Pohl dismissed the jury for the rest of the day. Pohl then heard arguments and testimony about whether he should dismiss some or all of the remaining charges against Sinclair.
At issue is an email chain from December between the prosecution team at Fort Bragg and a top Pentagon lawyer regarding a potential plea deal that was ultimately rejected. It is unlawful in the military justice system for senior commanders outside the chain of command to interfere in prosecutorial decisions.
A female captain with whom the married general admits having a three-year affair says he twice force her to perform oral sex while they were stationed in Afghanistan in 2011. Sinclair is believed to be the highest ranking U.S. military officer to ever face trial for sexual assault.
In a December 16 email, the deputy staff advocate at Fort Bragg, Lt. Col. James Bagwell, corresponded with Brig. Gen. Paul Wilson, the assistant judge advocate general for military and operational law based in Washington.
At the time, Bagwell was advising Fort Bragg's top commander on whether to accept an offer from Sinclair to plead guilty to some of the lesser charges in exchange for the Army dropping the sexual assault charges.
In the email, Bagwell asked Wilson for his opinion about the plea offer. Bagwell testified Monday that he later spoke with Wilson by phone. Wilson was previously stationed at Bragg and Bagwell described him as mentor.
"We very briefly discussed our personal opinions on the case," Bagwell said. "He gave me his opinion."
However, Bagwell testified that Wilson, a superior officer, never directed him on what he should do.
Lt. Gen. James Anderson, as the commander of the base, made the final decision to reject the plea offer.
Testifying from Afghanistan by telephone, Anderson said the only thing he weighed to make up his mind was the opposition of Sinclair's primary accuser to the deal.
In a December letter sent by her attorney, the female captain at the center of the case opposed the proposed plea agreement. The Associated Press generally does not name those who say they were sexually assaulted.
Writing on behalf of her client, Capt. Cassie L. Fowler suggested the proposed deal would "have an adverse effect on my client and the Army's fight against sexual assault."
"Acceptance of this plea would send the wrong signal to those senior commanders who would prey on their subordinates by using their rank and position, thereby ensuring there will be other victims like my client in the future," Fowler wrote.
Pohl has previously expressed concern that Fowler's letter improperly tied whether to accept Sinclair's plea to the political climate surrounding the case, rather than the strength of the evidence against the general.
Last week, Sinclair pleaded guilty to three lesser charges involving adultery with the captain and improper relationships with two female Army officers. Adultery is a crime in the military.
A trial then began on the remaining sexual assault charges.
When reviewing the emails, the judge will likely be trying to figure out whether the Pentagon attorney was asked to give his opinion or was issuing orders to a subordinate, said Walt Huffman, a retired Army major general who was the Judge Advocate General of the Army from 1997 to 2001.
"Is this a reflection of two lawyers batting back and forth what is the right thing to do here? Or is this a command edict from on high saying you may not take the plea deal?" said Huffman, now a professor at the school of law at Texas Tech University.
Without seeing the emails, Huffman didn't want to speculate on what the judge might do. But in general, if he determines a superior lawyer crossed the line, he can dismiss the charges, either with prejudice, so they can't be refiled, or without prejudice, allowing prosecutors to file charges at a different base to get rid of any improper influence.
But since in this case the lawyer is so high up, finding a new jurisdiction might be impossible, Huffman said.
"If that's coming from the Pentagon, that's hard to do," Huffman said.
Sinclair is the highest ranking military member to face a sexual assault charge and is believed to be only the third high-ranking military officer to face court-martial.
"There are a lot of unusual things about this case that are almost without precedent." Huffman said. "It's going to be a challenge for the judge and jury to get all this right in this atmosphere."
Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins in Columbia contributed to this report.
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius vomited in the dock and retched repeatedly and loudly at his murder trial Monday as he heard graphic details of the injuries sustained by the girlfriend he shot, including a head wound that was probably instantly fatal according to the pathologist who performed her autopsy.
Reeva Steenkamp was shot with bullets designed to expand on impact and cause maximum damage, Prof. Gert Saayman testified after he identified the type of bullet from fragments in Steenkamp's skull.
Saayman's testimony was not broadcast or reported live on Twitter by journalists because of its explicit content under an order from Judge Thokozile Masipa. However, journalists were allowed to report the testimony without directly quoting the witness's words.
The double-amputee runner, hunched over on a bench, vomited when he heard the description of Steenkamp's wounds, prompting Masipa to briefly halt the testimony to ask chief defense lawyer Barry Roux to attend to his client. The judge also asked whether Pistorius was able to understand the proceedings. Roux said Pistorius' reaction was not going to change. A bucket was placed at his feet.
After court adjourned for the day, Pistorius sat for a few minutes with his hands over his ears and his body heaving and bent forward as his brother held a hand on his back.
Saayman stood for much of his testimony, referring to photographs that were not shown to the gallery as he described bullet wounds on Steenkamp's body, one to the right side of the head, one to the right arm and one to the right hip area. He also described exit wounds caused by the bullets and other abrasions and discoloration of the skin, consistent with the impact of a bullet fired through a wooden object such as a door.
Saayman said that each of the three main gunshot wounds Steenkamp suffered could have been fatal in isolation. Steenkamp's right arm was also broken and she had multiple skull fractures, both because of the effect of bullets, Saayman said.
There was another wound on one of Steenkamp's hands, Saayman said. Steenkamp, a model and personality on a television reality show, was wearing a pair of sports shorts with a Nike logo, a former sponsor of Pistorius, and a black undershirt when she was shot, he said.
Saayman also gave his expert opinion on how long before she died Steenkamp last ate by the food contents in her stomach. He estimated that it wouldn't have been more than two hours before she died. That appeared to contradict Pistorius' version that suggests the couple had eaten and were in bed by 10 p.m. Steenkamp was shot after 3 a.m.
Pistorius, the first amputee to run in the Olympics, is charged with premeditated murder for 29-year-old Steenkamp's shooting death before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius, 27, says the killing was accidental because he thought his girlfriend was a dangerous intruder when he shot her through the door of a toilet cubicle in his home.
Earlier, prosecutor Gerrie Nel, supported by chief defense lawyer Barry Roux, said Saayman's testimony would have an "explicitly graphic nature" and should not be shown around the world. Masipa then announced a ban on live audio and video broadcasting, and extended the order to live reporting on social media.
"Twitter is not allowed. Blogging is not allowed," Masipa said.
Proceedings can be partly televised and the audio can be broadcast in its entirety under a judge's pre-trial order that sought to balance the right to a fair trial with the intense public interest in the Pistorius case and the principle of open justice. Under the order, witnesses can choose not to be shown on television.
Earlier Monday, Masipa extended that order, saying "private witnesses are more vulnerable than public figures" and that still photographs of witnesses who requested privacy cannot be published or disseminated for the duration of the trial, even if they were obtained from sources outside the courtroom.
Earlier Monday, a security guard who said he spoke with Pistorius soon after the shooting of Steenkamp was challenged by the defense about his recollection of the sequences of the events that night.
The sequence is important for the defense because, if it can prove that Pistorius called security first, it could support the contention that he was seeking help as quickly as possible.
The guard, Pieter Baba, had testified Friday that he called Pistorius and was told "everything is fine" on the telephone. Baba said Pistorius then called him back moments later, didn't speak, was crying and the second call then ended.
Baba said he was responding to neighbors' reports of gunshots coming from Pistorius' home after 3 a.m. on Valentine's Day last year. He drove with a fellow guard to Pistorius' villa and made the call from outside the house.
Baba's statement that he called Pistorius first could back the prosecution's case that the killing was premeditated, and that Pistorius was trying, at least initially, to conceal what he had done.
On Monday, however, Roux said call records showed Pistorius called security first, but couldn't speak because he was "indeed crying."
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a Pennsylvania school district that wants to prevent students from wearing "I (heart) Boobies!" bracelets to promote breast cancer awareness among young people.
The justices on Monday left in place a federal appeals court ruling striking down a ban on the bracelets. The ban was put in place by the Easton Area School District, which says the breast-cancer awareness bracelets are lewd in their use of sexual innuendo.
The lower court sided with two students who sued the district in 2010 with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. Easton is one of several school districts around the country to ban the bracelets, which are distributed by the nonprofit Keep A Breast Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif.