Nashville rape case echoes sex assault by Stanford swimmer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The cases are tragically similar: Student-athletes at two elite universities accused of sex crimes against unconscious women. Yet one is given six months in a county jail, while the other is facing at least 15 years in prison.
Some have questioned why 20-year-old former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who is white, received a far less severe sentence for a January 2015 assault than the one faced by former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey, 22, who is black. The differences took on added significance this week as a white former teammate of Batey’s, Brandon Vandenburg, stood trial again in Nashville for his role in the dorm room assault, which took place in June 2013. Vandenburg was convicted of multiple counts of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery late Saturday.
But the comparison was never so simple.
The difference in punishment reflects the number of alleged perpetrators in one case, the acts committed, overwhelming evidence documenting one of the crimes, and variations in how rape is defined in Tennessee and California.
“It does seem like an extreme disparity, but I would say this: With these sex crimes, the facts are very important, the details are very important, and the law punishes the conduct differently depending on what conduct can be proven,” said Dmitry Gorin, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor specializing in sex crimes. “In the Stanford case, they did not prove rape.”
Funerals, fear and uncertainty loom as Orlando grieves
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — People marched down Orlando streets with rainbow flags and others lined up to wait hours for a “One Pulse” tattoo on Saturday as supporters tried to boost the somber city’s spirits while more victims of last weekend’s nightclub shooting were buried.
Across from Cathedral Church of St. Luke, where Christopher Andrew Leinonen’s funeral was held, hundreds lined the street holding “We Support You” and other signs. The 32-year-old Leinonen was with his friends at Pulse early Sunday when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire, leaving 49 club-goers dead and wounding 53 others. Mateen died later after being shot by police.
Brandon Wolf was with Leinonen and shooting victim Juan Ramon Guerrero. The 27-year-old Wolf managed to make it out alive.
He says Leinonen, whom he called Drew, changed his life, and eased his pain when he was hurting.
“He looked me in the eyes that night and did what Drew always did, he said ‘I love you,’ Wolf said. “That is Drew’s lasting message to us, ‘I love you.'”
Gay pride events festive but some concerned after Orlando
CHICAGO (AP) — The music was thumping and crowds were dancing Saturday at gay pride events around the U.S., with some revelers saying the partying was proof that people won’t give in to fear after last weekend’s attack at a gay nightclub in Florida.
Festivals and parades went ahead under increased security in cities such as Chicago, Columbus, Ohio; and Providence, Rhode Island, a week after a gunman fired on a crowd at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The attack left 49 people dead.
At Chicago Pride Fest, security staff meticulously checked bags, unzipping each and every pocket, and extra police patrolled on foot in a highly visible presence.
The annual two-day street festival in the Boystown neighborhood draws thousands of revelers and serves as a warmup to Chicago’s even bigger Pride Parade the following weekend.
Attorney Kavita Puri said that after Orlando, the Chicago event took on even more importance.
Former Vanderbilt football player again convicted of rape
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A jury has convicted a former Vanderbilt football player of encouraging his teammates to rape an unconscious woman he had been dating. It took jurors just over four hours of deliberation Saturday before finding Brandon Vandenburg guilty on multiple counts of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery. In addition, he was convicted of one count of unlawful photography.
The jurors in the case had to decide whether to hold Vandenburg criminally responsible for what other players were accused of doing to the female student in a dorm room in June of 2013.
Four former players were all charged in the case but only two were accused of raping and sexually assaulting the woman.
Vandenburg’s attorneys had argued that he was too drunk to form the necessary intent to direct or encourage players he didn’t even know to commit the crime.
The defense had maintained that Vandenberg was a newly-arrived recruit to the Nashville school and had asked teammates outside the dorm to help him carry the unconscious woman into his room after he couldn’t get her into her apartment. Vandenberg’s lawyers told jurors that the other players were on the woman as soon as they got her in the room.
Trump: ‘It would be helpful’ if Republicans would help him
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Donald Trump railed Saturday against efforts by some frustrated Republicans planning a last-ditch effort to try to thwart him from becoming the party’s nominee, threatening at one point to stop fundraising if Republicans don’t rally around him.
Speaking at a theater at the Treasure Island hotel on the Las Vegas strip, Trump referred to “an insurgent group” trying to deny him delegates at the party’s July convention.
“Now you have a couple of guys that were badly defeated and they’re trying to organize maybe like a little bit of a delegate revolt,” he said. “I thought they already tried that.”
Trump pushed back against such efforts several times during his speech, claiming they were somehow “illegal” and then dismissing them as a media-generated fabrication.
“It’s all made up by the press,” he said. “It’s a hoax, I’m telling you.”
A year after marriage ruling, LGBT rights struggles continue
NEW YORK (AP) — On a Friday evening almost a year ago, the White House was awash in rainbow-colored lights, celebrating the momentous Supreme Court ruling that led to nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Across the country, gays and lesbians embraced and partied and in some cases scrambled to arrange can’t-wait-another-day weddings.
“Love Wins!” was the catchphrase of the moment.
Since that ruling last June 26, same-sex marriage has been widely accepted as the law of the land, with only small pockets of defiance. Yet it has not been a year for LGBT-rights activists to bask in triumph, as starkly underscored by the June 12 attack that killed 49 patrons and staff at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“We’re still living with this random violence that can strike at any time,” said Ken Darling, owner of a gay bar in Minneapolis. “We had the White House lit up with colors, the Supreme Court finally acknowledges our right to marry, and at the same time this kind of stuff can happen.”
In the aftermath of the attack, some conservative leaders have expressed a new degree of empathy for LGBT Americans — raising the question of whether the massacre could change the political equation on LGBT rights the way the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing and other acts of violence against blacks helped change the course of the civil rights movement. Thus far, however, there’s been no rush by Republican politicians to back a pending LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination bill in Congress or to enact state-level versions of that bill in the many states, including Florida, that lack such protections.
Egyptian court sentences 2 Al-Jazeera employees to death
CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced six people, including two Al-Jazeera employees, to death for allegedly passing documents related to national security to Qatar and the Doha-based TV network during the rule of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi, the top defendant, and two of his aides were sentenced to 25 years in prison for membership in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group but were acquitted of espionage, a capital offense. Morsi and his secretary, Amin el-Sirafy, each received an additional 15-year sentence for leaking official documents. El-Sirafy’s daughter, Karima, was also sentenced to 15 years on the same charge.
Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, was ousted by the military in July 2013 and has already been sentenced to death in another case. That death sentence and another two — life and 20 years in prison — are under appeal. The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist organization after his ouster. Khalid Radwan, a producer at a Brotherhood-linked TV channel, received a 15-year prison sentence.
All of Saturday’s verdicts can be appealed. Of the case’s 11 defendants, seven, including Morsi, are in custody.
Amnesty International called for the death sentences to be immediately thrown out and for the “ludicrous charges against the journalists to be dropped.”
Police search home of man accused of receiving girl as gift
FEASTERVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Authorities have been searching the home of a Pennsylvania man accused of sexually assaulting a teenager whose parents police say gave her to him when she was 14 because he helped them financially. She was one of a dozen girls living in the residence.
Officials in Bucks County acting on a tip Thursday found 51-year-old Lee Kaplan at his Feasterville home, along with 12 girls ranging in age from six months to 18 years. One girl, now 18, told police that she and Kaplan have a 3-year-old and a six-month-old. Kaplan faces charges including statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, and aggravated indecent assault.
On Saturday, police and dogs scoured the home’s backyard for evidence. Lt. Ted Krimmel of the Lower Southampton police department said authorities waited until dawn so they would be able to search the property in daylight.
“We have a search warrant for the entire property,” he said. “There are dogs searching for evidence.”
District Attorney David Heckler said the parents of the girl Kaplan is accused of assaulting told police they were going to lose their farm until Kaplan “came out of the blue and saved them from financial ruin.”
Crews make progress against home-threatening Western fires
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Firefighters battling home-threatening wildfires in the West caught a break overnight as gusty winds died down but with the region bracing for sweltering heat, Saturday’s respite could be brief, authorities said.
A four-day-old fire in California coastal canyons was 45 percent contained after 40-mph “sundowner” winds failed to materialize.
Those evening and night gusts had driven the flames through steep, brushy canyons west of Santa Barbara on previous nights and forced closure of a major highway.
No homes have burned, but about 270 homes and ranches are at risk and campgrounds are evacuated with flames only 2 miles from more densely populated coastal communities.
In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez directed the New Mexico National Guard to assist in securing communities affected by a massive wildfire in the central part of the state. Guardsmen will be patrolling and protecting evacuated homes from possible looting. They also will be called on to help with potential flooding.
Parents ‘overwhelmed’ by support after gator kills toddler
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The parents of a Nebraska toddler killed by an alligator at Florida’s Walt Disney World said Saturday they are overwhelmed by the support they have received since the death of their son.
Matt and Melissa Graves of Omaha, Nebraska, said in a statement they appreciate the support and love from friends in their community and around the country.
“Melissa and I continue to deal with the loss of our beloved boy, Lane, and are overwhelmed with the support and love we have received from family and friends in our community as well as from around the country,” the family said. “We understand the public’s interest, but as we move forward this weekend, we ask for and appreciate the privacy we need to lay our son to rest. Neither Melissa, myself or anyone from our family will be speaking publicly; we simply cannot at this time.”
Sara Brady, who is serving as a spokeswoman for the family, declined to comment on when the funeral has been scheduled.
An alligator described as being as long as 7 feet snatched 2-year-old Lane Graves as he waded in shallow water in a lake at a Disney hotel Tuesday night. The boy’s remains were found after a long search the following day.
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