National Roundup

Ohio
Witness: After killing in church, rant about God

ASHTABULA, Ohio (AP) — Witnesses say the 25-year-old man accused of walking into an Ohio church and fatally shooting his father after an Easter service Sunday was yelling about God and Allah after the killing.
Police say Reshad Riddle walked into the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in Ashtabula and killed his father, 52-year-old Richard Riddle, with a single shot from a handgun Sunday afternoon.
Associate Pastor Sean Adams told The (Ashtabula) Star Beacon newspaper that worshippers started screaming, ducking down and calling 911 on cellphones after the shooting.
“"It was terrifying,” Adams told the newspaper. “The children were screaming and people were dialing 911. We were afraid to breathe.”
Adams said Reshad Riddle then continued into the church, still holding the gun, and yelled that the killing was “the will of Allah. This is the will of God.”
Reshad Riddle was quickly subdued by officers, who arrived just moments after the shooting. They say he has been mostly cooperative.
The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland reported that another church pastor said congregants were leaving when they heard a gunshot.
“People pushed me into a back office and said, ‘Somebody’s here with a gun,’” said the Rev. David Howard Jr. “The guy was outside hollering and acting crazy.”
County Coroner Pamela Lancaster said Richard Riddle’s wound was “immediately fatal.”
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said the younger Riddle offered no motive for the shooting.
“Witnesses at the scene said the shooter entered church and made some references to Allah, but we are not sure if that was a motive or if there was a family problem,” Stell said. “There is no indication that the father and son had a bad relationship. Everyone thinks this was very surprising.”
Court records show Reshad Riddle has an extensive criminal record.
Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court records show he was arrested and charged with two counts of felonious assault, kidnapping, abduction and tampering with evidence in 2006.
Records show that in 2007, Reshad Riddle was charged with felonious assault, and in 2009 he was charged with possession of drugs, tampering with evidence and possession of cocaine.
According to police reports, one of the felonious assault charges stemmed from an incident when Reshad Riddle allegedly attempted to cut his girlfriend’s throat. Capt. Joseph Cellitti said the young woman’s neck had been cut with a knife and she suffered bruising on her side and chest.
Church parishioners said Reshad Riddle was a member of the church as a child, but did not attend services regularly as an adult.
“No one would have thought twice about him being here with his family on Easter,” Adams said. “His family (has) been members here for years and years.”

Arizona
Release for man convicted in ‘70 deadly hotel fire

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A man who has spent more than four decades in prison for a Tucson hotel fire that killed 29 people, including some who jumped from windows to escape the searing heat, is expected to be released Tuesday as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Louis Cuen Taylor was convicted of murder as a teen but has maintained his innocence in the December 1970 fire at the Pioneer Hotel.
The Tucson man, who turns 59 this week, is scheduled to plead no contest to murder in an agreement that sets aside his original conviction and gives him credit for time served, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
The fire came during a Christmas party for employees of an aircraft company and left many guests trapped in their rooms.
The building had no sprinkler system, exits were locked to prevent theft, and fire truck ladders were too short to reach the higher floors. Those factors led some people to jump from windows to their deaths. Others burned to death in their rooms. Most died of carbon-monoxide poisoning while waiting for rescue.
In total, 29 lives were lost to the blaze, including one victim who died months later in a hospital.
Taylor, then 16, was in the hotel that night watching the festivities. After the fire broke out, he and a hotel custodian tried to extinguish the blaze, then Taylor helped some of the trapped and injured guests escape. Hours later, he was taken into custody, interviewed by police without parental consent and charged with starting the fire. He was convicted in 1972 and sentenced to 28 concurrent life terms.
Judge Charles L. Hardy, who presided over Taylor’s 1972 trial, publicly expressed skepticism about the jury’s decision to convict the Tucson teen. In one letter he sent Taylor in the early 1980s, the judge, who died in December 2010, said he was negotiating with Arizona lawmakers to have the sentence commuted, but the deal was predicated on Taylor admitting guilt, which he refused to do.
In October, attorneys with the Arizona Justice Project, a volunteer legal group that attempts to evaluate cases on behalf of inmates who believe they were wrongfully convicted, asked a court to dismiss the case or hold an evidentiary hearing.
The attorneys said several defense experts, using modern forensic fire science, would testify they would not have ruled the blaze arson. The defense team also alleged a prosecutor engaged in misconduct by not giving defense attorneys a laboratory report that said no accelerants were found and by talking to the judge without defense attorneys present.
Michael Piccarreta, one of the Arizona Justice Project lawyers advocating on behalf of Taylor, said Taylor maintains his innocence but will plead no contest as a way of getting out of prison quickly.
Piccarreta said Sunday that Taylor’s lawyers believe he would have eventually prevailed, but thought the process could have taken another 18 months.
An investigator with the Tucson Fire Department recently reviewed the available evidence in the case and was unable to determine what caused the blaze.
However, prosecutor Rick Unklesbay said the original fire investigator for the prosecution still believes the blaze was purposely set, and the fire investigator who recently reviewed the case lacked access to a great deal of evidence. Much of the evidence in the case was destroyed in the 1990s or disappeared after civil attorneys took possession of it when they sued the hotel.
Unklesbay said in an interview last month that even though defense experts were unable to determine the fire’s cause, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t arson. The prosecution’s original fire investigator stands by his 42-year-old report, and other evidence presented at the 1972 trial indicated the fire was arson.s

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