National Roundup

Man gets 35 years in 8-state child pornography scheme

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Federal prosecutors in central Illinois say a Texas man has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for child pornography charges involving more than 40 girls in eight states.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that a federal judge sentenced 36-year-old Mark P. Barnwell of Whitehouse, Texas, on Jan. 9. Authorities say he used false Facebook profiles to contact girls and advertise modeling opportunities. Prosecutors say Barnwell directed the girls to send him sexually explicit photos and threatened to post the nude photos online if they failed to send more.

Officials say Barnwell obtained nude photos from 43 victims, including 28 in central Illinois along with others in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.

Barnwell was ordered to remain on supervised release for the rest of his life when he completes the prison term.

Judge allowing open phone line during execution

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A federal judge is once again allowing the use of an open phone line to his courtroom during an Ohio execution.

Tuesday's decision by Judge Michael Merz permits use of a system created in 2017 when defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to stop an execution based on the inmate's reaction to the lethal drugs.

Under the order, attorneys for condemned killer Keith Henness and an assistant attorney general will be on the line with the judge and a court reporter in case something goes awry.

The 55-year-old Henness is set to die next month for the fatal shooting of volunteer addiction counselor Richard Meyers in Columbus in 1992.

Henness says he's innocent and received poor legal help at the time of trial. Prosecutors say Henness is lying about his innocence.

Judge rules Somalis targeted in bomb plot can testify

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Somali immigrants can testify at the sentencing this month of three militia members convicted of plotting to bomb their apartment complex in a southwest Kansas city, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Defense attorneys had hoped to block the 20 short videos of victim testimony from being played at the Jan. 25 sentencing hearings. In a 34-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren also allowed sentencing enhancements for hate crimes and terrorism.

Patrick Stein , Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen were each convicted in April of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiracy against civil rights. Wright was also found guilty of lying to the FBI.

The weapon of mass destruction charge carries a possible maximum sentence of life in prison, while the civil rights violation could add a decade more behind bars. Prosecutors are seeking life terms for all three. The sentencing enhancements for terrorism and hate crimes bolster the government's recommendations.

The attack , planned for the day after the 2016 general election in Garden City, was thwarted by another member of the group who tipped off authorities about escalating threats of violence. Garden City is about 220 miles (350 kilometers) west of Wichita.

Prosecutors said the men formed a splinter group of the right-wing, anti-immigrant militia Kansas Security Force that came to be known as "the Crusaders."

Defense attorneys argued that the Somalis weren't victims because no one was hurt. Prosecutors countered that the defendants are trying to de-personalize their crimes and that federal law guarantees every victim the right to be heard at sentencing.

Melgren found that their testimony is relevant at sentencing to determine the overall impact of the crimes, saying he would not be unduly influenced by them since he heard all the evidence at trial. He said the intended victims are entitled to have their statements heard.

"Defendants have not demonstrated that, even if the residents are not entitled to testify, that the Court is stripped of its discretion to hear the testimony," according to the ruling.

North Carolina
Murder ­conviction in apartment attack upheld

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina appeals court found no errors in the trial of a man convicted of first-degree murder in the bludgeoning and stabbing death of a mother in her apartment during a night-time robbery.

A state Court of Appeals panel upheld Tuesday the 2016 conviction of Travion Smith. He was sentenced to life in prison for the 2013 killing of Melissa Huggins-Jones.

Evidence showed Smith was part of a trio stealing electronics from unlocked cars in north Raleigh. Prosecutors say Smith and another man entered the victim's apartment building. The opinion says Huggins-Jones kept her windows and a sliding door open because the air conditioning wasn't working. Her 8-year-old daughter was in another bedroom but wasn't hurt.

The appeals court rejected Smith's challenges about jury instructions and a prosecutor's witness.

Federal trial for 'AK-47 Bandit' set for March

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A federal trial in Nebraska has been pushed to March for a man suspected of being the "AK-47 bandit," who investigators believe robbed banks in five states.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that a federal judge on Tuesday denied a motion by Richard Gathercole for a new court-appointed attorney and set trial for March 25.

Gathercole has pleaded not guilty to robbery and other charges. He's accused of stealing more than $90,000 in August 2014 from a bank in Nebraska City, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Omaha.

Officials believe Gathercole carried an AK-47 while robbing banks in California, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska and Washington.

Gathercole, of Roundup, Montana, was arrested in June 2017 near Lexington, Nebraska, after a sheriff's deputy spotted a pickup truck that Kansas authorities had reported stolen by a man who fired at a state trooper.

Published: Thu, Jan 17, 2019