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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

April 04, 2019 - 8:05 PM

FBI rejects young man's claim to be long-missing boy

CINCINNATI (AP) — A young man's claim to be an Illinois boy who disappeared under tragic circumstances eight years ago was disproved by DNA tests and pronounced a hoax Thursday, dashing hopes that the baffling case had finally been solved.

For a day and a half, a breakthrough seemed to be at hand when a young man found wandering the streets of Newport, Kentucky, on Wednesday identified himself as 14-year-old Timmothy Pitzen and told police he had just escaped from two men who had held him captive for seven years.

Timmothy disappeared in 2011 at age 6, and a note left behind by his mother before she took her own life said he was being cared for and would never be found. Timmothy's family was cautiously hopeful over Wednesday's news, as were neighbours and others who have long wondered whether he is dead or alive.

But the FBI said Thursday afternoon that DNA tests determined the young man was not Timmothy.

Newport Police Chief Tom Collins identified him to ABC as Brian Rini of Medina, Ohio, a 23-year-old ex-convict. He was released from an Ohio prison less than a month ago after serving more than a year for burglary and vandalism.

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Barr defends handling of Mueller's Russia report

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia investigation, saying the confidential document contains sensitive grand jury material that prevented it from being immediately released to the public.

The statement came as Barr confronts concerns that his four-page letter summarizing Mueller's conclusions unduly sanitized the full report in President Donald Trump's favour, including on the key question of whether the president obstructed justice. House Democrats on Wednesday approved subpoenas for Mueller's entire report and any exhibits and other underlying evidence that the Justice Department might withhold.

The disparity in length between Barr's letter and Mueller's full report, which totals nearly 400 pages, raises the likelihood of additional significant information that was put forward by the special counsel's office but not immediately shared by the attorney general.

In Thursday's statement, Barr defended the decision to release a brief summary letter two days after receiving the report on March 22. He has previously said he did not believe it would be in the public's interest to release the full document in piecemeal or gradual fashion, and that he did not intend for his letter summarizing Mueller's "principal conclusions" to be an "exhaustive recounting" of the special counsel's investigation.

Barr is now expected to release the entire report, with redactions, by mid-April.

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Chicago to sue Jussie Smollett for costs of investigation

CHICAGO (AP) — Jussie Smollett has refused to pay more than $130,000 to reimburse Chicago investigative costs and the city said Thursday it will sue the "Empire" actor for money spent investigating what officials say was a phoney racist, anti-gay attack that Smollett staged.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's law chief sent Smollett a March 28 letter demanding he pay $130,106 — plus 15 cents — for overtime worked by detectives and officers in looking into his claims. It set Thursday as the deadline to pay.

The City Law Department said in a Thursday evening statement that it was already drafting a lawsuit in response and would file it "in the near future."

Smollett, who is black and gay, maintains he told the truth in reporting that two masked men assaulted him in downtown Chicago on Jan. 29, shouting slurs and wrapping a rope around his neck. He said his attackers also yelled, "This is MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."

The lawsuit could lead to a civil trial, where jurors would have to answer the question of whether Smollett orchestrated the attack.

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Judge orders mental health tests for accused mosque shooter

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — A New Zealand judge on Friday ordered that the man accused of killing 50 people at two Christchurch mosques undergo two mental health assessments to determine if he's fit to stand trial.

High Court judge Cameron Mander made the order during a hearing in which 28-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security Paremoremo prison in Auckland.

Tarrant was wearing handcuffs and a grey-colored sweater when he appeared on a large screen inside the Christchurch courtroom, which was packed with family members and victims of the shooting, some in wheelchairs and hospital gowns and still recovering from gunshot wounds.

Tarrant had stubble and close-cropped hair. He showed no emotion during the hearing. At times he looked around the room or cocked his head, seemingly to better hear what was being said. The judge explained that from his end, Tarrant could see the judge and lawyers but not those in the public gallery.

Tarrant spoke only once to confirm to the judge he was seated, although his voice didn't come through because the sound was muted. It wasn't immediately clear if his link had been deliberately or inadvertently muted.

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White House pushes back on request for Trump tax forms

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Thursday that Democratic efforts to obtain President Donald Trump's tax records are "political games."

A House committee chairman formally asked the IRS Wednesday to provide six years of Trump's personal tax returns and the returns for some of his businesses as Democrats try to shed light on his complex financial dealings and potential conflicts of interest.

The request by Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is the first such demand for a sitting president's tax information in 45 years. The unprecedented move is likely to set off a huge legal battle between Democrats controlling the House and the Trump administration.

Neal made the request Wednesday in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, asking for Trump's personal and business returns for 2013 through 2018. He asked for the documents in seven days, setting an April 10 deadline.

Trump told reporters Wednesday he "would not be inclined" to provide his tax returns to the committee. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday morning that the White House "is not interested in playing a bunch of political games like the Democrats in Congress clearly want to spend their time doing."

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Trump backs off border shutdown but threatens auto tariffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Abandoning his threat to immediately seal the southern border, President Donald Trump warned instead on Thursday that he'd slap tariffs on cars coming to the U.S. from Mexico unless the Mexicans do more to stop the flow of migrants and drugs to the U.S.

In his latest backtrack in recent days, Trump told reporters he would try the "less drastic measure" before resorting to his standing border-closure threat.

"Mexico understands that we're going to close the border or I'm going to tariff the cars. I'll do one or the other. And probably start off with the tariffs," Trump said. He added later: "I don't think we'll ever have to close the border because the penalty of tariffs on cars coming into the United States from Mexico, at 25 per cent, will be massive."

It was the latest, seemingly sudden attempt at new leverage by a president struggling to solve what his administration has called a border "crisis." And it was a dramatic departure for Trump, who last week tweeted that he would close the border or large swaths of it this week unless Mexico immediately halted "ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States" — a seemingly impossible task.

Trump said at the time that he was "not kidding around," and his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in a television interview Sunday that it would take "something dramatic" for Trump not to close down the crossings.

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Suspect held in 4 slayings at North Dakota business

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) — A 44-year-old man was arrested Thursday in the slayings of four people who were shot or stabbed earlier this week at a property management business, police said.

Chief Jason Ziegler said surveillance video identified a vehicle of interest and helped lead them to the suspect, who lived in the small town of Washburn about 35 miles (56 kilometres) north of Mandan.

Ziegler said a motive for the killings wasn't yet known. He said the suspect lived in a mobile home park owned by the business, RJR Maintenance and Management. He was arrested without incident.

The man was being held on four counts of felony murder, Ziegler said, with a court appearance likely Friday.

Deputy Chief Lori Flaten confirmed earlier Thursday that a search conducted Wednesday in a field about half a mile from the business was related to the investigation. She said state and local police at the scene were "looking for potential evidence," but she didn't elaborate.

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Jurors hear final arguments in opioid bribe scheme case

BOSTON (AP) — In a scheme to get doctors to write prescriptions in exchange for cash, a wealthy drug company founder put patients at risk to guarantee his business' success, a federal prosecutor told jurors Thursday in his closing arguments in the closely-watched trial.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Insys Therapeutics Founder John Kapoor sought to poke holes in the government's case, calling its two star witnesses liars with conflicting stories and accusing prosecutors of targeting Kapoor so just so they can tout a high-profile conviction.

"The story cannot be true and they don't care because they have had their eye on this man, and these people for years," Attorney Beth Wilkinson said. "They want to show that they can take the guy at the top ... and they don't care if the other guys make up their story," she said.

Kapoor and four other former executives of the Chandler, Arizona-based company are charged with conspiring to pay doctors millions of dollars in the form of fees for sham speaking events about the drug — a highly addictive fentanyl spray meant for patients with severe cancer pain.

Prosecutors said Insys staffers also misled insurers about patients' medical conditions and posed as doctors' office employees in order to get payment approved for the costly opioid.

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Fed's report condemning Alabama prisons: State vows action

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama authorities vowed Thursday to begin the monumental task of fixing their troubling prison problems, responding to a U.S. Department of Justice report that condemned excessive violence, inmate deaths and a critical staffing shortage in the state correctional system.

The Justice Department on Wednesday gave the state 49 days to respond with a remedial plan or face a federal lawsuit for conditions so bad the department believes they violate the prohibition on cruel and usual punishment.

"I think it's an enormous task we have in front of us," said state Sen. Cam Ward, head of a legislative prison oversight committee. He called the findings "deeply humiliating" for Alabama. "It's disgusting. I mean, it is."

The federal report released Wednesday reeled off a chilling litany of examples of violence: An inmate died after being stabbed while other prisoners banged on a locked door for help. Another prisoner was strangled, left face down so long that "his face was flattened" by the time his body was discovered. Another prisoner told of being tied up and tortured for two days by fellow inmates in retaliation for reporting a sexual assault.

The Department of Justice wrote that overcrowding, understaffing, excessive violence, a failure to stop sexual assaults, poor facilities and the indifference of officials were among the factors creating what it called inhumane conditions in Alabama's prisons.

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Mormons ease opposition to same-sex couples and their kids

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Thursday repealed rules that banned baptisms for children of gay parents and that labeled same-sex couples as sinners eligible for expulsion — marking a reversal of policies condemned as jarring detours from a push by the faith to be more compassionate about LGBTQ issues.

LGBTQ church members and groups that support them expressed relief about what they called an important step forward for the faith. However, they also said they were angry about the harm the 2015 policies had caused and the lack of an apology by church leaders.

In a statement posted online, church leaders described the changes as "very positive policies" that should help "affected families." The faith's highest leadership group, known as the First Presidency, made the decision after "fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters," the statement said.

The faith widely known as the Mormon church said it is not changing its doctrinal opposition to gay marriage and still considers same-sex relationships to be a "serious transgression."

"We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today," the statement said.

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
The Associated Press

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