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California man declared guilty of killing family of 4 found in desert

SAN BERNARDINO, California: A Southern California man was convicted Monday of bludgeoning a couple and their two little boys to death, then burying their bodies in a remote desert area where the crime remained hidden until an off-roader stumbled across skeletal remains.After a trial that spanned more than four months and depended largely on circumstantial…

California man declared guilty of killing family of 4 found in desert

SAN BERNARDINO, California: A Southern California man was convicted Monday of bludgeoning a couple and their two little boys to death, then burying their bodies in a remote desert area where the crime remained hidden until an off-roader stumbled across skeletal remains.After a trial that spanned more than four months and depended largely on circumstantial evidence, jurors in San Bernardino found 62-year-old Charles “Chase” Merritt guilty of the first-degree murders of business associate Joseph McStay, McStay’s wife, Summer, and the couple’s 3- and 4-year-old sons.Merritt closed his eyes and looked down when the court clerk said the word “guilty” the first of four times. Sobs came from the packed courtroom. Someone called out, “Yes!“Prosecutors said Merritt killed the family with a sledgehammer at a time when he owed McStay money and was being cut out of the victim’s business making and selling custom water fountains.The jury also found the special circumstance of multiple murders.The judge scheduled the penalty phase to begin Tuesday. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.Prosecutors declined to comment after the verdict, and families on both sides left without speaking to reporters.The McStay family vanished in 2010.Authorities found bowls of uneaten popcorn at their San Diego County home, which had no signs of forced entry, and their car parked at a strip mall near the Mexico border.For years, officials couldn’t determine what happened to the McStays. At one point, investigators said they believed the family had gone to Mexico voluntarily, though they couldn’t say why.In 2013, their bodies were found in shallow graves in the desert after an off-road motorcyclist discovered skeletal remains in the area. Authorities also unearthed a rusty sledgehammer that they said was used to kill the family.“It was blow, after blow, after blow to a child’s skull,” prosecutor Britt Imes said during closing arguments.Merritt, who worked with McStay in his water features business, was arrested in 2014.Authorities said they traced Merritt’s cellphone to the area of the desert gravesites in the days after the family disappeared and to a call seeking to close McStay’s online bookkeeping account.Merritt referred to McStay in the past tense in an interview with investigators after the family vanished, and while the evidence linking him to the killings is largely circumstantial, it is “overwhelmingly convincing,” Imes said.Merritt’s attorneys said the two men were best friends and investigators overlooked another possible suspect in the killings. Instead, they said, authorities zeroed in on an innocent man, but the evidence didn’t add up, noting there were no signs of an attack inside the family’s home.“They tried his character and not the facts of this case,” defense attorney James McGee told jurors.Many questions still remain about the family’s disappearance. Prosecutors acknowledge details of the killings aren’t entirely clear but say the evidence from the family’s car, cellphone towers and financial accounts link Merritt to the killings.Authorities said McStay was cutting Merritt out of the business in early February and the two met on Feb. 4 in Rancho Cucamonga, where Merritt lived at the time.Prosecutors say financial records show Merritt tried to loot the business bank accounts just before and after the family disappeared and backdated checks to Feb. 4, knowing it was the last day anyone had contact with McStay.Phone records show McStay called Merritt seven times after the Feb. 4 meeting, with defense lawyers arguing that McStay wouldn’t likely do that if he had just fired Merritt.

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17 Chinese, Ukrainian seamen kidnapped off Cameroon

LIBREVILLE: President Ali Bongo of Gabon on Friday made his first live appearance in public nearly 10 months after suffering a stroke, attending ceremonies in the capital Libreville.Bongo, whose every move has been scrutinized for signs of ill health, attended commemorations on the eve of the country’s anniversary of independence, an AFP correspondent at the…

17 Chinese, Ukrainian seamen kidnapped off Cameroon

LIBREVILLE: President Ali Bongo of Gabon on Friday made his first live appearance in public nearly 10 months after suffering a stroke, attending ceremonies in the capital Libreville.Bongo, whose every move has been scrutinized for signs of ill health, attended commemorations on the eve of the country’s anniversary of independence, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.It was the first time he had been seen in public outside the presidential palace since falling ill last October, except for appearances that were filmed and edited by Gabonese government or state media.Smiling, the 60-year-old head of state exchanged a few words with security officers before laying a wreath at the tomb of Gabon’s first president, Leon Mba.Bongo walked with a stick and an aide helped him to climb several steps. The ceremony lasted half an hour, which was shorter than in previous years.Speculation about Bongo’s ability to rule the small oil-rich country surged after he suffered a stroke on October 24.He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning in January. During his extended absence, the army quashed a brief attempted coup.In May, he dismissed his vice president and minister of forests after a scandal erupted over the smuggling of precious timber.Ten members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade union movement have filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying that only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.But the Court of Appeal on Monday said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it — August 26.Bongo is scheduled to make a televised speech on Friday evening and then on Saturday attend an annual military parade to mark the country’s independence from France in 1960.Opposition figures have urged the public to turn out in large numbers on Saturday to gain a closer look at his health.Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

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Gabon’s Bongo in first live public appearance after stroke

ROME: Italy has evacuated a handful of medical cases from a Spanish migrant rescue ship off the coast of Lampedusa, as the boat remained in limbo on Friday despite a European deal to take in 134 people remaining onboard.Three migrants who suffered “medical complications which require specialized care” and an escort were brought to the…

Gabon’s Bongo in first live public appearance after stroke

ROME: Italy has evacuated a handful of medical cases from a Spanish migrant rescue ship off the coast of Lampedusa, as the boat remained in limbo on Friday despite a European deal to take in 134 people remaining onboard.Three migrants who suffered “medical complications which require specialized care” and an escort were brought to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa late on Thursday, Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms said on Twitter.This is the umpteenth standoff between a charity vessel rescuing migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, but this time set against the background of a political crisis in Rome.Thursday saw sparring between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Salvini, who last week pulled his party’s support from the ruling coalition in the hope of toppling the 14-month-old government.Salvini’s anti-immigrant League party has been squabbling with coalition partner the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) over a host of issues.“France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have told me that they are ready to welcome the migrants,” Conte said in an open letter to Salvini, who has sought to bar all NGO rescue vessels from entering Italian waters.In a distinct change of tone since the coalition disintegrated last week, Conte slammed what he called Salvini’s “obsessive focus” on an immigration policy reduced to the phrase “closed ports.”Salvini has taken a hard-line against migrants rescued at sea being brought to Italy, which he says bears an unfair burden as the first port of call for refugees from several countries.Responding to Conte, Salvini wrote on Facebook: “It is clear that without (my) resolve, the European Union would never have lifted a finger, leaving Italy and the Italians on their own like (previous governments) did for years.”The UN refugee agency welcomed the news of a deal to distribute the migrants but regretted it took so long.“People cannot be left at sea for days on end. Predictable, regional and fair approach urgently needed so no rescued person is again left at sea for so long,” the UNHCR tweeted.After Salvini pulled the plug on his coalition with M5S last week, he had hoped for a no-confidence vote but his gambit failed.The fate of the migrants aboard the Open Arms vessel, operated by Spanish charity Proactiva, found itself at the center of Italy’s political crisis.Earlier this month, Salvini signed a decree banning the Open Arms from Italian waters, saying it was to protect public order.But Proactiva appealed to an administrative court which on Wednesday suspended the decree.Salvini then signed a new one blocking the ship, but in a demonstration of his diminished power, Italy’s defense minister blocked it on Thursday.Elisabetta Trenta, an M5S party member with the authority to sign off on Salvini’s decree, announced that she has decided not to do so after “listening to my conscience.”It is estimated Salvini enjoys up to 38 percent support among the electorate, thanks largely to his hard-line against immigrants.Spokeswoman Vanessa Mock said the European Commission welcomed the willingness of member states to help relocate the migrants.The Commission is ready to help “once a solution has been found for the disembarkation of the persons rescued at sea. The situation where persons are stranded at sea for days and weeks on end is untenable.”The mainly African migrants aboard Open Arms had been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya.Both Italy and Malta have refused the boat permission to dock and disembark its passengers.Five migrants disembarked at Lampedusa on Thursday “for psychological reasons,” the NGO said.Another rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), is also looking for a port to dock with more than 350 migrants on board.

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Five dead as Pakistan, India exchange fire in Kashmir

LONDON: A man was taken to hospital after being stabbed Thursday outside Britain’s Home Office interior ministry in London.One man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, the city’s Metropolitan Police said.The Home Office is responsible for tackling crime and the government has recently launched a campaign to deter people from…

Five dead as Pakistan, India exchange fire in Kashmir

LONDON: A man was taken to hospital after being stabbed Thursday outside Britain’s Home Office interior ministry in London.One man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, the city’s Metropolitan Police said.The Home Office is responsible for tackling crime and the government has recently launched a campaign to deter people from carrying blades in a bid to combat a surge in knife crime.Police said they were called at 1:06 p.m. local time following a report of a man with a knife.“Officers attended to find one man with knife injuries,” the police said in a statement.“One man has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and taken to a police station.“Enquiries are ongoing into the exact circumstances of the incident.”The police initially reported the injuries were life-threatening but later said his injuries were not life threatening.The London Ambulance Service said the casualty was treated at the scene and taken to hospital.“We dispatched an incident response officer, a medic in a response car, a motorcycle paramedic and an ambulance crew,” a spokeswoman said.“We treated a man at the scene and took him to a major trauma center.”Figures out last month revealed that knife crime in England and Wales over the previous 12 months had soared to a record high of more than 43,500 offenses.The figures were up eight percent year-on-year.New Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his commitment to tackling the “scourge” of knife crime as he took questions from the public live on Facebook on Wednesday.

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