Serial Killer’s Nieces Testify At Sentencing

CLEVELAND, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Nieces of the Cleveland man convicted last month of murdering 11 women told a sentencing jury Tuesday how they were abused by him and other relatives.

Two nieces of Anthony Sowell, who faces the possibility of being sentenced to death, testified he had abused them when they were young, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported.

One of the women told the jury she was forced to strip naked and was beaten every day she lived with Sowell.

“I never told about the sexual abuse going on with me,” she said.

The woman, now 50 years old, said she hadn’t seen Sowell in nearly 30 years. She said over the several years she lived with Sowell and his family, she was abused by him and other relatives from the age of 10 to 12.

Another niece said she and her sister were also abused by their grandmother, who would beat the girls with sticks and extension cords.

“We couldn’t tell nobody,” she said. “She would find out.”

Defense attorneys are expected to call 28 witnesses throughout the mitigation phase of the Sowell trial in an attempt to persuade the jury that he does not deserve the death penalty.

Sowell was convicted July 22 on 82 charges, including numerous counts of aggravated murder, abusing a corpse and tampering with evidence in connection with the deaths of 11 women, whose remains were found in and around his Cleveland home in 2009.

Tuesday was the second day of the mitigation in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, which is expected to last all week.

Moody’s, Fitch Keep U.S. Rating Triple-A

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) — The United States’ credit rating remains top-notch but with an asterisk, two key credit rating firms said Tuesday.

While Moody’s Investor Services and Fitch Ratings both said they will keep the country’s credit rating at triple-A for now, the firms said a downgrade is still possible if the U.S. financial situation deteriorates or if promised federal spending cuts don’t materialize, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Yet to weigh in is Standard & Poor’s Financial Services, which was silent on the matter Tuesday, the Times said. The firm is considered the most likely to lower the U.S. rating.

The two credit ratings firms issued their assessments after President Barack Obama signed into law compromise legislation passed by Congress to raise the nation’s debt limit and cut its budget deficit.

A major fear as the nation had teetered toward possible default on some of its financial obligations was that it would lead rating firms to lower the credit rating, which would result in higher interest rates for some loans.

“The fundamental economic and financial underpinning of the United States’ AAA status remains strong despite the heated political debate over the role of government and how best to reduce the out-sized federal budget deficit,” Fitch said.

The firm added “despite the intensity and theater of political discourse in the United States, there is the political will and capacity to ultimately do the right thing.”

Moody’s hinted at its concerns when it said the two-step, spending-cut process approved by Congress is “untested.”

“Attempts at fiscal rules in the past have not always stood the test of time,” Moody’s said.

Kidnapped California Teen Released

ANTIOCH, Calif., Aug. 2 (UPI) — A 16-year-old Antioch, Calif., boy kidnapped at gunpoint during a robbery was later released by his captor, police say.

Hasaan Ameer Ford is safe after being kidnapped Monday afternoon at a barbershop where he worked, the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek reported.

He was freed by his abductor and contacted his family about 8 hours after a statewide Amber Alert was issued for him.

“We are confident he has been released and is no longer under duress,” a police statement said. “Based on this latest information, the Amber Alert has been canceled.”

The suspect was in the middle robbing the owner of Al’s Barber Shop with a sawed-off shotgun when the teen walked in, police say. The owner of the shop had been forced to the floor and was told to take out his keys and wallet. The robber then turned his gun on Ford and ordered him into the shop owner’s black 1996 GMC Yukon.

The suspect got into the backseat and presumably made the teen flee the scene.

The truck was recovered in Antioch and was being examined for evidence.

Police were still searching for the suspect, who was believed to be armed and dangerous.

Man Arrested On White House Grounds

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) — A man who climbed a fence and got onto White House grounds in Washington was arrested and his backpack was being examined, the Secret Service said.

The man scaled the fence along the White House north lawn about 7:45 p.m. EDT, The Washington Post reported. The Secret Service identified the man as James Dirk Crudup, 41, who was described as homeless. CNN reported.

During live coverage of the incident, CNN televised images of two uniformed Secret Service officers, with guns drawn, taking the man into custody within about 10 or 15 feet of the fence.

A Secret Service spokesman said investigators were examining a backpack the man had tossed over the fence.

Police locked down the area for a short time, CNN said.

Crudup was to be charged with unlawful entry, the Secret Service said. He also faced a contempt of court charge because he had been ordered in the past not to come near the White House because of previous incidents, CNN reported.

Couple Accused Of Faking Death

SANTA ANA, Calif., Aug. 2 (UPI) — A California married couple were arrested for allegedly faking the death of the husband to collect $500,000 in benefits, officials say.

Lucio Rodriguez, 52, and his wife Rosa Carrasco, 53, were arrested Monday for suspicion of fraud, grand theft, theft of Social Security benefits and burglary, The Orange County Register reported.

The conspiracy allegedly began seven years ago when the two faked the death of Rodriguez by obtaining a death certificate from Michoacan, Mexico, that state the man died of heart failure there.

“They did admit to paying Mexican officials to obtain a death certificate,” said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Rosa Carrasco, believed to be the beneficiary of the death benefits, began collecting Social Security benefits and union benefits from Rodriguez’s previous job as a truck driver soon after the death was reported. Amormoino said she is suspected of collecting death insurance money as well, however, investigators are still looking into the type of policies the couple held at the time.

Authorities say the couple have collected at least $500,000 from since they faked Rodriguez’s death seven years ago.

Since his faked death, Rodriguez has been living under the name Santiago Carrasco. He acquired a driver’s license and began truck driving again in Fontana, where he was arrested.

Rosa Carrasco was arrested in Santa Ana at a Macy’s store where she worked.

$1 Million Stolen Statues Found Broken

MONTREAL, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Two stolen bronze statues by Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle valued at $1 million were found smashed in a wooded area of Quebec Tuesday, authorities said.

The (Montreal) Gazette reported police said the statues, named “La Dafaite” or “The Defeat,” had disappeared from an unguarded residence in Esterel in the Laurentians the night before.

Sgt. Marie-Josee Ouellet of the Suretr du Quebec said a maintenance worker noticed the artwork was missing. CTV News reported locals said they had seen three men lingering near the statues. A white van was seen nearby and police later found it but the statues were not inside, The Gazette said.

The busted statues were discovered about 12:45 p.m. in a wooded area of Ste. Marguerite du Lac Masson near Montreal, CTV said.

The network said the 5-foot-tall, 660-pound statues, created by the late Quebec sculptor about 40 years ago, had been broken into several pieces and apparently were taken by thieves intent on selling them for scrap.

2 Die In Edmonton Seniors’ Home Blast

EDMONTON, Alberta, Aug. 2 (UPI) — An explosion and fire at an Edmonton, Alberta, senior citizens residential complex Tuesday left two people dead and police saying they suspect foul play.

One victim was identified as Anna Fedorio, a resident of the Bethany Senior Citizen Home. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported sources said the other victim was a man who also was among the 59 people living in the six-story seniors complex.

Police called one death a homicide and said they were not looking for suspects, the CBC said.

Investigators said they believed the fatal fire and a separate car fire in the parking lot of the facility were arson.

Seven people were taken to a hospital following the blast and fire, six for smoke inhalation and the seventh with chest pains, the CBC said.

Firefighters brought the fire, which caused an estimated $1.3 million in damage to the 36-year-old building, under control shortly after 2 a.m.

Microbes Involved In Colon Health Studied

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Aug. 2 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’re taking the first up-close look at some microbes that, although rare in the human gut, are fundamental to colon health.

The so-called “hydrogenotrophic” microbes make up less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the microbes that live in the colon but the bacteria and archaea that sop up hydrogen in the gut are vital to colon health, researchers say.

University of Illinois researchers say theirs is the first study to sample these microbes at specific locales in the colon, mapping where they live and how abundant they are in different parts of the lower intestine.

Scientists have long known various microbes in the colon collaborate to ferment undigested food and degrade and dispose of the byproducts of fermentation, a university release said Tuesday.

Disruptions of the colonic function are thought to have profound implications for human health. A microbial imbalance is suspected of being one factor in inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

“We’re getting closer and closer to looking at the microbiological origin of many diseases,” gastroenterologist Eugene Greenberg of the Carle Foundation in Urbana, Ill., said.

U.S. Moms Get Little Breastfeeding Help

ATLANTA, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Only 4 percent of U.S. hospitals provide the full range of support needed to facilitate breastfeeding for new mothers, federal health officials say.

Vital Signs report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says improving rates of U.S. breastfeeding by providing better hospital support to mothers and babies will improve children’s health, including reducing their risk of childhood obesity.

“Hospitals play a vital role in supporting a mother to be able to breastfeed,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC says in a statement. “Those first few hours and days that a mom and her baby spend learning to breastfeed are critical. Hospitals need to better support breastfeeding, as this is one of the most important things a mother can do for her newborn. Breastfeeding helps babies grow up healthy and reduces healthcare costs.”

The report, published online at www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns, analyzed data from CDC’s national survey of Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care.

Only 14 percent of hospitals have a written, model breastfeeding policy. In nearly 80 percent of hospitals, healthy breastfeeding infants are given formula when it is not medically necessary, making it much harder for mothers and babies to learn how to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding at home, the report says.

In nearly 75 percent of hospitals, mothers and babies do not get the support they need when they leave the hospital, including a follow-up visit, a phone call from hospital staff and referrals to support systems in their community.

Snapping Turtle Stops Traffic

CONCORD, N.C., Aug. 2 (UPI) — A giant snapping turtle stopped traffic on a North Carolina road, drivers say.

Kelly Glenn and Joe Coward were driving to the Concord Mills mall Sunday when they saw a snapping turtle standing on the edge of a street, The Gaston Gazette in Gastonia reported.

“It looked like he was waiting for traffic to stop,” Glenn said.

Concerned for the turtle’s safety, the pair pulled over. Glenn said the turtle was bigger than a steering wheel and too heavy for her to pick up, estimating the reptile at 70 to 80 pounds.

Whenever Glenn would get close to it to try to turn it around toward the field where it had come from, the turtle would snap at her. She ending up prodding it with her foot. After about 20 minutes, Glenn had the turtle heading back toward the field.

“He was quick [for being] such a big turtle,” Glenn said.

When returning from the mall a few hours later, the couple stopped to check on the turtle. They didn’t see it, but noticed its path through the field full of waist-high weeds. Glenn said the trail left by the turtle was matted to the ground.

“That’s how heavy he was,” Glenn said.

Mandy Jordan, the live animal manager at the Schiele Museum, estimated that the turtle was more than 10 years old, based on a picture of it.