Accused Tampa killer pleads not guilty

(CNN)The man accused of fatally shooting four people during a killing spree that shocked Tampa, Florida, has entered a not guilty plea, a Hillsborough County court official said Tuesday.

Howell “Trai” Donaldson III, 24, who was indicted last week on four counts of premeditated murder with a firearm, entered a written plea of not guilty on all charges and his court appearance was waived, said Mike Moore, a spokesman for Hillsborough County court system.
His next court date is January 25, by which time prosecutors will have decided whether to pursue the death penalty, according to Moore.
Donaldson was arrested in late November and accused of killing four people, seemingly at random, in Seminole Heights in October and November.
The victims — Anthony Naiboa, Monica Hoffa, Benjamin Mitchell and Ronald Felton — were shot and killed in separate incidents as they walked alone at night. At the time, police swarmed the area amid fears that a serial killer was on the loose.
Donaldson was taken into custody after a co-worker at McDonald’s tipped off police about his handgun. He was picked up 51 days after the first killing.
Police detained Donaldson and determined his firearm was used in all four killings, according to the criminal affidavit.
Cellphone location data also connected him to areas near the killings when they occurred, a court affidavit stated.
A state judge last week ordered Donaldson’s parents to appear in court on January 5 to “show cause” on why they shouldn’t be held in civil contempt for refusing to answer investigators’ questions about the case.
The Hillsborough County State Attorney has accused the parents of indirect criminal contempt for refusing to answer questions after being served with a subpoena. Investigators tried to question the parents about their son’s background and state of mind.

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3-month-old and 5-year-old girls rescued in sex trafficking crackdown

(CNN)Two sisters, one 5 years old and the other 3 months old, were rescued in Denver by undercover agents during this year’s FBI-led sting operation against sex traffickers, officials said.

The alleged trafficker, a friend of the children’s family, made a deal to sell them for sex for $600, the FBI said. The friend communicated with an undercover agent, the FBI said in announcing details of Operation Cross Country XI.
While this alleged crime alone is disturbing, 82 other juveniles were rescued during last week’s nationwide sweep. Some 120 people were arrested.
Despite the arrest numbers, the work is far from over.
“Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested — and the number of children recovered — reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
For these young children, life may never return to the way it was before. Holly Gibbs, a child sex trafficking survivor and the patient care director of Dignity Health, said, “Human trafficking is a global public health crisis. What happened to these children is a tragedy, and they have a long journey ahead of them. But for the moment, I am glad that they are safe.”

Average age of victims is 15

On October 13, the second day of the operation, a minor was rescued by the FBI in El Paso, Texas, when a 16-year-old female victim was advertised online for “entertainment,” officials said.
The girl was accompanied by a 21-year-old female who offered an undercover agent sexual intercourse with both her and the underage victim for $200, officials said. According to the FBI report, the woman as well as the driver, another female, who took the minor and 21-year-old to the undercover officer’s location, were arrested.
Among the recovered victims across the country was one from Russia. Local and state agencies were involved in the operation, as were police as far away as the Philippines and Thailand.
The average age of the victims recovered from this year’s operation is 15, the FBI said. Sellers tried to pimp them to outsiders from hotels, truck stops or online.
Sometimes, sex trafficking can involve family members or family friends.
Bradley Myles, CEO of the Polaris Project, which launched a human trafficking hotline, says traffickers often prey on those with trauma in their childhood history. And, he said, there often are problems down the road.
“There are ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, and the more ACEs that someone has the higher likelihood that they’ll experience other forms of trauma and abuse in life,” said Myles, who was not involved in the operation but said he hopes the children are given the resources they need to someday recover.

Focusing on the victims

At a press conference in Denver on Thursday, District Attorney George Brauchler reminded traffickers that undercover agents and task force officers are always lurking, be it behind cameras, on the Internet or in a casino, prepared to make another bust.
“To those out there who are watching this who might avail themselves at the opportunity to exploit children or to engage in even the adult sex trade, this is a bit of a warning. … The people that you can’t see behind those cameras, they are fins. They are fins in the water and they represent sharks who are there all the time.”
“And my advice to you is to stay out of those waters where the kids are, to stay out of those waters where exploited adults are for sex, because they are out there and they will get you. And when they get you, my office will handle the rest.”
The FBI continues to work with agencies and organization specializing in child protective services for the 84 rescued children.
There are still thousands of children locked in shackles as chess pieces in a game of sex slavery, and without consistent efforts, Myles said he doesn’t think it will end
“We are seeing about an average of 23 cases a day. So we need that daily drumbeat of a 24-hour response throughout the country,” he said. “Operation Cross Country doesn’t happen every day. But these cases are breaking across our country every day.”

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Daylight Saving Time: Don’t forget to spring forward

(CNN)It’s that time of year again. This weekend, you’ll sacrifice an hour of sleep in exchange for a few months of extra daylight.

Daylight Saving Time officially started at 2 a.m. on Sunday. If you haven’t set your clocks forward yet, do it before you return to work on Monday. Daylight Saving Time ends the first Sunday in November.
Benjamin Franklin first thought up the idea of daylight saving in 1784. It wasn’t instituted until World War I, when it went into effect to save energy used for lights.
The Standard Time Act established time zones and daylight saving in 1918, but it was short-lived. Daylight saving was repealed the following year.
The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established Daylight Saving Time throughout the United States and gave states the option to exempt themselves. Hawaii and most of Arizona do not follow Daylight Saving Time. Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa also skip out on the clock-changing fun.
In 1974 and 1975, Congress extended daylight saving to save energy during the energy crisis.
In 2007, Daylight Saving got a few weeks longer, running from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.
About 70 countries around the world observe daylight saving, but many countries near the equator do not.
It’s not universally popular, though. Farmers note that their livestock don’t live by a clock, and complain that they have to adjust their working hours to deal with the animals. Also, any parent will tell you — babies don’t quite get it either.
Which do you prefer — more daylight or more sleep? Weigh in below.

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Former University of Maryland student indicted on hate crime charge in stabbing death

(CNN)A grand jury on Tuesday indicted a white former University of Maryland college student on a hate crime charge in the stabbing death of a black US Army lieutenant, authorities said.

Sean Christopher Urbanski, 22, of Severna Park, is accused of killing Richard Collins III in the predawn hours of May 20 at a campus bus stop. Collins attended nearby Bowie State University.
Urbanski was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” which spews hatred toward minorities and “especially African-Americans,” police said at the time.
Collins “was killed because of his race,” Angela D. Alsobrooks, state’s attorney for Prince George’s County,said declining to release specific details about the evidence thatled the grand jury to hand down the indictment on the hate crime resulting in death charge.
“There was lots of digital evidence that we could look at to get a sense for the motive in this case,” Alsobrooks said.
She added: “It came from his phone, computer ….There was some activity on Facebook.”
Collins, 23, been recently commissioned as a second lieutenant, and was three days away from graduating. He was posthumously awarded his degree.
Collins and Urbanski did not know each other, officials said.
“It is our great hope that we will bring peace and healing to the family in this case,” Alsobrooks said.

Bowie State reflecting on ‘precious life lost’

The University of Maryland, in a statement, said the “Collins family remains in our thoughts, following their tragic loss last May.”
“This is especially true today as the prosecution of this senseless crime moves through the criminal justice system,” the university said.
Bowie State said: “While it is encouraging to see progress being made in the criminal case, we continue to reflect on the precious life lost.”
In July, a separate grand jury indicted Urbanski on a common-law murder charge, which covers first-and-second-degree murder.
Police said Urbanski yelled bizarre commands at Collins, who was with friends on the Maryland campus, witnesses told police.
“Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” Urbanski said, according to court papers.
Collins “looked at him puzzled with the other friends and said, ‘No,’ “according to University of Maryland police Chief David Mitchell.
“It was then that (the suspect) stabbed the victim in the chest,” Mitchell said then.
Collins was stabbed once in the chest, according to court papers. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
At a May bond hearing, Urbanski’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., argued his client was intoxicated at the time of the alleged crime.
Brennan could not be reached Tuesday. No one could be reached at Urbanski’s home.
Prosecutors plan to see the maximum sentence of life without parole in the murder case. Alsobrooks said Urbanski faces an additional 20-year term if convicted of a hate crime.

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Trial set to begin in burning death of Mississippi teen

(CNN)A jury was chosen Monday in trial of a Mississippi man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chambers, who died after being set on fire in her car in 2014.

Quinton Tellis, 29, faces a capital murder charge in her slaying.
The Courtland teen’s mysterious death has haunted the small town of 500 in northwest Mississippi for nearly three years. Chambers left her mother’s house in pajama pants on December 6, 2014, reportedly to clean her car.
She never returned.
When police found her later that night, she wasn’t far from her mother’s home. Her car was on fire, and Chambers had burns on more than 90% of her body.
She said someone set her on fire. When asked who hurt her, some first responders claim they heard her say a man’s name. She was rushed to a hospital, where she died the next day.
Courtland and Panola County residents learned last year that Tellis, who was being held in Louisiana in connection with a crime involving another homicide victim, was to be indicted in Chambers’ death.
District Attorney John Champion said at the time he was “very, very confident” there would be no additional charges or suspects in the Chambers case.
“We do feel like, at this point, that he acted alone in this case,” he said.
Video surveillance footage and DNA evidence found on Chambers’ car keys near the scene will likely play a role in Tellis’ prosecution, lead detective Barry Thompson told CNN in the special report “Justice for Jessica,” which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HLN with correspondent Randi Kaye.
The capital murder charge against Tellis opens the door for a death penalty case, but Champion said Wednesday the prosecution is not planning to seek the death penalty. The charge is capital murder because her death occurred during the commission of another crime: third-degree arson.
Tellis has pleaded not guilty. He declined requests for an interview.

Longtime mystery

Until Tellis’ February 2016 indictment, investigators had released few details about how Chambers, a former high school cheerleader, and her car ended up severely burned in a wooded area near Courtland.
That could be because authorities had ascertained so little about her death until late 2015. Champion explained that police interviewed about 150 people, and each agreed to cooperate. That’s odd in a case such as this, according to the prosecutor.
On four occasions, Champion said he thought the case had been solved, but he was wrong. Investigators received no information from their street sources, he said, and though authorities chased leads as far-flung as Tennessee, Iowa and eastern Mississippi, nothing panned out until they started taking a close look at cell phone and other data evidence.
Tellis was looked at early in the investigation, the prosecutor said, but he did not become investigators’ focus until the fall of 2015.
“Things started to match up for us, and that’s when we began to take a second look at Mr. Tellis,” Champion said, adding that forensic evidence will be integral to driving the prosecution.

Burned teen’s dad: She was unrecognizable

Jessica’s father, Ben Chambers, a former mechanic with the Panola County Sheriff’s Office, said he was in close contact with investigators throughout the investigation, and he witnessed their long nights, skipped vacations and the rings under their eyes.
“I’ve seen it day in and day out. The hard work they’ve done never stopped,” he told reporters at the time of Tellis’ indictment, a cap bearing the sheriff’s office’s logo atop his head. “They said someday it would come, and it did. They would not give up, and I take my hat off to them.”

Ties to another homicide victim

Tellis was being held in the Ouachita Parish Correctional Facility in Monroe, Louisiana, almost a four-hour drive from Jessica Chambers’ hometown, when he was indicted in her death.
He grew up in Courtland, and that’s where, Champion said, he and Chambers became friends. They’d known one another for only two weeks at the time of the killing, according to investigators.
Tellis moved from Mississippi to Louisiana in the summer of 2015, the prosecutor said. Nearly eight months after Chambers’ death, another young woman turned up dead.
Tellis pleaded guilty to the unauthorized use of an access card, which belonged to homicide victim Ming-Chen Hsiao, whom investigators identified as a 34-year-old University of Louisiana-Monroe student from Taiwan.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
According to a probable cause affidavit in that case, Tellis used a bank debit card belonging to the missing woman on August 7, the day before The Clarion-Ledger reports her body was found, and then again on August 18 and 19, withdrawing $500 both times.
Authorities procured “photo evidence” and interviewed Tellis on August 20, at which point “he admitted to using the Chase Bank debit card on the three listed transactions and stated that he was the individual seen in the ATM photos,” the affidavit said.
The authorities say Tellis remains the prime suspect in Hsiao’s death, but he has never been charged in that case.
He was extradited from Louisiana to Mississippi to face the Chambers murder charge.

Tellis’ rap sheet

Following the probe into the debit card, police executed a search warrant at Tellis’ Monroe home and discovered a quarter-pound of marijuana in his bedroom, packaged for sale.
The suspect “stated he sold marijuana for profit. Tellis was arrested and booked” on an additional charge of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, according to the affidavit.
According to law enforcement, Tellis is a gang member with a rap sheet and has served time previously, but his gang affiliation does not appear to have anything to do with Chambers’ killing, and drugs do not appear to be a factor in her death, Champion said.
Mississippi Department of Corrections records indicate Tellis was convicted of fleeing police in 2010 and sentenced to five years in prison. He was convicted of residential burglary in December 2011 and again in February 2012. He received sentences of four years and three years, respectively, on those convictions.
He was incarcerated in June 2011, according to court records. Tellis was released from a Mississippi correctional facility on October 2014 after serving time for the burglaries, Champion said. That’s two months before Chambers was killed.

‘She just seemed normal’

One of Chambers friends, Kesha Meyer, told CNN that she, Tellis and Chambers spent time together on the day of the blaze. But he denies killing her.
On December 6, 2014, Chambers was seen at a gas station about two miles from her mother’s house. Her hair was in a bun, and she was wearing camouflage pajama pants.
She put $14 worth of gas in the car and called her mother, saying she would be home right after she cleaned her car, her older sister, Amanda Prince, told CNN.
A store surveillance video shows Chambers prepaying for gas. She walks to the store’s front door when something or someone catches her attention.
She waves and walks off camera briefly, comes back into the camera’s view and enters the store as three men chat by the doorway. She spends about a minute at the counter before going back outside and pumping gas.
The gas station owner who helped her said nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
“She seemed normal,” Ali Alsanai told WREG in 2014. “She didn’t seem like something was going wrong, you know? She just seemed normal. She just pumped some gas, we had a talk and she left.”
Champion said he did not believe Chambers’ visit to the gas station had anything to do with her death.

Firefighters discover teen burned alive

Chambers was found that Saturday night on a rural road near Courtland, her car on fire. She’d somehow fought her way out of the burning vehicle and was no longer on fire when emergency responders arrived, but she had burns on 93% of her body.
Chambers approached Courtland Fire Chief Cole Haley and said someone set her on fire.
Asked who did it, she told first responders “Eric” or “Derrick,” according to Champion. Not “Quinton.”
It’s a point the defense may seize on. However, police investigators learned from medical experts that burns in Chambers’ airway may have impeded her ability to talk.
Chambers died in a Memphis hospital early the next day.

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Doctor braves Harvey flooding in canoe to perform teen’s surgery

(CNN)Despite the fact that his own home was flooding because of Hurricane Harvey, a Houston area doctor was so determined to perform emergency surgery on a 16-year-old boy that he used whatever means necessary to reach the hospital — even if that meant using a canoe and walking through waist-high floodwater.

Dr. Stephen Kimmel, a general pediatric surgeon at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas, rushed out of his home on Saturday morning when he received a call about Jacob Terrazas, who faced permanent damage if the surgery wasn’t performed immediately.
During a Wednesday appearance with Jacob on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” Kimmel said he headed out in his car, but had to turn back because of the flooding. But that was just the beginning of his brave journey.
The hospital reached out to the local volunteer fire department to aid Kimmel. “So we ran through the flooded streets and it was pretty windy and rainy,” he said.
“We went by canoe and then by (a firefighter’s) pickup truck and by canoe again,” Kimmel told Burnett. “And I felt that these guys knew what they were doing, so I didn’t worry about myself at all the whole time.”
Kimmel ultimately reached the hospital after walking the last mile in waist-high water.
He says what is usually a 10-15 minute trip took about an hour, but that the effort was warranted. “Somebody had to take care of this young man, and so I thought, well if I can do it, I certainly should,” he said. “He was on the way to our institution and I’m glad I was able to make it.”
Jacob, who admitted he was “really scared,” and his family also had their own harrowing journey to the hospital as the paramedic’s truck he was in had to stop because of flooding.
“We had to get out and I was kind of lost, but tired,” he said. “One of the paramedics carried me to the side of the highway and after that we waited for a little bit. It was raining, my mom, my sisters they were just standing there wet. I was getting wet, cold. We were all cold. And we waited for a truck to get here and we got in the truck and left the paramedics, and after that we went to the fire department, I think, and we waited for a big truck to get there and once the truck got there, we all went in there.”
When Jacob finally arrived at the hospital, he said he didn’t even realize Kimmel was his doctor because he had just gotten there himself and wasn’t in typical medical attire.
“It was kind of weird because I got there and I didn’t know who was the doctor because I thought he was just like some, I don’t know, just some dude,” he said. “That’s what my mom thought, too. And once he told me I was like ‘oh, Ok.”
Jacob said he’s “thankful” for Kimmel performing the surgery and that he is “relieved from the pain” and “I’m feeling way much better.”
Kimmel responded by saying, “It’s really a privilege to be able to take care of pediatric surgical patients and, you know, it’s a very fulfilling day I have every day. It’s great to take care of kids and see them get better.”
The doctor also added that the Coast Guard was able to get his family out of their home safely and that the water has receded and the home is salvageable. But Kimmel said, “It’s certainly not the most important thing. I was just happy to see them.”

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Puerto Rico’s weather forecasters fight worry and fatigue to stay focused

(CNN)Stuck in their offices, lacking sleep, food and water and unable to check on their families and friends, the staff at the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico, remains focused on saving lives

“We are not 100% fine,” wrote meteorologist Ian Colon-Pagan. “We are bunkering in the office, no communications, no news about our family and friends, we still have some food.
“We are managing the stress and lack of sleep,” he continued, “but we don’t know until how long.”
The chat room is one of several that National Weather Service meteorologists use to share information quickly with one another, emergency management officials and media during big weather events like Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The unusually frank exchanges reveal how those in the San Juan office were riding out monster storm Maria — while still providing real-time updates to the public.
“Again, of course there is damage to some things, including comms, cell towers down etc.,” wrote another staffer, Jose Alamo. “But I feel confident that we saves a lot of lives this time!”
When Hurricane Maria tore through the US commonwealth on Wednesday, reducing homes to rubble and taking out its power grid, it also took down Puerto Rico’s two weather radars. The National Weather Service in Miami took over some of the responsibilities.
Larry Kelley, a forecaster for the Miami National Weather Service office, said, “We are working together to help serve the people of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.”
But the tough conditions haven’t prevented meteorologists on the island from keeping Puerto Ricans up-to-date with the latest conditions as best they can.
“It’s rough out there, the roads are blocked with either water, trees, or electrical wires and poles,” Alamo wrote, “but we are alive and safe, which is ultimately what matters.”
The messages provide a glimpse into the challenging circumstances that face the stricken island’s dedicated meteorologists. Circumstances about which few members the public would know. The forecaster’s colleagues have certainly noticed.
Brian Seeley, a former San Juan forecaster, wrote, “Coming right on the heels of Irma, there was always the chance that folks wouldn’t listen as closely or be complacent with Maria and you all kept them alert and well prepared!!”

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