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National

    Washington state's lieutenant governor declined to preside at Gov. Jay Inslee's State of the State speech Tuesday, saying he was concerned people might bring concealed weapons to the joint session of the Legislature. Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, a Democrat, noted that the state House of Representatives, where the speech was given, does not have a policy banning concealed weapons, The Daily Herald newspaper of Everett reported . 'There is no specific threat to me. There is no specific threat we know of, period,' Habib said. 'It's about the policy.' The House and Senate ban openly carried weapons in their galleries, and in the Senate, where Habib is the presiding officer; he extended that ban to cover concealed weapons as well. Habib, who is blind, said he was concerned the House policy leaves elected officials vulnerable. Other statewide elected officials, from the nine Washington Supreme Court justices to the commissioner of public lands, attended. In an emailed response, the office of the chief House clerk, Bernard Dean, called Habib's decision regrettable. 'Washington state law is clear: Properly licensed concealed carry permit holders are allowed to carry concealed weapons on the state capitol campus, including the galleries,' the statement said. 'Absent any specific security issue, and in accordance with the law, the House kept the galleries open so that the public could see its government in action.' Democratic Rep. John Lovick, of Mill Creek, the speaker pro tem in the House, presided over the joint legislative session for Inslee's speech in Habib's absence. Inslee, who is mulling a possible 2020 Democratic presidential bid, highlighted climate as his top issue in his annual address to lawmakers, who started their 105-day legislative session this week. ___ Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com
  • Before the boy died and went into a secret grave by the family dog pen, Elwyn “JR” Crocker Jr.’s dad complained about the 13-year-old to police in Georgia. The father claimed JR stole, fought when told to take a bath and was a “bully,” which was why he was homeschooled, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Cpl. Kurtis Smith took the boy aside and asked what was wrong, according to an incident report. JR acknowledged he did get angry a lot. He was upset mostly because he didn’t have many friends. The Rincon police officer advised JR to listen to his family, everything would be fine. Two and a half years later, this past Dec. 20, Effingham County Sheriff’s deputies found JR and his sister Mary Crocker, who was about two years younger, buried behind their trailer, some 30 miles from Savannah. They arrested every member of the family who lived there, including Elwyn Crocker Sr., the father who turned 50 on Christmas and until recently played Santa at a nearby Walmart. The suspects, who authorities say don’t have attorneys yet, remain jailed on charges of child cruelty and concealing deaths. The cause of death for the children could remain unknown for weeks or months as medical examiners perform tests on the remains. The officer’s 2015 encounter with JR was just one of many times when authorities and other got close to the family without realizing something would go terribly wrong, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. Interviews with those who know the family, as well as public records obtained by the AJC, show the children endured a tumultuous home life from an early age. Police were summoned multiple times, responding to fights between the adults around them. Child welfare agencies in South Carolina and Georgia investigated. There were strange punishments — especially for JR. Some witness accounts of mistreatment for one reason or another went unreported to authorities. Viewed together, the information paints an unsettling picture of how isolation and a hesitancy by authorities and neighbors to intervene more forcefully left the kids vulnerable. Then there was one big alleged lie, a statement that could have changed the course of the children’s lives. A picture, a reality There is a picture on Facebook of the family, taken in 2010: Crocker and his wife, Candice Crocker, beaming, crammed onto a loveseat with the man’s three kids, Mary, JR and James, the youngest, who suffers from cerebral palsy. They’re dressed like they just came from church and they look happy. But family portraits don’t tell all. Two years before, the father was in South Carolina with a different woman. Rebecca Grantham Self gave birth to James on Nov. 1, 2007. (JR and Mary share a mother, who couldn’t be reached for comment.) Self lived with Crocker and all three kids in the little town of South Congaree, southwest of Columbia. In Self’s telling, things were mostly fine until April 27, 2008. On that afternoon, she dialed 911 and told police Crocker had just flown into a rage after she woke him while feeding the baby, according to an incident report. He accused her of feeding James the wrong food, snatched the bottle and grabbed her by the throat, pressing her back against a window while she was still holding the infant, Self told an officer. Crocker had allegedly left a large red mark and a scratch on James’ head. The baby was taken to the hospital to get checked out. Sgt. Joshua Shumpert called the South Carolina Department of Social Services. A worker came and took the baby from the tearful mother. DSS declined to comment, but records provided to the AJC by Self suggest the agency believed her accusations against Crocker, at least before her alleged lie. ‘Ruined credibility’ The next day, Crocker told a police investigator that he and Self had been in a “verbal” fight and a “physical struggle for the bottle,” which resulted in the marks on the baby. He wasn’t charged and JR and Mary apparently remained in his custody. Nine days later, Self showed up at the police department with an awful-looking black eye, claiming Crocker had punched her. Shumpert, the same cop who’d called DSS, remembers feeling concern — then suspicion. He got Self a wet cloth and asked her to wipe her eye. The blackness came off — it was makeup, Shumpert said. “It ruined her credibility,” Shumpert, who is now the police chief, told the AJC recently. Crocker was never charged with grabbing Self by the throat or hurting the baby. Shumpert said he isn’t sure why, because he wasn’t involved in the investigation and couldn’t locate investigative records, but he suspected the “black eye” could’ve had something to do with it. Self was also later convicted of assaulting Crocker, court records show. She maintains today that she actually had been punched by Crocker and was angry that police hadn’t charged Crocker with hurting the baby. DSS later gave the father custody of the baby. Fights and long silence Crocker soon moved to Georgia with his new wife, Candice Crocker, who is 17 years younger. The Division of Family and Children Services investigated the family around 2012 but the agency has not yet commented or released any records on the case. At some point, the Crockers ended up in Rincon, on 9th Street, where the two dozen or so trailers in the Brother’s Keeper mobile home park are planted. Former neighbor Marvin Gills said he knew them well. Gills told the AJC he thought Elwyn and Candice Crocker were OK people. The kids were great. JR, a professional wrestling fan, would come roughhouse with Gills and help him work in the yard. Mary would spend the night with Gills’ daughter Daniella. After beginning home school at the start of the 2018-19 year, Mary still walked Daniella to the bus stop. Gills said the family’s home life took a turn when Candice Crocker’s mother, Kim Wright, and brother, Mark Wright II, started coming around more. Daniella said she saw Kim Wright hit Mary “upside the head.” James was forced to sleep in bathtubs and closets because he’d been “bad.” One day, Daniella saw strange purple marks on Mary’s hands. Mary said it was from swimming, Daniella said. On 9th Street, the most significant times police were called was when Elwyn Crocker complained about his son and when Kim Wright called about Elwyn Crocker. She said her son-in-law had busted her lip on June 7, 2016, after the family had agitated him by waking him up, according to an incident report. She told the responding officer she didn’t put up with the man’s “nonsense” like the rest of the family. It was the same officer who’d told JR to listen to his family a year earlier. Kim Wright said she didn’t want to press charges. The cop told them to try and get along. Later, the Crockers moved in with Kim Wright, her son and her boyfriend in her double-wide on Rosebud Place, outside the city of Guyton. The last known sighting of JR was two years ago, Mary in October. Both were 14 when last seen. Deputies found them in the dirt on Dec. 20 after someone called 911 concerned about Mary. In Rincon, the Gills family was brokenhearted by the news and reports that Mary always seemed scared on Rosebud Place. “The sad thing is, people around there never saw her smile,” he said. On 9th Street, she’d smiled often. This story was written by Joshua Sharpe for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • 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.
  • A pet missing for 9 years was reunited with its family after being rescued from a slick canal. The Press-Enterprise reported that animal control officers responded to a call Monday afternoon about a dog stuck in a canal in Riverside, California, according to Riverside County Department of Animal Services spokesman John Welsh. >> Read more trending news  Welsh said Officer Denise Westbrook was the first to respond.  “After locating the dog, Westbrook asked for assistance and officers Mary Salazar and Mike Cox responded,” Walsh said. “Lt. James Huffman arrived shortly thereafter and the four officers were able to lead the dog to a location with shorter banks.” Officers were ale to get a loop around the dog and bring it to safety. >> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  According to KCBS, the dog was reunited with the family because it had a microchip with their information on it.  “We’re excited that it all worked out,” Huffman said.
  • President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver the 2019 State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 29. >> Read more trending news  Newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the first day of the 116th Congress, issued the invitation to Trump to speak before a joint session of Congress, saying in the invitation letter, 'The Constitution established the legislative, executive and judicial branches as co-equal branches of government, to be a check and balance on each other. The Constitution also calls for the President to 'from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.’” Trump’s speech will be his second State of the Union address. In January 2017, Trump delivered an address before Congress, but it was not billed as a State of the Union address. The address will be Trump’s first to a Democratic-controlled House chamber. Here’s what you need to know about the State of the Union: What day: Tuesday, Jan. 29 What time: The time for the speech has not been announced, but the speech is usually delivered in prime time at 9 p.m. ET. Where is it held: The speech is given in the U.S. House Chamber. Who will be there: All members of Congress are invited, as are the members of the Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In addition to the attorney general, the heads of executive agencies and guests of members of Congress are invited. Usually, the president or first lady invites guests to sit with the first lady during the speech. Who won’t be there: The “designated survivor” will not attend the speech. The designated survivor is a member of the president’s Cabinet who does not attend the speech and is kept in a secure location in case something catastrophic happens and the president, vice president, speaker of the House and others are incapacitated or killed. The designated survivor would assume the reins of government in such a situation. Agriculture Secretary David Perdue was last year’s designated survivor. How long will the speech last: Trump’s 2018 speech lasted one hour and 20 minutes, the third longest State of the Union. There is no time limit for the speech. They tend to run about one hour long. What will he talk about: The White House has not released any possible subjects for the speech, but a wall along the southern border and the government shutdown are likely topics. What about the Democratic response: The person who will give the Democratic rebuttal to the State of the Union Speech has not yet been named. The Democratic response will take place immediately following the State of the Union Speech. Last year, Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, gave the rebuttal.
  • A Colombian drug trafficker testified Tuesday that Mexican cartel leader Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman once boasted about paying a $100 million bribe to the former president of Mexico. Alex Cifuentes spoke about the alleged bribe to President Enrique Pena Nieto during his testimony Tuesday in Guzman's trial in New York. The Colombian, who has been testifying for days about things he learned about Guzman's gang while he was living at one of the kingpin's hideaways in Mexico, didn't provide many details about the bribery claim. He said the money was delivered by a woman named Maria in Mexico City. A spokesman for Nieto called the bribery claim 'false and defamatory' when it first came up earlier in the trial. Nieto left office last year. Cifuentes first spoke with prosecutors about the bribery allegation when he began cooperating with U.S. authorities in 2016. Under questioning from Guzman's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, Cifuentes said he wasn't sure exactly when the bribe was delivered. Guzman is on trial in New York on drug trafficking charges that could put him in a U.S. prison for the rest of his life. The trial has featured numerous allegations of bribes or attempts to bribe high-level officials in Mexico and Columbia, including police commanders and other officials in charge of fighting the drug cartels. At the start of the trial, Lichtman suggested jurors would hear testimony about bribes paid to both Nieto and former Mexican President Felipe Calderon. At the time Calderon dismissed the allegations as 'absolutely false and reckless.' The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, admonished Lichtman after his opening statement to the jury, saying some of it included 'inadmissible hearsay' about corruption. 'Your opening statement handed out a promissory note that your case is not going to cash,' the judge said at the time. ___ This story has been corrected to reflect that the testimony happened Tuesday, not Wednesday. ___ This story has been corrected to show that Nieto's first name is Enrique, not Ernesto. Will be updated.
  • A member of the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma told people at the prescription opioid painkiller's launch party in the 1990s that it would be 'followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,' according to court documents filed Tuesday. The details were made public in a case brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey that accuses Purdue Pharma, its executives and members of the Sackler family of deceiving patients and doctors about the risks of opioids and pushing prescribers to keep patients on the drug longer. The documents provide information about former Purdue Pharma President Richard Sackler's role in overseeing sales of OxyContin that hasn't been public before. The drug and the closely held Connecticut company that sells it are at the center of a lawsuit in Massachusetts and hundreds of others across the country in which government entities are trying to find the drug industry responsible for an opioid crisis that killed 72,000 Americans in 2017. The Massachusetts litigation is separate from some 1,500 federal lawsuits filed by governments being overseen by a judge in Cleveland. But the company documents at the heart of the Massachusetts allegations are also part of the evidence exchanged in those cases. While the Massachusetts filing describes their contents, the documents themselves have not been made public, at the company's request. According to the filing, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, told the audience at the launch party to imagine a series of natural disasters: an earthquake, volcanic eruption, hurricane and blizzard. 'The launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white,' he said, according to the documents. 'Over the next twenty years, the Sacklers made Richard's boast come true,' lawyers in the attorney general's office wrote. 'They created a manmade disaster. Their blizzard of dangerous prescriptions buried children and parents and grandparents across Massachusetts, and the burials continue,' they wrote. The complaint says the Sackler family, which includes major donors to museums including the Smithsonian Institution, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate Modern in London, was long aware its drug was dangerous and addictive but pushed more sales anyway. A memo among family members in 2008 warned of a 'dangerous concentration of risk' for the family, the complaint says. Years earlier, Richard Sackler wrote in an email that the company would have to 'hammer on the abusers in every way possible,' describing them as 'the culprits and the problem.' Purdue Pharma accused the attorney general's office of cherry-picking from millions of emails and documents to create 'biased and inaccurate characterizations' of the company and its executives. The company said in a statement said it will 'aggressively defend against these misleading allegations.' The company also stresses that its drug is approved by federal regulators and prescribed by doctors; that it accounts for a small portion of opioids sold in the U.S.; and that illicit drugs including heroin and street fentanyl are causing most overdose deaths. Messages seeking comment were left with a spokeswoman for the Sackler family. Massachusetts is the first state to personally name the company's executives in a complaint. It names 16 current and former executives and board members, including CEO Craig Landau, Richard Sackler and other members of the Sackler family. A suit filed by the New York County of Suffolk also names members of the family. A lawyer who filed that suit, Paul Hanly, said he expects the family to be named in further suits. Last year, Purdue halted efforts to market OxyContin to doctors. ___ Mulvihill reported from New Jersey. Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkinricher and Geoff Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill
  • China may have grown the first-ever plant on the moon, as cotton seeds on a Chinese lunar probe have sprouted. >> Read more trending news  The sprouts can be seen in photos released Tuesday by the China National Space Administration. 'This (mission) has achieved the first biological experiment on the moon of human history, to sprout the first bud on the desolate moon. And with time moving on, it'll be the first plant with green leaves on the moon,' said Xie Gengxin, dean of Institute of Advanced Technology at Chongqing University, and the chief designer of the experiment, CNN reported. While humans have grown plants in space before, no one has tried to grow plants on the moon, according to CNN. China’s Chang’e 4 lunar probe made headlines earlier this month when it became the first to land on the far side of the moon Jan. 3. Chang’e 4 is intended to accomplish a range of tasks, including conducting the first lunar low-frequency radio astronomy experiment and exploring whether there is water at the moon's poles, CNN reported. The mission took several seeds to the moon as part of its biosphere experiment, meant to show how life develops in low gravity and strong radiation environments. In addition to cotton, Chang’e 4 brought oilseed rape, potato, Arabidopsis, yeast and fruit flies, The Guardian reported. More plants are expected to sprout in the next 100 days, CNSA said.
  • Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino started his 8-month jail sentence today for tax evasion. People reported that the MTV star, best known for his tan and abs in the reality series “Jersey Shore,” was booked Tuesday at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York. >> Read more trending news  The sentence stems from a September 2014 indictment for conspiring to defraud the United States and tax offenses. Sorrentino, 36, and his real estate broker brother, Marc Sorrentino, 39, allegedly failed to pay property taxes on $8.9 million income from 2010 to 2012, People reported. They were incited on more charges in April 2017, according to the Department of Justice. Mike Sorrentino pleaded guilty to tax evasion. In addition to eight months in jail, Judge Susan D. Wigenton ordered Mike Sorrentino to serve two years of supervised release and pay $123,913 in restitution and a criminal fine of $10,000, according to the justice department. People reported he has already paid the restitution fees and was also ordered to complete 500 community service hours. The department said Marc Sorrentino previously pleaded guilty to aiding in the preparation of a false and fraudulent tax return. He was ordered to serve one year of supervised release and pay a criminal fine of $7,500. He will serve a 24-month sentence at Federal Correctional Institution Fort Dix in New Jersey. Before going to Otisville FCI, Mike Sorentino tweeted, “The comeback is always greater than the Setback,” followed by a GIF of Ray Liotta’s “Goodfellas” character saying, “Now take me to jail.”
  • When her paychecks dried up because of the partial government shutdown, Cheryl Inzunza Blum sought out a side job that has become a popular option in the current economy: She rented out a room on Airbnb. Other government workers are driving for Uber, relying on word-of-mouth and social networks to find handyman work and looking for traditional temp gigs to help pay the bills during the longest shutdown in U.S. history. The hundreds of thousands of out-of-work government employees have more options than in past shutdowns given the rise of the so-called 'gig economy' that has made an entire workforce out of people doing home vacation rentals and driving for companies like Uber, Lyft and Postmates. Blum decided to capitalize on the busy winter travel season in Arizona to help make ends meet after she stopped getting paid for her government contract work as a lawyer in immigration court in Tucson. She says she has no choice but to continue to work unpaid because she has clients who are depending on her, some of whom are detained or have court hearings. But she also has bills: her Arizona state bar dues, malpractice insurance and a more than $500 phone bill for the past two months because she uses her phone so heavily for work. Blum bills the government for her work, but the office that pays her hasn't processed any paychecks to her since before the shutdown began. So she's been tapping every source she can to keep herself afloat — even her high school- and college-aged children — and is even thinking about driving for Uber and Lyft as well. 'So after working in court all day I'm going to go home and get the room super clean because they're arriving this evening,' she said of her Airbnb renters. 'I have a young man who's visiting town to do some biking, and he's going to come tomorrow and stay a week,' she added. 'I'm thrilled because that means immediate money. Once they check in, the next day there's some money in my account.' The shutdown is occurring against the backdrop of a strong economy that has millions of open jobs, along with ample opportunities to pick up Uber and Lyft shifts. The Labor Department reported that employers posted 6.9 million jobs in November, the latest figures available. That's not far from the record high of 7.3 million reached in August. Roughly 8,700 Uber driver positions are advertised nationwide on the SnagAJob website, while Lyft advertises about 3,000. But the gig economy doesn't pay all that well — something the furloughed government workers are finding out. Pay for such workers has declined over the past two years, and they are earning a growing share of their income elsewhere, a recent study found. Most Americans who earn income through online platforms do so for only a few months each year, according to the study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute. Chris George, 48, of Hemet, California, is furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture forest service. He's been driving for Lyft but has only been averaging about $10 for every hour he drives. Paying for gas then eats into whatever money he has made. He just got word that he'll be getting $450 in weekly unemployment benefits, but hadn't received any money as of Monday. In the meantime, he's taking handyman or other odd jobs wherever he can. 'I've just been doing side jobs when they come along,' he said Monday. 'I had two last week, and I don't know what this week's going to bring.' George Jankowski is among those hunting around for cash. He's getting a $100 weekly unemployment check, but that's barely enough to pay for food and gas, he said. On Monday, he made $30 helping a friend move out of a third-floor apartment in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jankowski is furloughed from a USDA call center and does not expect to get back pay because his job is part-time and hourly. Jankowski, an Air Force veteran, calls the situation 'grueling.' 'It's embarrassing to ask for money to pay bills or ask to borrow money to, you know, eat,' he said. Some employers were looking at the shutdown as a way to recruit, at least temporarily. Missy Koefod of the Atlanta-based cocktail-mixer manufacturer 18.21 Bitters said the company needs temporary help in the kitchen, retail store and getting ready for a trade show, and decided to put out the word to furloughed federal workers on social media that they were hiring. 'I can't imagine not getting paid for a couple of weeks,' Koefod said. American Labor Services, a staffing agency that employs 500 people a week in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, sent out an appeal to furloughed federal workers on Monday, asking them to get in touch for clerical or light-industrial work. 'Some might not realize that they could get something temporary, it could last for a short period,' said Ben Kaplan, the company's president and CEO. Israel Diaz sought out an Uber job and applied to be a security guard after he was furloughed from his Treasury Department job in Kansas City. He said federal work has become increasingly demoralizing and that he and many of his co-workers are considering quitting. 'In the old days, you work for the federal government, you get benefits, great,' said Diaz, a Republican and Marine Corps veteran. 'Now, it's not even worth it.' ___ Associated Press writers Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Chris Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.