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Defense attorneys for men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery are asking a Georgia judge to keep reporters out of the courtroom when lawyers question potential jurors about biasesBy RUSS BYNUM Associated PressJuly 15, 2021, 8:01 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSAVANNAH, Ga. — Defense attorneys for men charged in the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery are asking a Georgia judge to keep reporters out of the courtroom when lawyers question potential jurors to determine if they have biases in the widely publicized case.Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael, a white father and son, are charged with murder in the February 2020 killing of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased and shot after the McMichaels spotted him running in their neighborhood outside the coastal port city of Brunswick. A neighbor who joined the pursuit, William “Roddie” Bryan, was also charged with murder.Jury selection in the three men’s trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 18. Defense attorneys for the McMichaels filed a legal motion Wednesday that proposes three main steps. Jury pool members would first answer a written questionnaire. Then they would be brought one at a time into the courtroom for questioning by the judge and lawyers. Finally, potential jurors would face additional questions in groups of 12.The legal filing by the McMichaels’ attorneys requests that “no press will be permitted to be present” when potential jurors are questioned individually about what they’ve heard about the case and whether issues with race or other matters might make it hard for them to be fair and impartial.Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley has not weighed in on the request. Neither have prosecutors. Under Georgia law, court proceedings including jury selection are presumed to be open to the press and the public, though judges can restrict access in rare circumstances.Arbery’s killing sparked a national outcry last year amid protests over racial injustice. The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck when they spotted him running in their neighborhood Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.All three defendants have said they committed no crimes. Defense attorneys say the McMichaels had a valid reason to pursue Arbery, thinking he was a burglar, and that Travis McMichael shot him in self-defense as Arbery grappled for his shotgun.Whether an impartial jury can be seated in coastal Glynn County, where the killing occurred 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah, remains a major question.In their court motion, defense attorneys say it’s critical that potential jurors feel as comfortable as possible answering questions about race and other sensitive topics to ensure the McMichaels are tried by an impartial jury.“We must create the best environment for jurors to share their true thoughts, beliefs, biases, and prejudices about very sensitive subjects,” Jason Sheffield, an attorney for Travis McMichael, said in an email Thursday. “Having the media blast their answers all over the nation will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the truthfulness of their answers to our questions.”The motion to exclude reporters from a key part of jury selection clashes with decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the Georgia Supreme Court that heavily favor public access to court proceedings, said Gerry Weber, a constitutional and civil rights attorney who’s a former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.A judge has limited authority to clear a courtroom, such as to allow a potential juror to answer specific questions that might deal with private or confidential information, Weber said, but that “requires an individual assessment each time a courtroom is closed.”“There can’t be a blanket rule that individual questions are going to be secreted from the public,” Weber said. “The way that it’s framed as a blanket rule, I don’t think a judge would approve that.”The judge has scheduled a hearing with attorneys next Thursday to discuss pretrial motions and jury selection.
Authorities in Florida have requested an additional search and rescue team to help look for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed condo towerBy RUSS BYNUM Associated PressJune 30, 2021, 5:59 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Florida — Florida authorities asked the federal government for an additional rescue team to comb the rubble of a collapsed condo tower, underscoring the strenuous nature of the open-ended search for survivors in an area prone to tropical weather.The possibility that severe weather in coming days could further stretch Florida’s search and rescue resources prompted state officials to ask the federal government for the additional team, Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said Tuesday. Already, intermittent bad weather has caused temporary delays in the search.Guthrie said the new team, which would likely come from Virginia, would be on hand if severe weather hits the area in coming days and allow crews that have been working at the site for days to rotate out. Authorities said it’s still a search-and-rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.“There are two areas of (possible storm) development out in the Atlantic, heading to the Caribbean. We have eight urban rescue teams in Florida. We talked about doing a relief,” Guthrie said at a news conference Tuesday night. “We have all the resources we need but we’re going to bring in another team. We want to rotate those out so we can get more resources out.”The National Hurricane Center says two disorganized storm systems in the Atlantic have a chance of becoming tropical systems in the coming days, but it is unclear at this point whether they would pose a threat to the U.S.Charles Cyrille of the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency said 900 workers from 50 federal, state and local agencies were working seamlessly on the search.Elected officials have pledged to conduct multiple investigations into the sudden collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside last week. Another victim was recovered Tuesday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 12, with 149 people still unaccounted for.Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that she and her staff will meet with engineering, construction and geology experts, among others, to review building safety issues and develop recommendations “to ensure a tragedy like this will never, ever happen again.”State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she will pursue a grand jury investigation to examine factors and decisions that led to the collapse.Gov. Ron DeSantis evoked a well-known military commitment to leave no one behind on the battlefield and pledged to do the same for the people still missing in the rubble.“The way I look at it, as an old Navy guy, is when somebody is missing in action, in the military, you’re missing until you’re found. We don’t stop the search,” DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday.Also Tuesday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden would travel to Surfside on Thursday.Work at the site has been deliberate and treacherous. The pancake collapse of the building left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space.Several members of an Israeli rescue team worked partly on hands and knees Tuesday over a small section of the rubble, digging with shovels, pickaxes and saws. They removed debris into buckets that were dumped into a metal construction bin, which was periodically lifted away by a crane. The crane then delivered an empty bin.Late in the afternoon, rescue officials sounded a horn for a second time during the day’s work, signaling an approaching storm with lightning. Workers temporarily evacuated.Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said the work has been extremely difficult, but “we’re out here 110%.”“These are the times that are the most difficult,” Cominsky said. “We are here to do a job. We are here with a passion. Hopefully, we have some success.”———Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Miami, Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida, and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.
A virtual army of volunteers is offering free food and drink to the hundreds of first responders who have been working nonstop for six days at the site of a partially collapsed Florida condo buildingBy RUSS BYNUM Associated PressJune 29, 2021, 11:36 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — Nicolette Daniel pulled a wheeled cart packed with takeout boxes of chicken tenders, French fries and deep-fried Oreos to the intersection where police officers stood by their cars Tuesday, directing traffic a block from the collapsed condominium tower in Surfside, Florida.“They can’t leave their spot,” said Daniel, so determined to offer first responders a hot meal that she and her husband hired a food truck to cook 350 meals that are being distributed in a parking lot of a nearby church.One of the officers Daniel approached, Sgt. Patricia Vazquez, thanked her for the offered meal, but graciously declined.“So many people have been coming by with food,” Vazquez said, patting her stomach. “Somebody just came by here with 50 Big Macs.”Since a huge section of the Champlain Towers South building fell to the ground early Thursday, an ever-growing virtual army of volunteers has been offering everything from water and energy drinks to pizza and deep-fried Oreos to firefighters, police officers and other rescue workers working 12-hour shifts at the site.At Casa Church near the disaster site, Pastor Ezequiel Fattore got to work handing out refreshments to first responders within hours of the building collapse Thursday, beginning with a few bottles of water and Gatorade.“We had them in the fridge and we started with those,” said Fattore, whose congregation soon started pitching in to help. “A couple of hours later, I was at Costco spending $600. Those were the first donations.”In a side room at Fattore’s church on Tuesday, cases of water were stacked four high, along with a large assortment of energy drinks, bottled iced coffees and bags of chips and other snacks. As volunteers packed coolers to distribute among police and emergency crews in the area, a van pulled up to offload more refreshments.“They’re coming from another church,” Fattore said. “I have no idea what they’re bringing.”In the church’s parking lot, Robert Martinez and his crew of three busied themselves frying chicken tenders and Oreos in Martinez’s circus-themed food truck.Martinez said they’d brought enough to feed 350 people.“Once we got the call to come help out and do whatever we can, there was no decision to make,” Martinez said. “It was like, `Let’s go!’”The call came from Daniel and her husband, Patrick Daniel, who have a law firm in Houston. Nicolette Daniel said they traveled from Texas to Florida to offer whatever assistance they could to victims’ families and emergency workers.Daniel said she felt compelled to give back after the outpouring of support she received when her mother died suddenly a year ago.“It was the doorbell that kept ringing and the people who kept calling that kept me going,” she said.Fattore, the church pastor, said he’s had heartbreaking conversations with loved ones of those dead and missing. Some members of his church have friends still unaccounted for.But he said the outpouring from volunteers has reaffirmed his faith.“It gives hope for humanity,” he said.
The slow work of sifting through the remnants of a collapsed Florida condo building stretched into a sixth day Tuesday, as families desperate for progress endured a wrenching wait for answersBy RUSS BYNUM Associated PressJune 29, 2021, 9:49 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Florida — The slow work of sifting through the remnants of a collapsed Florida condo building stretched into a sixth day Tuesday, as families desperate for progress endured a wrenching wait for answers.“We have people waiting and waiting and waiting for news,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters Monday. “We have them coping with the news that they might not have their loved ones come out alive and still hope against hope that they will. They’re learning that some of their loved ones will come out as body parts. This is the kind of information that is just excruciating for everyone.”The work has been deliberate and treacherous. Just two additional bodies were found Monday, raising the count of confirmed dead to 11. That leaves 150 people still unaccounted for in the community of Surfside, just outside Miami.Authorities are meeting frequently with families to explain what they’re doing and answer questions. They have discussed with families everything from how DNA matches are made to help identify the dead, to how will next of kin be contacted, to going into “extreme detail” about how they are searching the mound, the mayor said.Armed with that knowledge, she said, families are coming to their own conclusions.“Some are feeling more hopeful, some less hopeful, because we do not have definitive answers. We give them the facts. We take them to the site,” she said. “They have seen the operation. They understand now how it works, and they are preparing themselves for news, one way or the other.”Rescuers are using bucket brigades and heavy machinery as they work atop a precarious mound of pulverized concrete, twisted steel and the remnants of dozens of households. The efforts included firefighters, sniffer dogs and search experts using radar and sonar devices.Authorities said their efforts were still a search-and-rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.The pancake collapse of the building left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space.“Every time there’s an action, there’s a reaction,” Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said during a news conference Monday. “It’s not an issue of we could just attach a couple of cords to a concrete boulder and lift it and call it a day.” Some of the concrete pieces are smaller, the size of basketballs or baseballs.From outside a neighboring building on Monday, more than two dozen family members watched teams of searchers excavate the building site. Some held onto each other for support. Others hugged and prayed. Some people took photos.Authorities on Monday insisted they are not losing hope.Deciding to transition from search-and-rescue work to a recovery operation is agonizing, said Dr. Joseph A. Barbera, a professor at George Washington University. That decision is fraught with considerations, he said, that only those on the ground can make.Barbera coauthored a study examining disasters where some people survived under rubble for prolonged periods of time. He has also advised teams on where to look for potential survivors and when to conclude “that the probability of continued survival is very, very small.”“It’s an incredibly difficult decision, and I’ve never had to make that decision,” Barbera said.The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making steep payments toward more than $9 million in repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report that warned of “major structural damage.”———Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee and writers from around the United States contributed to this report.
SAVANNAH, Ga. — After nine years of planning and $10 million invested by local taxpayers, county officials in Georgia’s coastal southeast corner came a big step closer Thursday to winning federal approval of a project engineered to literally inject the local economy with rocket fuel.Since 2012, Camden County on the Georgia-Florida line has doggedly pursued plans to build and operate the 13th licensed U.S. commercial rocket launch pad for blasting satellites into orbit. It’s been a bumpy ride, with critics concerned that explosive misfires might threaten a protected barrier island popular with campers and possibly a Navy base entrusted with nuclear weapons.The project came closer to fruition Thursday, when the Federal Aviation Administration issued its final study on Spaceport Camden’s environmental impacts. The agency concluded that building the spaceport was its “preferred alternative,” as opposed to scrapping the project. That paves the way for a final decision in July on its license to operate a launch site.Even if approved, there’s no guarantee the project will fire its first rocket anytime soon. Despite increased demand for commercial launches in the past decade, more than half of licensed U.S. spaceports have never held a licensed launch.Regardless, Steve Howard, Camden County’s government administrator, insists the community of 55,000 is seizing a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” not only to join the commercial space race, but to lure supporting industries and tourists.“For us, it’s never been about the rockets. It’s about everything else,” Howard said. “The rockets and the spaceport are a catalyst. What we want is everything else around it: R&D, manufacturing, payload processing, STEM programs, tourism.”If the Federal Aviation Administration grants Spaceport Camden a license, the county plans to buy 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) near the coast that during the 1960s was used to manufacture and test rocket motors for NASA.Camden County would join 19 total U.S. sites available to launch commercial rockets. Five are U.S. government sites such as Cape Canaveral in Florida. Two private sites in Texas were built for the sole use of their owners, SpaceX and Blue Origin.Camden County would join the remaining dozen, which are essentially launch pads for hire by companies with their own rockets. According to the FAA, seven of those sites — in Florida, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma — have never held a licensed launch.“Operators of active spaceports and launch providers expressed concerns that FAA is licensing sites that may never host a launch,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a December report, “although other spaceport operators mentioned that the sites could be suitable for future operations.”Opponents of Spaceport Camden contend it’s in an unsafe location. Its launch path would send rockets over two barrier islands, Cumberland Island and Little Cumberland Island, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) to the east.Private landowners have more than 40 homes dotting Little Cumberland, though few live there year-round. Cumberland Island is a federally protected wilderness, known for wild horses and nesting sea turtles, that attracts an estimated 60,000 visitors and campers annually.No roads connect either island to the mainland. Landowners and the National Park Service, which manages Cumberland Island, have said they’re concerned failing rockets could explode and rain down flaming debris.Stan Austin, the Park Service’s regional director in Atlanta, wrote to the FAA on Dec. 10 that the spaceport plan carried “a significant risk” to Cumberland Island.Wayne Monteith, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation, noted how close the launch site sits to the two islands in a 2019 memo that stated: “This is the closest population overflight ever proposed” for a spaceport license.Spaceport Camden amended its license application last year, scrapping plans to fire medium-to-large rockets and saying it would instead stick to small rockets with maximum payloads of 4,400 pounds (1,995 kilograms).Critics say those small rockets still have a risk of failure as high as 20%, citing figures from Spaceport Camden’s application.“Our biggest concern is fire,” said Kevin Lang, an Athens attorney who owns a cottage on Little Cumberland Island. “If we had a multi-point fire on Little Cumberland Island, it is very unlikely it could be put out before it destroys cottages and the natural environment, and possibly kills or injures inhabitants.”The U.S. Navy has also questioned whether there could be risks to Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, a port for subs armed with nuclear missiles about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of the proposed spaceport. John Hill, the assistant defense secretary for space policy, said in a letter last month that the military is willing to let the project move forward if certain conditions are met.Howard said a risk analysis for Spaceport Camden determined the chance of death or injury from a rocket launched at the site “ranges from less than one in 10 million to one in a billion.”“This has been very, very studied,” Howard said. “We’re confident that there will be no significant impact.”Even if Camden County gets licensed to open a spaceport, any customer seeking to fire a rocket there would need a separate FAA launch license.Some spaceports have never gotten that far, despite a big jump in commercial U.S. launches — from four in 2010 to 39 last year. There have been 31 so far in 2021, most of them by SpaceX.“There are only a few industry players that are even capable of conducting launches, and they tend to find a site and stick with it,” said Michael S. Dodge, a professor in the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota.Dodge said he expects continued growth will eventually pay off for waiting spaceports.The Georgia project may benefit from its design to launch rockets vertically, said Janet Tinoco, a business professor who studies spaceports at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Those still awaiting their first launches were built for spacecraft that take off horizontally, like planes.“It’s an emerging industry. There’s lots of risks and lots of uncertainty,” Tinoco said. “But I don’t think we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”———AP journalist Ritu Shukla in Atlanta contributed to this report.