November 2009 Archives

Alleged Former Nazi Guard Goes on Trial

The New York Times reported that John Demjanjuk, a retired American autoworker, was put on trial Monday when he was accused of aiding in the murders of 27,900 Jews during the Holocaust.

German prosecutors said that Demjanjuk, 89, worked as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943. Sobibor was an extermination camp rather than a concentration camp, which meant that Demjanjuk would have been involved in mass murder, prosecutors argued.

Demjanjuk appeared in court in a wheelchair with his eyes closed and covered in a blanket. Family members said he was too sick to stand trial. However, doctors deemed him fit enough to stand trial, but only in two 90-minute sessions per day.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Demjanjuk was previously convicted in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He spent seven years in prison until his conviction was overturned in 1993, when Israel's Supreme Court found that Demjanjuk had been mistakenly identified as someone else.

Though there are no living witnesses to testify against Demjanjuk, prosecutors say they can convict Demjanjuk using an SS identity card and orders sending him to Sobibor from the Trawniki training camp for Nazi guards. However, defendants question the authenticity of the documents.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Demjanjuk has been stripped of his U.S. citizenship and was deported from the country in May.

If convicted he could face up to 15 years in prison. The trial will resume Tuesday.

Peruvian Gang Killed for Human Fat

Police charged Thursday that a gang in the Peruvian jungle has been killing people to harvest their fat so that they could sell it on the black market for use in cosmetics.

Three suspects confessed to killing five people for their fat, the Huffington Post reported. They told police that a gallon of fat was worth $60,000 and was being sold to intermediaries in Lima, Peru's capital.

According to the New York Times, suspect Elmer Segundo Castillejos, 29, confessed to killing, decapitating, and gutting victims before fat was collected from the torso carcasses.

The gang may be involved in more killings, Peruvian officials said. Castillejos said that the gang's leader, Hilario Cudena, had long been killing to extract fat for more than 30 years.

Authorities suspected that the fat was sold to cosmetic companies in Europe, though there has been no confirmation, the New York Times reported. Medical experts said that fat had cosmetic uses, but doubted that a black market existed for human fat.

Police arrested two more suspects in early November, Serapio Manos Veramendi and Enedina Estela. All three have been charged with homicide, criminal conspiracy, illegal firearms possession and drug trafficking.

Two More Arrested for Assaults in YouTube Video

Saint Paul police arrested two more suspects involved with a YouTube video that featured eight men assaulting people in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Star Tribune reported.

The two young men were arrested on suspicion of causing a riot. In addition, Mohamed Abdiqadin Abdi, 19, was booked into the Ramsey County Jail, while another 17-year-old was held at a juvenile detention center, bringing the total to four arrested suspects.

Police are still searching for the others who filmed the video, while at least four others are suspected of being involved with the crime.

The investigation was in response to a YouTube video posted on Monday featuring eight young men terrorizing pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists and children. The men included their real names and clear images of their faces in the video.

The video showed locations in St. Paul, such as University Avenue and Lexington Parkway, and Lincoln Avenue and Chatsworth Street.

The Pioneer Press reported that the video showed suspects flashing what appeared to be Crips gang signs, though there has been no confirmation that any of the men are gang members.

Number Use: Japan Faces Fear of New Downturn

A journalist from the Wall Street Journal used numbers to write a story about Japan's economy. According to the article, Japan is in great debt. For instance, economists estimate that Japan's GDP ratio could reach 200% by next year and 300% in the next decade. Economists from the Economic Planning Association said that the economy grew 2.5%, up slightly from 2.3% in the prior period.

In just a few paragraphs, there are a lot of numbers, particularly percentages. This is overwhelming, because I did not completely understand what these percentages meant. The reporter could have used numbers more effectively by explaining the context of the numbers.

The reporter sourced numbers from Masaaki Kanno, a J.P. Morgan Chase economist, and from the Economic Planning Association. Not all numbers were sourced. Many statistics were vaguely attributed to "economists."

Man Sentenced for Throwing Dog Off Balcony

A St. Paul man who pleaded guilty to hurling his girlfriend's dog off a balcony was sentenced Thursday to two years' probation, the Star Tribune reported.

Quincy Lee Morrow, 23, pleaded guilty Sept. 22 to felony mistreatment of an animal.

The criminal charge was due to an incident that occurred on Nov. 28, 2008, when Morrow threw his girlfriend's pit bull puppy off her second-story apartment balcony in Maplewood. The dog suffered such extreme injuries that it had to be put down.

Ramsey County District Judge Rosanne Nathanson prohibited Morrow from possessing pets as well as living in homes that has pets.

Morrow feels remorse for what he did and is seeking counseling,  the Star Tribune reported.

Woman is Charged for Lying About St. Paul College Gunman

On Sept. 23, St. Paul College was evacuated, classes were canceled, and police SWAT teams searched the college for a gunman reportedly seen in an elevator, the Star Tribune reported.

Weeks afterward, St. Paul police discovered that the report was a hoax. On Tuesday, the St. Paul city attorney's office said St. Paul College student Charleeta Deon Brown, 42, had been charged with falsely reporting a crime.

After Brown told police she saw an unidentified man retrieve a gun hidden on a ledge inside the elevator, police rushed to the school. The campus was locked down, and police then spent four hours searching for the gunman, the Pioneer Press reported.

However, on Oct. 19, Brown told investigators the report was a fake. She did not reveal her motive for concocting the story.

Brown was charged with a misdemeanor for falsely reporting a crime and was expelled from the college, the Star Tribune reported. She was convicted twice in 2007 for a misdemeanor in theft and another for gross-misdemeanor check forgery.

Brown's false report caused the Police Department about $10,000 in personnel costs. 

Water Found on the Moon

Scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said Friday that they had discovered large amounts of water on the moon, a place which had always seemed too dry and barren to be habitable.

For awhile now experts have suspected that there was water on the moon due to the presence of large amounts of hydrogen at the moon's poles. Confirmation came from data collected by two NASA spacecraft that intentionally collided into a lunar crater.

The crash unleashed at least 25 gallons of water during the impact, but scientists believed that there was more, the New York Times reported.

Water on the moon allows lunar scientists to further research the history of the solar system by exploring the source of the water and its distribution on the moon. Scientists said that possible sources of water included the moon, comets, Earth, or solar wind.

These discoveries make human exploration of the moon even more possible, because the water could be used to generate oxygen, The Wall Street Journal reported. It could also be another source of drinking water, and it could be used to make rocket fuel.

Obama Seeks to Build Stronger Ties to Asia

President Barack Obama declared on Saturday that, despite the rising power of China, the U.S. would become a more export-driven nation by strengthening ties with Asian allies, the New York Times reported.

In a speech delivered at Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Obama said that the United States is not threatened by China's increasing status as a global power. It would continue to maintain good relationships with Asia even if it seemed preoccupied with conflicts in the Middle East.

Obama also urged that the U.S. and Asia must move away from the "imbalance" of Asian reliance on the U.S. as an export market.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Asia has grown nervous about American trade policy, and are skeptical about Obama's support of free trade. So far, Obama's most significant actions regarding trade have been enforcing tariffs on Chinese tires and steel pipe imports.

Obama also addressed human rights, but never mentioned rights concerning the conflict in China and Tibet, where Beijing authorities have restricted religious freedom.

Alleged 9/11 Mastermind to Face Trial in N.Y.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will be tried in a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan just blocks away from where the World Trade Center once stood.

Prosecutors seek the death penalty for Mohammed and four others accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks; all are being held at Guantanamo Bay. Upholding American values, the accused will be given a fair trial in civilian courts.

However, the decision to hold the trials in civilian courts was criticized due to concerns about security and state secrets.

According to the New York Times, members of Congress argued that the suspects did not deserve the protections of the American criminal justice system, because they believed that bringing them into the U.S. would increase the risk of another terrorist attack. Others said that military commissions would be more appropriate than civilian courts.

The New York Times reported that the decision to prosecute the prisoners in civilian courts symbolized a shift in policy from the Bush administration, which had decided that suspected terrorists and Al Qaeda members should not be treated the same way as other criminals. Also, alleged suspects were tried in military commissions at Guantanamo rather than in American civilian courts.

Formal charges have not yet been announced. Trials are likely to take place next year, The Wall Street Journal reported.

6 Shot and 1 Dead in Orlando Shooting

A former office worker was arrested in Orlando, Fla. Friday when he allegedly fatally shot one person and wounded five others, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The suspect, Jason Rodriguez, 40, was arrested two hours after allegedly opening fire at the offices of Reynolds Smith & Hill, an engineering firm where he had worked for nearly a year before he was fired.

Authorities said that Rodriguez had begun to shoot randomly at his former workplace, killing one person while five others were hospitalized.

When arrested, Rodriguez told reporters that he was "angry" for being fired from his job.

The shooting occurred a day after the massacre at Fort Hood, a military base in Texas, the New York Times reported.

St. Paul Soldier Among 13 Killed in Fort Hood Massacre

A St. Paul soldier was among the 13 people killed in the Thursday massacre at Fort Hood, a U.S. military base in Texas, the Pioneer Press reported.

Kham Xiong, 23, stood with about 300 other soldiers at the base's Soldier Readiness Center to get a flu shot and to have his eyes tested before being deployed to Afghanistan in January.

It was then that the Army psychiatrist opened fire on the soldiers. Xiong died as a result of the shooting.

Xiong's family was shocked and angry that their son had been killed on U.S. soil, and in what they believed had been a "safe" environment.

Xiong is survived by his wife, Shoua Her, and by his children, a 4-year-old daughter, a 2-year-old son and a 10-month-old baby boy.

Husband Charged in Murder of Wife; Police say he Confessed

A St. Paul man was charged Thursday in the murder of his wife Monday night in the couple's home, the Star Tribune reported.

Gerald B. Wassenaar, 67, was charged with unintentional second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Jean A. Wassenaar. 

Wassenaar confessed to police about committing the crime. "I did it," the criminal complaint said.

An autopsy found Jean Wassenaar died from "multiple traumatic injuries" to the scalp and to the internal neck region, the Pioneer Press reported.

Gerald Wassenaar was taken to Regions Hospital and placed on a mental health hold.

Obituary: Fantasy Illustrator Dies at 73

The New York Times wrote an obituary about Don Ivan Punchatz, a fantasy artist famous for his surrealism and influential illustrations. Since the New York Times wrote it, the obituary was written using the classic New York Times formula. The lead begins with Punchatz's name, includes something notable about him, and then lists the age when he died. It is effective, because it tells readers why Punchatz's death is newsworthy by describing something unique about him and by informing us about how he contributed to society. Punchatz's son, Gregor, is sourced, along with Ray Bradbury, whose books Punchatz sometimes illustrated. One of Punchatz's apprentices, Gary Panter, is also sourced.

Contrary to a resume, the obituary does not list all of Punchatz's accomplishments, nor all of his personality characteristics. It is impossible to capture the entire essence of a person. Therefore, the reporter focuses on only one aspect of Punchatz, which was his role as a fantasy artist. The reporter delves deeper into Punchatz's personality through this one unique characteristic while providing readers with a "snap shot" of who Punchatz was through his art.

Two Arrested for Murders of Russian Lawyer and Reporter

Two alleged neo-Nazi activists were charged with the murders of a human-rights lawyer and a reporter on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The accused, Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, both in their 20s, were arrested for the January killings of Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who had defended victims of nationalist violence, and journalist Anastasia Baburova who had been interviewing Markelov.

Chief of Russia's Federal Security Service, Aleksandr Bortnikov, said one of the killers confessed to the crime after they were identified during an extremist group crackdown in Moscow.

Tikhonov was a suspect in a 2006 murder of an antifascist youth in Moscow, but was never caught, the Wall Street Journal reported. Less is known about Khasis.

Russia's president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, was pleased that the case was solved so quickly, but was also criticized for not addressing the issue promptly.

12 Dead, 31 Wounded at Fort Hood

A U.S. Army major killed 11 soldiers and wounded 31 others Thursday at Fort Hood in Texas, the New York Times reported.

The gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, was killed by police forces after opening fire at a deployment center at around 1:30 p.m.

Eyewitnesses said there was more than one shooter, the New York Times reported. Two other soldiers were taken into custody, but were later released.

U.S. military officials believed that the attack was premeditated because all of the suspects in the shooting were active-duty soldiers.

Hasan, who was also a psychiatrist, was upset about his pending deployment to Iraq. However, the motive for the shooting was unclear, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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