Footage captures devastation of tropical storm Florence as it floods North Carolina

The storm dropped 10 to 18 inches of rain along the North Carolina coast. Source: Associated Press

Former doctor receives death sentence after killing four people in US

A former doctor was sentenced to death today for the revenge killings of four people connected to a Nebraska medical school, including the 11-year-old son of a physician who helped fire the man from a residency programme nearly two decades ago.

Anthony Garcia, 45, of Indiana entered the courtroom in a wheelchair and appeared to sleep through the hearing as a three-judge panel sentenced him to death. The judges, who heard arguments earlier this year during the sentencing phase of Garcia's trial, also had the option of life in prison.

Garcia was convicted in 2016 for two attacks — that occurred five years apart — on families connected to Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha. Prosecutors argued the killings were motivated by Garcia's long-simmering rage over being fired in 2001 by Dr. William Hunter and another Creighton pathology doctor, Roger Brumback.

Some of the victims' relatives testified today, including Jeff Sherman, whose mother was fatally stabbed alongside Hunter's young son when she worked at the Hunter family's home in 2008.

"I'm left with constant images from courtroom pictures of what happened to my mom," Mr Sherman said. "I can't ever get those images out of my head."

Investigators said Garcia fatally stabbed 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and 57-year-old Shirlee Sherman at the family's home in an upscale Omaha neighbourhood. Police collected a slew of evidence but struggled to find a suspect in the killings.

The case went cold in the following years. But that changed with the 2013 Mother's Day deaths of Brumback and his wife, Mary, in their Omaha home. Police recognised similarities in the 2008 and 2013 killings, and Garcia was quickly eyed as a suspect. He was arrested two months later during a traffic stop in southern Illinois.

Today, Thomas Hunter's mother, Dr. Claire Hunter, spoke of the agony of losing her young son so violently. She said the boy "was a joy in everybody's life."

"You can't begin to enumerate what an event like has had on us, on the entire community," she said after Garcia was sentenced.

Garcia's parents and brother, who live in California, also attended the hearing. They were tearful as the verdict was read.

His brother, Fernando Garcia, said it was hard for his family to imagine his brother committing the crimes.

"We just want the victims' families to know we do pray for them. We feel their pain," he said. "We're sorry those things took place. We're not an evil family. We hope they find peace somehow."

During the trial, prosecutors presented massive amounts of circumstantial evidence, including credit card and cellphone records placing Garcia in and around Omaha the day the Brumbacks were killed. One receipt showed Garcia eating a meal at a chicken wings restaurant within two hours of when police believe the Brumbacks were attacked.

Prosecutors also presented evidence that Garcia had sought to attack another Creighton medical school faculty member on May 10, 2013 — the same day the Brumbacks were killed. Prosecutors said Garcia pushed in a back door of that woman's home but fled when the home's alarm went off. Police believe he then found the Brumbacks' address on his smartphone and attacked them.

Roger Brumback was shot in the doorway of his home and then stabbed. His wife was stabbed to death, much the same way Thomas Hunter and Shirlee Sherman had been stabbed, according to investigators.

Nebraska had not executed an inmate in more than 20 years until last month, when Carey Dean Moore died by lethal injection for the 1979 shooting deaths of two Omaha cab drivers.

However, the state's mode of execution remains riddled with controversy and legal challenges in the face of difficulty in obtaining some of the drugs used to carry out lethal injection.

Under Nebraska law, Garcia's sentence will be automatically appealed.

Today's sentencing was briefly interrupted when the lead judge in the case suffered a medical emergency and had to be carried from the courthouse on a stretcher. Gage County District Judge Rick Schreiner took over, explaining that Randall had undergone a medical procedure earlier in the week that caused him extreme back pain.

Anthony Garcia appears unresponsive at the Douglas County Court in Omaha, Nebraska. Source: Associated Press


US to open wildlife refuge at ex-nuke site despite concern for public safety

The U.S. Interior Department said Friday (local time) it will go ahead with plans to open a wildlife refuge at the site of a former nuclear weapons plant in Colorado, after briefly putting the opening on hold amid concerns about public safety.

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, on the perimeter of a government factory that made plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, is scheduled to open Saturday.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke initially said Friday he would delay the opening to gather more information about safety.

The announcement came after Colorado Democratic congressman Jared Polis, who is running for governor, wrote Zinke expressing concerns that plutonium testing on the site was outdated and asking him to postpone the opening until new tests could be done.

Just one hour later, Zinke spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said a review was complete and the refuge would open.

Vander Voort said the review was done by Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, the No. 2 leader at the department. Vander Voort did not provide any details of the review and did not immediately respond to an email seeking more information.

The Rocky Flats plutonium plant stopped work in 1989 after a 34-year history marred by fires, leaks and spills. It was shut down during a criminal investigation into environmental violations.

Rockwell International, the contractor then operating the plant, pleaded guilty in 1992 to charges that included allowing leaks of chemical and radioactive material and illegally disposing hazardous waste. The company was fined $18.5 million.

The plutonium plant was cleaned up at a cost of $7 billion, but it remains off-limits to the public.

The 8-square-mile (21-kilometer) buffer zone surrounding the manufacturing site was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a refuge.

Some groups worry that plutonium particles eluded the cleanup and could be sprinkled over the refuge, where hikers and cyclists could inadvertently stir them up or track them home.

Five environmental and community activist groups sued the government in May, arguing the refuge should remain closed until more testing is done.

Last month, a judge rejected their request to delay the opening while the lawsuit is heard. The lawsuit is pending in Denver federal court.

"My head is spinning," said Randall Weiner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, after the Interior Department's rapid reversal Friday.

"It seems like the (deputy) secretary did an awfully quick study to address the questions raised by Rep. Polis," he said.

Until this weekend, the only way to visit the refuge was to sign up for a short hike, guided by a Fish and Wildlife Service officer, offered once a month.

The agency plans to open about 16 kilometres of trails this weekend that will be open seven days a week. Visitors will be told to stay on the trails or roads.

The U.S. Interior Department said it would open the wildlife refuge after briefly putting the opening on hold amid concerns about public safety. Source: Associated Press


Dolphins seen swimming in storm surge waters in the US

Dolphins were filmed battling in surge waters near Wilmington in North Carolina after tropical storm Florence made landfall.

The footage, posted by North Carolina’s WWAY TV, shows a pair of dolphins battling against the fast-moving water.

Florence, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, caused surges of 3.5m when it made landfall this morning (NZ time).

It blew ashore with howling 155 km/h winds, splintering buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast.

Its top sustained winds have dropped to 70km/h and it's at a near standstill, moving west at just 6 km/h.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleads guilty, will cooperate with special counsel

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed today to cooperate with the special counsel's Trump-Russia investigation as he pleaded guilty to federal crimes and avoided a second trial that could have exposed him to more time in prison.

The deal gives special counsel Robert Mueller a key cooperator who steered the Trump election effort for a pivotal stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign. The result also ensures the investigation will extend far beyond the November congressional elections despite entreaties from the president's lawyers that Mueller bring it to a close.

It is unclear what information Manafort is prepared to offer investigators about the president or that could aid Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But his involvement in key episodes under scrutiny, and his leadership of the campaign at a time when prosecutors say Russian intelligence was working to sway the election, may make him an especially valuable witness.

The agreement makes Manafort the latest associate of Mr Trump, a president known to place a premium on loyalty among subordinates, to admit guilt and work with investigators in hopes of leniency.

Manafort had long resisted the idea of cooperating even as prosecutors stacked additional charges against him in Washington and Virginia. Mr Trump had saluted that stance, publicly praising him and suggesting Manafort had been treated worse than gangster Al Capone. Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had suggested a pardon might be a possibility after the investigation was concluded.

Then came today's extraordinary development when Manafort agreed to provide any information asked of him, testify whenever asked and even work undercover if necessary.

Mueller has already secured cooperation from a former national security adviser who lied to the FBI about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador, a campaign aide who broached the idea of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; and another aide who was indicted alongside Manafort but ultimately turned on him. Mr Trump's former personal lawyer has separately pleaded guilty in New York.

Today's deal, to charges in Washington tied to Ukrainian political consulting work but unrelated to the campaign, was struck just days before Manafort was to stand trial for a second time.

He was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia and faces seven to 10 years in prison in that case.

The two conspiracy counts he admitted to today carry up to five years, though Manafort's sentence will ultimately depend on his cooperation.

"He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He's accepted responsibility. This is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that," Manafort attorney Kevin Downing said outside court.

A courtroom sketch showing former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, centre, and his defence lawyer Richard Westling, left, before US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, seated upper right, at federal court today. Source: Associated Press

The agreement doesn't specify what if anything prosecutors hope to receive about Mr Trump, but Manafort could be well-positioned to provide key insight for investigators working to establish whether the campaign coordinated with Russia.

He was among the participants, for instance, in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians and Trump's oldest son and son-in-law that was arranged for the campaign to receive derogatory information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. He was also a close business associate of a man who US intelligence believes has ties to Russian intelligence. And while he was working on the campaign, emails show Manafort discussed providing private briefings for a wealthy Russian businessman close to Putin.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the Manafort case was unrelated to Mr Trump. Mr Giuliani said he spoke to Mr Trump today about Manafort's plea.

"The president was OK with it," he said. "In a way, it's another indication there is no evidence of collusion. All of these charges predate the time Paul spent with the president. And there's nothing in what he pleaded about collusion."

It's unclear how the deal might affect any Manafort pursuit of a pardon from Mr Trump, though Mr Giuliani told Politico before the deal that a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a pardon.

Under the terms of the deal, Manafort was allowed to plead guilty to just two counts, though the crimes he admitted largely cover the same conduct alleged in an indictment last year. He abandoned his right to appeal his conviction in Virginia and agreed to forfeit homes in New York, including a condo in Trump Tower.

But the guilty plea also spares Manafort the cost of a weekslong trial that could have added years to the prison time he's already facing following the Virginia guilty verdicts. A jury there found him guilty of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.

Prosecutors today presented new information about allegations they were prepared to present at trial, which was to have focused on Manafort's political consulting and lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

That case alleged that Manafort directed a large-scale US lobbying operation for Ukrainian interests but never registered as a foreign agent despite being required to do so under the law, and that he concealed millions of dollars in income from the IRS.

He also failed to disclose his involvement in lobbying efforts made through a group of former European politicians, known as the Hapsburg Group, who pushed policies beneficial to Ukraine, the allegations said.

In 2013, one of the politicians and his country's prime minister met with then-President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office. Manafort was later sent an email that the politicians had "delivered the message of not letting 'Russians Steal Ukraine from the West.'"

Another allegation revealed Friday concerns Manafort's efforts to peddle stories to discredit Yanukovych's opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Prosecutors said he spread stories and secretly coordinated with an Israeli government official to publicize the idea that a US Cabinet official was an anti-Semite for supporting Ms Tymoshenko, who had formed an alliance with a Ukrainian political party that had shared anti-Semitic views.

"I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom," Manafort wrote to a colleague, court documents said.

Paul Manafort faces 11 other charges including money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent.
President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Source: 1 NEWS