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Arkansas May Adopt Cell Phone Locator Law:  The Arkansas House has passed a bill that would allow police to locate a cell phone in an emergency.  Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times reports that the measure was introduced by Rep. Rebecca Petty, the mother of a murder victim.  It would require cell phone companies to provide police with location information for wireless phones in response to a call from emergency services or police in situations where the phone's owner was suspected to be at risk of physical harm.  Opponents fear such access would violate the Fourth Amendment.  The bill passed out of the House 70-8.  

Bipartisan Effort To Amend CA Prop. 47:  Republicans and Democrats are working together in the California Legislature to give voters a chance to amend Proposition 47, which voters adopted last November.  The measure lowered the classification for several so-called "low level" crimes from felonies to misdemeanors causing what some say were unintended consequences.  Among the crimes which are no longer considered felonies are firearm theft and possession of "date rape" drugs.  Don Thompson of ABC News reports that, according to police, property crimes have increased.  "I don't believe the voters truly knew what they were signing up for," said the President of the California State Sheriffs Association.  If bills to restore felony charges for possession of "date rape" drugs (SB333, AB46)  and firearm theft (AB150) are passed by majorities of both houses, the reforms would appear on the state's next general election ballot.  Another measure to allow DNA testing for those charged with crimes previously considered felonies (AB390) can be adopted by a majority vote and the Governor's signature.   

Murderer's Execution Set For March 17:  A Georgia man sentenced to death for the 1992 ambush murder of 70-year-old John Watson is scheduled for execution later this month.  The Rockdale Daily Citizen reports that days after habitual felon Brian Keith Terrell had been released from prison he stole several checks from Watson and began cashing them.  When Watson learned that Terrell was cashing the checks he called the police and Terrell's mother, who was a friend.  Two days later, Terrell waited outside of Watson's house until the older man came out to go to his dialysis appointment.  Terrell then shot Watson four times and beat him so badly that a bone penetrated his brain.  A jury recommended the death sentence following his conviction in 2001.  

CA Supremes Overturn Jessica's Law Residence Restriction:  In a unanimous decision released today, the California Supreme Court held that the provision of the state's 2006 Jessica's Law which bars paroled sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or playground is unconstitutional.  Keegan Kyle of the Orange County Register reports that the court found the restriction overly broad, prohibiting sex offenders from more than 97% of available rental housing.  The initial impact of the decision will fall on San Diego County, which is where the legal challenge to the restriction was raised.

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Realignment Offender Arrested After Violent Attack: A California man released from custody and placed on light supervision under Realignment is behind bars once again after authorities say he was involved in a violent assault and robbery Wednesday evening.  Susan C. Schena of Patch.com reports that it took several officers, a police K-9, and a CHP helicopter to track down and arrest 36-year-old Warren Haley, who at the time of the attack, had two outstanding warrants for his arrest.  Haley is currently in county jail facing charges of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and resisting arrest.

Utah High Court Upholds LWOP For Juvenile: In a 4-1 decision, the Utah Supreme Court has upheld the life without parole (LWOP) sentence for a juvenile convicted of rape and murder.  Pat Reavy of Deseret News reports that Robert Houston was 17-years-old when he violently raped and stabbed to death a youth counselor who had been assigned to work with troubled teens.  Since Houston was a minor at the time of the murder, prosecutors could not seek the death penalty and instead pursued a life sentence.  Houston, who already had two prior knife-point sexual assault charges prior to the killing, is the only juvenile in Utah state history to be sentenced to life without parole. 

Mexico Captures Notorious Drug Kingpin: Authorities in Mexico have captured one of the country's most wanted drug lords, 49-year-old Servando "La Tuta" Gomez.  Anahi Rama and Lizbeth Diaz of Reuters report that aside from being wanted in his native country of Mexico, Gomez was also wanted in the U.S. on charges of trafficking methamphetamine and cocaine. He is also believed to have been involved in the murders of 12 Mexican federal police officers in 2009.  More than 100,000 people have been killed in gang-related violence in Mexico since the country's government began cracking down on drug cartels in 2007.

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Update: GA Execution Delayed By Weather: The Georgia woman who was scheduled to be executed yesterday for the murder of her husband will spend a few more days on death row after inclement weather delayed her execution.  David Beasley of Reuters reports that officials delayed the execution and rescheduled it for next Monday after a weather forecast predicted three inches of snow overnight.  The last time a woman was executed in the U.S. was in September 2014.

Repeat DUI Offender Charged with Murder: A California man who authorities say was convicted of DUI last June is behind bars once again and facing murder charges after allegedly killing a man while driving under the influence Saturday afternoon.  Robert Salonga of the San Jose Mercury News reports that 25-year-old Marco Chamale is facing a variety of felony charges including DUI, hit-and-run, and murder after authorities say he veered onto the sidewalk and hit a fruit vendor before dragging the man's body 30 feet and fleeing the scene.  Chamale is currently being held in county jail without bond. 

Prop 47 Increased Property Crime For CA Town: Police one Northern California town are dealing with higher rates of property crime since voters passed Prop 47, which reduced a number of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors last November.  Ryan McCarthy of the Daily Republic reports that the Mayor of Vacaville, CA, Len Agustine, blamed the proposition for his city's increase in property crime and believes criminals are committing these types of crimes because they know they can get away with it.  Mayor Agustine believes Governor Brown is more interested in getting people out of jail rather than putting people in.  

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Crime Victims to Testify Against Obama Immigration Policies: Family members of those killed by illegal immigrants released under President Obama's immigration policies will testify at a Congressional hearing Wednesday morning.  Joel Gehrke of the National Review reports that of the 36,000 convicted illegals released by the Department of Homeland Security since 2013, 1,000 of them have been arrested and convicted of crimes.  The crime victims' families are hopeful that their testimony will encourage  sensible immigration reform.

Bills Require Lifetime Tracking Of Sex Offenders: A group of Florida lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills that would require convicted sex offenders to wear or carry an electronic monitoring device for the rest of their lives.  Anneliese Delgado of WOKV News reports that under the legislation, sex offenders would wear the GPS device even after they have completed their court-ordered probation, and would also be responsible for reimbursing the Department of Corrections for the cost of the device.  If the bills are passed, they would go into effect October 1, 2015.

GA To Execute Female Murderer: The Georgia parole board has denied a request for clemency submitted by the state's only female death row inmate, allowing the state to move forward with executing her Wednesday evening.  The Associated Press reports that 46-year-old Kelly Gissendaner was sentenced to death in 1998 after a jury found her guilty of murder in the death of her husband.  If the execution is carried out as scheduled, Gissendaner will be the first woman executed by the state of Georgia in roughly 70 years.  

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Evaluating Inmates: States across the U.S. have been using surveys and other evidence-based instruments to predict a prison inmate's risk of committing serious crimes if released.  These tools are a key element of the "smart sentencing" movement which insists that most criminals should be rehabilitated in community-based programs rather than incarcerated in expensive prisons. In an in-depth Associated Press report Eileen Sullivan and Ronnie Greene found many problems with the accuracy of these tools often resulting in tragedy. One violent sex offender rated low risk and released from a Texas prison in 2013, moved to Indiana and murdered a 19 -year-old girl a year later. When arrested he led police to the bodies of six other women. Hell of a way to save money.   

AK Allows Recreational Marijuana Use: Starting today, residents of Alaska can smoke, grow, and own small amounts of marijuana after voters narrowly passed the measure last November.  Jason Redmond of Reuters reports that anyone aged 21 or older is allowed to have up to an ounce of marijuana and can grow up to six plants, however, smoking, buying, and selling the drug in public still remain illegal.  Voters in Oregon approved a similar measure in November, but the law won't take effect until July.

Hundreds of Matches Found In Backlogged Rape Kits: After processing nearly 7,000 untested rape kits, authorities in Texas have been able to start charging people with crimes that up until now had gone unsolved.  The Associated Press reports that the city of Houston began processing the untested kits in October 2013, since then, charges have been filed against 29 people-six of whom have been convicted.  Similar backlogs exist in police departments around the country due to the high cost of DNA testing.

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Illegals Riot In Texas Prison: Nearly 3,000 inmates at a federal prison in southern Texas will be relocated to new facilities after a riot over the weekend resulted in significant damage.  Newsmax reports that inmates at the private prison, which primarily houses illegal immigrants, broke out of their cells and set fire to several areas and tore down tents that had been set up for additional housing.  So far, 300 inmates have been relocated and hundreds more are scheduled to be moved throughout the week. 

OH Delays Execution Of Cop Killer: The Ohio Supreme Court has granted a routine stay of execution for a man convicted of murdering a police officer in 2008.  Marc Kovac of The Daily Record reports that Ashford Thompson was sentenced to death in 2010 after being found guilty of shooting a police officer multiple times in the head during a routine traffic stop.  Thompson's lawyers appealed his sentence with claims that legal and procedural errors were made during his trial.  Last October, the state's high court upheld Thompson's death sentence in a 4-3 decision.

Nevada Lawmakers To Hear Several Gun Bills: This may be the 'year of the gun' in the Nevada Legislature as at least nine gun-related bills have already been introduced or are being drafted by lawmakers.  Sean Whaley of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the proposed bills include expanding justifiable homicide to carjacking situations and making it illegal for anyone convicted of domestic violence to own a gun.  Nevada Assembly Judiciary Chairman Ira Hansen believes the high number of gun-related bills may be a response to the national effort by anti-gun groups to limit gun rights of citizens.  

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Convicted Killer set to be Released: A former hit man for the Mexican Mafia who was sentenced to life without parole after being found guilty of first-degree murder is set to be released from prison in a matter of days after becoming an informant for law enforcement.  Robert Holguin of ABC 7 News reports that over the past several years, 52-year-old Rene Enriquez has testified for law enforcement agencies as an expert witness and has even been a regular speaker at law enforcement seminars.  Enriquez has been behind bars since 2003, he is set to be released sometime next week unless Governor Brown intervenes.

Bill Aimed at Strengthening Gun Laws: Republican lawmakers in Nevada have introduced a bill that would prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.  The Associated Press reports that SB175 would also prevent individuals convicted of domestic violence that have an active restraining order filed against them from purchasing a gun.  In addition to strengthening gun legislation, the bill would also expand concealed carry laws and expand the definition of justifiable homicide.

Indiana High Court Upholds Death Sentence: The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a man convicted of killing two children in a fire.  The Indy Channel reports that in 2010, Jeffery Weisheit trapped his fiancee's two children their home before setting fire to the building, in what prosecutors described as an agonizing death. Attorneys for Weisheit appealed his sentence based on the claim that the trial judge prevented a witness from testifying about their client's ability to be in prison without harming himself, his request for a new sentence was ultimately denied.

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FL High Court Halts Execution: The Florida Supreme Court has stayed the execution of man who has been on death row for nearly three decades.  Payton Guion of The Independent reports that Jerry William Correll was sentenced to death for the murders of his daughter, ex-wife, ex-wife's mother and sister.  He execution was scheduled for February 26.  The state's high court stayed Correll's execution while it awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the legality of the use of midazolam as the first drugs in a three-drug lethal injection protocol, the method presently in use in Florida and Oklahoma.  

Bill Would Expand Sex Offender Registry: A legislative panel in Idaho is reviewing a bill to add people convicted of violent crimes, such as murder and felony domestic violence, to the state's sex offender registry.  The Associated Press reports that the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee has already voted unanimously to consider the bill, which is intended to improve public safety.  Other crimes that may be considered for the registry include attempted murder, human trafficking, and battery with intent to commit a serious felony.

WA Lawmakers Weigh Death Penalty Bill: A House Committee in Washington state is set to hear public testimony on a bill to  abolish the death penalty.  The Associated Press reports that House Bill 1739 would eliminate the death penalty in Washington and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Last year, Washington Governor Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on capital punishment.  


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Iowa Lawmakers Want To Reinstate Death Penalty: Republican lawmakers in Iowa have introduced a bill aiming to reinstate the death penalty in their state.  William Petroski of The Des Moines Register reports that Senate File 239 would allow executions to take place for those convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering a minor.  The last time the state of Iowa executed a death row inmate was in 1963, just two years later, the death penalty was abolished. 

FL Legislature Considers Prison Reform: A Florida Senate committee has given preliminary approval for a bill seeking to create an independent group to investigate wrongdoing in the state's troubled prison system.  Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald reports that in a unanimous vote, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved SB2070, which mandate a nine-person Criminal Justice Commission that would be permitted to conduct random inspections in both state-run and private prisons, monitor inmate healthcare, and investigate allegations of abuse.  The Florida Department of Corrections has been plagued by allegations of cover-ups and rumors of inmate abuse for the past several years.

Habitual Felon Accused of Murder: The California man accused of stabbing a woman to death on a busy Sacramento street corner last week has a violent criminal past, and has been a registered sex offender since 2011.  Gamaliel Ortiz of KCRA reports that police believe 47-year-old Timothy Varmall violently attacked the woman and left her body on the corner of a busy intersection before fleeing the area when authorities arrived.  Varmall has prior convictions of sexual assault against a minor and sexual penetration of a victim with a foreign object by force.  Upon his release from prison, he was deemed a 'moderate-low' risk under the state's sex offender risk assessment.  



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Murder Suspect Recently Released Under Three Strikes Change: A California man with a lengthy criminal history has been named as the primary suspect in the murder of a young mother of two, and police say he was able to commit that crime because he was released from prison early under Proposition 36.  Fox 40 News reports that 38-year-old Moses Valdez, a known gang member and career criminal, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a third strike offense but was released early under the revised law after his most recent crime was deemed 'non-violent,' even though he had previously been convicted of two murders.  Police are actively searching for Valdez who has been on the run since November.

Bill Would Abolish Some Mandatory Sentences: Several senators want to introduce a bill to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for certain "non-violent drug offenders."  Julia Edwards of Reuters reports that the bill would give federal judges leeway when sentencing so-called low-level drug offenders, allowing the federal government to save money on prison expenses.  An identical bill that was introduced last year failed to get enough votes to pass. 

Accused Rapist Wore GPS Monitor During Attack: The California teenager who police say kidnapped and raped a pizza delivery woman over the weekend was on active house arrest and was wearing a GPS monitoring device at the time of the attack. Matthias Gafni and Rowena Coetsee of the San Jose Mercury News report that 17-year-old Darrion Miles Jr., who is being prosecuted as an adult, is facing a variety of felony charges including rape, kidnapping, robbery, and sodomy.  Miles Jr. was active juvenile probation at the time of the crime, if found guilty of these charges, he faces a possible life sentence.


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Parolee Arrested After Violent Pursuit: A California man with a lengthy criminal history is behind bars once again after leading police officers on violent chase through Los Angeles.  KTLA reports that 29-year-old Aaron Lorta carjacked one woman after threatening her with a handgun and attempted to steal two other vehicles during the violent pursuit.  Lorta was released from state prison and placed on parole last June after serving just one year for a robbery conviction, he is currently being held in county jail without bond.

MO Executes Convicted Murderer: A Missouri man who was sentenced to death for the murder of his neighbor has been executed after spending nearly 25 years on death row.  The Associated Press reports that Walter Storey broke into his neighbor's home in hopes of stealing money for beer.  When the victim confronted him, he beat her savagely leaving her with several broken bones before he slit her throat.  Storey was the first person executed in the state of Missouri so far this year.

LAPD On Alert After Violent Weekend: Police officers in Los Angeles are on high alert after responding to nearly two dozen shootings in just four days.  Veronica Rocher of the Los Angeles Times reports that since the start of 2015, both violent crime and property crime rates have increased by 10% and gang violence is up an astonishing 25%.  Police believe the majority of the recent shootings are in fact gang-related, and have increased patrols in high-crime areas  to ease mounting gang tension.


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Execution Date Set For GA Killer: A Georgia woman who was sentenced to death for arranging the murder of her husband has been scheduled to be executed February 25, 2015.  AJC News reports that Kelly Renee Gissendaner, who has spent nearly two decades on death row was convicted after her boyfriend agreed to testify against her in exchange for a life sentence.  If the execution is carried out as scheduled, Gissendaner will be the first woman put to death in the state of Georgia since 1945. 

Judge Speaks Out About Prop 47: A Judge in Northern California is speaking out against a policy adopted by his county's District Attorney charging of gun thefts as misdemeanors rather than felonies.  Jess Sullivan of the Daily Republic reports that Solano County Judge Peter Foor, on the bench since 1979, is outraged at the way his county's DA is interpreting Prop 47, which reduced thefts of guns valued less than $950 from a felony to a misdemeanor.  Foor called Prop 47, which was misleadingly labeled "The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act", "the biggest fraud (ever) on the California public."  

OK Considers Execution With Nitrogen Gas: Republican legislatures in Oklahoma will present two bills later this week that would allow the state to use nitrogen gas as a backup execution method if lethal injection drugs remain unavailable.  Sean Murphy of the Associated Press reports that state Rep. Mike Christian supports using nitrogen gas for executions, calling it a much more practical and efficient method of execution.  If the bills pass, Oklahoma would become the first state in the country to allow the use of nitrogen gas for executions.

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Bill Would Reinstate Felony Penalties For Firearm Theft: California assemblywoman Melissa Melendez has introduced legislation to allow voters to amend recently enacted Prop. 47, to reinstate the theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony.    Sam Spencer reports that if AB 150 passes both houses by a two-thirds vote, voters would be allowed to vote to amend the law at the next general election.  "A criminal doesn't steal a gun for recreational use," said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, "they steal a gun to commit crimes."

Execution Date Set For Cop Killer: The Missouri Supreme Court has ordered the execution of the state's oldest death row inmate after nearly two decades behind bars.  Gene Hartley of KY3 News reports that 74-year-old Cecil Clayton was sentenced to death in 1997 after shooting a police officer in the head at point-blank range as he sat in his patrol car.  Clayton is set to be executed March 17, 2015.

Bill Would Allow Chemical Castrations for Sex Offenders: Oklahoma Senator Mark Allen has introduced a bill that would allow violent sex offenders to be released from prison early if they agree to be chemically castrated.  Jackie Taurianen of CNN reports that Allen believes the process would help to resolve the state's prison overcrowding issue.  Currently, nine other states have legalized a version of chemical castration, however, it is unclear how often it is used.  The proposed bill would allow first-time offenders to have the option to participate, but would make it mandatory for repeat offenders.

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Drug Cartel Wreaking Havoc In Chicago: Police in Chicago, Illinois have been dealing with increasing rates of murder and drug use over the past few years caused by a notorious Mexican drug cartel.  Andrew O'Reilly of Fox News Latino reports that the Sinaloa Cartel, which controls nearly 50% of the U.S. drug market, has infiltrated the city and helped drive rates of drug overdose and violence through the roof.  Chicago ended 2014 with 425 murders, and police fear that number will continue to escalate as long as members of the Sinaloa cartel continue to traffic drugs and violence on the streets.   

Death Penalty For Cop Killers In Michigan?:  Democrat State Senator Virgil Smith wants criminals convicted of murdering police or corrections officers in his state to face the death penalty.  Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press reports that the Senator wants Michigan, one of 18 states that has abolished the death penalty, to reinstate it for murderers in this narrow category.  There have been at least three attempts to reinstate the death penalty in Michigan since 1999.  All of these failed to gain the 2/3 majority vote of legislators needed to put a measure on the state-wide election ballot.

KS To Cut Prison Costs, Remain Tough On Crime: Kansas lawmakers are considering a variety of competing bills on crime including one that would reduce the prison population and another increasing sentencing for crimes.  The Associated Press reports that the state's Sentencing Commission has drafted legislation that would free up to 150 prison beds by keeping first and second time marijuana offenders out of state custody and would allow other inmates to be released sooner for good behavior-a plan they say will save the state $3.6 million.  The state will also consider opposing legislation that would lengthen sentences for those convicted of drunk driving, home burglary, and theft.


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Loophole Allows Sex Offenders To Go Unregistered: California Congresswoman Jackie Speier plans to introduce a bill closing a loophole that allows some members of the armed forces to avoid registering as sex offenders after discharge from the service.  Rebecca Lindstrom of WXIA reports that unlike civilians, who have their DNA taken and name added to the sex offender registry prior to their release from custody, members of the military who are convicted of crimes such as rape and sexual assault do not face these requirements upon discharge.  According to data collected by the military, roughly 40% of its sex offenders are required to register.   

High Court Halts Upcoming Execution: The U.S. Supreme Court has stayed the execution of Texas quadruple-murderer Lester Bower.  Lawrence Hurley of Reuters reports that Bower, who was scheduled to be executed February 10, appealed to the high court alleging, among other things, that spending three decades on row amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.  Bower has avoided execution six separate times. His additional claims are discussed in Kent's post below.  

Convicted Cop Killers Get LWOP: The two Chicago men convicted of murdering an off duty police officer in 2010 have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Patrick M. O'Connell of the Chicago Tribune reports that the victim's father, a former Chicago police sergeant, witnessed the two suspects attempting to steal his son's car.  When his son confronted the suspects and identified himself as an police officer he was shot and then run over by the getaway car.  Another suspect in the in the killing is awaiting trial.

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