Soldier charged in $630,000 theft of high-tech military gear

Night vision goggles in use in Baghdad
The mystery of missing sophisticated military equipment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state may have taken a step toward being partially resolved Thursday when the Army announced it had charged a 22-year-old infantryman with theft.

But the Army's terse news release only hints at the full story -- which also includes charges of drugs and a murder threat -- that led to a days-long base lockdown in January for up to 100 members of the 4th Stryker Brigade.

"The bottom line is, the lockdown did work. As an administrative action to gather the information that they needed, it was a plus," Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, I Corps Army spokesman, told The Times.

Pvt. Nicholas A. Solt of Slatington, Pa., has been charged with stealing and selling military targeting equipment valued at $630,000. He is also charged with possession of drugs and steroids and with communicating a threat to kill an individual. He is in pretrial confinement on base and, if convicted in military court, faces up to 59 years in prison.

Dangerfield, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to describe the nature of the purported threat. Nor would he say how the private came into possession of the stolen equipment, which went missing after soldiers of 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division's "C" company went on holiday break in December.

But the Army's statement said speedy detective work by the Army's criminal investigative division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives helped locate and recover 98% of the missing equipment.

The high-tech gear, which was eventually tracked down at off-base residences, included sophisticated optics and sights for rifles and night-vision goggles. 

Criminal Investigation Command "agents were able to move quickly because of the administrative actions taken and the I Corps Command appreciates their hard work, dedication and terrific police work," I Corps Chief of Staff Col. Steven Bullimore said in the statement.

Solt joined the Army in June 2008, trained at Ft. Benning, Ga., and arrived at Lewis-McChord in October 2008. He was deployed to Iraq from September 2009 to September 2010.

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Photo: A soldier in Baghdad uses night-vision goggles similar to those that were among the  equipment stolen at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

 


Buy latte, pack gun: Starbucks hit with boycott -- and 'buycott'

Starbucks allows patrons to openly carry guns in the 43 states that have such laws.
This post has been updated. Please see note at bottom for details.

Those who prefer to drink their lattes packing protection on their hip turned out at Starbucks across the country on the first day of a "buycott" organized by gun owners -- countering the Starbucks boycott called this week by the National Gun Victims Action Council.

The issue of Starbucks allowing gun owners to openly carry their weapons in states that have "open carry" laws has been simmering for years. The new boycott, which launched Tuesday, aims at persuading Starbucks to join a growing list of retail chains, including Peet's Coffee, California Pizza Kitchen and IKEA, which prohibit guns even when they're otherwise legal.

"Starbucks allowing guns to be carried in thousands of their stores significantly increases everyone's risk of being a victim of gun violence," Elliot Fineman, head of the Chicago-based council, said in a press release announcing the boycott.

Most of the visible action Tuesday seemed to be on the buycott side of things, though, as gun groups across the country urged their members to show up at Starbucks -- not necessarily with their weapons -- and spend.

Joe Huffman, a Seattle software engineer who writes a gun blog based in his native Idaho, reported that he and his friends spent $131.64 at the Starbucks in Seattle's main shopping district Tuesday.

"I wasn't carrying a gun. I did have a jacket on that had an [National Rifle Assn.] life member patch," Huffman said in an interview. "I wanted to demonstrate that even though they're under a lot of pressure, we're very appreciative of them standing up against those people."

Similar "Starbucks Appreciation Day" demonstrations were reported in several states, including Hawaii, Tennessee, and Michigan, as well as in several suburban communities around Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered.

In Columbus, Ohio, students promoting the right to carry guns at Ohio State University protested outside a Starbucks, carrying signs with such slogans as, "Because I CAN'T carry a cop," the Lantern student newspaper reported.

"I threw out the idea of a Starbucks appreciation day on my online forum, and God Almighty, it caught fire," Dave Workman, editor of the Gun Mag, based in Bellevue, Wash., said in an interview.

"These guys want Starbucks to act as their surrogate, to push this social bigotry against gun owners, and I think the gun owners have responded rather well," Workman said. "The gun guys are willing to put their money where their mouth is, while the anti-gun guys are trying to take money away from Starbucks. Now if I was in business, if I was Howard Schultz, I would sit back and think, 'Guess whose side I'm on? Not the people who are taking my business away.'"

Starbucks officials did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment. But in a statement on its website -- placed there in 2010 when the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence launched a petition campaign targeting the chain -- Starbucks said its policy was to follow existing state laws where its stores operate.

"That means we abide by the laws that permit open carry in 43 U.S. states. Where these laws don’t exist, openly carrying weapons in our stores is prohibited. The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores," the company said.

The Brady campaign's legislation director, Brian Malte, told the Los Angeles Times that the group is continuing with its public pressure campaign, although it is not participating in the boycott.

"We still feel there's time for Starbucks to make the right decision to protect their employees and customers," Malte said.

But Fineman said boycott advocates made the decision that it was time to step up the pressure. He said the coalition includes about 50 secular anti-gun organizations, faith groups and private citizens touched by gun violence, whose numbers, through a complicated formula, he puts at 14 million.

Fineman, who runs a marketing firm whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, became active in gun control causes after his son was shot and killed in a San Diego restaurant in 2006 by a mentally ill man wielding a legally purchased handgun.

"We're not going to let people just say, 'This isn't our issue, it's a political issue.' Because there's no way that the current forces on our side can combat the NRA. They're just too big. They have an enormous amount of money and people, and they throw their weight around in a pretty big fashion," Fineman said in an interview.

"But who has more money than them? Corporate America. So the point is to get corporate America to do what we can't do."

[Updated, 3:48 p.m. Feb. 15: In a statement released Wednesday after this post was published, Starbucks reiterated that its policy is to comply with the law in the communities where its stores are. “As the public debate around this issue continues, we encourage customers and advocacy groups from both sides to share their input with their public officials," the company said. "We are extremely sensitive to the issue of gun violence in our society and believe that supporting local laws is the right way for us to ensure a safe environment for both our partners (employees) and customers."]

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Photo: Starbucks allows patrons to openly carry guns in the 43 states that have such laws. Credit: Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence


Bound, naked in a Subaru: Valentine's Day role-playing ends badly

Nikolas Harbar and Stephanie Pelzner
It was Valentine's Day in Portlandia -- should anyone have been upset about a little friendly bondage action in the back of a Subaru?

Well, yes. The Portland Police Bureau was plenty upset, and the lovers, identified as Nikolas Harbar, 31, and Stephanie Pelzner, 26, are under arrest on charges of disorderly conduct in the second degree.

Portland may be a city that has always prided itself on its eccentricities, but police said the red alert that went out when Pelzner was glimpsed bound and naked in the back of the car was a Valentine too far.

It began shortly after noon on Tuesday, when someone at the New Seasons Market in north Portland reported that they had seen a naked female with duct tape on her mouth tied up in the back of a blue Subaru Legacy.

The man driving the car had told the witness they "were just having some fun," police said in their report, but the woman in the back of the car "seemed hazy."

The witness phoned in the license plate to the car, and the search was on.

Authorities in Washington state were alerted, in case the car traveled north across the state line on Interstate 5. Portland police began combing the city's streets, while a patrol car zeroed in on the address where the car was registered.

By 12:56 p.m., the Subaru drove up, and when officers closed in, Harbar told them the couple was "doing some Valentine's Day role-playing," the police report said. Police confirmed from Pelzner "that she was voluntarily bound and nude in the back of the Subaru," it said.

Not feeling in a loving mood -- especially since at least nine police cars were tied up for 20 minutes during the search -- authorities booked both of them into the Multnomah County Jail.

Since then, the Portland Police Bureau's Facebook page has been flooded with comments, most from citizens wondering why people can't be left to their own devices in the backs of their cars.

"Nothing wrong with that, they were just trying to have some fun, you monsters," one man wrote.

"Keep Portland weird, man," urged another.

Others offered helpful suggestions for pursuing the case: "She should be booked for not wearing her safety belt."

Police say they had no way of knowing they weren't looking for a potential murder victim.

"The concern is their actions created a pretty substantial public alarm, to the point where you have a 911 caller saying she's concerned about this person tied up naked in the back of a car," Lt. Robert King, bureau spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

"Why would the officers think it was a Valentine's Day thing?" he said. "This kind of stuff, whether it's being naked in the back of a car tied up, or running down the street with an airsoft gun pretending to shoot at people, it's not OK, because it creates a lot of concern from the public."

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Photo: Nikolas Alexander Harbar, left, and Stephanie Morgan Pelzner. Credit: Portland Police Bureau


Going snowhere: After 106 inches, Anchorage needs more snow dumps

Snow-removal
Ever wonder -- after it's been snowing all winter long (think "War and Peace") -- where all that snow goes?

Up in Anchorage, they're beginning to ponder the same thing. With more than 106 inches of snow so far, the city's designated private snow dumps are nearly full -- many are closed -- and it's still coming down.

"The challenge this year is we've had numerous snowfalls back-to-back-to-back. And usually, we get 1- and 2-inch snowfalls. This year, we're seeing 6 to 10 inches," said Alan Czajkowski, deputy director of maintenance and operations for the city of Anchorage, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"And then, we got 4 more inches last night."

After a big snowfall, the city undertakes what's called a "plow-out," with a fleet of 30 graders and 16 dump trucks working their way through town -- first plowing, then hauling away, snow to places where residents can forget it ever happened.

"It's basically a 24/7 operation," said Czajkowski, whose name, appropriately enough for the mechanical symphonies he conducts, is a variant of the famed Russian composer's.

In a briefing paper, city officials said the amount of snow hauled as of January, if placed on a five-acre lot, would be 250 feet deep.

There's no problem at the city's seven municipal snow dumps, even though some of the discarded snow there already is towering up to 60 feet high. The problem is at the smaller commercial dump sites, where private companies plowing parking lots, condo walkways and sidewalks deposit their frozen treasure.

Six of the seven private dump sites normally used are full and have had to close, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

"Now the last one is getting ready to run out of room," Marcel Warmilee, owner of private hauler Arctic Green LLC, said in a telephone interview.

Warmilee, who moved to Anchorage 22 years ago from Hermosa Beach, Calif., said he's seen this much snow only once since he arrived. The big problem, he said, is that most of the areas that were once prime snow dump sites have been developed as the city expands.

Private contractors are pushing the city to allow them to use municipal dumps, he said. In the meantime, the Anchorage Assembly was scheduled Tuesday night to consider a measure to temporarily ease land-use regulations for opening new private snow dump sites.

"We're just helping them expedite the process," Czajkowski said. "Because we still have basically another month of winter here."

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Photo: City crews clear snow in the Inlet View neighborhood of Anchorage. Credit: Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News/MCT


'Big Miracle': True story behind film about 3 ice-stranded whales

Whale-rescue-lyw686pd

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Hardly anyone is unaware of the plight of the three gray whales that were stranded under the ice near Barrow, Alaska, in 1988 -- especially since the release of a new movie, "Big Miracle," which documents the two-week international effort to save them.

Less known is the precise fate of the whale that didn't make it; it disappeared under the ice as rescuers battled to rescue the remaining two.

But a marine biologist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle thinks he may know the answer. The young whale, he believes, may have been scared off when someone mistakenly played recordings of killer whales, a sound that would terrify a gray whale, or at least create an urgent desire to leave.

"That would have been a fear thing," Dave Withrow, who works with the polar ecosystems program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

The revelation casts a bit of a shadow on the otherwise heartwarming rescue effort that brought together oil men, Russian icebreakers, U.S. government officials, eco-activists and whale-hunting Eskimos together in a saga that gripped television viewers around the world -- and is gaining new attention by way of the film starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski.

The true story was also documented recently by Anchorage Daily News reporter Richard Mauer, who covered the 1988 rescue and dug up his old notebooks to describe the massive endeavor. One of the highlights in his tale is the Soviet icebreaker officer who, at the tail end of the Cold War, invited American reporters aboard his vessel.

"Our whole country is watching, just like everyone else," the officer, Vladimir Morov, said at the time, referring to the phone calls he was fielding from reporters in Moscow.

Mauer also writes in detail about the role of the oil company executive who flew in and tried to move mountains to get heavy oil equipment on scene to help the stranded whales. Played by Ted Danson in the movie, that executive was Bill Allen, who later became famous when he went to prison for paying bribes to a variety of Alaska officials in a corruption scandal that included former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who was accused of failing to report gifts from Allen.

Withrow was one of two NOAA marine mammal biologists and several other agency officials dispatched to the far northern tip of Alaska at Point Barrow, where an Inupiat whale hunter had spotted three young gray whales clinging to survival near a small hole in a sheet of ice that had otherwise closed in around them on all sides.

The whales already had their noses and chins bloodied, in one case to the bone, from ramming the ice to keep their small breathing hole open. The first instinct of some village leaders in Barrow was to shoot the animals and put them out of their misery -- but no one wanted to.

As reporters flew in and started filing stories, Withrow was asked to go up and help clarify some of the misleading information about gray whales that was coming out. Before he left Seattle, he shipped ahead some underwater sound projection equipment and tape recordings of the sound of gray whales breeding in Mexico -- a sound he hoped would lure the stranded whales to new holes that were being dug into the ice to help lure the creatures back toward open water.

He also included recordings of orcas, or killer whales, which prey on gray whales and which Withrow figured might be useful if needed to drive the whales toward safety.

Withrow asked someone to pick up the equipment from the airport and take it ahead to Barrow so it would be ready when he arrived. But when he got there, he found that someone not affiliated with NOAA had already unpacked the equipment and had actually begun broadcasting one of the tapes into the water -- the killer whale sounds.

"They projected something, we think it was the killer whale sounds. And the whales just split," he said.

"The two older ones made it back, and the younger one didn't."

Though it's only speculation, Withrow believes it's likely that the younger whale swam too far away in fear and couldn't or wouldn't come back, doomed under the thickening ice. "It's an incredibly interesting story, but people will never know the answer," he said.

The other enduring mystery in the "Big Miracle" is whether the other two whales survived. A Soviet icebreaker cut a channel to open water in the Chukchi and Bering seas, and Eskimo workers on shore, aided by donated chain saws, succeeded in cutting a series of breathing holes to guide the two whales to the channel.

The guiding part worked -- not so much because of the gray whale breeding tapes, as it turned out, but because of some small pumps donated by a company in Minnesota. The company had developed the pumps for ice fishing, and rescuers found that the sound and turbulence of the pumps acted as a powerful attractant to the whales. It then became relatively easy to attract the whales to new breathing holes as they were created.

At the end of the rescue effort, one of the whales was spotted from a helicopter in the ice-clogged channel that was the final path to safety, Withrow said. The other one was never seen.

Both whales, already weakened from their ordeal, would have had a tough swim through the ice floes and down to safety in California and Mexico.

"None of us actually saw the whales swim through," Withrow said. "People want to know if they actually made it. We don't know. There were reports of people seeing them all along the route, but there's no way of knowing. I'm sitting there three feet from these whales for two weeks and I'm not sure if I could identify them again."

In most cases, he said, gray whales are identified by patterns of barnacles on their skin, and barnacles don't stay the same for long.

"I'm sure people wanted to see them and we'd all like to believe they did, and that's what really happened," Withrow said. "But we don't really know."

What about Drew Barrymore's dramatic dive into the water to help untangle one of the whales, supposedly caught in some fishing net?

Didn't happen, Withrow said.

"We wouldn't have allowed it," he said. "Diving in those conditions where it's 30 and 40 below [zero] is just a really dangerous thing to do. And she wasn't tethered [in the movie], she didn't have a diving buddy, there's laws that would have prohibited it -- no."

[For the record, 6:01 p.m., Feb. 13: This post originally implied that Sen. Ted Stevens had accepted bribes from oil company executive Bill Allen. Stevens was accused of failing to report gifts from Allen.]

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Photo: A gray whale surfaces at a breathing hole cleared by Eskimos near Point Barrow, Alaska, in 1988, a rescue dramatized in the new film "Big Miracle." Credit: Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News


Washington state makes 7: Governor signs gay marriage law

Same-sex-marriage-lzcn22pd

"My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow!" state Sen. Ed Murray declared Monday as Washington became the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a boisterous ceremony at the state Capitol in Olympia, Gov. Christine Gregoire -- a Catholic who weathered strong opposition, including a last-minute "action alert" from the state's Catholic Church leadership -- signed legislation to give same-sex couples the same right to a marriage license as anyone else.

"Look into your hearts and ask yourselves: 'Isn't it time?' " said Gregoire, as cheering supporters chanted "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

"We did what was just. We did what was fair. We stood for equality, and we did it together, Republicans and Democrats, gay and straight, young and old, and a number of our faith organizations. I'm proud of who and what we are as a state," the governor said.

MAP: Gay rights timeline

There was a decidedly festive mood at the statehouse, where the debate in the state Legislature -- which approved the bill on split votes in both houses -- had been measured, lacking the name-calling and fireworks that often characterizes the issue.

The legislation exempts churches, religious institutions and members of the clergy from participating in same-sex marriages if it goes against their beliefs -- a compromise aimed at hundreds of churches whose members phoned and emailed lawmakers in an attempt to defeat the bill. Several faith organizations signed on in support of the measure, however, Gregoire noted.

"Years from now, our kids will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, but those of us who lived through the last 20 years appreciate how challenging this has been," said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the bill through its contentious charge through the Legislature. On Monday, he introduced onlookers to his "future husband," a former high school administrator who stood on the sidelines cradling one of the couple's four children.

The issue is far from over, however. Conservative and religious leaders have vowed to begin collecting signatures on a referendum to overturn the new law. The statute, slated to take effect on June 7, would be held in abeyance if referendum proponents succeed in placing it on the November ballot.

"Much hangs in the balance over the next few months. This is a time for people of faith to work together," Gary Randall, president of the Faith & Freedom Network, said in an appeal to supporters. He added in another statement: "This is a dark day for people of faith and those who honor natural, traditional marriage. It is a tipping point for the state."

Continue reading »

Deputies sent to Josh Powell's house 8 minutes after 911 call

Powell boys memorial
Nearly eight minutes passed before a 911 dispatcher sent sheriff's deputies to Josh Powell's home in Graham, Wash., where he was killing his children, emergency call logs showed Wednesday night.

Tapes of the conversation Sunday between a social worker and a 911 call center were released earlier in the day. They showed the social worker trying to stay calm but seeming to grow increasingly frustrated as the person on the other end of the phone repeatedly asked for details about who she was, why she was at the house, what kind of car she was driving, and finally told her a deputy would be sent when one was free.

“They have to respond to emergency, life-threatening situations first,” the call center worker said.

“This could be life-threatening!” the social worker interjected. “He went to court Wednesday and he didn’t get the kids back, and I’m — I’m afraid for their lives.”

The social worker was delivering the children for what was to have been a court-ordered supervised visit. Powell, a person of interest in his wife Susan's 2009 disappearance, let the boys in but barred the social worker. He had lost custody in September.

The Associated Press obtained the call logs Wednesday night under a public records request. Nearly eight minutes elapsed from the time the social worker made the first 911 call until deputies were dispatched, the AP reported, and it took another 14 minutes for the deputies to arrive.

The 911 call lasted nearly seven minutes. The logs show deputies were sent about a minute after the call ended.

According to the logs, the social worker called from her cellphone at 12:08 p.m. Five minutes later, the man who took her call transferred the information to a dispatcher, who alerted two deputies about 2 1/2 minutes later, at 12:16, the AP reported. They arrived at 12:30, when the house was engulfed in flames.

Authorities say Powell had splashed gasoline around the house and ignited it. He had also attacked the children with a hatchet. 

At one point, the social worker tells the call center that she can hear the children crying. 

Earlier Wednesday, Pierce County Sheriff’s Det. Ed Troyer raised questions about how the first of two 911 calls was handled; the second was from the social worker to the fire department. “Our concern is the etiquette and lack of manners. It doesn’t have to be that way, right?” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. 

But he said the protracted call, handled by an independent call service center, did not delay dispatch of a patrol car, which arrived before the fire department did. Some of the confusion, he added, was due to the fact that the social worker at first did not know Powell’s street address.

The independent call center that handles 911 calls for Pierce County, the Law Enforcement Support Agency, issued a statement Wednesday night. Director Tom Orr offered condolences to the family and expressed shock at "the deliberate, heinous and evil actions of Josh Powell."   

"All of us at LESA take our citizens’ safety very seriously and we have begun a full investigation of how these calls were handled," Orr said. "We know that seconds count and we are committed to providing the fastest response possible." 

It was moments after the first 911 call that the social worker called again. The house was in flames. This time, she was put through to the fire department.

“There’s two little boys in the house. They’re 5 and 7, and there’s an adult man. ... He blew up the house and the kids!” she said, speaking calmly but urgently.

“And you think he might have done it intentionally?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

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Photo: Alex Ramirez, 17, brings a balloon to a growing memorial to Charlie and Braden Powell on Tuesday at Carson Elementary School in Puyallup, Wash., where Charlie attended school. Credit: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

 

 

 


Ted Stevens case: Probe of prosecutor misconduct will go public

Stevens-prosecutors-khyqjync
A judge has rejected efforts by federal prosecutors in the botched prosecution of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens to keep secret a 500-page investigation into allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the case.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered that the entire special prosecutor's report be made public March 15, promising to shed new light on a case that toppled the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate and affected the way in which federal prosecutions are conducted across the U.S.

"To deny the public access to [the] report ... would be an affront to the 1st Amendment and a blow to the fair administration of justice," Sullivan said in his ruling.

"It is not an overstatement to say that the dramatic events during and after the Stevens trial, and particularly the government's decision to reverse course and move to vacate the verdict, led to a continuing national public discourse on prosecutorial misconduct," the judge said.

"Withholding the report from the public ... would be the equivalent of giving a reader only every other chapter of a complicated book," he added.

The report was filed under seal by prominent Washington attorney Henry F. Schuelke III. It found that the corruption prosecution of Stevens in 2008 was "permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated [Stevens'] defense, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government's key witness," according to an excerpt quoted by Judge Sullivan.

Schuelke did not recommend criminal contempt charges against the errant prosecutors, however, because he said there had been no specific court order during the trial directing them to comply with their discovery obligations. Sullivan has said it never occurred to him that he would have to specifically order the prosecution team to follow the law.

Stevens, who has since died in a plane crash, lost his bid for reelection just after a jury in 2008 found him guilty of failing to report gifts from a well-connected oil industry executive.

But after revelations that prosecutors had failed to tell the defense about less-incriminating statements made by key witnesses and other important evidence, the Justice Department on its own motion dismissed the case against Stevens. That came too late, however, to keep Democrat Mark Begich from defeating Stevens.

Details of who was responsible for the prosecutorial omissions and the degree to which they were deliberate have never been made public, though Sullivan said the independent examination found "at least some of this concealment was willful and intentional."

The Justice Department is conducting an investigation of its own through its Office of Professional Responsibility and has not opposed making Schuelke's report public.

But two of the six prosecutors targeted under the probe argued in sealed motions against the document's release, and two others also raised some concerns, arguing that Schuelke's investigation should be subject to the same confidentiality protections as a grand jury probe.

Sullivan rejected their arguments.

"After a highly publicized trial and months of post-trial proceedings during which the prosecution team repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and zealously defended the guilty verdict it had obtained, the opposing attorneys cannot now circumvent the 1st Amendment and any public accountability," the judge wrote.

Especially, he noted, since taxpayers are picking up the tab for defending federal prosecutors. The bill so far, USA Today recently reported, is $1.8 million.

When asked about this amount, a Justice Department spokeswoman said that the federal government has long provided representation, or made representation available, to federal employees for legal proceedings arising out of the performance of their official duties.  

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Photo: Prosecutors Joseph Bottini and Brenda Morris, shown during the trial of then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008, are among the targets of a misconduct probe stemming from the case. Credit: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press


911 call: Worker says Josh Powell 'blew up the house and kids'

 
From her first words, it was clear there was something horribly wrong. "Something really weird has happened," the social worker outside Josh Powell's house in Graham, Wash., told the 911 dispatcher.

"The kids went into the house and the parent, whose name is Josh Powell, will not let me in the door. What should I do?"

Pierce County sheriff's officials Tuesday night released the tapes from the increasingly frantic call a state visitation supervisor made to emergency workers just before Powell, locked inside the house, attacked his two young sons with a hatchet and set the residence on fire.

AUDIO: Worker's first 911 call

The Pierce County medical examiner said all three died of carbon monoxide poisoning, with the boys suffering chop wounds to the head and neck.

"I could hear one of the kids crying. ... I think I need help right away," the social worker said. "He's on a very short leash with [the state child supervision agency], and this is the craziest thing. He looked right at me and closed the door."

She told the dispatcher she wanted to pull her car out of the driveway. She smelled gasoline, she said.

"He's got the kids in the house, and he won't let me in. ... I rang the doorbell and everything. I begged him to let me in."

Powell, who for two years had been at the center of an intense media spotlight over the disappearance of his wife, Susan, in Utah in 2009, had already left a farewell voicemail to family members, one of which was obtained by ABC News.

"This is Josh," he said in a slow and broken voice. "I'm calling to say goodbye. I'm not able to live without my sons, and I'm not able to go on anymore. I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt. Goodbye."

Family members say it has become increasingly clear that Powell, listed by Utah police as a person of interest in his wife's disappearance, was distraught at having lost a bid the previous week to regain custody of his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.

AUDIO: Worker's second 911 call

The two boys were living with their maternal grandparents, and were being brought to Powell's house for a supervised visit -- but were quickly and unexpectedly locked inside when Powell suddenly slammed the door on the social worker.

"I was one step in back of them ... he shut the door right in my face," reported the woman, who was on contract to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services.

In the 911 call, the social worker attempted to remain calm but seemed to grow increasingly frustrated as the dispatcher repeatedly asked for details about who she was, why she was at the house, what kind of car she was driving, and finally told her a deputy would be sent when one was free. "They have to respond to emergency, life-threatening situations first," the dispatcher explained.

"This could be life-threatening!" the social worker interjected. "He went to court Wednesday and he didn't get the kids back, and I'm -- I'm afraid for their lives."

Moments later, the social worker called back. The house was in flames. This time, she was put through to the fire department.

"There's two little boys in the house. They're 5 and 7, and there's an adult man ... he blew up the house and the kids!" she said, speaking calmly but urgently.

"And you think he might have done it intentionally?" the dispatcher asked.

"Yes," she replied.

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Alaska snow woes hit weary, starving moose

Moose-snow-lyurq1pd
Alaskans can add one more woe to the problems that come with a long, cold winter full of heavy snow: weary moose.

It's actually gone beyond weary, wildlife advocates say, because moose are starving, perishing on railroad tracks and slamming through automobile windshields along highways where they go to escape the deep snow.

"It's belly deep, shoulder deep for these moose," Gary Olson, head of the Alaska Moose Federation, said in an interview. "The calves are the worst off. We've gotten reports of calves that have just given up, and the ravens are already picking at them, and they're still alive."

The state Department of Fish and Game this week announced approval of a permit for the federation to begin a diversionary feeding program for snow-stranded moose, allowing the clearing of plowed trails and the placing of bags of healthy feed as a respite until spring.

"We are authorizing this extraordinary step due to public safety concerns. We hope the diversionary feeding stations will lure moose away from roads and will reduce moose-vehicle collisions and other dangerous encounters," Tony Kavalok, assistant director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement.

Snow is now 5 to 6 feet deep in many parts of south central Alaska. Anchorage has received 103 inches of snow so far this year, and parts of the state, notably Prince William Sound, have seen even more.

While moose with their long legs normally can navigate relatively heavy snow, plowing through 5 feet for any length of time is exhausting. Many make their way to highways or railroad tracks, where the snow is cleared, but dangers abound. 

In the Matanuska-Susitna borough north of Anchorage, the average number of vehicle-moose collisions is 270 annually. That number was reached near the end of December, and officials are predicting it could double by the end of winter.

There have been more than 600 moose collisions so far across the entire region down to the Kenai Peninsula, state officials say.

"The problem with your typical moose is the body mass of the animal is far above most cars, so when a moose is struck it has an unfortunate tendency to come in the windshield, and sometimes not to trigger the airbags," Olson said.

"With the increased fuel standards coming out of our capitol in D.C., the cars are getting smaller, and the moose aren't. So it's bad."

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the agency has no records of how many people have been injured in moose collisions this year, but Alaska's history is replete with horror stories.

"I remember a wreck a few years back where all four people in the vehicle were killed after a moose was struck," Peters said in an email.

State authorities also get calls about defiant moose straddling plowed sidewalks at rest stops, defying those who hope to reach the restrooms.

Kavalok told the Los Angeles Times that the diversionary feeding authorized this week is different from the controversial feeding supplements sometimes offered wildlife whose winter ranges have been reduced, such as those put out for elk in Wyoming.

"This is not a supplemental feeding program. This is about getting moose attracted off the [road] corridors where they're concentrating so they're not subject to collision with motor vehicles," he said. "The whole issue is getting them a place to move to, and providing a way for them to get there."

The moose federation is using heavy track vehicles to clear snow pathways for the animals. Next, workers will put lay out feed bags to lure moose into the safety zones.

The organization has also resumed its road-kill salvage program, under which it sends trucks out to pick up carcasses and deliver them to charity groups where they can be safely butchered, avoiding the need, as is normally the case, to set up butcher stations right next to the roads.

Olson said workers are also conducting aerial surveys away from the highways, finding places where moose are stuck in deep snow near trees whose branches they can reach for food.

"What a moose does when it gets in really deep snow is they in essence plow a big circle out with their body, and they're going from tree to tree. Each time they take more of the limbs, and as they reach further up, they keep getting more wood and less bark -- and remember, the nutrients are in the bark. So they can literally perish with a stomach full of wood," Olson said.

"These herded moose are quickly exhausting any food where they are now."

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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: A moose forages on a branch in a neighborhood of west Anchorage. Credit: Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News / Associated Press


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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