'Underwear bomber' gets life in prison for 2009 airliner attack

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who hid a bomb in his underwear on a suicide mission for Al Qaeda, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for his failed attempt to bring down a passenger airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds imposed the mandatory sentence after rejecting a request from the defense that the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment because no one except Abdulmutallab was physically hurt in the incident.

Thursday's sentencing had been expected ever since Abdulmutallab, who became known as the underwear bomber, abruptly ended his trial in October by pleading guilty to federal charges.

Abdulmutallab, now 25, was born in Nigeria into a wealthy and privileged family. He boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in the Netherlands on Christmas Day in 2009 en route to Michigan. The flight carried 279 passengers and 11 crew members.

Plastic explosives were hidden in his underwear. Witnesses said Abdulmutallab went into a bathroom, then returned to his seat, covering himself with a blanket. He apparently tried to detonate the explosives as the plane approached Detroit, but the device failed to explode properly.

Passengers seized Abdulmutallab, who was burned in the failed explosion.

Abdulmutallab later told government investigators that he was working for an Al Qaeda group run by Anwar Awlaki, an American Muslim cleric killed in Yemen by U.S. and Yemeni forces. Awlaki's alleged role in the airline incident was one of the rationales for the U.S. attack on the cleric, who was never convicted in a U.S. court.

After Abdulmutallab was apprehended, the Obama administration initially argued the airport security “system had worked.” But days later, top officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, faced questions over whether Abdulmutallab should have been prevented from boarding the flight in Amsterdam.

Abdulmutallab's family had told CIA officers in Nigeria they believed he was coming under the influence of radical  clerics. Abdulmutallab's name was entered into a database of more than 500,000 suspected terrorists, but was never investigated further and never made it to the so-called no-fly list.

There were also questions about how Abdulmutallab was able to bring the explosives on the plane. That has led to an increase in airport security.


Tennessee 'Don't Say Gay' bill clears a hurdle in state House

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

Are smokeless cigarettes safer? E-cig explodes in smoker's mouth

-- Michael Muskal

Whitney Houston: N.J. governor stands by decision to lower flags


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, no stranger to controversy, is standing firm in his decision to fly flags at half-staff on behalf of Whitney Houston, despite complaints that the late pop singer should not have that recognition because of her history of drug problems.

The governor has ordered flags at government buildings to be flown at half-staff Saturday, the day of Houston’s funeral at the Newark, N.J., church where she sang as a child. The body of the 48-year-old musical icon was found Saturday in the bathtub of her guest room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

There has been no ruling on the cause of death, but officials have said there were “no obvious signs of criminal intent.” Toxicology tests are under way to determine if drugs were involved.

Houston, in television interviews, had acknowledged past drug and alcohol problems and the fact that she had been in rehabilitation. Such problems were one reason for complaints about Christie’s decision to lower the flags.

Christie, who has built a national reputation for his pugnacious charm, refused to give ground to opponents. He told critics that Houston had made significant cultural contributions to the state.

“For those people who say, ‘I don’t think she deserves it,’ I say to them, 'I understand that you don’t think that. I do, and it’s my executive order,' " Christie said this week.

“I’ve seen these messages and emails that have come to me disparaging her for her troubles with substance abuse,” Christie said. “What I’d say to everybody is: There but for the grace of God go I.”

On Thursday, Christie’s decision was backed by FOX News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who has been outspoken about Houston's death and her use of drugs.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, O’Reilly said it was right to lower the flags and also urged society to deal more forcefully with drug abuse.

“I think we should respect the life and talent of Whitney Houston. I said a prayer when I heard she died. This isn't a personal thing. This is a preventive thing. I want society and media to tell the truth about drug and alcohol addiction,” O’Reilly said. “Let's stop exploiting it and start explaining it.”

The other argument levied against the governor is that a pop singer doesn’t have the standing in society to merit the lowering of the flags.

In response, Christie noted that he has ordered flags flown at half-staff for all 31 fallen New Jersey soldiers and every slain police officer during his time in office.

He also ordered flags lowered last year for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

Houston’s funeral will be private, but the Associated Press will have a video camera inside and will stream the service.


Tennessee 'Don't Say Gay' bill clears a hurdle in state House

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

Are smokeless cigarettes safer? E-cig explodes in smoker's mouth

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, attend a funeral last month for Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, 75. Credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press

Last FEMA trailer leaves New Orleans six years after Katrina

A FEMA trailer sits in front of a home in New Orleans' Lakeview section.
The last FEMA trailer in New Orleans has left the city, closing a brutal chapter in New Orleans' history more than six years after Hurricane Katrina stormed through the region and the levee system failed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday announced that the trailer, officially known as a temporary housing unit, had departed Sunday. The announcement described the event as "a significant Hurricane Katrina recovery milestone."

The temporary housing units, which included travel trailers and mobile homes, became a symbol of the scale of the 2005 Katrina disaster. Television coverage mesmerized the nation, showing people trapped on rooftops to avoid floodwater, long lines of vehicles packed with people forced to flee inland and people who sought safety in the Louisiana Superdome. Meanwhile, the National Guard was patrolling the streets in an attempt to restore order.

“For more than six years, temporary housing units were located on private properties, group and industrial sites, and in commercial mobile home/RV parks across New Orleans while her residents recovered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina,” Andre Cadogan, FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office deputy director of programs, said in a statement. “The transition of this final household is a huge success for our agency, the state, the city, local nonprofits, and all others who contributed to helping return normalcy to New Orleans and those who live here.”

That upbeat tone was echoed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

“At the end of the day, FEMA trailers were never meant to be permanent housing units, so I’m glad that our code enforcement efforts coupled with FEMA case work has helped individuals transition to permanent housing,” Landrieu stated. He replaced C. Ray Nagin, who served eight years as mayor and was in office when the hurricane hit and the levees failed.

“Another page has turned in New Orleans’ post-Katrina history,” Landrieu said.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in U.S. history, and Katrina ranks as the costliest and one of the most deadly hurricanes. Property damage has been estimated at more than $81 billion, and at least 1,830 people were killed in the storm.

Katrina was followed a few weeks later by Hurricane Rita. Ultimately, the season seemed to be never-ending, producing 15 hurricanes, four of which were rated at the top Category 5.

Katrina formed over the Bahamas on Aug. 23, 2005, crossed southern Florida and became stronger as it moved through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm surge caused major damage along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.

In New Orleans, the levee system, designed to protect the city from flooding, failed hours after the storm had passed. At one point, more than 80% of the city and neighboring areas were flooded.

Officials had warned residents to leave the area, but many ignored their pleas. After the storm, relief efforts became bogged down because supplies could not be moved to areas in need. Civil order seemed to collapse amid the looting. The poor emergency response became a political blot on the Bush administration.

According to FEMA, the response to Katrina and Rita was the “largest housing operation in the history of the country, providing THUs (travel trailers, mobile homes and park models) to approximately 92,000 families throughout Louisiana. Approximately 25 percent of these THUs were in service at the peak of the housing program in Orleans Parish.”

FEMA said it has provided about $5.8 billion to assist 915,884 individuals and families in Louisiana for Katrina and Rita, including $4.2 billion in housing assistance for rent, repairs and replacement housing and $1.6 billion in other needs for such things as furniture, clothing and replacement vehicles.

Three trailers from the 2005 season are still in use elsewhere in Louisiana, according to FEMA.


Best in show at Westminster dog show: A pipsqueak, Malachy

U.S. colleges: What bad economy? Gifts rise 8.2% to $30.3 billion

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

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: A FEMA trailer sits in front of a home in New Orleans' Lakeview section in this photo from 2009. The last trailer left the city Sunday. Credit: Bill Haber/Associated Press

U.S. colleges: What bad economy? Gifts rise 8.2% to $30.3 billion

Donations to U.S. colleges and universities rose 8.2% last year as institutions of higher education improved their financial condition after some tough economic years, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Council for Aid to Education.

The survey showed that charitable contributions reached $30.3 billion in 2011, the second time the total had crossed the $30-billion mark -- but it was still down from the $31.6 billion record in 2008. Adjusted for inflation, last year’s increase is 4.8% over 2010, according to the Voluntary Support of Education survey.

The good fundraising news doesn’t automatically mean that parents and students won’t face tuition increases.

According to the council, 13.6% of the giving went to capital purposes such as endowments and buildings, while 4.7% went to operations. Because not all dollars can be used to defray current-year expenses, last year’s giving accounts for 3.8% of expenditures, one of the major drivers in tuition.

As is common in such giving, rich universities will continue to get richer while the less well-endowed will have to enjoy college spirit, rather than money.

Of the $30.3 billion collected, $8.2 billion was raised by the top 20 institutions, about 2% of the 1,009 respondents in the annual survey. Fundraising in the top tier grew by 15.3% over the year before.

The top quarter of those responding to the survey accounted for 86.3% of all giving, while the bottom quarter received just 1%.

It is not surprising that the rich schools gets richer and draw more contributions. The top schools read like a who’s who of educational ties. They tend to graduate alumni who move into the top spots of their professions and are able to give at that level. In addition, those schools are the ones with the most cutting-edge research and reputations, hence they can attract charitable dollars at a faster rate.

Once again, the top fundraising school was Stanford University, followed by Harvard University, the one-two combination in 2010 and 2006. Yale University, which had fallen to seventh in 2010 returned to its No. 3 perch. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University round out the top five.

Even though it was the top school receiving $709.4 million, Stanford’s take was down 22.1% from 2006. By contrast, MIT received $534.3 million last year, up 126.8% from 2006 when it ranked 21.

The other high-performing schools over time were the University of California at San Francisco, which jumped from 26th to ninth place from 2006 to 2011, and the University of Texas at Austin which went from 29th place to 11th in the same period.

The University of Southern California, which was fourth last year, dropped to 10th. It received $402.4 million in 2011, a 5.5% decrease from 2010 but just a 0.8% slide from 2006.


An offer you can't refuse: Las Vegas opens new Mob Museum

After Russell Pearce ouster, Arizona may alter its recall process

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

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Bicyclists ride on Palm Drive toward the Stanford University campus. Stanford received the largest amount of charitable donations in 2011. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

Victorian poets in love: Barrett and Browning letters go online

Elizabeth Barrett Browning sculpture

Forget the chocolates this Valentine’s Day. Candles? Dinner? Clever repartee? That’s all so, well, 20th century.  For a truly 21st century celebration of love, you have to go back to the 19th -- and the Web has supplied a virtual time machine.

Starting Tuesday, anyone with a computer, tablet or the right mobile telephone can shift the paradigm with just a click -- and become involved in a passion for language that spilled over into an enduring, even legendary, Victorian love. It was a love that overcame chronic illness, a prohibition on marriage and disinheritance.

“I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,” poet Robert Browning wrote to his future wife.

“How Do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways,” Elizabeth Barrett wrote in her most famous poem, after meeting the man who would be her husband.

Now, through the marvels of technology, the couple’s 573 love letters are available online so that anyone can see them -- in a semblance of what they were. The letters are being offered via a digital collaboration between Wellesley College in Massachusetts and Baylor University in Texas, home of the world’s largest collection of material related to the couple.

Don’t expect any literary revelation -- the couple's poetry has been long available and oft published. But if the substance is not new, the format certainly is, giving fans a chance to see the letters as they were written, faded ink and all.

The story isn’t too shabby either, with the poets seeming to duel in their efforts to describe the other with terms more glowing, to adorn the other’s verse and life with compliments more graceful.

“You are too perfect, too overcomingly good & tender -- dearest you are, & I have no words with which to answer you,” Barrett wrote to Browning in 1846, months before the couple were secretly married.

Months later, Browning wrote: “Write to me one word more -- depend on me.”

She did.


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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: An 1880 sculpture of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by artist William Story is on display at the Margaret Clapp Library on the campus of Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Beginning Valentine's Day, the famous love letters of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning went online as part of a digitization collaboration between Wellesley and Baylor University in Texas. Credit: Steven Senne / Associated Press

Pew report: One in eight voting registrations inaccurate

This post has been updated. Please see note at bottom for details.

One out of eight voting registrations is inaccurate, and about a quarter of those people eligible to cast a ballot are not even registered, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States.

The report describes a voting system in confusion, with about 1.8 million dead people listed on the rolls, some 2.8 million with active registrations in more than one state and 12 million with serious enough errors to make it unlikely that mail, from any political party or election board, can reach the right destination. In all, some 24 million registrations contain significant errors.

At the same time, the report, titled “Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient,” found that at least 51 million potential voters are not registered, and are thus outside the electoral system. That number and the flaws in the existing registration systems are large enough to sway elections from the local to national level, especially in this presidential year.

The United States has a long and rich history of voting, with both good and bad elements. Fights over who is eligible to vote -- and how to get them to the polls --- date back to colonial times, sometimes featuring outright fraud or legal restrictions based on property ownership or education.

Even in the current election cycle, access to voting remains an issue. In general, Democrats have argued for the broadest definition of voting with the fewest obstacles, a position that favors their core groups of poor and young voters. Conservatives generally raise questions about whether the system is too open to fraud.

The problems identified in the Pew report are not a question of widespread fraud; rather, the report calls for better use of technology to update voting registration systems. In conjunction with the report, eight states -- Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington -- said they are working on a centralized data system to help identify people whose registrations may be out of date.

“Voter registration is the gateway to participating in our democracy, but these antiquated, paper-based systems are plagued with errors and inefficiencies,” said David Becker, director of election initiatives at the Pew Center on the States. “These problems waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence, and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections.”

Outdated systems are also costly, the report found. In 2008, Oregon taxpayers spent $4.11 per active voter to process registrations. By contrast, Canada, which uses modern technology common in the private sector, devotes less than 35 cents per voter to process registrations.

“Proven solutions and technology are already in place in many government offices and the private sector, and states can use them to improve the accuracy, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their systems,” Becker said. “State leaders from across the country and from both parties are pioneering these solutions. Pew supports their efforts to better serve voters and ensure the integrity of the electoral process.”

The examination of the nation’s voter rolls was commissioned by Pew and undertaken by RTI International, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, political parties fought over who would be allowed to vote. States separately decide their own election eligibility rules and maintain their own voter rolls.

Barriers to voting such as race and gender fell through the decades, even as new obstacles -- literacy tests and poll taxes -- were imposed by the ruling elites seeking to stay in power. Those obstacles, too, fell, often with the aid of the courts and landmark federal legislation on voting rights.

But the issue of voting access is so politically sensitive, it remains on the national agenda even in the 21st century.

In its most recent report on voting law changes ahead of the 2012 presidential election cycle, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that “a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than 5 million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year -- a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.”

States that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 -- 63% of the 270 needed to win the presidency, the center’s report found.

[Updated, 8:42 a.m., Feb. 20: The Pew Center on the States has issued a correction to its recent Pew Elections Initiative report “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient.” The center said the report should not have used the term “active” as a qualifier for voter registration lists because the terms “active” and “inactive” have a technical meaning in some but not all states. The numbers in the report remain correct in quantifying the problems with the voter registration lists, according to Pew.]


In Atlanta, a legal sideshow over training of circus elephants

Gay marriage poll: Most in New Jersey support it, but want vote

Sure, Valentine's Day gets a Google Doodle today -- but it began with a beheading

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Harry S. Truman draws a crowd of voters during a whistle-stop tour in 1948 in Texas. Credit: Associated Press

Psst! Wisconsin reveals secret location of recall petitions

Wisconsin officials identified this government building as the site where recall petitions are being reviewed.

Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, the agency checking and rechecking the recall petitions that have rocked the state’s political world, outed itself Monday.

In media tours, the agency disclosed that it was tabulating the petitions in an aging, white brick building about two miles from the state Capitol. The agency has broadcast the tedious office activities via webcam, but Monday’s tours were the first time the precise location has been identified, said board spokesman Reid Magney in a telephone interview.

“This is a very emotional issue in Wisconsin,” he said of the petitions seeking to recall Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP state senators.

“After consulting with the Capitol police, we decided to not disclose the location until we had secured all copies of the petitions. We completed that a little more than a week ago. Today was the first day we could bring people in, so we made it public,” he said.

It was the need for securing the documents in a large space that forced the board to seek more room, rather than any fear of needed security to handle possible protests, Magney said.

The building is an old industrial facility in Madison, he said. It is used by the state for vehicle fleet services, some printing and some mail sorting. It was chosen because there was already vacant space available in the building, which has a chain link fence with barbed wire outside.

“We don’t anticipate that a lot people will show up,” Magney said. “There isn’t much to see from the outside.”

Inside, about four dozen workers are going through about 1.9 million signatures, assessing the documents for technical errors such as incomplete or missing addresses.

The board is supposed to complete its examination and certify the petitions by March 19, though more time could be available if needed, Magney said.

If there is an election, it could be held as soon as six weeks later. But if a primary is needed, the date will be pushed back. There are also possible court challenges. 


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Powerball jackpot mystery: Who won the $336.4-million prize?

'Lonely old widow' lawmaker becomes unlikely voice for same-sex marriage

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Wisconsin officials identified this government building as the site where recall petitions are being reviewed. Credit: Scott Bauer / Associated Press

Jerry Sandusky can visit grandchildren, step outside, judge says


Jerry Sandusky will get a local jury in his trial on child sex-abuse charges and will be allowed to visit with his grandchildren, a judge ruled Monday in giving the former Penn State football coach several victories.

Centre County Judge John M. Cleland also rejected a prosecution request that Sandusky  be confined inside his home while under house arrest. Neighbors have complained that Sandusky, while outside his home, was able to watch children at a nearby school.

“The generalized concerns of parents, while understandable, cannot justify additional bail restrictions in the absence of some evidence from the commonwealth that the defendant's presence or behavior on his deck presents a danger to the community,” Cleland wrote.

The rulings follow a Friday hearing at which Sandusky took the stand.

Sandusky is accused of molesting at least 10 boys through a charity he founded, The Second Mile. Some of the alleged assaults took place at Penn State, where Sandusky would bring children on field trips. The former coach has denied all charges.

The child sex-abuse scandal rocked the university and the nation, eventually leading to the dismissal of the school's head football coach, the late Joe Paterno, and school president Graham Spanier; both were criticized for failing to act more aggressively in having law enforcement officials investigate Sandusky. Further, two Penn State administrators are awaiting trial on charges they lied to a grand jury investigating Sandusky. Both administrators have denied those charges.

The prosecution had wanted to draw people for the jury pool from outside Centre County, where Sandusky lives and where the university is located, arguing that it would be difficult to find a jury that hadn’t been tainted by the flurry of publicity surrounding the case. The defense, however, disagreed.

Continue reading »

Seditious revolutionaries or all talk? Michigan jury will decide


A Detroit jury will decide whether seven members of a Midwest militia known as Hutaree are Christian revolutionary bomb-throwers who broke the law -- or swaggering survivalists suffering from too much bluster and bravado.

Jury selection in the federal trial is expected to be completed Monday, with opening statements scheduled to begin soon after. The seven defendants are accused of conspiring to use force to oppose the authority of the U.S. government. According to the indictment, the defendants, acting as the Hutaree militia in Lenawee County, Mich., viewed all law enforcement as their enemy, and were preparing to engage them in armed conflict.

Nine people were charged in the case. In a deal with prosecutors, one defendant, Joshua Clough, pleaded guilty to illegal use of a firearm and could be called to testify agains the others, according to the Associated Press. Another defendant, Jacob Ward, will have a separate trial.

The group is accused of planning to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement then attack with improvised explosive devices the other officers who would gather for the funeral. If convicted, the defendants will face a maximum of life in prison on the charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Conviction of seditious conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The trial throws a spotlight on militias, which include a wide range of organizations -- from survivalist training groups to armed hate groups. The trial also raises questions about the line between talking and action. The former is constitutionally protected; the latter can be a crime.

In its defense, Hutaree members maintain that they were just exercising rights granted by the U.S. Constitution -- and that they were just fun-lovers.

“I'm going to fight it tooth and nail,” Tina Mae Stone, one of the defendants told the Associated Press last week during a break in jury selection. “It was just a bunch of good ol' boys out to have fun. We did survival stuff. I did it mostly to spend time with my husband.

“People tell me, 'Good luck.' I don't need luck. I've got God on my side,” she said.

In a court filing, attorneys Todd Shanker and Richard Helfrick said the militia prepared for survival in case of domestic chaos or an attack on the United States.

“Regardless of the charges in the indictment, there is no dispute that the aims of the Hutaree militia included the free exercise of their 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, including freedom of speech, association, assembly and the right to bear arms,” said the lawyers, who represent defendant David Stone Jr.

The government sees the group in a different light.

It was an “insidious plan by anti-government extremists to murder a law enforcement officer in order to lure police from across the nation to the funeral where they would be attacked with explosive devices. Thankfully, this alleged plot has been thwarted and a severe blow has been dealt to an dangerous organization that today stands accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States,” Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said two years ago when the Hutaree members were arrested.

During questioning last week, most of the potential jurors said they knew little of militias, though one woman said she associated the fringe movement with Timothy McVeigh, who exploded a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The attack killed 168 people and wounded more than 800.

McVeigh was convicted of 11 federal charges. He was executed in 2001.


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Funeral for Powell boys draws 1,000-plus in Tacoma, Wash.

Whitney Houston memorials spring up at N.J. school, church

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Members of a Midwest militia known as Hutaree, seven of whom are on trial accused of conspiring to use force to oppose the authority of the U.S. government. Top row from left: David Brian Stone Sr., 44, of Clayton, Mich.; David Brian Stone Jr. of Adrian, Mich.; Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio; and Tina Mae Stone. Bottom row, from left: Michael David Meeks, 40, of Manchester, Mich.; Kristopher T. Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio; Joshua John Clough, 28, of Blissfield, Mich.; and Thomas William Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Ind. Clough has already entered a guilty plea. Credit: U.S. Marshal's Service 

Woman who stole baby 24 years ago (and raised it) pleads guilty


Joy White

Ann Pettway, who stole a baby from a Manhattan hospital more than two decades ago and raised the child as her own, pleaded guilty Friday to federal kidnapping charges and will spend at least 10 years in prison.


The case, which combined elements of lost childhood, misidentity and the resolution of a mystery long gone cold, had captured the country's imagination. It was eventually broken open by the child, Carlina White, now 24.

White questioned why she lacked a birth certificate, then turned to websites specializing in missing children -- and discovered the truth. It was a photo of a stolen baby on the Internet that looked like her own pictures that sent Carlina White off to find her biological parents.

Standing before Judge Kevin Castel in federal court on Friday, Pettway, of North Carolina, acknowledged taking the baby, just 19 days old, from Harlem Hospital in 1987 and whisking her off to Bridgeport, Conn., to be raised as her own, according to media reports of the proceedings.

The baby had been brought to the hospital with a fever and had an intravenous drip attached to her arm. Pettway told authorities she pretended to be a nurse to gain access to the child. She said she took the baby because she didn’t believe she could ever be a mother after having several miscarriages.

“I took a child, “ Pettway said in court Friday, adding later, “It was wrong.”

Castel set May 14 for sentencing. Pettway, 51, could have faced life in prison but as part of the plea agreement, she will be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 12.5 years.

Joy White, 41, a Bronx resident and Carlina White’s biological mother, attended the proceedings and told reporters she was unhappy with what she saw as a lenient sentence.

“I've been suffering and been through pain for 23 years,” White said, arguing that Pettway should do the same amount of time in prison.


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Ex-New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin reportedly faces corruption probe

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Joy White, center, whose daughter Carlina White was kidnapped as a newborn from Harlem Hospital in August 1987, exits Manhattan federal court on Friday. Credit:  Louis Lanzano/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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