Pennsylvania survivalist convicted of murdering state trooper | Reuters

By Joe McDonald
| MILFORD, Pa.

MILFORD, Pa. A Pennsylvania jury convicted survivalist Eric Frein on Wednesday of murdering a state trooper in a 2014 sniper attack that triggered a massive manhunt.

Frein, 33, faces the death penalty for first-degree murder of a law-enforcement officer.

The same jury that convicted him after four hours of deliberations will reconvene on Thursday to hear evidence in the penalty phase of trial at Pike County Courthouse.

The defense team did not dispute the charges and did not call any witnesses, but it will present a case in the penalty phase in an attempt to save Frein’s life, defense attorney William Ruzzo told reporters.

“We can’t make him a holy man but we will try to make him a man,” Ruzzo said.

Frein, who showed no emotion as the verdict was read, is a survivalist, a person skilled in outdoor living who aims to survive a catastrophe or dramatic event such as nuclear war or revolution.

Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin described Frein during closing arguments as “a terrorist with murder in his heart, a plan in his mind and a rifle in his hand, who slithered through the woods.”

Frein ambushed state police during a shift change at the Blooming Grove barracks in 2014, killing Corporal Bryon Dickson II, 38. Frein then waited to pick off anyone who tried to help Dickson, Tonkin said.

Trooper Alex Douglass, 34, was shot and critically wounded as he rushed to Dickson’s aid.

The jury found Frein guilty of Dickson’s murder, the attempted murder of Douglass, and other charges including terrorism.

Among the evidence the jury weighed was a letter that prosecutors said showed he harbored anti-government views and the shooting was aimed at sparking a “revolution.”

“Passing through the crucible of another revolution can get us back the liberties we once had,” said the letter, which prosecutors said Frein wrote to his parents while on the run.

He also kept notes detailing the ambush, prosecutors said.

“Got a shot and took it,” Tonkin said, reading from the notebook. He added, “Some of the most chilling words you will ever hear.”

After the shooting, Frein eluded a 48-day manhunt through the dense forests of the Pocono Mountains, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Philadelphia.

The $11 million manhunt, which put the community on edge for weeks, ended when he was captured by U.S. marshals outside an abandoned airplane hangar near Tannersville, Pennsylvania.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Alistair Bell)

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U.S. top court to hear key religious rights case involving Missouri church | Reuters

By Lawrence Hurley
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a closely watched dispute over supplying taxpayer money to religious entities in which a church accuses Missouri of violating its religious rights by denying it state funds for a playground project.

The case, which examines the limits of religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution, is one of the most important before the court in its current term. It also marks the biggest test to date for the court’s newest justice, President Donald Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch.

The court’s conservative majority may be sympathetic to the church’s views. But there are questions over whether the nine justices will end up deciding the merits of the case after Missouri’s Republican governor, Eric Greitens, last Thursday reversed the state policy that banned religious entities from applying for the funds.

Even though Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri could now actually apply for money from the grant program that helps nonprofit groups buy rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires, its lawyers and state officials asked the justices to decide the case anyway.

Trinity Lutheran runs a preschool and daycare center.

Missouri’s constitution bars “any church, sect or denomination of religion” from receiving state money, language that goes further than the Constitution’s First Amendment separation of church and state requirement.

Trinity Lutheran’s legal effort is being spearheaded by the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative Christian legal activist group, which contends that Missouri’s policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law.

In court papers, the state said the ban did not impose a burden on the church’s exercise of religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which backed the state’s ban, asked the justices to drop the case, saying it is now moot following Greitens’ policy reversal.

A victory at the Supreme Court for Trinity Lutheran could help religious organizations nationwide win public dollars for certain purposes, such as health and safety. It also could buttress the case for using taxpayer money for vouchers to help pay for children to attend religious schools rather than public schools in “school choice” programs advocated by conservatives.

Three-quarters of the U.S. states have provisions similar to Missouri’s barring funding for religious entities.

Trinity Lutheran sued in federal court in 2012. The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015 upheld a trial court’s dismissal of the suit, and the church appealed to the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; additional reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Will Dunham)

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U.S. top court leaves intact ruling against Central America asylum seekers

By Andrew Chung
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a turbulent debate over illegal immigration on Monday, turning away an appeal by a group of asylum-seeking Central American women and their children who aimed to clarify the constitutional rights of people who the government has prioritized for deportation.

The families, 28 women and 33 children ages 2 to 17 from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, had hoped the justices would overturn a lower court’s ruling preventing them from having their expedited removal orders reviewed by a federal judge.

That Philadelphia-based court said the status of the families, all apprehended in Texas and later held in Pennsylvania, was akin to non-citizens who are denied entry at the border and they were not entitled to a court hearing to challenge that decision.

Immigration has become an even hotter topic than usual in the United States since President Donald Trump took office in January. His administration has ordered construction of a border wall with Mexico intended to curb illegal immigration, and plans to expand the number of people targeted for expedited removal, a process that applies to non-citizens lacking valid entry documents.

The families have said they were escaping threats, violence and police authorities unable or unwilling to help in their home countries.

Lead plaintiff Rosa Castro fled El Salvador to escape years of rape, beatings and emotional abuse by the father of her son, who was 6 years old when they arrived in the United States in 2015, according to court papers. Lesly Cruz, who also arrived in 2015, fled Honduras to protect her daughter from sexual assault by members of the Mara Salvatrucha armed gang, the court papers said.

The families were apprehended in Texas within hours of illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. After claiming asylum, they were determined by immigration judges to lack “credible fear” of persecution, and placed in expedited removal proceedings.

The families were detained at Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania, where 12 women and their children remain. The others have been released under orders of supervision, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing them.

The women challenged in federal court the rejection of their asylum claims, alleging a violation of their right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.

In August, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said they may be treated the same way as non-citizens seeking initial admission to the United States, who do not have any constitutional rights of review if denied entry.

The women appealed to the Supreme Court.

There has been a 93 percent drop since December of parents and children caught trying to cross the Mexican border illegally into the United States, which U.S. officials attribute to the Trump administration’s tough policies.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Illinois bill would ban passenger removal after UAL incident

By Timothy Mclaughlin

| CHICAGO

CHICAGO An Illinois lawmaker on Monday introduced a bill to ban the forcible removal of travelers from flights by state or local government employees after a United Airlines passenger was dragged from an aircraft last week.

The Airline Passenger Protection Act, sponsored by Republican state Representative Peter Breen, came after Dr. David Dao, 69, was pulled from a United flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to make space for four crew members.

The treatment of Dao sparked international outrage, as well as multiple apologies from the carrier, and raised questions about the overbooking policies of airlines.

Under Breen’s measure, passengers could not be removed from flights unless they were presenting a danger to themselves or others, an emergency was taking place or the passenger had caused a serious disturbance, according to a copy of the bill introduced in the state capital, Springfield.

“A commercial airline that removes validly seated customers without serious cause breaches the sacred trust between passengers and their airlines,” the bill said

The legislation would also bar the state of Illinois from making travel arrangements, doing business with or having investments in any commercial airline that maintained a policy of removing paying passengers to make room for employees traveling on non-revenue tickets.

Dao, who was traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, on April 9, suffered a broken nose, a concussion and lost two teeth when he was pulled from his seat by officers from the Chicago Department of Aviation to make room for four employees on the overbooked flight.

The three officers, who have not been named, were put on paid leave last week, the department said.

“The treatment of the passenger in last week’s incident at O’Hare is inexcusable and must be stopped,” Breen said in a statement. “It reflected badly on the airline, the City of Chicago, and the State of Illinois.”

United Chief Executive Oscar Munoz on Monday again apologized for the incident. [nL1N1HP1HM]

United said on Friday it was changing its policy on booking its flight crews onto its own planes. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Illinois bill.

Lawyers for Dao have moved to preserve evidence from the flight, filing a motion to keep surveillance videos and other materials related to United Flight 3411 in preparation for a possible lawsuit.

The city and United agreed to preserve the evidence, Dao’s attorney said on Saturday.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Andrew Hay and Peter Cooney)

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Trump vows to back U.S. dairy farmers in Canada trade spat

Canada’s dairy sector is protected by high tariffs on imported products and controls on domestic production as a means of supporting prices that farmers receive. It is frequently criticized by other dairy-producing countries.

“We’re also going to stand up for our dairy farmers,” Trump said in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “Because in Canada some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others.”

Trump did not go into detail about his concerns, but promised his administration would call the Canadian government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and demand an explanation.

“It’s another typical one-sided deal against the United States and it’s not going to be happening for long,” Trump said.

Trump also reiterated his threat to eliminate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico if it cannot be changed.

Canada’s dairy farmers agreed last year to sell milk ingredients used for cheese-making to Canadian processors, who include Saputo Inc (SAP.TO) and Parmalat Canada Inc [PLTPRC.UL] at prices competitive with international rates. The pricing agreement was a response to growing U.S. exports of milk proteins to Canada that missed Canada’s high tariffs.

Industry groups in New Zealand, Australia, the European Union, Mexico and the United States complained that the new prices for Canadian milk ingredients under-cut their exports to Canada.

“President Trump’s reaction is not surprising. He is defending his domestic dairy industry,” said Jacques Lefebvre, CEO of Dairy Processors Association of Canada. “We believe that further communications with the Canadian government will broaden his perspective.”

In a statement, the Dairy Farmers of Canada industry group said it is confident that the Canadian government will “continue to protect and defend” the country’s dairy industry.

Representatives for Canada’s trade and agriculture ministers could not be immediately reached.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, speaking to CTV, said about the dispute that “any form of restriction (on) trade will hurt workers on both sides of the border.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; additional reporting by Steve Holland in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Houston

HOUSTON Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush has been admitted to a hospital in Houston for a mild case of pneumonia but “is going to be fine,” his spokesman said on Tuesday.

Jim McGrath, official media representative for the 92-year-old former president, said Bush was hospitalized on Friday “for observation due to a persistent cough that prevented him from getting proper rest.”

“It was subsequently determined he had a mild case of pneumonia, which was treated and has been resolved,” McGrath added in a statement. “President Bush is in very good spirits and is being held for further observation while he regains his strength.”

McGrath furnished no immediate additional information except to say that Bush was at Houston Methodist Hospital, where he had been hospitalized for more than two weeks in January after developing a previous bout of pneumonia.

Bush, a Republican and the nation’s oldest living ex-president, served a single term in the Oval Office from 1989 through 1992. He is the father of former President George W. Bush, who served two terms in the White House, from 2001 through 2008.

(Reporting by Texas Bureau in Houston; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Boeing to lay off hundreds more engineers: source

By Alwyn Scott
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK Boeing Co warned employees on Monday it planned another round of involuntary layoffs that would affect hundreds of engineers at its commercial airplanes unit, according to a source and a memo seen by Reuters.

The latest job cuts followed a prior involuntary reduction of 245 workers set for May 19 as the company responded to increasing competition and slowing aircraft sales.

The additional layoffs are due to start June 23, according to the memo from John Hamilton, vice president of engineering at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“We are moving forward with a second phase of involuntary layoffs for some select skills in Washington state and other enterprise locations,” the memo said. “We anticipate this will impact hundreds of engineering employees. Additional reductions in engineering later this year will be driven by our business environment and the amount of voluntary attrition.”

Boeing’s airplane unit eliminated several hundred engineers through voluntary redundancies announced in January and March.

In a statement, the aerospace and defense company said the extra job cuts would include managers and executives and be achieved through a combination of attrition, voluntary layoffs and in some cases involuntary layoffs.

“In an ongoing effort to increase overall competitiveness and invest in our future, we are reducing costs and matching employment levels to business and market requirements,” the statement said.

It was not immediately clear whether workers at Boeing’s Dreamliner factory in South Carolina would be affected.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrew Hay)

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N.Y. man to be sentenced for murder in infamous 1979 missing child case

NEW YORK The former delicatessen worker convicted of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz is due to be sentenced on Tuesday, nearly 40 years after the boy’s disappearance in New York City helped raise national awareness about the plight of abducted children.

Pedro Hernandez, 56, faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison for murder and kidnapping before Justice Maxwell Wiley in Manhattan state court after a jury found him guilty in February.

Patz vanished as he walked alone for the first time to a school bus stop in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood on May 25, 1979. He would become one of the first missing children to appear on the side of a milk carton seeking information.

For more than three decades, the case endured as one of the country’s most infamous missing child cases until police arrested Hernandez in May 2012 after receiving a tip.

Hernandez, who worked in a bodega near the bus stop, confessed to strangling the boy and then leaving his body in a box outside.

His lawyers argued that the admission was the result of police coercion as well as mental illness that made it difficult for Hernandez to separate fantasy from reality. Patz’s body was never found, leaving the confession as the key piece of evidence at trial.

The defense also pointed to another man, Jose Ramos, a convicted pedophile who was long considered a suspect in the crime. Ramos, who is in prison, had a relationship with a woman hired to walk Patz home from school.

A previous trial ended in a mistrial in 2015 when a single juror out of 12 refused to convict Hernandez after weeks of deliberations, prompting prosecutors to retry him.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Tom Brown)

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Facebook murder suspect remains at large as police ask public for help

Police said they have received “dozens and dozens” of tips and possible sightings of the suspect, Steve Stephens, and tried to persuade him to turn himself in when they spoke with him via his cellphone on Sunday after the shooting.

But Stephens remained at large as the search for him expanded nationwide, police said.

The shooting marked the latest video clip of a violent crime to turn up on Facebook, raising questions about how the world’s biggest social media network moderates content.

The company on Monday said it would begin reviewing how it monitors violent footage and other objectionable material in response to the killing.

Police said Stephens used Facebook Inc’s service to post video of him killing Robert Godwin Sr., 74.

Stephens is not believed to have known Godwin, a retired foundry worker who media reports said spent Easter Sunday morning with his son and daughter-in-law before he was killed.

“I want him to know what he took from us. He took our dad,” Godwin’s daughter Tammy told CNN on Monday night. “My heart is broke.”

During the same interview, his son Robby Miller said that he wanted the shooter brought to justice and for his family to have closure.

“I forgive him because we are all sinners,” he said. “If you are out there, if you’re listening, turn yourself in.”

Facebook vice president Justin Osofsky said the company was reviewing the procedure that users go through to report videos and other material that violates the social media platform’s standards. The shooting video was visible on Facebook for nearly two hours before it was reported, the company said.

Stephens, who has no prior criminal record, is not suspected in any other murders, police said.

The last confirmed sighting of Stephens was at the scene of the homicide. Police said he might be driving a white or cream-colored Ford Fusion, and asked anyone who spots him or his car to call police or a special FBI hotline (800-CALLFBI).

(Writing by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee)

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Trump to seek changes in visa program to encourage hiring Americans

By Steve Holland
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday will sign an executive order directing federal agencies to recommend changes to a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill high-skilled jobs.

Two senior Trump administration officials who briefed reporters at the White House said Trump will also use the “buy American and hire American” order to seek changes in government procurement practices to increase the purchase of American products in federal contracts.

Trump is to sign the order when he visits the world headquarters of Snap-On Inc, a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The order is an attempt by Trump to carry out his “America First” campaign pledges to reform U.S. immigration policies and encourage purchases of American products. As he nears the 100-day benchmark of his presidency, Trump has no major legislative achievements to tout but has used executive orders to seek regulatory changes to help the U.S. economy.

The order he will sign on Tuesday will call for “the strict enforcement of all laws governing entry into the United States of labor from abroad for the stated purpose of creating higher wages and higher employment rates for workers in the United States,” one of the senior officials said.

It will call on the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to take action to crack down on what the official called “fraud and abuse” in the U.S. immigration system to protect American workers.

The order will call on those four federal departments to propose reforms to ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest paid applicant.

H-1B visas are intended for foreign nationals in “specialty” occupations that generally require higher education, which according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) includes, but is not limited to, scientists, engineers or computer programmers. The government uses a lottery to award 65,000 visas every year and randomly distributes another 20,000 to graduate student workers.

The number of applications for H-1B visas fell to 199,000 this year from 236,000 in 2016, according U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Companies say they use visas to recruit top talent. More than 15 percent of Facebook Inc’s U.S. employees in 2016 used a temporary work visa, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. Labor Department filings.

Facebook, Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc were not immediately available for a comment outside normal business hours.

A majority of the H-1B visas are, however, awarded to outsourcing firms, sparking criticism by skeptics who say those firms use the visas to fill lower-level information technology jobs. Critics also say the lottery system benefits outsourcing firms that flood the system with mass applications.

The senior official said the end result of how the system currently works is that foreign workers are often brought in at less pay to replace American workers, “violating the principle of the program.”

Indian nationals are by far the largest group of recipients of the H-1B visas issued each year to new applicants.

NASSCOM, the Indian IT service industry’s main lobby group, said it supports efforts to root out any abuses occurring in the H-1B system, but slammed allegations against the sector, saying the idea that H-1B visa holders are cheap labor, is inaccurate and a campaign to discredit the sector.

It warned that any onerous additional restrictions to the visa program would “hurt thousands of U.S. businesses and their efforts to be more competitive,” by hindering access to needed talent. NASSCOM said it would comment further when there are specific proposals under consideration.

The Indian commerce ministry, which has been liaising with the United States on the visa issue, declined to comment. A senior ministry official said it would wait for “actual action” before making any official comment. India had urged the U.S. to be open minded on admitting skilled Indian workers.

India’s No. 2 IT Services firm Infosys has said it is ramping up work on on-site development centers in the United States to train local talent in a bid to address the visa regulation changes under consideration.

Infosys also warned on an investor call last week that its operating margin forecast for fiscal 2018 may get impacted by onerous changes to U.S. visa rules.

Trump’s new executive order will also ask federal agencies to look at how to get rid of loopholes in the government procurement process.

Specifically, the review will take into account whether waivers in free-trade agreements are leading to unfair trade by allowing foreign companies to undercut American companies in the global government procurement market.

“If it turns out America is a net loser because of those free-trade agreement waivers, which apply to almost 60 countries, these waivers may be promptly renegotiated or revoked,” the second official said.

(Writing by Steve Holland and Euan Rocha; Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington, David Ingram in San Francisco, Sankalp Phartiyal in Mumbai and Manoj Kumar in New Delhi; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Himani Sarkar)

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