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    SOUTHPORT — Water levels at the Deer Point dam have begun to recede, but not before they topped out at 7 feet last week.

    The lake level was at 6.2 feet Monday morning, still well above its normal 5 feet.

    “For the most part, the levels are still receding ... We could still be a few days from returning to normal levels,” said Valerie Sale, Bay County spokeswoman.

    While some yards near Deer Point were the county’s utilities and emergency management departments did not receive any calls about the high water levels, Sale said.

    “… to my knowledge we haven’t gotten any calls or complaints,” Sale said.

    There’s also a potential that docks and boathouses were getting flooded, Sale said.

    Problems were mitigated because the county knew in advance the rain would be intense and lowered the dam’s drawdown gates June 27. They have remained open. The gates allowed for maximum flow of the dam’s water out into North Bay.

    That early action allowed the county to get half a foot below normal levels in preparation for the heavy rain, Sale said.

    While the intense storms that swept through late last week is finished, rain remains in the forecast. Thunderstorms are predicted for all but one day this week.

    That could be problematic, if the downpours come fast and voluminous like they did last week.

    “Certainly if we were to get the level of rain that we got late last week, yeah that could cause some serious problems, but at this point it looks a lot better,” Sale said.

    The situation is out of the county’s control now; it’s done everything in its power to prevent any damage, Sale said.

    “We can just continue to monitor it and do the best we can to return the lake level to normal, but things worked out pretty well over there for this event,” she said.

    Lorie Lawrence, of Panama City, was visiting the family lake house Saturday and saw the consequence of those heavy rains. The dock at the family’s lake house was under water.

    “I don’t ever remember it being underwater like that before,” she said, adding, “I’ve never seen the water that high there before.”

    Lawrence said the family walked on the dock, and it seemed pretty sturdy, so she thought it would be fine once the water recedes.

    Lawrence said the lake house was not flooded, though the yard took on plenty of water. She said neighbors had similar problems — submerged docks and flooded yards, but no water damage to their homes.

    “The water came over the seawall and so everything was just super soggy and wet,” she said.

    “It looked like most everybody was OK,” she said.


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    PANAMA CITY — Police have released the names of two people gunned down Sunday night outside a hotel and the man suspected of shooting them.

    Johnny Floyd Graham, 57, of Wilson, N.C., and Vikitha Marcel Briggs, 44, of Callaway, were shot multiple times outside the Courtyard by Marriott on 23rd Place around 10:45 p.m., police said. Graham was pronounced dead at the scene and Briggs died at the hospital.

    Panama City Police developed her husband, 51-year-old Glenn Llewellyn Briggs of Lynn Haven, as a suspect and enlisted other local law enforcement agencies to help find him, investigators reported.

    Troopers and deputies in Leon County located Glenn Briggs just before 2 a.m. Monday near Tallahassee and attempted a traffic stop. Briggs opened fire from his car and police returned fire. Briggs was shot and died a short time later at a Leon County hospital, according to a news release.

    Police continue to investigate. Anyone with information is urged to contact Det. Roger Rossomondo with the Panama City Police Department at 872-3100 or CrimeStoppers at 785-TIPS (8477).

     

    Earlier versions of this story are below:

    PANAMA CITY — A suspect in the shooting of two people at a local hotel was killed in a shootout with law enforcement on an Interstate 10 exit ramp in Tallahassee early Monday.

    Panama City police reported two people were shot multiple times at about 10:45 p.m. Sunday night in the parking lot of the Courtyard by Marriott at 905 E. 23rd Place. A 57 year-old male died at the scene and the 44 year-old female died in a local hospital, according to police.

    Names of the victims and the shooter were being withheld Monday morning while family members are notified, law enforcement officials said.

    Just before 2 a.m. Monday, the suspect was spotted driving a maroon Dodge Charger along I-10 near North Monroe Street in Tallahassee. After a traffic stop, the suspect began shooting at law enforcement, including the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), investigators said.

    “We spotted the murder suspect’s vehicle and initiated a traffic stop,” said Lt. James McQauig, public information officer for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO). “Shots rang out coming from the suspect’s vehicle with deputies and FHP returning fire.”

    Panama City Police Department continue the investigation into the shooting incident at the hotel. They said the believe the victims knew their attacker. Evidence collected at the scene led to a “be-on-the-lookout” for the suspect.

    The United States Marshals Florida Regional Task Force also is participating in the investigation as is the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

     

    ---

    PANAMA CITY — A shooting Sunday night left two people dead, Panama City Police said.

    The incident happened at 10:45 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott located at 905 E. 23rd Place in Panama City.

    A 57-year-old male and a 44-year-old female victim were shot multiple times outside the hotel. The male was pronounced deceased at the scene and the female victim was transported to a local hospital, where she later died from her injuries, police said. Witnesses who heard the shots called police and located both of the victims. Initial information was learned that a male suspect fled the area on foot and then got into a newer model maroon Dodge Charger, police wrote in a news release.

    Further information was learned that this was not a random act and the victims were targeted by the suspect. A suspect was quickly identified through evidence that was collected in the investigation and assistance was requested from the United States Marshals Florida Regional Task Force to help locate and apprehend the suspect, police wrote.

    Members of the task force along with the Florida Highway Patrol apprehended the suspect during a traffic stop along Interstate 10 in Leon County about 1 a.m. Monday, police wrote.

    Shots were exchanged during the apprehension and the suspect was injured, they added.

    The United States Marshals Office along with other law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting incident where the suspect was apprehended. 

    Police say no other suspects are at large and they declined to release the name of the victims pending the notification of their relatives. They also declined to identify the suspect Monday morning citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.


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    PANAMA CITY BEACH - A 12-year-old girl was taken to the hospital after a near drowning, officials said Monday afternoon.

    The Bay County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call reporting a missing juvenile from the Laguna Beach Retreat in the 22000 block of Front Beach Road at about 5:12 p.m., the agency wrote in a news release.  Deputies arrived at 5:16 p.m. to discover the missing juvenile had been found unresponsive in the waters behind the Retreat. 

    She was rushed to a local hospital and officials.

    We will have more updates as they become available.


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    PANAMA CITY — A man who died in a shootout with police early Monday was in the middle of a divorce, was out on bond for threatening his wife with a gun, and he had become “progressively more violent”  in recent months, according to court records.

    Glenn Briggs, 51, was shot to death around Interstate 10 exit 199 in Tallahassee, said Marty West, supervisor of U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force. A deputy with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol conducting a traffic stop around 1:50 a.m. Monday conducted a felony traffic stop. When one or more gunshots were fired from the car, a deputy and a trooper returned fire, West said.

    “Right now, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office , the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are all three investigating the shooting to see what happened,” West said.

    Briggs was suspected of gunning down Vikitha Briggs, his 44-year-old estranged wife, and Johnny Graham, a 57-year-old North Carolina man, outside of a 23rd Place hotel around 10:45 p.m. Sunday. Both were shot multiple times, and at least once each in the head.

    Graham was pronounced dead at the scene. Vikitha Briggs was taken to the hospital, where she died.

    West said the fugitive task force, of which the Panama City Police Department is a member, had reason to believe Briggs was headed toward Tallahassee.

    Panama City PD did an excellent job in identifying the suspect,” West said.

    Vikitha Briggs had filed for divorce in 2012, and Glenn Briggs was arrested in December for an incident in which he accused of waiving a handgun at her. He was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and posted bond the next day.

    After that incident, Vikitha Briggs filed a petition seeking a restraining order against her husband. In the petition, she said Glenn Briggs cornered her in her house and then held her at gunpoint when she tried to escape. She wrote of having trouble sleeping and being in constant fear for her life, and she begged for “someone to do something.”

    “We can’t be in the same room without him starting an argument and each time the incident is progressively more violent,” she wrote. “I know that that he will kill me, if something isn’t done [sic]. It is just a matter of time.”

    A judge granted an order for protection, and Vikitha Briggs claimed he violated it when he wrote “Proverbs 6:34” in the memo line on a child support check. Proverbs 6:34 says “For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.”

    Glenn Briggs’ posts on Facebook since the restraining order was issued seem ominous in retrospect. The posts paint a picture of an angry man vaguely threatening a man he used to consider a friend.

    “This is not gonna end well,” he posted on June 21. “I promise you that!”

    On Feb. 10, days after Vikitha Briggs alleged that he violated the protection order he posted, “You too are doomed for sure.”

    Glenn and Vikitha Briggs left behind a teenaged son. Vikitha Brigg’s niece asked for privacy while the family grieved.

    Panama City Police continue to investigate the shooting. Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Roger Rossomondo at 850-872-3100 or CrimeStoppers at 850-785-TIPS (8477). 


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    PANAMA CITY — Police have released the names of two people gunned down Sunday night outside a hotel and the man suspected of shooting them.

    Johnny Floyd Graham, 57, of Wilson, N.C., and Vikitha Marcel Briggs, 44, of Callaway, were shot multiple times outside the Courtyard by Marriott on 23rd Place around 10:45 p.m., police said. Graham was pronounced dead at the scene and Briggs died at the hospital.

    Panama City Police developed her husband, 51-year-old Glenn Llewellyn Briggs of Lynn Haven, as a suspect and enlisted other local law enforcement agencies to help find him, investigators reported.

    Troopers and deputies in Leon County located Glenn Briggs just before 2 a.m. Monday near Tallahassee and attempted a traffic stop. Briggs opened fire from his car and police returned fire. Briggs was shot and died a short time later at a Leon County hospital, according to a news release.

    Police continue to investigate. Anyone with information is urged to contact Det. Roger Rossomondo with the Panama City Police Department at 872-3100 or CrimeStoppers at 785-TIPS (8477).

     

    Earlier versions of this story are below:

    PANAMA CITY — A suspect in the shooting of two people at a local hotel was killed in a shootout with law enforcement on an Interstate 10 exit ramp in Tallahassee early Monday.

    Panama City police reported two people were shot multiple times at about 10:45 p.m. Sunday night in the parking lot of the Courtyard by Marriott at 905 E. 23rd Place. A 57 year-old male died at the scene and the 44 year-old female died in a local hospital, according to police.

    Names of the victims and the shooter were being withheld Monday morning while family members are notified, law enforcement officials said.

    Just before 2 a.m. Monday, the suspect was spotted driving a maroon Dodge Charger along I-10 near North Monroe Street in Tallahassee. After a traffic stop, the suspect began shooting at law enforcement, including the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), investigators said.

    “We spotted the murder suspect’s vehicle and initiated a traffic stop,” said Lt. James McQauig, public information officer for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO). “Shots rang out coming from the suspect’s vehicle with deputies and FHP returning fire.”

    Panama City Police Department continue the investigation into the shooting incident at the hotel. They said the believe the victims knew their attacker. Evidence collected at the scene led to a “be-on-the-lookout” for the suspect.

    The United States Marshals Florida Regional Task Force also is participating in the investigation as is the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

     

    ---

    PANAMA CITY — A shooting Sunday night left two people dead, Panama City Police said.

    The incident happened at 10:45 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott located at 905 E. 23rd Place in Panama City.

    A 57-year-old male and a 44-year-old female victim were shot multiple times outside the hotel. The male was pronounced deceased at the scene and the female victim was transported to a local hospital, where she later died from her injuries, police said. Witnesses who heard the shots called police and located both of the victims. Initial information was learned that a male suspect fled the area on foot and then got into a newer model maroon Dodge Charger, police wrote in a news release.

    Further information was learned that this was not a random act and the victims were targeted by the suspect. A suspect was quickly identified through evidence that was collected in the investigation and assistance was requested from the United States Marshals Florida Regional Task Force to help locate and apprehend the suspect, police wrote.

    Members of the task force along with the Florida Highway Patrol apprehended the suspect during a traffic stop along Interstate 10 in Leon County about 1 a.m. Monday, police wrote.

    Shots were exchanged during the apprehension and the suspect was injured, they added.

    The United States Marshals Office along with other law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting incident where the suspect was apprehended. 

    Police say no other suspects are at large and they declined to release the name of the victims pending the notification of their relatives. They also declined to identify the suspect Monday morning citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.


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    BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A three-judge panel has found a man not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of a homeless man he admitted to killing and partially eating.

    Judges deliberated about an hour Tuesday before finding prosecutors had proved 35-year-old Tyree Lincoln Smith killed and cannibalized some of Angel Gonzalez’s body parts in December 2011, but that Smith was legally insane at the time, The Connecticut Post reports.

    The judges will determine Sept. 9 whether Smith should be committed to a mental hospital.

    During the trial, prosecutors presented a videotaped statement to police in which Smith says he used a hatchet to kill Gonzalez, then took out the man’s eyes and part of his brain and ate them. He was arrested in January 2012 on a murder warrant at a home on Illinois Avenue in Lynn Haven.

    According to police records, Smith went to his cousin’s home in Bridgeport on a December morning and told her he had to get blood on his hands. He returned the next day with blood on his hands, clothes and an ax, she said.

    Smith told his cousin he had returned to his former house to sleep on the porch, and he was invited inside by Angel Gonzalez, a homeless man who was squatting at the house. He told his cousin he used the ax to kill Gonzalez and then took pieces of his body to his brother’s grave, where he ate them and washed them down with wine.

    More than a month went by before a building inspector found Gonzalez’s body. Smith’s cousin came forward and he became the prime suspect.

    Smith got on a bus to Florida on the day Gonzalez’s body was found. He stayed with a woman who later told police she had known him for years, and during his visit she noticed he was mentally unstable and was having trouble separating reality from the fantasy stories he had been reading. She told police he had been to a mental health treatment facility on the day he was arrested.


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    PANAMA CITY BEACH — The efforts of several people were not enough to prevent the death of 13-year-old girl on a church retreat who was pulled from the Gulf of Mexico on Monday afternoon.

    Jade McAllister, of Blue Ridge, Ga., was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead after Thomas Simmons helped find her and bring her to shore. The man who flagged Simmons, who was on a paddleboard near Beach Access 91 around 5 p.m. Monday, told him a young girl was missing and asked for his help finding her because he had a better view from his paddleboard, Simmons said.

    “Because I was standing up paddling I was able to see her from a distance,” Simmons said Tuesday.

    McAllister was face down in the water about 300 yards offshore when Simmons pulled her onto his board. Simmons said he spent the next several minutes alternating between efforts to alert people on the sand and performing CPR on McAllister, who was unresponsive when he found her.

    “It felt like it took forever” to get McAllister to shore, Simmons said. Rescuers entered the water and helped to bring Simmons and McAllister back to land and got her to a waiting ambulance

    According to Bay County Sheriff’s Office report:

    McAllister and several other children were having trouble in the water, and an adult with them told them to stay near the shore, but McAllister already had been pulled out. The adult attempted to swim out to her; she got into trouble herself and needed assistance to get back to the shore. She was “extremely upset about … her inability to help Jade,” the report stated.

    McAllister and others from the Hemptown Baptist Church in Morganton, Ga., were at Laguna Christian Resort. A man who answered the phone at Laguna Christian Resort on Tuesday said people were “shocked” but declined further comment.

    Simmons said if there is anything positive to take from the situation it is that McAllister was found and not lost.

    “I’m glad I was able to help and I’m thankful I was able to find her, for her family’s sake,” he said. “We’re all thinking about her family and we’re deeply sorry to have witnessed this.”


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    PANAMA CITY — One of the teenagers hurt when she crashed into a condo before falling to the ground in a parasailing accident earlier this month is finding the hospital boring.

    That’s a positive sign for the families of Alexis Fairchild and Sidney Good, the two 17-year-old Indiana girls who were seriously injured July 1 when the line connecting them to a boat broke during a parasailing outing. Both girls are recovering from their injuries at Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health Center, and Fairchild is expected to be released in the coming days, according to a statement released by the families Wednesday.

    Fairchild has been doing rehab sessions twice a day and is able to walk around despite severe back pain. She has visited the hospital gift shop and gone several times to Good’s room. She will continue her rehabilitation at an Indianapolis hospital after she is released.

    Tuesday saw several positive development’s in Good’s recovery, the statement said. She recognized Fairchild during a visit Tuesday, and she began to eat soft food, which she was able to feed herself. She told her parents she was bored and wants to get up and walk around, which could happen as soon as Thursday.

    Lawmakers have seized on the incident, saying it illustrates the need for government regulation of the parasailing industry.

    “My thoughts and prayers are with the teen victims and their family members,” Florida Rep. Gwen Clarke-Reed said in a statement issued earlier this week. “As I did in the 2013 legislative session, I intend to again sponsor legislation next session to provide adequate oversight and certain safety criteria for commercial parasailing operations in Florida.”

    Clarke-Reed joins Florida Sen. Maria Sachs, who also introduced a bill regulating parasailing during the last session, in pledging to refile a bill in the Senate.

    Aquatic Adventures, the business involved in the July 1 incident that left Good and Fairchild in critical condition, has issued a statement calling the incident tragic and explaining that while the company adheres to industry best practices “sudden weather conditions can and do occur.”

    The incident, which occurred as a storm passed through the area, is under investigation.


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    SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Defense attorneys have rested their case in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial after calling 18 witnesses over less than a week.

    Prosecutors now plan to call two rebuttal witnesses. Both sides will then work on jury instructions before presenting closing arguments. The case is then sent to jurors.

    Zimmerman never testified about the fatal struggle with Trayvon Martin. But jurors saw repeated video recordings of Zimmerman telling his story to investigators. The defense started its case last Friday, and it presented about half the witnesses and took half the time as the prosecution.

    In the days before the defense finished Wednesday, they called Zimmerman's friends, mother and uncle to testify that it is Zimmerman screaming for help on a 911 call that captured the fatal fight between Martin and Zimmerman.

    Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder. He claims he shot Martin in self-defense.


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    PANAMA CITY — A Springfield man accused of killing his wife and her father, then using her money to buy crack and video games to distract himself, wants a judge to throw out his statements to police.

    Bryan Keith Castleman, 50, could face the death penalty if he’s convicted at trial in October of two counts each of robbery and first-degree murder in the slaying of Mary Ann Castleman and her father Leroy Minnich.

    Kim Dowgul, who is representing Castleman, aims to convince Judge Brantley Clark that police violated Castleman’s Fifth and Sixth amendment rights when they interrogated him without an attorney present.

    According to the motion, which is scheduled for a hearing Friday afternoon, investigators with the Springfield Police Department and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office questioned Castleman six times Nov. 26, the day police discovered the bodies of Mary Ann Castleman and Minnich. Castleman signed forms twice waiving his Miranda rights, but told police he wanted a lawyer during the second questioning.

    Dowgul’s motion asks the judge to prohibit a jury from hearing anything Castleman said after that point.

    A complaint affidavit says Castleman admitted to killing his wife and his father-in-law and said he didn’t know why he did it, but it’s not clear if he made incriminating statements during the first two interviews or later.

    Castleman was arrested Nov. 26, after a neighbor went to police and told them Castleman had shown him the bodies in Castleman’s home on Transmitter Road. He is accused of ambushing his wife with a hammer and a knife as she got out of the shower and then doing the same to her ailing father.


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  • 07/10/13--19:32: 2 arrested in home burglary
  • PANAMA CITY BEACH -- Two people from Alabama were arrested in Panama City Beach on Wednesday after allegedly being caught burglarizing a home.

    About noon, police responded to a home in the 200 block of Fairway Boulevard. The homeowner had called 911 and said two people were inside her home.

    When police arrived, those people were still inside. They allegedly had travel bags containing the homeowner’s possessions, and they were arrested.

    Chase Allen Hanger, 18, of Montgomery, Ala., and 22-year-old Stephanie Victoria Williamson, of Prattville, Ala., were each charged with occupied burglary and grand theft.

    They also were charged with filing a false police report for an incident earlier Wednesday involving the theft of narcotics and money. Details on that incident were not released.

    An investigation is ongoing, and police expect further arrests.


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    WASHINGTON (AP) — Confined to the basement of a CIA secret prison in Romania about a decade ago, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, asked his jailers whether he could embark on an unusual project: Would the spy agency allow Mohammed, who had earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering, to design a vacuum cleaner?

    The agency officer in charge of the prison called CIA headquarters and a manager approved the request, a former senior CIA official told The Associated Press.

    Mohammed had endured the most brutal of the CIA's harsh interrogation methods and had confessed to a career of atrocities. But the agency had no long-term plan for him. Someday, he might prove useful. Perhaps, he'd even stand trial one day.

    And for that, he'd need to be sane.

    "We didn't want them to go nuts," the former senior CIA official said, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the now-shuttered CIA prisons or Mohammed's interest in vacuums.

    So, using schematics from the Internet as his guide, Mohammed began re-engineering one of the most mundane of household appliances.

    That the CIA may be in possession of the world's most highly classified vacuum cleaner blueprints is but one peculiar, lasting byproduct of the controversial U.S. detention and interrogation program.

    By the CIA's own account, the program's methods were "designed to psychologically 'dislocate'" people. But once interrogations stopped, the agency had to try to undo the psychological damage inflicted on the detainees.

    The CIA apparently succeeded in keeping Mohammed sane. He appears to be in good health, according to military records.

    Others haven't fared as well. Accused al-Qaida terrorists Ramzi Binalshibh and Abd al-Nashiri, who were also locked up in Poland and Romania with Mohammed, have had mental issues. Al-Nashiri suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Binalshibh is being treated for schizophrenia with a slew of anti-psychotic medications.

    "Any type of prolonged isolation in custody — much less the settings described in the press — have been known to have a severe impact on the mental condition of the detainee," said Thomas Durkin, Binalshibh's former civilian lawyer. Durkin declined to discuss Binalshibh's case.

    Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogations in Poland. Agency officers and contractors forced him to stay awake for 180 hours, according to a CIA inspector general's report. He also underwent 183 instances of waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

    After the CIA prison in Poland was closed in September 2003, Mohammed was moved to Bucharest, to a black site code-named "Britelite." Soon the CIA was trying to find ways to entertain Mohammed as his intelligence value diminished.

    The prison had a debriefing room, where Mohammed, who saw himself as something of a professor, held "office hours," as he told CIA officers. While chained to the floor, Mohammed would lecture the CIA officers on his path to jihad, his childhood and family. Tea and cookies were served.

    Along with the other five detainees at the prison in Bucharest, Mohammed was given assignments about his knowledge of al-Qaida, or "homework," as CIA officers called it. He was given Snickers candy bars as rewards for his studiousness.

    In Romania, the prison provided books for detainees to read. Mohammed, former officials said, enjoyed the Harry Potter series. For the CIA officers at the prison, not so much. For security reasons, after a prisoner finished a book, they tediously checked every page to ensure detainees weren't passing messages. They once caught Mohammed trying to hide a message in a book warning his prison mates not to talk about Osama bin Laden's courier.

    Mohammed graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1986. It's not clear whether Mohammed was interested in designing a better vacuum or had ulterior motives. He might have intended to use the plans to conceal secret information or trick his jailers.

    In Graham Greene's spy thriller "Our Man in Havana," a vacuum salesman in Cuba agrees to work for MI6, the British spy service. He dupes the British into believing his vacuum designs are military installations. The AP was unable to determine whether Mohammed ever read the famous novel.

    It remains a mystery how far Mohammed got with his designs or whether the plans still exist. The secret CIA prison in Romania was shuttered in early 2006 and Mohammed was transferred later that year to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base prison, where he remains. It's unlikely he was able to take his appliance plans to Cuba.

    Mohammed's military lawyer, Jason Wright, said he was prohibited from discussing his client's interest in vacuums.

    "It sounds ridiculous, but answering this question, or confirming or denying the very existence of a vacuum cleaner design, a Swiffer design, or even a design for a better hand towel would apparently expose the U.S. government and its citizens to exceptionally grave danger," Wright said.

    But Wright added that he often discussed "modern technological innovations" and the "scientific wonders" of the Quran with Mohammed. He called Mohammed "exceptionally intelligent."

    "If he had access to educational programs in Guantanamo Bay, such as distance learning programs, I am confident that in addition to furthering his Islamic studies, he could obtain a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and very likely patent inventions," Wright said.

    The CIA won't discuss the Mohammed's vacuum plans, either. The AP asked the CIA for copies of the vacuum designs or any government records about them under the Freedom of Information Act.

    The CIA responded in a letter to the AP that the records, "should they exist," would be considered operational files of the CIA — among its most highly classified category of government files — and therefore exempt from ever being released to the public.

     


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    PANAMA CITY — As prosecutors in the George Zimmerman trial gave closing arguments Thursday, customers and employees of Wilson Brothers Barber Shop in Panama City watched quietly on two TVs.

    And while authorities and community leaders in Sanford and South Florida continue preparations for possible social backlash — riots, marches or otherwise — if Zimmerman is acquitted in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, no one locally was predicting problems.

    In Bay County, Sheriff’s Office officials said they do not expect any unrest.

    “We have not received any intelligence or information of any possible problems at this point, and we have not taken any special steps,” said Maj. Tommy Ford. “And I really don’t feel there will be an issue afterward in our community.”

    Ford noted that BCSO always has personnel prepared to respond to any emergency situation.

    At Wilson Brothers Barber Shop, barber Joseph “Gus” Vann also said he does not expect civil unrest if Zimmerman walks free.

    “We’re not going to be happy,” Vann, 70, said of the black community. “We’re going to be very disappointed. But as far as getting out there and rioting and raising hell and all that, no. I don’t think there’s going to be no reaction. I think we’re more intelligent than that.”

    The trial has been a hot topic at the barber shop, which is decorated with photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Barack Obama, among other African-American leaders.

    “We talk about it everyday,” Vann said. “When I wake up in the morning, that’s the first thing I think about.”

    Vann, who has lived in Panama City for 40 years, and another Wilson Brothers barber said they would not be surprised if Zimmerman is acquitted of murder, though they believe he is guilty. But because of racial inequity in the American legal system, they said, their expectations for justice have been lowered. 

    “Had it been reversed — if there had been a white kid and Zimmerman was a black man — he would’ve been arrested that same night and he probably would’ve been in prison by now serving a life sentence,” Vann said. “So as far as justice, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten justice in the courtroom when it comes to stuff like that... . But I hope he’s not acquitted. I hope he gets convicted of something, at least manslaughter. I think there’s something totally wrong if in 2013, something like that happens and he goes unpunished.”

     

    Across the state

    For months, officials in Sanford and South Florida have been working with pastors, youth coaches, community activists and summer camp counselors to stress a non-violent approach if Zimmerman walks free. At the same time, police say they have quietly been making plans for dealing with any potential emotional flare-ups that could quickly turn into storefront-smashing, car-burning riots.

    "It's all right to be vocal, but we don't want to be violent," said the Rev. Walter T. Richardson, a longtime pastor and chairman of Miami-Dade County's Community Relations Board, which has been holding town hall-style meetings about the case. "We've already lost one soul and we don't want to lose any more."

    Martin, from the suburb of Miami Gardens, was 17 when he died. He was in Sanford visiting his father and father's fiancee when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot him during a physical confrontation in a gated community in February 2012.

    Martin's supporters portrayed the shooting as racially motivated, while Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, claimed self-defense.

    After police initially refused to arrest Zimmerman, there were many large but peaceful protests in both Sanford and the Miami area — as well as in New York and other cities. Those demonstrations included a mass walkout at nearly three dozen South Florida high schools.

    Many in Sanford say they doubt the trial's outcome would spark local residents to take to the streets.

    "The main focus was to get Zimmerman arrested and have him tried before a jury of his peers in a court of law," said Clayton Turner Jr., president of the Seminole County branch of the NAACP. "That was the main issue, not how we felt about whether he's innocent or guilty."

    Not everyone is so certain.

    Shantree Hall, 37, a lifelong Sanford resident who is black, said a Zimmerman acquittal might anger many in the African-American community who already feel they are less likely to obtain justice. The protests that led to Zimmerman's arrest taught many people that was the only way to get things done, she added.

    "With Trayvon, the noise was too loud for them. That's why they couldn't sweep it under the rug," she said.

    Recent Miami-area high school graduate Jude Bruno, 18, said he doesn't sense from friends and peers that there is a powder keg in South Florida waiting to explode should Zimmerman be found innocent. Bruno is chairman of the Miami-Dade County Youth Commission, which has been working with local youth groups to stress a peaceful reaction.

    "We want to be the example to the world because the whole world is watching us," Bruno said.

    Bruno spoke after a Community Relations Board meeting this week that drew several hundred people to a Miami Gardens library auditorium, some of them wearing "Justice for Trayvon" T-shirts and many asking sharp-edged questions about the trial. Still, the overall theme was peace.

    "Please, no violence. We don't want any violence. None," said Miriam Martin, one of Trayvon Martin's aunts.

    One potential advantage mentioned by several law enforcement officials: school is out for summer, meaning there is no ready-made rallying point for young people to gather.

    Still, authorities are taking no chances, particularly in the Miami area which has had riots in the past connected to racially-charged court cases.

    The Miami-Dade Police Department's intelligence operation, known as the Southeast Florida Fusion Center, has been combing social media to monitor signs of unusual interest in Zimmerman's trial. The center also acts as a platform for South Florida's numerous police agencies to quickly share information.

    The department's deputy director, Juan Perez, said law enforcement's goal is to allow for peaceful rallies or protests but be ready in case violence flares. Perez said plans call for establishment of "First Amendment Zones" in certain neighborhoods if crowds do gather, so people can exercise their rights.

    "We want to make sure people have the right to protest," Perez said. But if there are problems, he added: "Our job is going to be to minimize those opportunities to rob a store or shoplift."

    To the north in Broward County, Sheriff Scott Israel and his staff have organized several meetings with African-American church and community leaders and recently began airing a public service TV ad featuring Miami Heat player James Jones. The ad's theme is "Raise Your Voice, Not Your Hands" and it also stresses a nonviolent approach.

    "We don't have information about a specific event that might take place at the conclusion of the trial, but we encourage everyone to keep any protests peaceful," Israel said.

    An earlier version of this story is posted below:

    MIAMI (AP) — Police and city leaders in Florida say they have taken precautionary steps for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if George Zimmerman is acquitted in the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, particularly in African-American neighborhoods where passions run strongest over the case.

    For months, officials in Sanford and South Florida have been working with pastors, youth coaches, community activists and summer camp counselors to stress a non-violent approach if Zimmerman walks free. At the same time, police say they have quietly been making plans for dealing with any potential emotional flare-ups that could quickly turn into storefront-smashing, car-burning riots.

    "It's all right to be vocal, but we don't want to be violent," said the Rev. Walter T. Richardson, a longtime pastor and chairman of Miami-Dade County's Community Relations Board, which has been holding town hall-style meetings about the case. "We've already lost one soul and we don't want to lose any more."

    Martin, from the suburb of Miami Gardens, was 17 when he died. He was in Sanford visiting his father and father's fiancee when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot him during a physical confrontation in a gated community in February 2012.

    Martin's supporters portrayed the shooting as racially motivated, while Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, claimed self-defense. Charged with second-degree murder, Zimmerman is pleading not guilty at the trial unfolding in a Sanford courthouse.

    After police initially refused to arrest Zimmerman, there were many large but peaceful protests in both Sanford and the Miami area — as well as in New York and other cities. Those demonstrations included a mass walkout at nearly three dozen South Florida high schools.

    Many in Sanford say they doubt the trial's outcome would spark local residents to take to the streets.

    "The main focus was to get Zimmerman arrested and have him tried before a jury of his peers in a court of law," said Clayton Turner Jr., president of the Seminole County branch of the NAACP. "That was the main issue, not how we felt about whether he's innocent or guilty."

    Not everyone is so certain.

    Shantree Hall, 37, a lifelong Sanford resident who is black, said a Zimmerman acquittal might anger many in the African-American community who already feel they are less likely to obtain justice. The protests that led to Zimmerman's arrest taught many people that was the only way to get things done, she added.

    "With Trayvon, the noise was too loud for them. That's why they couldn't sweep it under the rug," she said.

    Recent Miami-area high school graduate Jude Bruno, 18, said he doesn't sense from friends and peers that there is a powder keg in South Florida waiting to explode should Zimmerman be found innocent. Bruno is chairman of the Miami-Dade County Youth Commission, which has been working with local youth groups to stress a peaceful reaction.

    "We want to be the example to the world because the whole world is watching us," Bruno said.

    Bruno spoke after a Community Relations Board meeting this week that drew several hundred people to a Miami Gardens library auditorium, some of them wearing "Justice for Trayvon" T-shirts and many asking sharp-edged questions about the trial. Still, the overall theme was peace.

    "Please, no violence. We don't want any violence. None," said Miriam Martin, one of Trayvon Martin's aunts.

    One potential advantage mentioned by several law enforcement officials: school is out for summer, meaning there is no ready-made rallying point for young people to gather.

    Still, authorities are taking no chances, particularly in the Miami area which has had riots in the past connected to racially-charged court cases.

    The worst rioting occurred in 1980 in the mostly-black Liberty City and Overtown neighborhoods of Miami, after four white police officers were acquitted in the death of Arthur McDuffie, a black Marine Corps veteran. McDuffie was beaten to death by police trying to stop him for a traffic violation. The three-day riot killed 18 people and did some $100 million in damage.

    The Miami-Dade Police Department's intelligence operation, known as the Southeast Florida Fusion Center, has been combing social media to monitor signs of unusual interest in Zimmerman's trial. The center also acts as a platform for South Florida's numerous police agencies to quickly share information.

    The department's deputy director, Juan Perez, said law enforcement's goal is to allow for peaceful rallies or protests but be ready in case violence flares. Perez said plans call for establishment of "First Amendment Zones" in certain neighborhoods if crowds do gather, so people can exercise their rights.

    "We want to make sure people have the right to protest," Perez said. But if there are problems, he added: "Our job is going to be to minimize those opportunities to rob a store or shoplift."

    To the north in Broward County, Sheriff Scott Israel and his staff have organized several meetings with African-American church and community leaders and recently began airing a public service TV ad featuring Miami Heat player James Jones. The ad's theme is "Raise Your Voice, Not Your Hands" and it also stresses a nonviolent approach.

    "We don't have information about a specific event that might take place at the conclusion of the trial, but we encourage everyone to keep any protests peaceful," Israel said.

    Similarly, in central Florida, religious leaders have been encouraged to attend the trial and discuss it with their congregations. Up to four courtroom seats were reserved for clergy on a rotating basis, and more than a dozen churches have held regular Monday prayer sessions during the trial.

     


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    SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — With police and civic leaders urging calm, a jury began deliberating George Zimmerman's fate Friday after hearing dueling portraits of the neighborhood watch captain: a cop wannabe who took the law into his own hands or a well-meaning volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin because he feared for his life.

    As the jury got the murder case, police in this Orlando suburb went on national television to plead for peace in Sanford and across the country, no matter what the verdict.

    "There is no party in this case who wants to see any violence," Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said. "We have an expectation upon this announcement that our community will continue to act peacefully."

    During closing arguments, Zimmerman's lawyers put a concrete slab and two life-size cardboard cutouts in front of the jury box in one last attempt to convince the panel Zimmerman shot the unarmed black 17-year-old in self-defense while his head was being slammed against the pavement.

    Attorney Mark O'Mara used the slab to make the point that it could serve as a weapon. He showed the cutouts of Zimmerman and Martin to demonstrate that the teenager was considerably taller. And he displayed a computer-animated depiction of the fight based on Zimmerman's account.

    He said prosecutors hadn't met their burden of proving Zimmerman's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, he said, the case was built on "could've beens" and "maybes."

    "If it hasn't been proven, it's just not there," O'Mara said. "You can't fill in the gaps. You can't connect the dots. You're not allowed to."

    In a rebuttal, prosecutor John Guy accused Zimmerman of telling "so many lies." He said Martin's last emotion was fear as Zimmerman followed him through the gated townhouse community on the rainy night of Feb. 26, 2012.

    "Isn't that every child's worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger?" Guy said. "Isn't that every child's worst fear?"

    One juror, a young woman, appeared to wipe away a tear as Guy said nothing would ever bring back Martin.

    The sequestered jury of six women — all but one of them white — will have to sort through a lot of conflicting testimony from police, neighbors, friends and family members.

    Jurors deliberated for three and a half hours when they decided to stop Friday evening. About two hours into their discussions, they asked for a list of the evidence. They will resume deliberations Saturday morning.

    Witnesses gave differing accounts of who was on top during the struggle, and Martin's parents and Zimmerman's parents both claimed that the voice heard screaming for help in the background of a 911 call was their son's.

    Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder, but the jury will also be allowed to consider manslaughter. Under Florida's laws involving gun crimes, manslaughter could end up carrying a penalty as heavy as the one for second-degree murder: life in prison.

    The judge's decision to allow the jury to consider manslaughter was a potentially heavy blow to the defense: It could give jurors who aren't convinced the shooting amounted to murder a way to hold Zimmerman responsible for the killing.

    To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

    O'Mara dismissed the prosecution's contention that Zimmerman was a "crazy guy" patrolling his townhouse complex and "looking for people to harass" when he saw Martin. O'Mara also disputed prosecutors' claim that Zimmerman snapped when he saw Martin because there had been a rash of break-ins in the neighborhood, mostly by young black men.

    The defense attorney said Zimmerman at no point showed ill will, hatred or spite during his confrontation with Martin — which is what prosecutors must prove for second-degree murder.

    "That presumption isn't based on any fact whatsoever," O'Mara said.

    In contrast, prosecutors argued Zimmerman showed ill will when he whispered profanities to a police dispatcher over his cellphone while following Martin through the neighborhood. They said Zimmerman "profiled" the teenager as a criminal.

    Guy said Zimmerman violated the cornerstone of neighborhood watch volunteer programs, which is to observe and report, not follow a suspect.

    Zimmerman's account of how he grabbed his gun from his holster at his waist as Martin straddled him is physically impossible, Guy said.

    "The defendant didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to; he shot him because he wanted to," Guy said. "That's the bottom line."

    But to invoke self-defense, Zimmerman only had to believe he was facing great bodily harm, his attorney said. He asked jurors not to let their sympathies for Martin's parents interfere with their decision.

    "It is a tragedy, truly," O'Mara said. "But you can't allow sympathy."

    With the verdict drawing near, police and city leaders in Sanford and other parts of Florida said they have taken precautions for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, is acquitted.

    Zimmerman's brother, Robert, said in a statement he hoped the public would remain calm.

    "Though we maintain George committed no crime whatsoever, we acknowledge that the people who called for George's arrest and subsequent trial have now witnessed both events come to pass," he said. "We hope now that as Americans we will all respect the rule of law, which begins with respecting the verdict.

    There were big protests in Sanford and other cities across the country last year when authorities waited 44 days before arresting Zimmerman.

    About a dozen protesters, most of them from outside central Florida, gathered outside the courthouse as the jury deliberated. Martin supporters outnumbered those for Zimmerman.

    An earlier version of this story is posted below:

    SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A jury began deliberating George Zimmerman's fate Friday after hearing dueling portraits of the neighborhood watch captain: a wannabe cop who took the law into his own hands or a well-meaning volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin because he feared for his life.

    Before the jury got the case, Zimmerman's lawyers put a concrete slab and two life-size cardboard cutouts in front of the jury box in one last attempt to convince the panel Zimmerman shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin in self-defense.

    Attorney Mark O'Mara used the slab to make the point that it could be used as a weapon. He showed cutouts of Zimmerman and Martin to demonstrate that the teenager was considerably taller and he displayed a computer-animated depiction of the fight based on Zimmerman's account.

    He said prosecutors hadn't met their burden of proving Zimmerman's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, he said, the murder case was built on "could've beens" and "maybes."

    "If it hasn't been proven, it's just not there," O'Mara said. "You can't fill in the gaps. You can't connect the dots. You're not allowed to."

    In a rebuttal, prosecutor John Guy accused Zimmerman of telling "so many lies." He said Martin's last emotion was one of fear as Zimmerman followed him in a neighborhood of townhomes on a rainy night Feb. 26, 2012.

    "Isn't that every child's worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger?" Guy said. "Isn't that every child's worst fear?"

    One juror, a young woman, appeared to wipe away a tear as Guy said nothing would ever bring back Martin.

    The sequestered jury of six women will have to sort through a lot conflicting testimony from police, neighbors, friends and family members. Witnesses gave differing accounts of who was on top during the struggle, and Martin's parents and Zimmerman's parents both claimed that the voice heard screaming for help in the background of a 911 call was their son's.

    Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder, but the jury will also be allowed to consider manslaughter. Under Florida's laws involving gun crimes, manslaughter could end up carrying a penalty as heavy as the one for second-degree murder: life in prison.

    Allowing the jurors to consider manslaughter could give those who aren't convinced the shooting amounted to murder a way to hold Zimmerman responsible for the death of the unarmed teen.

    To get a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

    O'Mara dismissed the prosecution's contention that Zimmerman was a "crazy guy" patrolling his townhouse complex and "looking for people to harass" when he saw Martin. O'Mara also disputed prosecutors' claim that Zimmerman snapped when he saw Martin because there had been a rash of break-ins in the neighborhood, mostly by young black men.

    The defense attorney said Zimmerman at no point showed ill will, hate or spite during his confrontation with Martin — which is what prosecutors must prove for second-degree murder.

    "That presumption isn't based on any fact whatsoever," O'Mara said.

    In contrast, prosecutors argued Zimmerman showed ill will when he whispered profanities to a police dispatcher over his cellphone while following Martin through the neighborhood. They said Zimmerman "profiled" the teenager as a criminal.

    Guy said Zimmerman violated the cornerstone of neighborhood watch volunteer programs, which is to observe and report, not follow a suspect.

    Zimmerman's account of how he grabbed his gun from his holster at his waist as Martin straddled him is physically impossible, Guy said.

    "The defendant didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to, he shot him because he wanted to," Guy said. "That's the bottom line."

    But to invoke self-defense, Zimmerman only had to believe he was facing great bodily harm, his attorney said. He asked jurors not to let their sympathies for Martin's parents interfere with their decision.

    "It is a tragedy, truly," O'Mara said. "But you can't allow sympathy."

    With the verdict drawing near, police and city leaders in Sanford and other parts of Florida said they have taken precautions for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, is acquitted.

    There were big protests in Sanford and other cities across the country last year when authorities waited 44 days before arresting Zimmerman.

    Guy told the jury the case wasn't about race.

    "It's about right and wrong," he said. "It's that simple.


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    PANAMA CITY BEACH -- The Bay County Sheriff’s Office is warning residents about a phone scam after a 75-year-old woman was recently defrauded of $23,000.

    The woman received a phone call in which a man said her grandson had been arrested in Mexico, according to BCSO. Her grandson was in a car crash and drugs were found in his vehicle, the caller said. The woman was asked to wire money to an unknown recipient in Mexico City, Mexico.

    Authorities later located the woman’s grandson working in Panama City Beach. He had never left the country.

    The Sheriff’s Office is working with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in an investigation.

    A variation of the scam, BCSO reported, involves an email. The email recipient is told their friend was robbed in a foreign country and needs money to return home.

    The Sheriff’s Office is urging Bay County residents to be on guard if they receive such a phone call or email.


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  • 07/12/13--16:45: Slain woman’s family sues
  • PANAMA CITY — The family of a woman gunned down in her car in a busy shopping center has filed a lawsuit against the man accused of shooting her.

    The wrongful death suit against Joseph Moody seeks damages exceeding $15,000 and access to his home so the survivors of Megan Pettis can retrieve the belongings they believe she left there.

    Moody was a member of the Panama City Fire Department before his arrest in March on a count of first-degree murder. He’s accused of stalking Pettis, his former girlfriend, and ambushing her in a parking lot on 23rd Street, where she was shot in the head and involved in a car crash when she tried to flee.

    Moody’s home has been put up for sale, and the Pettis family has not been allowed to retrieve her possessions, the suit alleges. They are asking a judge to prohibit the sale of the house until they can get them back.

    The suit also seeks damages for pain and suffering and medical and funeral expenses.

    Moody appeared Friday in court, where attorneys wrangled over mental competency issues. Dana Morris, who is filling in for Moody’s attorney Rusty Shepard, said the doctor that prosecutors want to use to examine Moody has a conflict of interests because he’s already done so at the defense’s requests.

    Judge Michael Overstreet set another hearing next week.

    Moody had been recently released from a mental health treatment facility when he was arrested for murder on May 19.


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    CALLAWAY — An Ohio man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for swindling Florida home buyers out of about $36 million.

    Akron, Ohio, resident Jack R. Coppenger Jr., 49, pleaded guilty for conspiring to commit bank fraud and making false statements to influence a bank to make a loan. In 2005, Coppenger promised buyers “there’s money to be had,” and since, more than 40 people have been found guilty of crimes for their involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme at WatersEdge, a development near Allanton, according to federal officials.

    “This was all greed,” U.S. District Judge John Adams told Coppenger during his sentencing in Akron. “This was all planned, this scam and scheme. You knew and you had to know when this house of cards began to fall. You’re still out looking for new people to prey on.”

    Coppenger, a land developer, contacted dozens of Ohio residents regarding WatersEdge and encouraged them to invest in the property back when the market was hot. He pitched that investors would receive money upfront, make no payments out of pocket, and receive 50 percent of the profit from the sale at the end of the transaction, according to officials.

    Ultimately, Coppenger failed to make the mortgage payments on these loans, resulting in a loss of about $36 million. The property, which is adjacent to the Allanton campus of Eastern Shipbuilding, remains largely undeveloped today.

    Through using interested investors as “straw buyers,” Coppenger essentially bought their good credit scores so he could secure loans for the WatersEdge lots. A straw buyer is a loan applicant whose name is used on a property transfer to hide a third party.

    “This defendant led a ring whose crimes covered two states and resulted in losses of tens of millions of dollars,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Mortgage fraud crimes devastate entire neighborhoods and communities.”

    Lawsuits began in 2006 with California-based Indymac Bank, one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, alleging Ohio residents acted as “straw buyers” in the sale of WatersEdge lots in Allanton. Appraisals of the lots, the lawsuit says, were raised artificially.

    Coppenger also was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States by impairing and impeding the ability of the IRS to assess Coppenger’s taxes in 2006 by concealing funds received from a land “flip”conducted by mortgage brokers Andrew D. Norman and Jason A. Herceg, both of Ohio.

    Norman and Herceg were operating under the business name of V.P. Equity LLC. They and an unidentified co-conspirator were charged with procuring “straw buyers” and submitting false loan documents to banks to purchase Coppenger’s lots in Florida.


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  • 07/13/13--06:43: Zimmerman found not guilty
  • SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges Saturday in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose killing unleashed furious debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.

    Zimmerman, 29, blinked and barely smiled when the verdict was announced. He could have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. But the jury of six women, all but one of them white, reached a verdict of not guilty after deliberating well into the night Saturday. The jurors considered nearly three weeks of often wildly conflicting testimony over who was the aggressor on the rainy night the 17-year-old was shot while walking through the gated townhouse community where he was staying.

    Defense attorneys said the case was classic self-defense, claiming Martin knocked Zimmerman down and was slamming the older man's head against the concrete sidewalk when Zimmerman fired his gun.

    Prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar and portrayed him was a "wannabe cop" vigilante who had grown frustrated by break-ins in his neighborhood committed primarily by young black men. Zimmerman assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands, prosecutors said.

    State Attorney Angela Corey said after the verdict that she believed second-degree murder was the appropriate charge because Zimmerman's mindset "fit the bill of second-degree murder."

    "We charged what we believed we could prove," Corey said.

    As the verdict drew near, police and city leaders in the Orlando suburb of Sanford and other parts of Florida said they were taking precautions against the possibility of mass protests or unrest in the event of an acquittal.

    "There is no party in this case who wants to see any violence," Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said immediately after jurors began deliberating. "We have an expectation upon this announcement that our community will continue to act peacefully."

    The verdict came a year and a half after civil rights protesters angrily demanded Zimmerman be prosecuted.

    Zimmerman wasn't arrested for 44 days after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting as police in Sanford insisted that Florida's Stand Your Ground law on self-defense prohibited them from bringing charges. Florida gives people wide latitude to use deadly force if they fear death or bodily harm.

    Martin's parents, along with civil rights leaders such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, argued that Zimmerman — whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic — had racially profiled their son. And they accused investigators of dragging their feet because Martin was a black teenager.

    Before a special prosecutor assigned to the case ordered Zimmerman's arrest, thousands of protesters gathered in Sanford, Miami, New York and elsewhere, many wearing hoodies like the one Martin had on the night he died. They also carried Skittles and a can of iced tea, items Martin had in his pocket. President Barack Obama weighed in, saying that if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon."

    Despite the racially charged nature of the case, race was barely mentioned at the trial. Even after the verdict, prosecutors said race was not about race.

    "This case has never been about race or the right to bear arms," Corey said. "We believe this case all along was about boundaries, and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries."

    One exception was the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, the Miami teen who was talking to Martin by phone moments before he was shot. She said he described being followed by a "creepy-ass cracker" as he walked through the neighborhood.

    Jeantel gave some of the trial's most riveting testimony. She said she overheard Martin demand, "What are you following me for?" and then yell, "Get off! Get off!" before his cellphone went dead.

    The jurors had to sort out clashing testimony from 56 witnesses in all, including police, neighbors, friends and family members.

    For example, witnesses who got fleeting glimpses of the fight in the darkness gave differing accounts of who was on top. And Martin's parents and Zimmerman's parents both claimed that the person heard screaming for help in the background of a neighbor's 911 call was their son. Numerous other relatives and friends weighed in, too, as the recording was played over and over in court. Zimmerman had cuts and scrapes on his face and the back of his head, but prosecutors suggested the injuries were not serious.

    To secure a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors had to convince the jury that Zimmerman acted with a "depraved" state of mind — that is, with ill will, hatred or spite. Prosecutors said he demonstrated that when he muttered, "F------ punks. These a-------. They always get away" during a call to police as he watched Martin walk through his neighborhood.

    To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors had to convince the jury only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

    Earlier versions of this story are posted below:

    SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — After deliberating for more than 15 hours over two days, jurors have acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges in shooting of Trayvon Martin.

    The jurors notified the judge Saturday night a little before 10 p.m. that they had reached a decision.

    The six-member, all-woman jury began deliberating at 2:30 p.m. Friday after spending part of the day listening to the defense closing arguments and a rebuttal from the prosecution.

    Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense.

    The case drew massive protests after a 44-day delay in Zimmerman's arrest. Demonstrators demanded Zimmerman's arrest.

    The police chief in Sanford, where Martin was shot and where the trial is being held, urged peace after the verdict is read.

    Check back later for more details. An earlier story is posted below.

    SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — After deliberating for almost eight hours Saturday, jurors deciding whether George Zimmerman committed a crime when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin stopped their work to ask the judge a question about manslaughter.

    "May we please have clarification on the instructions regarding manslaughter," Judge Debra Nelson read from the jurors' note before a courtroom that had rapidly filled up with lawyers, reporters and members of the families of Martin and Zimmerman.

    As jurors awaited an answer, Nelson talked to lawyers at the bench and then said court would recess for a half hour. When attorneys returned, prosecutor Richard Mantei said that after conducting research, he would suggest asking the jurors to elaborate. Defense attorney Mark O'Mara agreed.

    "Let's get clarification on their confusion," O'Mara said.

    The judge then sent a note back to the jury that read: "The court can't engage in general discussion but may be able to address a specific question regarding clarification of the instructions regarding manslaughter. If you have a specific question, please submit it."

    Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder but jurors also have the options of finding him guilty of manslaughter or not guilty. He has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense.

    To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification. To win a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors must convince jurors Zimmerman acted with ill will, hatred or spite toward Martin.

    Zimmerman faces a maximum prison sentence of life for second-degree murder and 30 years if convicted of manslaughter, due to extra sentencing guidelines for committing a crime with a gun.

    Outside lawyers with no connection to the case said the jury's question could be an indication that it has taken second-degree murder off the table.

    "It does sound like at this point, they're considering between manslaughter and not guilty," said Blaine McChesney, an Orlando defense attorney and former prosecutor with no connection to the case.

    Added Orlando defense attorney David Hill: "Why would they bother to ask for clarification unless they were thinking about manslaughter?"

    The jury of six women started deliberating Friday afternoon. At the time they asked their question about manslaughter Saturday, they had been deliberating for a total of 11 ½ hours over two days. On Friday, they made their first question: a request for a list of all the evidence.

    Jurors were being sequestered, and their identities are kept anonymous — they are identified only by number.

    As jurors deliberated for a second day, there was little understanding between two camps assembled to support Martin and Zimmerman outside the Seminole County Courthouse.

    "He deserves some respect and appreciation," Casey David Kole Sr., 66, shouted about the former neighborhood watch leader. "It's a tragedy."

    Patricia Dalton, 60, yelled back: "It's a tragedy that could have been avoided!"

    Dalton, like most of the 100 or so people at the suburban Orlando courthouse, says she's there in support of the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teen from Miami who Zimmerman fatally shot last year.

    The supporters stayed peaceful for most of the day until in the afternoon when sheriff's deputies had to separate a Zimmerman supporter from a pro-Martin demonstrator after a heated exchange. There was no physical contact made and no one was arrested.

    The atmosphere quickly cooled down. Two Orlando sisters, dressed in colorful African-print clothing and walking on stilts, sang "Lean on Me" with the crowd as a man strummed a banjo and people waved signs.

    "We're just here for peace and love," said stilt walker Bambi Loketo.

    Prosecutors and Trayvon Martin's family say Zimmerman profiled Martin because of the teen's race. Those allegations, and a 44-day delay before police arrested Zimmerman, sparked nationwide protests involving leading national civil rights leaders and spurred emotional debates about gun control, self-defense laws, race, and equal justice under the law.

    In Saturday's strong Florida sun, some people at the courthouse wore hoodies, as Martin had when he died. One woman lay in the grass, her arms spread, in a re-creation of Martin's death. Those in the smaller pro-Zimmerman camp held small signs, saying things like "We love you George" and "George got hit you must acquit."

    Joseph Uy of Longwood was among an even smaller group: the few who said they had no opinion on whether Zimmerman was guilty. He said he came because he was "just curious."

    "I'm neutral," he said, while cradling his three tiny Chihuahuas in his arms.

    By mid-afternoon, people rallied in the heat and chanted slogans as a looming thundercloud threatened a downpour.

    "Justice for Trayvon," some shouted. Others yelled, "Convict George Zimmerman."

    Police and civic leaders have pleaded for calm in Sanford and across the country after the verdict.

    "There is no party in this case who wants to see any violence," Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said. "We have an expectation upon this announcement that our community will continue to act peacefully."

    In New York on Saturday, the Rev. Al Sharpton said that no matter the verdict, any demonstrations that follow it must be peaceful.

    "We do not want to smear Trayvon Martin's name with violence," the civil rights leader said. "He is a victim of violence."

    The Rev. Jesse Jackson had a similar message. He tweeted that people should "avoid violence because it only leads to more tragedies."

    Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin's family, said the parents are emotional but doing as well as expected as they await a verdict.

    "(Jurors) staying out longer and considering the evidence and testimony is a good thing for us arriving at a just verdict," Crump said.

    On Saturday morning, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, shared on Twitter what she called her favorite Bible verse: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

    An earlier version of this story is posted below:

    SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — The jury in George Zimmerman's murder trial began a second day of deliberations Saturday morning, weighing whether the neighborhood watch volunteer committed a crime almost a year and a half ago when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

    Jurors reconvened in the courtroom at 9 a.m. Saturday. A few smiled as the judge addressed them before they left the courtroom to continue their discussions.

    The jury began deliberations Friday afternoon as police and civic leaders in this Orlando suburb went on national television to plead for calm in Sanford and across the country, no matter what the verdict.

    "There is no party in this case who wants to see any violence," Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said. "We have an expectation upon this announcement that our community will continue to act peacefully."

    During closing arguments, the jury heard dueling portraits of the neighborhood watch captain: a cop wannabe who took the law into his own hands or a well-meaning volunteer who shot Martin because he feared for his life.

    Zimmerman's lawyers put a concrete slab and two life-size cardboard cutouts in front of the jury box in one last attempt to convince the panel Zimmerman shot the unarmed black 17-year-old in self-defense while his head was being slammed against the pavement.

    Attorney Mark O'Mara used the slab to make the point that it could serve as a weapon. He showed the cutouts of Zimmerman and Martin to demonstrate that the teenager was considerably taller. And he displayed a computer-animated depiction of the fight based on Zimmerman's account.

    He said prosecutors hadn't met their burden of proving Zimmerman's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, he said, the case was built on "could've beens" and "maybes."

    "If it hasn't been proven, it's just not there," O'Mara said. "You can't fill in the gaps. You can't connect the dots. You're not allowed to."

    In a rebuttal, prosecutor John Guy accused Zimmerman of telling "so many lies." He said Martin's last emotion was fear as Zimmerman followed him through the gated townhouse community on the rainy night of Feb. 26, 2012.

    "Isn't that every child's worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger?" Guy said. "Isn't that every child's worst fear?"

    One juror, a young woman, appeared to wipe away a tear as Guy said nothing would ever bring back Martin.

    The sequestered jury of six women — all but one of them white — will have to sort through a lot of conflicting testimony from police, neighbors, friends and family members.

    Jurors deliberated for three and a half hours when they decided to stop Friday evening. About two hours into their discussions, they asked for a list of the evidence. They will resume deliberations Saturday morning.

    Witnesses gave differing accounts of who was on top during the struggle, and Martin's parents and Zimmerman's parents both claimed that the voice heard screaming for help in the background of a 911 call was their son's.

    Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder, but the jury will also be allowed to consider manslaughter. Under Florida's laws involving gun crimes, manslaughter could end up carrying a penalty as heavy as the one for second-degree murder: life in prison.

    The judge's decision to allow the jury to consider manslaughter was a potentially heavy blow to the defense: It could give jurors who aren't convinced the shooting amounted to murder a way to hold Zimmerman responsible for the killing.

    To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

    O'Mara dismissed the prosecution's contention that Zimmerman was a "crazy guy" patrolling his townhouse complex and "looking for people to harass" when he saw Martin. O'Mara also disputed prosecutors' claim that Zimmerman snapped when he saw Martin because there had been a rash of break-ins in the neighborhood, mostly by young black men.

    The defense attorney said Zimmerman at no point showed ill will, hatred or spite during his confrontation with Martin — which is what prosecutors must prove for second-degree murder.

    "That presumption isn't based on any fact whatsoever," O'Mara said.

    In contrast, prosecutors argued Zimmerman showed ill will when he whispered profanities to a police dispatcher over his cellphone while following Martin through the neighborhood. They said Zimmerman "profiled" the teenager as a criminal.

    Guy said Zimmerman violated the cornerstone of neighborhood watch volunteer programs, which is to observe and report, not follow a suspect.

    Zimmerman's account of how he grabbed his gun from his holster at his waist as Martin straddled him is physically impossible, Guy said.

    "The defendant didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to; he shot him because he wanted to," Guy said. "That's the bottom line."

    But to invoke self-defense, Zimmerman only had to believe he was facing great bodily harm, his attorney said. He asked jurors not to let their sympathies for Martin's parents interfere with their decision.

    "It is a tragedy, truly," O'Mara said. "But you can't allow sympathy."

    With the verdict drawing near, police and city leaders in Sanford and other parts of Florida said they have taken precautions for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, is acquitted.

    There were big protests in Sanford and other cities across the country last year when authorities waited 44 days before arresting Zimmerman.

    About a dozen protesters, most of them from outside central Florida, gathered outside the courthouse as the jury deliberated. Martin supporters outnumbered those for Zimmerman


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    NEW YORK (AP) — From New York to California, outrage over the verdict in George Zimmerman's murder trial poured from street demonstrations and church pulpits Sunday as protesters spoke out against his acquittal and demanded federal charges on civil rights violations.

    Protests were planned later Sunday in Boston, Detroit, Baltimore, San Francisco and other cities over the Florida case, which unleashed a national debate over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice. At least one protest in California hours after the verdict late Saturday ended with vandalism.

    In Manhattan, congregants at Middle Collegiate Church were encouraged to wear hooded sweatshirts in the memory of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was wearing a hoodie the night he was shot to death in February 2012.

    The Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, wearing a pink hoodie, urged peace and told her congregation that Martin Luther King Jr. "would have wanted us to conduct ourselves on the highest plane of dignity."

    But, she added, "we're going to raise our voices against the root causes of this kind of tragedy."

    Congregant Jessica Nacinovich, wearing a hoodie, said "I can't help but want to express disappointment and sadness in response to the decision, and I just wanted to come and be here with everybody in solidarity and talk and pray and sing about where we go from here."

    At a youth service in Sanford, Fla., where the trial was held, teens wearing shirts displaying Martin's picture wiped away tears during a sermon at the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

    Hours after the verdict, demonstrators gathered on U Street in Washington, D.C., chanting, "No justice, no peace." One protester carried a sign that read, "Stop criminalizing black men."

    In Florida, about 200 demonstrators marched through downtown Tallahassee carrying signs that said "Racism is Not Dead" and "Who's Next?"

    In Chicago, black clergy members called for calm, with the Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church saying the community should become "a united voice for peace" because it can't control the verdict but it "can control our streets and communities."

    About 200 people turned out for a rally and march in downtown Chicago, saying the verdict was symbolic of lingering racism in the United States.

    Seventy-three-year-old Maya Miller said the case reminded her of the 1955 slaying of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was murdered by a group of white men while visiting Mississippi. Till's killing galvanized the civil rights movement.

    Miller said she feels as if "nothing has changed in 58 years."

    The NAACP called for the opening of a civil rights case against Zimmerman in an online petition addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder.

    Civil rights leaders, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, urged peace in the wake of the verdict. Jackson said the legal system "failed justice," but violence isn't the answer.

    But not all the protesters heeded those calls.

    In Oakland, Calif., some angry demonstrators broke windows, burned U.S. flags and started street fires. Some marchers also vandalized a police squad car and used spray paint to scrawl anti-police graffiti on roads and Alameda County's Davidson courthouse.

     


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    A girl critically injured in a Panama City Beach parasailing crash has stood and walked for the first time since the incident, and has returned to her home state.

    Sidney Good, 17, walked a short distance on Saturday, according to a news release by her family. She has been speaking more over the last few days, according to the release, and is recovering her memory of July 1, the day of the crash. She was released Sunday morning from Bay Medical Center and flown to Indianapolis for further medical evaluation, and possibly further surgery.

    Good and her 17-year-old friend Alexis Fairchild, who are from Roanoke, Ind., each suffered major head and neck trauma in the incident. They were parasailing when a storm with strong winds hit the area, and their parasailing line detached. Wind gusts carried the girls to shore, where they collided with a high-rise hotel and a parked SUV.

    Fairchild was also critically injured in the incident and had several surgeries. She was released Thursday from Bay Medical Center, and is recovering at a rehabilitation hospital in Indianapolis.

    “(Sidney Good) is not yet ready for a rehabilitation hospital and will not be at the same hospital as Alexis, but we look forward to getting them together again sometime soon,” wrote the Good family.

    The family also thanked Bay Medical Center and residents of the Panama City area for their support.

    “We would like to personally thank Bay Medical Center for the outstanding care they have provided our daughter since the accident,” the statement reads.  “We would also like to thank the people of Panama City for the prayers and caring during this terrible time in our lives.  We hope to return sometime when both of the girls are well and see all of our new friends again.  And of course, enjoy a beach vacation.”


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