Maine: Depraved fisherman found guilty in dog’s death that angered Down East community

The dog’s body floated ashore in Hancock in the summer of 2018.

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Justin Chipman, 24 and Nathan Burke, 39. Two very evil men.

ELLSWORTH — A Steuben man was found guilty of aggravated animal cruelty Thursday for the August 2018 death of a Boston terrier-pug named Franky that belonged to the defendant’s former boss, a Winter Harbor lobsterman.

The dog was missing for days when its body, wrapped in plastic, washed up across Frenchman Bay onto a private beach at the coastal home of Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster. Franky’s death mystified and angered the Down East community of Winter Harbor, which lies on the Schoodic Peninsula east of Bar Harbor.

Franky died of a gunshot wound to the throat, according to a report submitted into evidence, Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon said.

Justin Chipman, 24, was found guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals, burglary, theft by unauthorized taking or transfer and unauthorized use of property in the daylong trial. A sentencing date was not known Thursday.

Defense attorney Robert Van Horn motioned for acquittal before closing statements.

Ultimately, Justice Robert Murray denied acquittal for four of the charges but granted the acquittal for the charge of aggravated criminal mischief.

The criminal mischief complaint was connected with damage done to the Hummer of Phil Torrey, Franky’s owner. The state did not introduce evidence that the vehicle had sustained $2,000 worth of damage.

Van Horn cited a lack of “direct evidence” tying his client to any of the crimes.

Toffolon advised the judge that circumstantial evidence could be considered and that the amount of circumstantial evidence in this case was “substantial.”

Toffolon cited Chipman’s departure from the area within a day of authorities discovering the dead dog.

“Where is Mr. Chipman? He’s fled to Bangor and secured a hotel room, where he stays until Sept. 2,” Toffolon said.

Toffolon said Chipman had motive to kill Franky because Chipman’s dog and Franky had an altercation two weeks earlier.

Chipman and co-defendant Nathan Burke, 39, were aware that Torrey and his family would be out of town because Torrey had invited them along and they declined, the prosecutor said.

Burke’s case is still pending.

Uber CEO calls Jamal Khashoggi murder ‘serious mistake'(?!)

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is speaks onstage at a summitDara Khosrowshahi later backtracked and said the comments were wrong

The chief executive of ride-hailing app Uber has called the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “a mistake”, comparing it to his firm’s failings with self-driving cars.

Pressed on Saudi links with Uber in a TV interview, Dara Khosrowshahi said: “People make mistakes, it doesn’t mean they can never be forgiven.”

He later said the comments were wrong.

Khashoggi – a US resident and prominent Saudi critic – was killed in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last year.

Saudi Arabia is Uber’s fifth-largest shareholder and the head of its sovereign wealth fund is also on the company’s board of directors.

Mr Khosrowshahi made the remarks during a discussion about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder as part of the series Axios on HBO. When pressed on whether a representative from Saudi Arabia should remain on Uber’s board, he said: “I think that government said that they made a mistake.”

He went on: “It’s a serious mistake, we’ve made mistakes too, right, with self-driving and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake.”

He was referring to Uber’s self-driving cars, one of which struck and killed a woman in 2018 when it “failed” to identify her as a pedestrian.

Following the interview, Mr Khosrowshahi sent an email to Axios backtracking on his comments. “I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” he wrote. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”

Mr Khosrowshahi was appointed CEO in 2017, after former chief executive Travis Kalanick resigned amid pressure from shareholders.

Mr Kalanick, Uber’s billionaire co-founder, resigned after a spate of controversies at the firm. Issues included complaints from employees about a sexist and macho company culture and that accusations of sexual harassment were not taken seriously. He remains a member of the board of directors.

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

On 2 October 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered. Conflicting narratives emerged after his death over how he died and who was responsible.

Saudi officials claimed he was murdered in a “rogue operation” carried about by a team of agents, while others – including Turkish officials and the CIA – said the agents acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A UN expert earlier this year concluded that Khashoggi’s death was “an extrajudicial execution” and that there was credible evidence” that the crown prince and other high-level officials were individually liable.

Maine: Do labor laws need better enforcement?

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Earlier this year, a lobbyist for the Koch-funded NFIB stood before the Maine legislature’s Labor Committee and claimed there’s no “clear and compelling” evidence that labor laws need to be better enforced.

Apparently he doesn’t think that there are workers who are being underpaid, having their tips stolen, not getting overtime or are facing discrimination or sexual harassment on the job. We know that’s not true.

Have you or someone you love experienced labor violations in your workplace? I’d like to hear more.

Let me know.

It’s incredibly difficult for individual workers to fight back when their employer has all the power and big companies are constantly finding new ways to keep workers from reporting these crimes or getting justice. They often reclassify employees as contract workers or force them into binding arbitration agreements where they sign away their right to go to court.

That’s why Maine Senate President Troy Jackson has put forward a bill, LD 1693, that would allow workers to band together and get help to hold corporate criminals accountable for violating labor laws.

But we have to counter the lies that corporate lobbyists are going to tell to lawmakers.

Have you ever experienced workplace discrimination? Been forced to work through breaks or work overtime and not been paid for that time? Worked in unsafe conditions? Experienced retaliation for raising issues in your workplace?

I’d like to hear more. You can contact me at the email below to share your experience.

Together we can poke holes in the lies these lobbyists will tell and make sure that lawmakers stand up for workers and hold corporate criminals accountable.

Thank you,

Amy Halsted
MPA Co-Director

P.S. It’s Election Day! Don’t forget to go and vote in your local elections. Polls are open until 8pm. You can click here to find your polling location.



Dresden: The German city has declared a ‘Nazi emergency’

Supporters of the Pegida movement march through Dresden with German flags on 27 July, 2015.The anti-Islam Pegida movement began in Dresden in 2014

A city in eastern Germany has declared a “Nazi emergency”, saying it has a serious problem with the far-right.

Dresden, the capital of Saxony, has long been viewed as a bastion of the far-right and is the birthplace of the anti-Islam Pegida movement.

Councillors in the city – a contender for the 2025 European Capital of Culture – have now approved a resolution saying more needs to be done to tackle the issue.

But opponents say it goes too far.

What is a ‘Nazi emergency’?

“‘Nazinotstand’ means – similar to the climate emergency – that we have a serious problem. The open democratic society is threatened,” local councillor Max Aschenbach, who tabled the motion, told the BBC.

Mr Aschenbach, from left-leaning satirical political party Die Partei, said he believed it was necessary to take action because politicians were not doing enough to “position themselves clearly” against the far-right.

“The request was an attempt to change that. I also wanted to know what kind of people I’m sitting with in the city council of Dresden,” he said.

The resolution acknowledges that “right-wing extremist attitudes and actions… are occurring with increasing frequency” and calls on the city to help victims of far-right violence, protect minorities and strengthen democracy.

Mr Aschenbach said adopting the motion showed the city council’s commitment to fostering “a free, liberal, democratic society that protects minorities and resolutely opposes Nazis.”

How was a ‘Nazi emergency’ declared?

Mr Aschenbach’s resolution was put to a vote by Dresden’s city council on Wednesday night and approved by 39 votes to 29, according to local media reports.

Germany’s governing Christian Democrats (CDU) were among those to reject the resolution.

“From our point of view, this was primarily an intended provocation,” Jan Donhauser, chairman of the CDU City Council Group, told the BBC.

“‘State of emergency’ means the collapse or a serious threat to public order. That is not given rudimentarily. Furthermore, the focus on ‘right-wing extremism’ does not do justice to what we need. We are the guardians of the liberal-democratic basic order and no violence, no matter from which extremist side it comes, is compatible with it,” he said.

Mr Donhauser added that the “vast majority” of Dresdeners were “neither right-wing extremists nor anti-democratic”.

Mr Aschenbach said the city was not obliged to take any action following the adoption of his resolution, but that “theoretically, existing measures should be given a higher priority and future decisions should follow this.”

While opposing the resolution, the CDU said it hopes to “strengthen the institutions that are best suited to combating politically motivated violence.”

Kai Arzheimer, a German politics professor who has written extensively on far-right extremism, said the resolution’s main impact was symbolic, but that it could mean that more money would be allocated to programmes combating extremism in the future.

“I don’t think that any other German city has declared a ‘Nazi emergency’. Resolutions against right-wing extremism are not so uncommon, however,” he said.

What is Dresden’s connection to the far-right?

Dresden has long been known for its links to the far right.

In the early 1990s, neo-Nazi groups began staging rallies there to remember what they called “the bombing Holocaust”, when the city was bombed by British and American forces in 1945, Mr Arzheimer said. These groups went on to become active in surrounding areas and in southern Saxony.

The state of Saxony has also long been a stronghold of the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and later the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

In state elections in September, support for the AfD surged, up 17.8% from 2014 to finish on 27.5%.

Dresden is also where the anti-Islam Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) movement began in 2014, and where it continues to hold rallies.

Media captionWhat is the Pegida movement?

Pegida supporters say people need to “wake up” to the threat of Islamist extremists. They want Germany to curb immigration and accuse the authorities of failing to enforce existing laws.

The movement has spurred large counter-rallies in the city.

Crime in Maine has declined more than 56% in 7 years, annual report shows

But the number of reported rapes remained higher than usual in 2018, following a trend identified the previous year.

Overall crime in Maine declined for the seventh straight year in 2018, although reported rapes remained at a historically high level, according to an annual report released Wednesday.

Rape reports spiked 17 percent in 2017, going from 383 to 448. That was the highest number in Maine since at least 1994, the earliest year for which data is available. The latest report showed no dropoff in reports in 2018. The total was 447, down just one from the previous year.

The state data follows the national trend of an uptick in rape reports and a decline in other types of crimes.

Officials and advocates said last year that increase may be attributed to an ongoing national conversation about sexual assault that has empowered more victims to come forward. But Wednesday, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault cautioned that many victims still do not report to law enforcement.

“The number of rapes represent significant trauma our fellow Mainers have endured,” coalition director Elizabeth Ward Saxl said. “And yet, according to the Muskie School’s Maine Crime Victimization Survey, we know that an estimated 14,000 Mainers will experience this crime each year, indicating that the vast majority of survivors are not reporting to law enforcement.

“We must continue to work to create systems that effectively respond to all victims who come forward before we can expect reports to law enforcement to truly reflect what’s happening in our communities.”

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck also emphasized that the number of reports does not reflect all sexual assaults, and he said police need to continue to work on being open and friendly to victims.

“The #MeToo movement last year was much more prevalent in day-to-day news than I think it’s been in 2019,” he said. “When it’s out there, and people feel empowered, they are more likely to come in and file reports.”


Still, overall crime reports in Maine have decreased more than 56 percent in the last seven years. The data is collected from every law enforcement agency in the state and reported to the FBI each year.

“Maine has traditionally been one of the safest states in the country and members of law enforcement truly appreciate the strong partnerships we have in our communities that have led to a seventh straight year of declining crime rates,” Sauschuck said.

The numbers of simple assaults and homicides increased slightly in 2018, but most other categories decreased.

Reports of simple assaults increased from 9,527 in 2017 to 9,972 last year, nearly a 5 percent increase.

But aggravated assaults, which involve serious injury and usually a weapon, went down over that period by nearly 9 percent. There were 801 reported incidents in 2018 compared to 875 the previous year.

Domestic violence assaults also dropped by nearly 12 percent last year, marking the sixth straight year of a decrease in that category. There were 4,178 reports in 2017 and 3,699 reports in 2018. However, the state’s leading group that works with victims of domestic violence has not seen a corresponding drop in need.

“Domestic violence resource centers in Maine have not experienced any reduction in demand for service, and over 14,000 people reached out for help in 2018,” said Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “The number of domestic violence assaults gives an incomplete picture because most victims do not reach out to the criminal justice system for intervention. Many times, the coercive, controlling behavior that characterizes domestic abuse does not involve behavior that meets the definition of a crime, though the result can be devastating and have lifelong impact.”

Homicides rose from 21 in 2017 to 23 last year. Nine of those deaths were related to domestic violence, the same number as the previous year.

The total number of adults summonsed or cited by police increased for the first time in a decade, although juvenile arrests continued to decrease. More than 37,800 adults were arrested last year, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. The charges that prompted the most significant increases in arrests were murder, crimes related to stolen property and offenses against family and children.

The rate at which police agencies charged people in criminal cases or closed those cases for another reason – called the clearance rate – increased slightly to 38 percent for all crimes. But that rate varies widely across different types of offenses, ranging from 94 percent for murders to 27 percent for burglaries. The clearance rate for rapes increased from 37 percent in 2017 to 45 percent in 2018.

The commissioner said the increase in arrests corresponds with an increase in the clearance rate, and arrests decreased in previous years. He pointed to behavioral and public health issues, saying offices are encountering them more often on the job.

“While crime is going down, I think the workload of our law enforcement officers is going up drastically,” Sauschuck said.


Even as crime reports decreased in the last seven years, the number of people incarcerated in state prisons increased, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.

The average daily population in Maine prisons in 2012 was 2,114. Last year, it was 2,444, a nearly 16 percent increase. Comparable data from jails was not available Wednesday afternoon.

So far in 2019, the average daily population in state prisons is trending down at 2,294.

Randall Liberty, commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, said several task forces are currently studying criminal justice reform, including options for bail and diversion programs.

“There’s no clear easy reason why populations go up or down, but there are many variables,” Liberty said.

Sauschuck said he was pleased to see crime reports go down again this year but wants to build on that progress.

“Each one of these stats is a human being,” Sauschuck said. “It’s a victim. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Boston College student’s girlfriend charged over his suicide

Alexander Urtula (left) Inyoung You. File photo Alexander Urtula (left) and Inyoung You dated for 18 months before his death

A former Boston College student has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the suicide of her boyfriend in May.

The indictment of Inyoung You, 21, over the death of Alexander Urtula, 22, was announced in the US state of Massachusetts on Monday.

A local attorney said Ms You, a South Korean national, had been abusive towards Mr Urtula.

Mr Urtula died hours before his graduation on 20 May.

Ms You, who is currently in South Korea, has so far made no public comment on the case.

What are the accusations?

At a news conference on Monday, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins announced that Ms You had been charged with involuntary manslaughter by a Suffolk County grand jury.

The attorney revealed that after an “extensive investigation” police determined that she “was physically, verbally and psychologically abusive towards Mr Urtula during their 18-month-long tumultuous relationship”.

“The abuse became more frequent, more powerful and more demeaning in the days and hours leading up to Mr Urtula’s death,” the attorney said.

She said that the couple had exchanged more than 75,000 text messages in the two months prior to Mr Urtula’s death.

In her posts, Ms You’s urged Mr Urtula to “go kill himself” and “go die”, the attorney said.

She added that on 20 May Ms You “was tracking Mr Urtula’s location and went to the Renaissance garage” where he killed himself.

Where to get help

From Canada or US: If you’re in an emergency, please call 911

You can contact the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Test Line by texting HOME to 741741

Young people in need of help can call Kids Help Phone on 1-800-668-6868

If you are in the UK, you can call the Samaritans on 116123

US: Feds launch investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s death

US attorney general says financier’s apparent suicide while in federal custody raises ‘serious concerns’.

US Attorney General William Barr has launched an investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's death [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]
US Attorney General William Barr has launched an investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s death [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

Federal authorities will investigate how Jeffrey Epstein, a well-connected financier accused of orchestrating a sex trafficking ring that preyed on underage girls, was able to apparently commit suicide in federal custody, the United States attorney general has said.

The FBI and the Department of Justice’s inspector general’s office will conduct the investigation, US Attorney General William Barr said, hours after Epstein was found unresponsive in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in Manhattan on Saturday.

Barr said he was “appalled” that the apparent suicide happened while Epstein was in federal custody on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy.

“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” he said in a statement.

The investigation into the sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against the 66-year-old will continue despite his death, the federal attorney in charge of the probe also said on Saturday.

The inquiry could still ensnare others involved in the alleged crime, the official said.

Death in custody

The suicide has raised questions over prison authorities’ oversight of Epstein, who had been kept in a special area reserved for high-profile inmates.

Epstein had been placed on suicide watch and given daily psychiatric evaluations after an incident in July in which he was found with bruising on his neck, according to local media. It had not been confirmed whether the injury was self-inflicted or the result of an assault.

He was taken off the watch at the end of July and was not being monitored at the time of his death, the reports said.

Authorities took Epstein into custody on July 6 and he pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking that allegedly ensnared dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14.

The alleged offences took place in his homes in Manhattan, New York and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005, according to prosecutors. If convicted, he faced up to 45 years in prison.

Epstein had previously lived a lavish lifestyle, often socialising with powerful people, including princes and US presidents. His arrest had put a spotlight on those relationships.

His most recent arrest also drew scrutiny to a 2008 deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida, while avoiding more serious federal charges.

The outcry led Alex Acosta, the then-US labour secretary who as a federal prosecutor helped Epstein negotiate the deal, to resign.

‘Heads must roll’

Accusers and elected officials expressed dismay that Epstein’s suicide allowed him to escape justice. They hoped the investigation would capture others involved in the alleged crimes.

Virginia Giuffre, an Epstein accuser who had filed a since-settled lawsuit against the financier’s former girlfriend, told the New York Times she was grateful Epstein will never harm anyone again, but was angry that there would be no chance to see him answer for his conduct.

“We’ve worked so hard to get here, and he stole that from us,” she told the newspaper.

Accuser Jennifer Araoz, in a statement, said that Epstein’s alleged victims will “have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives”.

Brad Edwards, a Florida lawyer for nearly two dozen other accusers, said that “this is not the ending anyone was looking for”.

“The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused,” Edwards said in a statement.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a letter to Barr on Saturday, said that “heads must roll” after the incident.

“Every single person in the Justice Department … knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him,” Sasse wrote.


Swarthmore College fraternities face ban calls over ‘rape attic’ claims

Students hold a "sit-in" at Phi Psi fraternity, Swarthmore College (28 April)The protesters say fraternities have too much power on campus

Dozens of US students are on the fourth day of a “sit-in” protest at a college fraternity after the leak of meeting minutes which referred to buying date rape drugs and a “rape attic”.

Protesters are calling for the two fraternities at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, to be banned from campus.

Several students have also accused fraternity members of sexual assault.

In response, Swarthmore has suspended the activities of both organisations for the rest of the semester.

It is carrying out further investigations into Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, following the leak of documents detailing racist, misogynistic and homophobic language used at a Phi Psi meeting.

Fraternities are exclusive, mostly all-male student organisations. Some are based on areas of study, professions, academic credentials, or on specific religious or ethnical backgrounds. Others serve more of a social purpose.

Earlier this month, two student publications – The Phoenix and Voices – published what are alleged to be internal documents from the Phi Psi fraternity.

The redacted, 117-page documents include “meeting minutes” and details of pledging rituals from 2012-16. They feature offensive language and accounts of physical and sexual assaults, and bravado about buying “date rape” drugs.

Presentational white spaceThe “minutes” also allege that Delta Upsilon “have both a rape tunnel AND a rape attic (gotta choose one or the other)”.

Allegations of sexual assault, violence and harassment have also been shared by students on an anonymous Tumblr page named “Why Swarthmore’s Fraternities Must Go.”

In response, student protesters on Saturday began occupying Phi Psi’s on-campus fraternity house and camping outside.

Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and the Swarthmore Coalition Against Fraternity Violence, which arranged the protest, are calling on Swarthmore to terminate the leases of both fraternities and ban them from campus. Instead, they want the properties to be designated for “marginalised” students groups like women and ethnic minorities.

Fraternities are the only student groups able to lease property on campus. Many members also play in college sports teams, and alumni are often important donors for fundraising campaigns. Organiser Morgin Goldberg, 22, told the BBC that this had given fraternities “undue social power that they not only hold, but abuse”.

Ms Goldberg says she has witnessed harassment, racism and homophobia by members.

“If any other student group had this way of conduct, they would be off campus in 10 seconds,” she added.

Presentational white space

Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with the national umbrella group for fraternities, was suspended from Swarthmore in 2016 for violating its alcohol and drugs policy. It reopened for parties a year ago.

In a statement, the group said language used in the leaked documents “[was] not representative of who we are today.

“All our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes, and none of us would have joined the organization had this been the standard when we arrived.”

Delta Upsilon fraternity told Philadelphia Magazine that it read the documents “with total revulsion” and said they “do not reflect the values” of the group.

In an email statement, a Swarthmore spokesperson said the college was “committed to fully investigating” any allegations, but conceded that “it is very difficult to investigate anonymous [ones].”

A task force was set up last year “to critically examine social life on campus, including [fraternity/sorority] life”. It will deliver its recommendations to college President Valerie Smith on 3 May.

“Isolating a few bad apples will not address the structure,” said Ms Goldberg.

“This is the start of the conversation, not the end of it, about social life at college and which students groups are represented and which are under the bus”.

US synagogue shooting: One person dead in Poway, California

A San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy secures the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019Police quickly sealed off the scene of the shooting in Poway

A gunman has opened fire at a synagogue in California, leaving one woman dead and three other people injured, police say.

A 19-year-old man has been arrested after the attack at Poway, north of the city of San Diego.

The synagogue had been hosting a Passover celebration when the shooting took place, reports said.

Police have not suggested a motive but US President Donald Trump said the attack “looks like a hate crime”.

The shooting comes six months after a gun attack killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told reporters that investigators were reviewing the suspect’s social media activity and examining an open letter published online.

“During the shooting, four individuals were wounded and transported to Palomar hospital,” he said. “One succumbed to their wounds. The other three are in stable condition.”

Mayor Steve Vaus said the rabbi had been shot in the hand.

“For this to happen only a week later at the end of the Passover, only a week after Easter is horrific,” he told MSNBC.

How did the attack happen?

Sheriff Gore said officers were called to the Chabad synagogue just before 11:30 (18:30 GMT) after the man opened fire with an “AR-15 type” assault rifle.

He said an off-duty border patrol officer fired at the suspect as he fled the scene in a vehicle, but did not hit him.

San Diego Police secure the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019The synagogue had been marking the final day of Passover
San Diego Sheriff deputies look over the Chabad of Poway Synagogue after a shooting on Saturday, April 27, 2019 in Poway, California

The suspect was later arrested by another officer, added San Diego chief of police David Nisleit.

“He clearly saw the suspect’s vehicle, the suspect jumped out with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody.” he said.

“As the officer was placing this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle on the front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle.”

What has the reaction been?

US Vice-President Mike Pence condemned the “evil and cowardly” shooting.

Speaking outside the White House, President Trump offered his “deepest sympathies”.

“At this moment it looks like a hate crime, but my deepest sympathies to all those affected and we’ll get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Minoo Anvari, whose husband was inside the synagogue, told the local CNN affiliate that the congregation was “standing together” in the wake of the attack.

“We are strong. You can’t break us,” she said.

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter that she was “heartbroken” by the news.

US: Convicted ringleader in Texas dragging death to be executed

John William King was convicted of killing James Byrd Jr in 1998 by dragging the Texas black man behind a truck for 5km.

  • This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King [Handout/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/AP Photo]
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King 

A white supremacist convicted of killing James Byrd Jr in 1998 by dragging the 49-year-old black man behind a truck in one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern times is scheduled to be executed in Texas on Wednesday.

John William “Bill” King, 44, is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville at 6pm local time (23:00GMT).

King along with Shawn Berry and Lawrence Brewer were accused of kidnapping Byrd while he hitchhiked in Jasper, Texas, on June 7, 1998.

Prosecutors said the men dragged him behind their 1982 gray Ford pickup truck for three miles (5 km) before dumping his body in front of an African-American church.

A “KKK” engraved lighter was among the evidence police found at the scene, court documents showed.

Hate crimes

The gruesome killing spurred the passing of the James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Act, strengthening punishments for hate crimes in Texas.

US man pleads guilty to hate crimes in Charlottesville car attack

The murder, along with the killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten and left to die tied to a fence, was also the genesis of the federal hate crimes prevention act passed in 2009.

King was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1999.

He was a member of a white supremacist gang and spoke of starting a race war while in prison for a previous crime.

Ricky Jason wears a photograph of James Byrd Jr outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit before the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer [File: David J Phillip/AP Photo]

He also talked about initiating new members by having them kidnap and murder black people, court documents showed.

“Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history,” King wrote in a letter to Brewer obtained by jail officials after they were convicted of killing Byrd, CNN reported.

“Death before dishonour. Sieg Heil!” the letter continued, using a Nazi salute.

‘You can’t fight murder with murder’

King has always maintained his innocence, saying that he left the two other men before Byrd was killed.

His lawyers filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court after a Texas appeals court denied a request to halt the execution on Monday.

Berry and Brewer were also convicted of murder.

Berry was sentenced to life in prison while Brewer, also a white supremacist, was sentenced to death.

Some of Byrd’s family members have said they would have rather seen the men spend the rest of their lives in prison.

“You can’t fight murder with murder,” his son Ross Byrd told Reuters the night before Brewer’s execution in 2011.

King will be the third inmate in Texas and the United States to be executed in 2019, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.