Details are beginning to emerge in the case of three kidnapped women freed this week from a decade of captivity in Cleveland, Ohio. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight had all vanished in seemingly separate cases when they were between the ages of 14 and 21. They were discovered at a home in a low-income neighborhood Monday after Amanda Berry managed to escape and call 911. The three were allegedly subjected to years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the three brothers who held them captive inside. The brothers are in custody and have been identified as Ariel Castro, Pedro Castro, and Onil Castro. Berry gave birth to a daughter after being raped by one of her captors. Up to five pregnancies resulted from rapes inside the home, but only Berry’s baby survived. Questions are now being raised about whether police negligence prolonged the victims’ captivity. A neighbor, Israel Lugo, says he and others called police three times between 2011 and 2012 alone to report alarming activity. One group of neighbors say police never arrived, even after the neighbors reported seeing three females crawling on all fours naked with dog leashes around their necks. Police apparently visited the Castro home after another call but never went inside.
On Tuesday, the three Ohio kidnapping victims were reunited with their families after close to 10 years. Berry’s grandmother, Fern Gentry, spoke to her granddaughter by phone.
Fern Gentry: “Just crying and happy, and I told her I loved her and I missed her and I prayed for her. And, oh, my god, I mean, it was just so great. So, I kept the hope, that we had so many hopes and that we got so many times that they had said they had found her and they hadn’t found her. And every time you got your hopes up, it’s like it fell again.”
The Pentagon has disclosed that sexual assaults within the military are on the rise, with as many as 70 taking place every day. A new report says around 26,000 sex crimes were committed in 2012, a jump of 37 percent since 2010. Most of the incidents were never reported. On Tuesday, both President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed outrage at the findings.
President Obama: “Bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the secretary of defense. We’re going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in areas of authority, and I expect consequences.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: “We’re all outraged and disgusted over these very troubling allegations. Sexual assault is a despicable crime and one of the most serious challenges facing this department. It’s a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people and to help reputation and trust of this institution.”
The Pentagon study was published just two days after the head of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was charged with sexual assault for groping a woman in a Virginia parking lot. The Air Force has removed Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski from his post.
A Mississippi prisoner has won a last-minute stay of execution just hours before he was scheduled to die. On Tuesday, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled eight to one in favor of a reprieve for Willie Jerome Manning. The case attracted national attention after the FBI admitted its testimony and original analysis of the evidence in Manning’s case contained errors. But prosecutors and state courts had refused to allow any new DNA tests. Manning, an African American, was convicted of murdering Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, two white college students, in 1992. His attorneys argue no physical evidence ties him to the murders and that testing hair samples and other evidence could identify a different killer. The court did not specify a reason for granting Manning a stay, but the ruling has raised hopes the testing will finally be allowed. In a statement, the Innocence Project said: “Hopefully, Manning, who has spent 20 years on death row maintaining his innocence … will now have the opportunity to do DNA testing that could prove [it].”
Texas carried out the execution Tuesday night of Carroll Parr, a 35-year-old man convicted of a 2003 murder. Parr was the 11th person executed in the United States this year, and the fifth in Texas.
The United States and Russia have announced plans to convene a new international conference on the crisis in Syria. Speaking during a visit to Moscow, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is no longer a precondition for negotiations in the eyes of the United States. He also said talks could help avoid increased U.S. intervention including the arming of Syria’s rebels.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “The Geneva communiqué says that the transitional government has to be chosen by mutual consent, by the parties. Who are the parties? The parties are the current regime and the opposition. If this kind of process can move successfully to bring parties together and actually implement the Geneva communiqué, then hopefully that would not be necessary. So, much will depend on what happens over the course of these next weeks.”
The Wall Street Journal reports the Pentagon has drawn up new contingency plans based on the scenario that Syria breaks apart. The proposals include a buffer zone in Jordan for handling refugees and delivering weapons and aid to Syrian rebels.
The web giant Google reports Syria has again been cut off from the global Internet. The move appears to be the work of the Syrian government. The last shutdown on a similar scale in Syria took place last November.
The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to approve an overhaul of government surveillance of the Internet. The New York Times reports the new rules would make it easier to wiretap users of web services such as instant messaging. The plan focuses on enforcing fines against Internet companies that fail to comply with court orders. Foreign-based companies would be subjected to the same rules. That measure has raised concerns other countries seeking to monitor users, including dissidents, may follow suit against U.S. companies abroad.
Delaware has become the 11th U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. Democratic Governor Jack Markell signed the measure into law just moments after the state Senate gave its final approval.
Gov. Jack Markell: “I know many of you here today, and many up and down our state, have waited years — in fact, decades — for this day to come. And I know that many of you know others who had hoped for years and decades to see this day come, but they passed before their right to marry the one they loved was recognized by the state that they call home. And you may be wondering why that we are doing this bill signing right now instead of a few days or a couple weeks from now. And the reason is simple: I do not intend to make any of you wait one moment longer.”
The Delaware same-sex marriage law will take effect July 1st. Its passage follows Rhode Island’s approval of a similar measure on Friday.