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Spacey grope case dropped

Prosecutors dropped a case Wednesday accusing Kevin Spacey of groping a young man at a resort island bar in 2016 after the accuser refused to testify about a missing cellphone the defence says contains information supporting the actor's claims of innocence.

Spacey was charged with indecent assault and battery last year in the only criminal case that has been brought against the actor since his career collapsed amid a slew of sexual misconduct allegations. The two-time Oscar winner was among the earliest and biggest names to be ensnared in the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment that swept across the entertainment and other industries.

Spacey denies groping the man, whose mother first went public with the allegations in 2017.

The actor's accuser was ordered to take the stand earlier this month after he said he lost the cellphone he used the night of the alleged groping. The defence said it needed the phone to recover deleted text messages it says would help Spacey's case.

The man denied deleting messages or manipulating screenshots of conversations he provided to investigators. But when he was pressed by the defence about whether he knew that altering evidence is a crime, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination , and the judge said his testimony would be stricken from the record.

The judge then questioned how prosecutors would be able to bring Spacey to trial if the accuser continued to refuse to testify, and prosecutors told the judge they needed time to decide how to proceed.

On Wednesday, Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said in court documents that they were dropping the charge "due to an unavailability of the complaining witness."

Prosecutors said in an emailed statement that they met with the man and his lawyer Sunday and told him that if he wouldn't testify in further proceedings, they couldn't move forward with the case. The man "elected not to waive his right under the Fifth Amendment," prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they could further pursue the case and grant the accuser immunity but then they would need more than his uncorroborated testimony.

Furthermore, "a grant of immunity compromises the witness to a degree which, in a case where the credibility of the witness is paramount, makes the further prosecution untenable," they said.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for the accuser, said in email that the man and his family "have shown an enormous amount of courage under difficult circumstances." Garabedian said he had no further comment.

The hearing at which the accuser testified came days after the man abruptly dropped a lawsuit he had just recently filed against the actor that sought damages for "severe and permanent mental distress and emotional injuries." The suit was dismissed "with prejudice," meaning it cannot be refiled.

The man did not receive a settlement to drop the civil case, his mother said. His lawyer said he dropped it because he was emotionally overwhelmed and wanted only "one roller coaster ride at a time" and so chose to focus on the criminal case.



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Fewer nuclear inspections

Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff are recommending that the agency cut back on inspections at the United States' nuclear reactors, a cost-cutting move promoted by the nuclear power industry but denounced by opponents as a threat to public safety.

The recommendations, made public Tuesday, include reducing the time and scope of some annual inspections at the nation's 90-plus nuclear power plants. Some other inspections would be cut from every two years to every three years.

Some of the staff's recommendations would require a vote by the commission, which has a majority of members appointed or reappointed by President Donald Trump, who has urged agencies to reduce regulatory requirements for industries.

The nuclear power industry has prodded regulators to cut inspections , saying that the nuclear facilities are operating well and that the inspections are a financial burden for power providers. Nuclear power, like coal-fired power, has been struggling in market completion against cheaper natural gas and rising renewable energy.

While Tuesday's report made clear that there was considerable disagreement among the nuclear agency's staff on the cuts, it contended the inspection reduction "improves efficiency while still helping to ensure reasonable assurance of adequate protection to the public."

Commission member Jeff Baran criticized the proposed changes Tuesday, saying reducing oversight of the nuclear power industry "would take us in the wrong direction."

"NRC shouldn't perform fewer inspections or weaken its safety oversight to save money," Baran said.

Baran urged the commission to put the inspection rollbacks up for a broader public discussion before deciding.

"It affects every power reactor in the country," he said. "We should absolutely hear from a broad range of stakeholders before making any far-reaching changes to NRC's safety oversight program."

The release comes a day after Democratic lawmakers faulted the NRC's deliberations, saying they had failed to adequately inform the public of the changes under consideration.

"Cutting corners on such critical safety measures may eventually lead to a disaster that could be detrimental to the future of the domestic nuclear industry," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and other House Democrats said in a letter Monday to NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki.



'No contest' in baby death

A Virginia woman has pleaded no contest to charges in the death of her one-year-old daughter who was found unresponsive, lying in a toilet bowl.

The Roanoke Times reports 30-year-old Tabitha Danielle Amos entered the plea Tuesday to charges including child cruelty with injury and felony possession of narcotics.

Gabriella Elizabeth Moore was found unresponsive in 2017 by her mother. Prosecutors say Amos tested positive for a "phenomenally" high level of methamphetamine. Assistant prosecutor Sandra Workman says Gabriella mostly was left in the company of a 3-year-old and 7-year-old.

Amos was arrested in January of this year. Authorities say she was caught while posing online as an escort. She's posted bail and is free until her September sentencing. Her defence attorney, Tripp Hunt, says she's pregnant and "doing really well."



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Peeping pervert convicted

A former New Jersey elementary school teacher has admitted recording boys with a hidden camera at a summer camp and taking an explicit photo of a student.

Thomas Guzzi Jr. pleaded guilty Tuesday to official misconduct, manufacturing child pornography and distributing child pornography files.

The 39-year-old was a stage manager for the Broadway Theatre of Pitman camp and had taught at Winslow Elementary School in Vineland. He admitted manufacturing child pornography with video of teenage boys taken in the camp's restrooms and also taking a photo of a boy exposing his genitals.

Under terms of a plea agreement, Guzzi would face up to 17 years in prison with parole eligibility after 10 years when sentenced in September. He would have to register as a sex offender and be barred from public employment.



Song used in homeless spat

Officials in West Palm Beach are hoping a continuous loop of children's songs played throughout the night will keep homeless people from sleeping in a city park.

West Palm Beach parks and recreation director Leah Rockwell tells the Palm Beach Post they're trying to discourage people from camping out along the glass-walled Lake Pavilion. She says the pavilion rakes in some $240,000 annually from events.

The loop of "Baby Shark" and "Raining Tacos" is a temporary fix to keep homeless people off the patio. Rockwell says the city wants to formalize hours for the park, which should make trespassing laws easier to enforce.

Illaya Champion tells the Post "it's wrong" to chase people away with music. He says he'll still sleep there, but "it's on and on, the same songs."



Life for 'El Chapo'

The Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has been sentenced to life behind bars in a U.S. prison, a humbling end for a drug lord once notorious for his ability to kill, bribe or tunnel his way out of trouble.

A federal judge in Brooklyn handed down the sentence Wednesday, five months after Guzman's conviction in an epic drug-trafficking case.

The 62-year-old drug lord, who had been protected in Mexico by an army of gangsters and an elaborate corruption operation, was brought to the U.S. to stand trial after he twice escaped from Mexican prisons.

Before he was sentenced, Guzman, complained about the conditions of his confinement and told the judge he was denied a fair trial. He said U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct.

"My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching," Guzman said in court through an interpreter. "When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite."

The harsh sentence was pre-ordained. The guilty verdict in February at Guzman's 11-week trial triggered a mandatory sentence of life without parole .

The evidence showed that under Guzman's orders, the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in court papers re-capping the trial. They also said his "army of sicarios" was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.

The defence argued he was framed by other traffickers who became government witnesses so they could get breaks in their own cases.

Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017 and his remarks in the courtroom Wednesday could be the last time the public hears from him. Guzman thanked his family for giving him "the strength to bare this torture that I have been under for the past 30 months."

Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, U.S. authorities have kept him in solitary confinement in an ultra-secure unit at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government's "Supermax" prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies." Most inmates at Supermax are given a television, but their only actual view of the outside world is a 4-inch window. They have minimal interaction with other people and eat all their meals in their cells.

While the trial was dominated by Guzman's persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn't testify.

But evidence at Guzman's trial suggested his decision to stay quiet at the defence table was against his nature: Cooperating witnesses told jurors he was a fan of his own rags-to-riches narco story, always eager to find an author or screenwriter to tell it. He famously gave an interview to American actor Sean Penn while he was a fugitive, hiding in the mountains after accomplices built a long tunnel to help him escape from a Mexican prison.

There also were reports Guzman was itching to testify in his own defence until his attorneys talked him out of it, making his sentencing a last chance to seize the spotlight.

At the trial, Guzman's lawyers argued that he was the fall guy for other kingpins who were better at paying off top Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials to protect them while the U.S. government looked the other way.



Fans descend on Comic-Con

Dust off your Captain Marvel cosplay, San Diego Comic-Con is here.

The four-and-a-half day convention kicks off Wednesday when the show room floor opens to thousands vying for exclusive merchandise, from art to toys. Later, Warner Bros. will get things going with a ScareDiego event promising some hair-raising new footage from "It: Chapter Two."

"We have some exciting footage but I can't go into details," said "It" director Andy Muschietti. "But I think it's going to be worth it for the fans to go and watch."

Movie fans will also get a look at Paramount's "Terminator: Dark Fate" at a Hall H presentation Thursday, and on Saturday be treated to a Marvel Studios presentation with its president, Kevin Feige. Details for the Marvel show are being kept under wraps, but many expect Feige and his "special guests" will outline the plans for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which could include announcements about "Black Widow," ''Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," ''Shang-Chi" and "The Eternals."

The movie fare is lighter than usual, however. A few of the studios have chosen to sit this year out, like Sony, which is already cleaning up at the box office with "Spider-Man: Far From Home," and Universal Pictures, which doesn't have any superheroes on its slate at all. Although Warner Bros. is coming with "It: Chapter Two," it does not have a big Hall H presentation planned for any of its DC properties like "Joker" and the Harley Quinn spinoff "Birds of Prey." And there will be no "Star Wars" news either.

"If anything, the exiting of some movie studios has made more room for TV and TV is just the best of the best right now," said Perri Nemiroff, a senior producer for Collider.com and host of the YouTube series Movie Talk.

Television enthusiasts will have their pick, whether they want one last go-around the cast of a show that's ended (like "Game of Thrones" and "Supernatural"), to check in with some old favourites ("The Walking Dead," ''The Good Place," ''Westworld," ''Arrow," ''Rick and Morty" and "Riverdale"), or get first look at a new property (such as "Snowpiercer," ''Star Trek: Picard" and "The Witcher").



R. Kelly held in jail

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered R. Kelly held in jail without bond after a prosecutor warned that the singer accused of having sex with minors and trying to cover up the crimes would pose an extreme danger to young girls if set free.

"If he was attracted to middle school girls in 1999 then he's still attracted to middle school girls," Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull told U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber. "That's who the defendant is and that, your honour, makes him a danger today."

Leinenweber said that under federal law Kelly would have to prove that he was not a danger to the public and Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg, had failed to do so.

Kelly was arrested while walking his dog in Chicago last week and faces an array of sex-related charges in Chicago and New York . Appearing in court wearing an orange jumpsuit and shacked at the ankles, he said only two words, "Yes, sir," when the judge asked him if he understood the charges. Two women who recently lived with Kelly, Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage, attended the court hearing Tuesday.

The ruling Tuesday means that Kelly, who pleaded not guilty to the charges contained in the Chicago indictment, will remain in custody to face a separate indictment in New York. He is charged there with racketeering, kidnapping, forced labour and the sexual exploitation of a child.

It was unclear when that hearing would be held and if he would have to be transported to New York for the hearing, or could appear via a video linkup from Chicago.

The decision to deny bond raised the possibility that the 52-year-old Kelly could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, said that "each of the federal indictments could take one to two years to go to trial." Depending on delays in the case, Mariotti said Kelly's stay in jail awaiting trial could go on a lot longer than that.

Krull portrayed Kelly as a predator who went to great lengths to find young girls and kept them under his control. She said that the evidence in the federal indictments against him is overwhelming. If convicted, the maximum sentence for the charges contained in the Illinois indictment is 195 years in prison and 80 years for the charges contained in the New York indictment.

Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was first arrested on sex-related charges in 2002 after a video of Kelly having sex with 14-year-old girl was sent to the Chicago Sun-Times. After extensive delays, a Chicago jury acquitted him in 2008 in part because the girl did not testify at the trial,

Krull said Kelly was acquitted only because he paid off the victim and her family. She said the alleged victim in that video has since testified before a federal grand jury and confirmed it was her.



No chokehold death charge

After years of silence, federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they won't bring criminal charges against a white New York City police officer in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man whose dying words — "I can't breathe" — became a national rallying cry against police brutality.

The decision to end a yearslong civil rights investigation without charges was made by Attorney General William Barr and was announced the day before the five-year anniversary of the deadly Staten Island encounter, just as the statute of limitations was set to expire.

Civil rights prosecutors in Washington had favoured filing criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, but ultimately Barr sided with other federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn who said evidence, including a bystander's widely viewed cellphone video, wasn't sufficient to make a case, a Justice Department official told The Associated Press.

Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, said at a news conference that while Garner's death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or any other officers involved in the confrontation on a Staten Island sidewalk had wilfully violated his civil rights.

"Even if we could prove that Officer Pantaleo's hold of Mr. Garner constituted unreasonable force, we would still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted willfully in violation of the law," Donoghue said.

Garner's family was incensed by the decision, the latest from a Justice Department under President Donald Trump that has scaled-back use of consent decrees aimed at improving local police departments found to have violated civil rights.

"This should have been taken care of years ago," said Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, a vocal police reform advocate since her son's death. "This should have been taken care of under the Obama administration. Then we would have had a fairer playing ground."

The Rev. Al Sharpton renewed his calls for the New York Police Department to fire the 34-year-old Pantaleo, who's been on desk duty since Garner's death and is awaiting the results of a disciplinary hearing that could lead to his firing. Mayor Bill de Blasio's office said it expects a decision by Aug. 31.

"Five years ago, Eric Garner was choked to death," Sharpton said. "Today, the federal government choked Lady Justice, and that is why we were outraged."

Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, said the officer "is gratified that the Justice Department took the time to carefully review the actual evidence in this case rather than the lies and inaccuracies which followed this case from its inception."

Pantaleo's union president, Pat Lynch, said: "scapegoating a good and honourable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city."

Garner's death — after he refused to be handcuffed for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that gave impetus to the national Black Lives Matter movement. Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.

Amid those demonstrations, a man angry about the Garner and Brown cases ambushed and fatally shot two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser, further shocking the city and leading to the creation of the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn repeatedly watched video of the confrontation between Garner and police, Donoghue said, but weren't convinced Pantaleo wilfully violated the law in using a chokehold, which is banned under police department policy.



Beware of 'meth-gators'

Police in Tennessee are asking residents not to toss drugs down the toilet, saying it could lead to "meth-gators" and stoned waterfowl.

The warning from the Loretto Police Department on Facebook came after a man was arrested after he allegedly tried to flush methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

According to the police statement, flushed items end up in retention ponds frequented by ducks and geese. It says "we shudder to think what one all hyped up on meth would do."

Further, it says if the drugs made it far enough downstream, "we could create meth-gators" in the Tennessee River in north Alabama.

In a nod to a so-called "attack squirrel" in Alabama, Loretto police said, "They've had enough methed up animals the past few weeks without our help."

Health officials have warned flushed pharmaceuticals could eventually reach the drinking water supply.



Apollo 11's journey home

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins returned Tuesday to the exact spot where he and two other astronauts flew to the moon 50 years ago.

At NASA's invitation, Michael Collins spent the golden anniversary at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida. He marked the precise moment — 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969 — that their Saturn V rocket departed on humanity's first moon landing. Buzz Aldrin was an unexplained no-show. Mission commander Neil Armstrong — who took the first lunar footsteps — died in 2012.

Collins said he wished Aldrin and Armstrong could have shared the moment at the pad.

It was "a wonderful feeling to be back," the 88-year-old astronaut said in an interview on NASA TV. "There was a difference this time. I want to turn and ask Neil a question and maybe tell Buzz Aldrin something, and of course, I'm here by myself."

The return kicked off a week of celebrations marking each day of Apollo 11's eight-day voyage. Collins remained in orbit during the mission while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon.

At the Air and Space Museum in Washington, the spacesuit that Armstrong wore is back on display in mint condition. On hand for the unveiling were Vice-President Mike Pence, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine and Armstrong's son, Rick.

A fundraising campaign took just five days to raise the $500,000 needed for the restoration.

Calling Armstrong a hero, Pence said "the American people express their gratitude by preserving this symbol of courage."

In Huntsville, Alabama, where the Saturn V was developed, thousands of model rockets were launched simultaneously, commemorating the moment the Apollo 11 crew blasted off for the moon.



Trump facing censure

Defiant in the face of widespread censure, President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday that his tweets suggesting four Democratic congresswomen of colour return to their countries "were NOT Racist," and he appealed to fellow Republicans to "not show weakness" and to resist a House resolution condemning his words.

"I don't have a Racist bone in my body!" Trump exclaimed on Twitter, a day after declaring that "many people agree" with his assessment of the four freshman lawmakers.

"Those Tweets were NOT Racist," Trump wrote Tuesday amid a continued backlash to his weekend tweets that progressive women "go back" to their "broken and crime-infested" countries. The tweets, which have been widely denounced as racist, were directed at Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

All are American citizens, and three of the four were born in the U.S.

Trump alleged again Tuesday that the women, who strongly oppose his policies and comments, in reality "hate our Country."

The four lawmakers fired back late Monday, condemning what they called "xenophobic bigoted remarks" and renewing calls for Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.

The episode served notice that Trump is willing to again rely on incendiary rhetoric on issues of race and immigration to preserve his political base in the leadup to the 2020 election. He shrugged off the criticism.

"It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me," Trump said Monday at the White House. "A lot of people love it, by the way."

At the Capitol, there was near unanimous condemnation from Democrats and a rumble of discontent from a subset of Republicans, but notably not from the party's congressional leaders.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump's campaign slogan truly means he wants to "make America white again," announced Monday that the House would vote on a resolution condemning his new comments . The resolution "strongly condemns" Trump's "racist comments" and says they "have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour."

In response, Trump tweeted anew Tuesday about the four congresswomen: "Why isn't the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said? Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!"

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the party's White House nominee in 2012 and now one of the president's most vocal GOP critics, said Monday that Trump's comments were "destructive, demeaning, and disunifying."

Trump dug in. "If you're not happy in the U.S., if you're complaining all the time, you can leave, you can leave right now," he said.

His words, which evoked the trope of telling black people to go back to Africa, may have been partly meant to widen the divides within the House Democratic caucus, which has been riven by internal debate over how best to oppose his policies. And while Trump's attacks brought Democrats together in defence of their colleagues, his allies noted he was also having some success in making the progressive lawmakers the face of their party.

The Republican president questioned whether Democrats should "want to wrap" themselves around this group of four people as he recited a list of the quartet's most controversial statements.

"Nancy Pelosi tried to push them away, but now they are forever wedded to the Democrat Party," he wrote Tuesday, adding: "See you in 2020!"

At a news conference with her three colleagues, Pressley referred to Trump as "the occupant of our White House" instead of president.

"He does not embody the grace, the empathy, the compassion, the integrity that that office requires and that the American people deserve," she said, encouraging people "not take the bait." Pressley said Trump's comments were "a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people" — prescription drug prices, affordable housing, health care."



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