Saturday, October 23, 2010

Realco guns tied to 2,500 crimes

Realco guns tied to 2,500 crimes in D.C. and Maryland

Outside a baby shower in Landover three years ago, Erik Kenneth Dixon snapped. As he argued with his sister and her boyfriend in a parking lot, the 25-year-old man whipped out a .45-caliber Glock and shot her in the leg. Then he chased down her boyfriend, firing between cars and at the running man's feet until he slipped on wet grass. As the prone man held his hands up in futile defense, Dixon executed him, firing seven times.

By law, Dixon was prohibited from owning a gun. He had spent almost three years in prison for shooting at a man. But three months before the baby-shower killing, he gave his girlfriend $335 and took her to an old brick house on a commercial strip just beyond the District line in Forestville, home to a gun shop called Realco.

"He knew which one he wanted and picked it out," the woman would later tell police.

Dixon's Glock was one of 86 guns sold by Realco that have been linked to homicide cases during the past 18 years, far outstripping the total from any other store in the region, a Washington Post investigation has found. Over that period, police have recovered more than 2,500 guns sold by the shop, including over 300 used in non-fatal shootings, assaults and robberies.

Realco has been known as a leading seller of "crime guns" seized by local police, but a year-long Post investigation reveals the magnitude of Realco's pattern and links the guns sold by the store to specific crimes. The Post compiled its own databases of more than 35,000 gun traces by mining unpublicized state databases and local police evidence logs.

The Post investigation found that a small percentage of gun stores sells most of the weapons recovered by police in crimes - re-confirming the major finding of studies that came out before federal gun-tracing data were removed from public view by an act of Congress in 2003. For the most part, these sales are legal, but an unknown number involve persons who buy for those who cannot, including convicted felons such as Dixon, in a process known as a "straw purchase." Such sales are illegal for the buyer and the store, if it knowingly allows a straw purchase. But cases are hard to prove. Law enforcement officials rarely prosecute gun stores, deterred by high bureaucratic hurdles, political pressure and laws that make convictions difficult.

The investigation also found that:

-- Nearly two out of three guns sold in Virginia since 1998 and recovered by local authorities came from about 1 percent of the state's dealers - 40 stores out of 3,400 selling guns. Most of those 40 had received government warnings that their licenses were in jeopardy because of regulatory violations. But only four had their licenses revoked, and all are still legally selling guns after transferring their licenses, reapplying or re-licensing under new owners.

-- A gun store in Portsmouth, Va., transformed over the past seven years from a modest family-owned business into one of the state's top sellers of "crime guns," leading Virginia in the category of how quickly its guns moved from the sales counter to crime scenes.

-- The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which investigates gun trafficking and regulates the firearms industry, is hamstrung by the law, politics and bureaucracy. The agency still has the same number of agents it had three decades ago. It can take as long as eight years between inspections of gun stores. And even when inspectors turn up evidence of missing guns, they cannot compel a dealer to take inventory.

In Maryland, Realco towers over the other 350 handgun dealers in the state as a source of guns confiscated in the District and Prince George's County, the most violent jurisdictions in the area. Nearly one out of three guns The Post traced to Maryland dealers came from Realco. The rest were spread among other shops across the state.

The store is a paradox for law enforcement and politicians. Its owners say they scrupulously follow handgun laws. State and federal regulators have documented only minor problems in numerous inspections.

"The owners of Realco Guns are cooperative with our detectives and have been compliant with all reporting requirements," said Maj. Andy Ellis, commander of the public affairs division for Prince George's police. "It shows a weakness in our system when a company like Realco can adhere to the law yet still be the source of so many crime guns. I can only imagine how much lower our violent-crime rate would be if Realco sold shoes instead of guns."

Dealers on the front lines

Tracing brings into sharp relief the fact that virtually all crime guns are first sold as new weapons by a licensed dealer to someone who cleared a background check. The criminal demand for weapons - especially new ones that cannot be tied to previous crimes - puts dealers at the front line of crime prevention.

One ATF study found that about half the guns in trafficking cases started as "straw purchases" from licensed dealers. As in the Dixon case, a person with a clean record buys a gun for a person who cannot or does not want to do so. The ATF looks to merchants to proactively weed out suspicious customers, such as a girlfriend buying for a boyfriend.

Most experts and ATF officials agree that the number of conscientious dealers far outweighs the minority that break the law. Straw schemes can be hard to detect. A gun traced to a merchant does not necessarily signal that the merchant did anything wrong, the experts say. The number of traces a store generates is shaped by many factors, including the type and number of guns sold, geography, clientele and how clerks vet customers.

The District has no walk-in gun shops but is ringed by more than 100 in Maryland and Virginia. Of the 996 guns successfully traced last year in the city, about one-fourth were tracked back to Maryland dealers, one-fourth to Virginia dealers and the rest to shops nationwide, according to the ATF.

To track crime guns in the District and Prince George's, The Post used public information requests to obtain local police logs listing 76,000 guns recovered by police in the two jurisdictions, then matched the serial numbers against a Maryland database of gun sales.

About 9,400 had no serial numbers and could not be matched. Another 13,300 were rifles or shotguns, which the state does not track. About 44,000 guns were not listed in state sales records, meaning the weapons were probably sold by dealers scattered across the country or had their serial numbers entered into police logs incorrectly.

About 8,700 guns were tracked to the Maryland merchants that last sold them.

Police in the District and Prince George's on average seized more than 160 Realco guns annually from 1997 through 2008. Realco's firearms end up at local crime scenes at a rate nearly twice that of any other active Maryland dealer that had 10 or more guns seized.

On a single day, police have logged two, three or even four guns sold by Realco, records show.

A Taurus .40-caliber pistol sold by the store in March 2004 was put to work in a murder three weeks later at a Popeyes in Oxon Hill, where 20-year-old Robert Garner Jr. killed 22-year-old Kelvin Braxton. Police learned that Garner's girlfriend had bought the gun.

A Glock .45-caliber the shop sold to Alfred L. Evans in June 2004 was used in October 2005 in Clinton at a busy traffic light to kill 28-year-old Keith Ingaharra. After one driver cut the other off in evening rush-hour traffic, Ingaharra stepped from his car waving his hands. Evans shot Ingaharra in the hip, leg and chest and then drove home.

"He had the gun right there at his fingertips," said Ingaharra's mother, Bonnie Rogers. "He just took it out and blew him away."

A Kel-Tec 9mm sold by Realco in January 2007 was used by Terris T. Luckett seven months later to shoot his wife 20 times, killing her at their Clinton home. He then killed a barber, John Scales III, in his shop. Luckett, who bought the gun, incorrectly thought the two were having an affair, police say.

Realco's president, Carlos del Real, declined repeated requests to be interviewed, dismissing the news value of gun tracing.

"It's such a ridiculous topic," said del Real, who took over the shop after his brother died in 2008. "Maybe we should just move our shop a few hundred miles away."

Glenn Ivey said that after he became Prince George's state's attorney in 2002, he asked law enforcement colleagues if he could do anything about the flow of guns from Realco, which he said he knew of from his time in the 1990s as a prosecutor in the District.

"I had an eye toward trying to take action," Ivey said. "The feedback we got was: They are doing it the way they are supposed to. They are following the letter of the law."

Asked about Realco, ATF spokeswoman Clare Weber said stores with greater numbers of traces are inspected more frequently.

"The number of traces that come back to a [gun dealer] is not a revocable offense if the dealer is found in compliance with record-keeping requirements," she said.

Joseph R. Vince Jr., who retired from the ATF's Crime Gun Analysis Branch in 1999 and has worked as an expert for lawyers who represent victims of gun violence, said the pattern prompts questions.

"If a gun store is bleeding crime guns, you have got to ask yourself what . . . is going on," Vince said. "I have no problem with somebody being in the firearms business. That is a legitimate business. But why can't the public be aware of where guns to criminals are coming from?"

Realco walks the line

Realco, one of dozens of dealers licensed over the years to sell handguns in Prince George's, opened more than 35 years ago when Carlos del Real's older brother Greg secured an ATF dealer's license.

The store - whose address is now in District Heights after an annexation three years ago - occupies a 1930 Craftsman-style house on a strip of Marlboro Pike, between the Loose Ends Hair Studio and the Black Ribeye drive-through. Across the street is a Dunkin' Donuts and a check-cashing service. Down the block is a liquor store and a police substation.

Stretched across one end of the front porch at Realco is a "Team Glock" banner, a marketing nod to the angular-shaped handgun. Bars line the windows. Customers enter in the back next to a sign announcing the "Realco Outdoor World & Gun Hospital."

Inside is a small paneled showroom lined with glass display cases and space for only a handful of customers. Rifle bags, gun safes, animal trophies and assorted gun gear fill the shop. Tacked behind the counter is a small yellow notice: "We will refuse the sale of ammo and guns to suspected straw purchasers."

Researchers in law enforcement, academia and the media first began to examine gun tracing data for clues to potential illegal sales in the late 1990s. (The efforts so angered gun supporters that they successfully lobbied Congress to impose a blackout on the once-public data in 2003.) In 1999, The Post identified Realco as the source of 493 guns used in crimes from 1996 to 1998, based on data from the ATF. That was twice the number of any other dealer in the region, and later researchers would rank Realco in the top 10 in the nation for crime-gun traces.

At the time, Greg and Carlos del Real disputed the numbers. They said they operated in a high-crime area but obeyed all laws.

"We step all over these people's constitutional rights to prevent these straw purchases," Greg del Real said.

Months later, Maryland State Police officials told The Post they were "taking an aggressive look" at Realco and potential straw purchases. Nothing came of the investigation, records show.

Greg del Real followed news of the state probe with a letter to The Post, disputing that "our store is in any way responsible for the flow of 'crime guns.'â??"

Guns, he wrote, are traced for many reasons that might not include "criminal use," including stolen guns and guns used in self-defense.

"We suspect that those reasons for traces, coupled with our high volume of sales, may account for the 'higher than average' number of gun traces attributed to our store," he wrote.

"The hundreds of sales that we have refused to make over the years," he also noted, "are not reflected in any statistical report."

Realco was back in the news in August 2007 when D.C. police issued a report that identified the leading sources of crime guns seized in D.C. in 2006 - Realco was No. 1 with 76, three times the number of the next-most-frequent dealer.

That month, prosecutor Ivey joined Jesse L. Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition and others outside Realco in a "protest against illegal guns." Inside the shop, Maryland State Police pored over Realco's paperwork. Investigators found little of concern.

"The brothers Del Real were cooperative during the inspection," they wrote.

Crime guns stack up

The gun industry often says that traces reflect little more than the number of guns a merchant has sold. But Maryland dealers that have sold almost as many or more guns than Realco have had their guns seized at much lower rates, records show.

Realco is listed in the Maryland database as selling 19,000 guns since 1984. Of every 1,000 sold, analysis shows, police later recovered 131.

About five miles away from Realco, near Andrews Air Force Base, is Maryland Small Arms Range Inc. The longtime dealer has sold about 15,000 guns over the past 25 years. For every 1,000 it sold, police later recovered 41.

Jack Donald, a longtime salesman at the shop, said police officers often use the range on site, potentially affecting who shops there.

"It may be some kind of a deterrent," Donald said.

Atlantic Guns, a long-established dealer in Silver Spring, has sold more than 18,000 guns in the past 25 years. For every 1,000 sold, police have recovered 28.

And in Rockville, a second Atlantic Guns location has sold more than 21,000 firearms since 1984 - the most listed in state records. Out of every 1,000 guns sold, police recovered eight.

One of the main ATF indicators of trafficking is how quickly guns are seized after they are sold, known as "time to crime." The faster guns are recovered, the ATF has found, the more likely they were bought by someone with criminal intent, sometimes through straw purchases. Anything less than three years is considered a potential red flag.

In general, Realco guns have been recovered more quickly than guns sold by other Maryland dealers. In Prince George's and the District, 55 percent of the recovered Realco guns were logged by police within three years, compared with 40 percent for the guns recovered from other Maryland dealers.

A Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun sold in March 2006 was recovered by Prince George's police 13 months later not far from a body, surrounded by shell casings, on a Landover street. A 26-year-old man was shot and killed after finding two men breaking into his car. The shooter told police that he asked a 21-year-old woman to purchase the handgun for him because he was 20 at the time and "not of legal age to purchase one himself," police said.

In a May 2006 straw purchase, a man bought a handgun at Realco for a felon friend who wanted to shoot abortion doctors. The plot was foiled after the felon's family called authorities weeks later.

In another straw scheme that ended later that year, a 22-year-old District man on probation for a handgun violation had his 47-year-old girlfriend, an office manager at a law firm who had a clean record, buy handguns for him on four shopping trips to Realco, prosecutors said. The scheme unraveled after police recovered one of the guns in the District.

The ATF trace revealed that the woman had bought it at Realco two months before. After talking with an ATF agent, she filed reports that one of the guns was stolen, but she eventually said she gave it to her boyfriend.

The man "went to Realco Guns with her on each occasion," she told the ATF, according to a document filed in court.

The straw purchase

When Erik Dixon first shot at a man, he had in his grip a relatively new Ruger .40-caliber handgun from Realco.

Dixon, then 21, had a string of arrests, was on federal probation, had abused drugs and complained of hearing voices in his head.

Standing outside his mother's home in Landover the night of May 3, 2003, he accused a man, an acquaintance, of attacking him. Dixon ordered the man to the ground, took $200 from him and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the asphalt, and lead fragments ricocheted into the victim's face and shoulder.

As Dixon put the gun to the back of the man's head, a police car turned onto the street. Dixon fled.

When police arrested Dixon two days later, the gun fell from his waistband. Realco had sold the gun about eight months before, records show, to a man who had lived in the area.

Charged with attempted murder, Dixon claimed he was insane. The courts sent him to prison on a lesser charge of felony assault.

Once out, he met Cathy R. Anderson, 31, and soon asked that she buy a gun for him. In January 2007, the pair visited Realco, where she made a down payment on a Glock .45, signing a form saying she was buying the gun for herself. Dixon was in the store with her, she later told police.

She told investigators she didn't know of his criminal past. She said she never touched the gun after she picked it up on a return trip to Realco.

"I took it back to Erik's truck and gave it to him," she told police.

Two months later, Anderson called Maryland State Police, nervous about what she had done. That day, April 5, they opened a straw-purchase investigation to track down Dixon and the gun. Nine days later, he murdered his sister's boyfriend.

He was arrested nine days after that in Virginia. Anderson cooperated with prosecutors, who chose not to charge her. Dixon is serving a 60-year sentence.

In phone messages, Anderson declined to be interviewed, saying Dixon is no longer in her life.

"That was then; this is now," she said. ". . . I'm sorry for what happened."

story by David S. Fallis Washington Post Staff

THOMAS should 'man up' and RESIGN!

Thomas's credibility at issue again

The phone call Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife placed to Anita Hill earlier this month seeking an apology for Hill’s allegation 19 years ago that Thomas sexually harassed her may go down as a textbook lesson in unintended consequences.

With a single voice mail message, Virginia Thomas managed to rekindle interest in a story many Americans no longer remember or never heard about — and set in motion a series of events that could seriously undermine her husband’s credibility and damage his long effort to distance himself from his controversial confirmation to the court.

After years of refusing interviews, Lillian McEwen, a former girlfriend of Thomas’s, agreed to talk to The Washington Post and appeared to corroborate Hill’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Thomas's nomination that he had a keen interest in pornography and sometimes made sexually-suggestive comments to women in the workplace — allegations that Thomas has always denied.

She reiterated that point in an interview with Rebecca Cooper, reporter for Washington's ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV.

“He was obsessed with pornography,” McEwen told ABC7/WJLA-TV. “It was something he talked about quite frequently.”

McEwen also confirmed reports that Thomas asked a colleague about her bra size and that he was a regular at a Dupont Circle shop that offered pornographic films.

“The owner of the store stocked Clarence’s preferences behind the counter,” McEwen said.

McEwen said that Virginia Thomas may not have had all the facts about her husband when she approached Hill last week seeking an apology.

“Clarence should know that [Hill] doesn’t owe him an apology, but it’s not something he would have necessarily communicated to his wife,” McEwen said. “I would tell her to have a conversation with her husband and get the truth out of him, but the chances of that happening are not great.”

A Supreme Court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had no comment on McEwen’s account.

McEwen, who has worked as a prosecutor, a defense attorney and an administrative law judge for the Securities and Exchange Commission, maintains she had a romantic relationship with Thomas from 1981 to 1986. She said she did not speak out in 1991 in part because she was still friendly with Thomas, but also because she suspected neither Hill nor Thomas was being entirely honest.

“I felt that neither was telling the truth because I had always assumed that Clarence had had a sexual relationship with her,” McEwen said. She conceded, however, that she had no proof of such a relationship.

McEwen said she was persuaded to break her silence this week in part because she has written a book about her life and is looking for a publisher. She insisted she harbored no ill-will towards Thomas, but simply sees no reason to keep quiet at this point.

“The reason I am talking now is because I have retired, I have reflected on my life since I have retired, I have written a book about my life which happens to include him in it. The book may never have been published,” she said. “Why would I let other people write about me?”

A spokesman for Brandeis University, where Hill currently serves as a professor, said she is declining all interviews.

But for many of those who believed Hill’s testimony that she was sexually harassed by Thomas when they worked together and that he often talked about pornography, McEwen’s description of Thomas was further vindication of the evidence they said at the time supported Hill and should have kept Thomas from the court.

“In my view, this closes the case in a way that’s very bad for him,” said David Brock, author of “The Real Anita Hill,” a book attacking Hill and supporting Thomas that he later renounced and said was part of a deliberate attempt by conservatives to smear Hill. “For years, I believed that Thomas perjured himself in his Senate testimony. As I read this today, I believe that even more strongly.”

“In the construction of the defense of Thomas, [McEwen] had a key role,” said Brock, who now heads the liberal press watchdog group Media Matters. “I was told she was romantically involved with Thomas during the time Anita Hill worked with him. She was continually held out to me as proof he could not have been pressuring Hill to date him.”

“While the hearings were going on, I was being placed under a great deal of pressure by not just the people that I knew but also reporters,” McEwen said Friday. “I had literally forgotten that Clarence had stacks of porn magazines everywhere and that he had this obsession…It was several years since I’d been a in relationship with him and I was bored with it. ... I was indifferent.”

Joel Paul, a University of California law professor who testified on Hill’s behalf at the 1991 Senate hearings, said he believes McEwen’s story and those of other women who knew Thomas could have killed Thomas’s nomination if they had been more widely known. The Senate ultimately confirmed him in a 52-48 vote.

“Thomas was confirmed by the smallest margin in history,” noted Paul. “It seems logical to conclude that if two or three more women came along to corroborate the story, it would have tended to shift opinion in favor of Anita Hill’s account.”

One of Hill’s lawyers at the time, Susan Deller Ross of Georgetown University, blamed Vice President Joe Biden — then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — for refusing to allow testimony by women like McEwen, who said they knew Thomas socially and had experiences that tended to support Hill’s story.

“If all the women who were kept from testifying were allowed to testify, it would have made a difference. If everyone had heard all the accounts, it would have begun to ring very differently,” Ross said. “But Biden made the decision to limit it to people who knew Thomas in the employment sphere.”

McEwen, who once worked for Biden on Capitol Hill, said the senator was well aware that she had been romantically involved with Thomas. She also said Biden was not as tough on Thomas as he could have been.

“I made sure that the senator knew about the relationship that I had with Clarence and that he also knew that Clarence was a frequent visitor to our office in the Russell Building,” McEwen told ABC7/WJLA-TV. “Clarence is a very charming person. I always thought that Sen. Biden was charmed by Clarence and, as a result of that, did not pursue matters that could have been pursued.”

A spokeswoman for Biden said he had no comment on McEwen’s story.

Radio host Armstrong Williams, a longtime defender of Thomas, said McEwen and Thomas were “very good friends.” Williams said he likes McEwen and would not attempt to dispute her story, even though he’d seen no indication that Thomas had a penchant for pornography or making odd sexual comments. “There was nothing in his behavior that would ever make me believe that,” the radio host said.

“It saddens me to see these things resurrected again, but it was resurrected by [Thomas’s] wife,” Williams noted. “Obviously, sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.”

Thomas’s televised confirmation hearings, at which he complained of being a victim of “a high-tech lynching” riveted the country in the fall of 1991. In response to Hill’s testimony, he told the committee:

“If I used that kind of grotesque language with one person, it would seem to me that there would be traces of it throughout the employees who worked closely with me, or the other individuals who heard bits and pieces of it on various levels.”

In the phone message that Virginia Thomas left Hill on Oct. 9th, she asked Hill “to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

Ross said she was baffled by Virginia Thomas’s decision to reignite the long-dormant fight. “I can’t understand why she would do such a thing. It can only hurt her husband,” Ross said.

Williams also seemed surprised at what has happened in the past two weeks. “Nineteen years later, [McEwen] felt the need to tell this story just as his wife felt the need…to call Anita Hill,” said Williams. “These are some strange events.”

He said the renewed debate would be painful for Thomas, but that ultimately the recent disclosures won’t have much impact.

“Some people who have supported him in the past may have questions, but people will get to pick their sides and stake out their positions and nothing’s going to get him to leave. He’s staying on the Supreme Court and he’ll be there I think until they drag him off for old age,” Williams said.


WHAT A MESS. Posted on topics of articles avail at NYTIMES.COM

WikiLeaks Founder on the Run, Chased by Turmoil

Growing Use of Contractors Added to War’s Chaos

A Mix of Trust and Despair Helped Turn the Tide in Iraq

Tensions Remain High Along Kurdish-Arab Line

Civilian Deaths in Iraq

Detainees Suffered Most In Iraqi Custody, U.S. Logs Say

Iran’s Role in Aiding Iraqi Miltias Is Detailed in Reports

Pakistan Spy Service Aids Insurgents


La Nina forecast to drive winter extremes

By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
Another winter of wild weather extremes appears to be in store for the USA.
The Pacific Northwest should see a wetter, colder winter than average while most of the Sun Belt stays mild and dry, federal scientists announced in their winter forecast Thursday.

The dominant climate factor expected to affect the USA this winter is La Niña, a periodic cooling of tropical Pacific Ocean water that affects weather patterns across the USA and around the world.

"La Niña is in place and will strengthen and persist through the winter months, giving us a better understanding of what to expect between December and February," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center.

The center's forecast covers the months of December, January and February, known as meteorological winter.

In the Pacific states and interior Northwest, the cold, wet winter will help replenish water resources and winter recreation, the climate center forecast, but also could lead to greater flooding and avalanche concerns.

The wintry forecast in the Northwest is great news for ski resorts there. "We couldn't be happier with the forecast," said Holly Lippert, communications manager for the Summit at Snoqualmie ski resort in Washington state. The resort picks up 36 feet of snow in an average winter, she said. During the last La Niña winter there, in 2007-08, Snoqualmie received almost 50 feet, Lippert said.

Skimpy precipitation and unusual warmth for most of the southern USA could worsen droughts and spark wildfires from Southern California to Florida. "The story of this winter is likely to be the dry conditions across the South," Halpert said.

Drought already is plaguing the Deep South, according to Thursday's update of the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website. In Alabama, 96.7% of the state is enduring severe to extreme drought. The same is true for 91.2% of Mississippi and 82.9% of Louisiana.

Other potential trouble spots are the northern Plains and the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, which could see more storms and flooding.

The outlook does not forecast where and when snowstorms may hit or estimate total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts depend on winter storms, which usually can't be predicted more than a few days in advance, Halpert said.

However, the Mid-Atlantic region isn't likely to see a repeat of last winter's colossal snow totals, Halpert said, because the main winter storm track appears to be closer to the Ohio Valley region. Washington, D.C., which averages 15 inches of snow a winter, got a record 56 inches in the winter of 2009-10.

A dry, mild winter would be welcome news in Maryland, where the state Department of Transportation spent $120 million last winter on snow removal, blowing its budgeted amount of $26 million, department spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar said. "We're prepared, but if we get another winter like the last one, it'll be a challenge."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Iraq Toll Underestimated by 15,000

Over the last six years of fighting in Iraq, some 15,000 civilian deaths fell into obscurity, according to the Iraq Body Count, the London-based organization that monitors civilian deaths.

The latest batch of military documents released by WikiLeaks Friday shows that the U.S. military kept detailed records of Iraqi fatalities—even though the military denied their existence—and that many were never included in the tally.

The logs show 109,032 deaths between January 2004 and last December, including 66,000 civilians and 3,771 described as "friendly," meaning Allied soldiers. "These, together with new information on combatant deaths contained in the logs, will bring the recorded death toll since March 2003 to over 150,000, roughly 80 percent of whom were civilians," an IBC spokesman said.

The IBC also said that the logs revealed another 23,000 unreported acts of violence against Iraqi civilians, offering an "unprecedented level of detail."

Read it at The Daily Telegraph

Man, whose police shooting was ruled justified, had already lost his life

In the months leading up to his fatal encounter with Las Vegas police on Aug. 27, Robert Mills had lost his job, his home and his car.

The 38-year-old man no longer could support his family, so he borrowed a vehicle and began committing armed robberies.

"He did what he did because he was a desperate man," his wife tearfully testified Thursday.

Wendy Whitfield, 31, and Mills had lived together for four years. Although they had a wedding ceremony and considered each other husband and wife, they weren't legally married.

Whitfield took the witness stand Thursday during a coroner's inquest into Mills' death. Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson prohibited members of the news media from photographing the distraught woman during her testimony.

After deliberating for 20 minutes, the jury's five women and two men ruled unanimously that officers acted justifiably when they fatally shot Mills near a convenience store on the corner of Nellis and Charleston boulevards.

Whitfield listened to much of the day's testimony and spoke to the Las Vegas Review-Journal after hearing the verdict.

"In my opinion, what Robert did was wrong. I'm not going to deny that," she said. "The way the police went about doing what they did was excessive."

What she really wants the community to know, however, is that Mills was a devoted husband and father.

"He was a good man," she said. "And regardless of what he had done in the past, for the four years that I knew him, he was a law-abiding citizen."

Whitfield and Mills met while selling time shares together. Once their relationship turned romantic, she became a stay-at-home mom, and Mills became the family's sole breadwinner.

They had no children together, but Whitfield has a 7-year-old daughter who lived with the couple, and Mills paid child support for his 17-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter until he lost his job.

Whitfield said Mills was suffering from neuropathy and memory loss, prompting his doctor to declare him disabled early this year.

"He could no longer do his job," Whitfield said.

During her testimony Thursday, Whitfield described the family as "essentially homeless." She said Mills took methadone to manage his pain and was depressed about his inability to support his family.

She recalled him commenting that he was going to make money the only way he knew how. She knew what that meant, and she told him in no uncertain terms that if he felt he needed to commit robberies, "he might as well say goodbye to his family."

Whitfield knew Mills had a criminal history, but she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal they didn't discuss the details of his past. But he told her more than once that he had no intention of returning to prison, that he would make police shoot him first.

The woman said Mills was on his way to receive a loan from a family friend on the day of the shooting, but he never arrived.

She last spoke to him at 10:15 p.m.

"He told me he was on his way home," Whitfield testified.

According to evidence presented at the inquest, that was right around the time Mills tried to rob the casino area of a grocery store at Nellis Boulevard and Stewart Avenue. A short time later, he robbed another grocery store at Charleston Boulevard and Sloan Lane.

After Mills' death, police found $99 in loose bills around his body.

Officers Breck Hodson and Jeffery Abell, members of the Las Vegas police problem-solving unit, were driving by a 7-Eleven store when they spotted a sport-utility vehicle that matched the description of the robbery suspect's vehicle.

They proceeded to pull up behind the SUV, which was parked at the gas pumps, in their unmarked car.

Hodson testified that he saw the suspect make eye contact with him through the SUV's side-view mirror, and he decided the officers needed to get out and approach him.

"I announced, 'Metro police. Let me see your hands,' " Hodson testified.

He said the suspect then leaned out of the driver's side window and aimed a gun at him. A homicide detective testified that Mills fired first, but Hodson said he doesn't recall that.

Hodson said he began firing at the suspect, who next aimed his gun at Abell and then at Nathan Jones, a patrol officer who had arrived at the scene.

All three officers fired at Mills, but only bullets from weapons fired by Hodson and Abell struck the suspect.

Abell said he saw a muzzle flash inside the suspect's vehicle after Hodson demanded to see the man's hands.

"I actually heard my partner shoot in response to that, and then I shot," Abell testified.

The officer said he then saw the suspect turn toward him. Abell ducked before standing back up and continuing to shoot.

Dr. Lisa Gavin, a medical examiner with the Clark County coroner's office, performed an autopsy on Mills and testified that he suffered 10 entrance wounds and one grazing wound.

She said Mills had a potentially lethal level of methadone in his system when he died from the gunshot wounds.

Other evidence presented at the inquest showed that Hodson fired 14 shots, Abell fired 16 and Jones fired seven.

Also, Mills fired three shots from a revolver while trying to commit the robberies and two shots during the exchange of gunfire with police. The revolver was found on the ground near the driver's door of the SUV.

Whitfield said she didn't know Mills had a gun.

"He knew how strongly I felt about him not owning a gun," she said. "I don't believe in guns. I don't want them in my home or around my children."


New Way to Help Chickens Cross to Other Side without upsetting the comsumer

Shoppers in the supermarket today can buy chicken free of nearly everything but adjectives.
It comes free-range, cage-free, antibiotic-free, raised on vegetarian feed, organic, even air-chilled. Coming soon: stress-free?

Two premium chicken producers, Bell & Evans in Pennsylvania and Mary’s Chickens in California, are preparing to switch to a system of killing their birds that they consider more humane.
The new system uses carbon dioxide gas to gently render the birds unconscious before they are hung by their feet to have their throats slit, sparing them the potential suffering associated with conventional slaughter methods.

“When you grab a chicken, turn it upside down and put it on the line, it’s stress, stress, stress,” said Scott Sechler, the owner of Bell & Evans. “Our system is designed so that we put them to sleep without stress and we kill them without stress.”

That is sure to appeal to a segment of the chicken-buying public. But telling them about it presents a marketing challenge.

“Most of the time, people don’t want to think about how the animal was killed,” said David Pitman, whose family owns Mary’s Chickens.

Anglia Autoflow, the company that is building the knock-out systems for the two processors, calls the process “controlled atmosphere stunning,” but Mr. Pitman said his company was considering the phrase “sedation stunning” for use on its packages.
Also on the short-list: “humanely slaughtered,” “humanely processed” or “humanely handled.”

The trick, he said, is to communicate the goal of the new system, which is to ensure that the birds “not have any extra pain or discomfort in the last few minutes of their lives.”

In a typical processing plant, birds are unloaded in what is known as the “live hang area.”
Workers hang the chickens upside down from metal shackles connected to a mechanical rail that conveys them into the plant.
They go first into a unit that uses a mild electric shock to make them unconscious, and then they are brought to the “kill machine,” where a blade cuts their throat and they bleed to death.

In the new system, birds will arrive at the processing plant in special containers that will go directly into a chamber to which carbon dioxide is slowly added, displacing some of the oxygen and making the birds unconscious. Only then will workers handle the birds and hang them on the shackles.

Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a prominent livestock expert, consulted with Bell & Evans as the company worked with Anglia to design its system.
She said it was better because the chickens were not aware of what was happening to them. “Birds don’t like being hung upside down,” Dr. Grandin said. “They get really stressed out by that.”

Mr. Sechler said the system was designed to put birds to sleep gently, in the same way that a person undergoes anesthesia before surgery.

To evoke that image, he wants to put the words “slow induction anesthesia” on his packages and advertising, which already tell customers that the birds are raised in roomy conditions with natural light and given feed free of antibiotics or animal byproducts.
Customers who want to know more will be able to go to the company’s Web site.

Mr. Sechler said the system he chose, after years of research, was better than similar gas-stunning systems used in Europe.
Those systems, he says, often deprive birds of oxygen too quickly, which may cause them to suffer. They are also designed to kill the birds rather than simply knock them out, something that Mr. Sechler is not comfortable with.

“I don’t want the public to say we gas our chickens,” he said.

Mr. Sechler and others promoting the new system said that they expected the meat to be of higher quality because the birds faced less stress and also there would be less bruising and broken wings when they died.

The new system is also meant to be better for workers. The live hang area today is usually dimly lighted to keep birds from being startled, and workers have to contend with struggling, flapping chickens.
“I never felt comfortable showing people that part of our operation,” Mr. Pitman said. “I was embarrassed by it.”

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been pushing chicken processors for years to switch to gas stunning systems, in part because it does not believe that electrical stunning works.

But the National Chicken Council, which represents chicken processors, contends that electrical stunning systems are effective and humane. Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the council, said that being shackled upside down was not overly stressful for the birds. “They are shackled and they typically stay there quietly,” Mr. Lobb said.

Bell & Evans said it would begin selling chickens slaughtered using the new technology in April. The company, which processes about 840,000 birds a week, distributes its chickens nationwide.

Mary’s, which distributes in several Western states, expects to install the technology in June. The company processes about 200,000 birds a week.

By comparison, a single plant run by a large processor like Tyson Foods may handle more than 1 million birds a week.

The gas technology is expensive. Each company said it would cost about $3 million to convert their operations and more over time to run the systems. That makes it a hard sell in a commodity-oriented industry that relies on huge volumes and low costs to turn narrow margins into profits.

Mr. Sechler predicted that consumers would come to demand birds slaughtered in the new way, which would force the industry to gradually switch over.

But to demand it, consumers have to know about it, which gets back to the language on the label.

A Nebraska company, MBA Poultry, which sells under the Smart Chicken brand, has been using gas stunning technology since 2005. The company does not aggressively market the technology, but a label on the back of its packages contains the phrase “controlled atmosphere stunning.”
The company’s Web site mentions the technology but does not explain what it is.

In Britain, although many chicken processors use gas stunning, store packages typically do not mention it.

“People don’t want to know too much,” said Marc Cooper, a senior scientific manager in the farm animals department of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in London. “It’s hard to sell humane killing as a concept.”