The U.S. at a glance ...
Alleged hate crime: A gunman shot and killed three white men at random in downtown Fresno this week, in what police are investigating as a hate crime. The suspect, Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, who is black, allegedly fired 16 rounds with a revolver near a Catholic Charities— shouting “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great!” in Arabic, as he did so—before surrendering to police. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Muhammad was “filled with anger,” and that he later told officers he hates white people. Muhammad’s father said his son believed he was part of an ongoing war between whites and blacks, and that “a battle was about to take place.” On social media, Muhammad referred to white people as “devils.” In addition to this week’s killings, police said Muhammad is suspected in the fatal shooting of a security guard—also a white man— at a Fresno motel last week.
Execution spree: Arkansas officials this week vowed to press on with a rapid-fire set of executions after court orders blocked the first two lethal injections from being carried out. The state had scheduled an unprecedented eight executions over a period of 11 days, hoping to carry out the procedures before its batch of lethal-injection drugs expires on April 30. Convicted murderer Don Davis was the first of the eight men scheduled to die; he had eaten his last meal and was waiting in the Cummins Unit near Varner, where the lethal-injection gurney is located, when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked both his execution and that of another death row inmate, Bruce Ward. Both Davis and Ward claim they were denied access to independent mental health experts during their trials. Arkansas officials said they were disappointed by the delay but would go ahead with two other back-to-back executions, scheduled for the end of the week.
Facebook killing: A nationwide manhunt for a Cleveland gunman who shared the murder of a random victim on Facebook this week ended days later when the suspect committed suicide in Erie, Pa. Steve Stephens, 37, filmed himself gunning down Robert Godwin Sr., 74, as the senior citizen walked home from an Easter meal. “I found somebody I’m about to kill,” Stephens says in the cellphone video, before approaching Godwin and opening fire. Stephens then uploaded the video to Facebook, and later used the social network’s Live feature to broadcast rants about the killing, which reportedly followed an argument with his girlfriend. After a three-day manhunt, a McDonald’s worker recognized Stephens at a drivethrough in Erie and called police. The worker stalled for time, saying Stephens’ fries weren’t ready, but Stephens sped off. When officers caught up and rammed his car, Stephens shot himself.
Religious liberty case: A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared this week to side with a religious school excluded from public funding, in a landmark case testing the separation between church and state. The case concerns a Missouri program that provides the state’s schools with grants to resurface their playgrounds with rubber to make them safer for children. Trinity Lutheran applied for a grant to fix its preschool playground, but state officials declined the application because of a state constitutional provision that public funds cannot be provided “in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” In their questioning during oral arguments, a majority of justices, including new member Neil Gorsuch and liberal Elena Kagan, suggested that helping the school make its playground safer did not constitute state support of religion. Gorsuch said excluding the school from funding was clear “discrimination on the basis of religious status.”
Hernandez found dead: Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in his Massachusetts prison cell this week, the state’s Department of Correction said. Officers at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley found Hernandez, 27, hanging from a bedsheet around 3 a.m. on Wednesday. The former New England Patriots tight end was serving a life sentence without parole for the 2013 murder of semipro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée. Prosecutors said Hernandez orchestrated Lloyd’s killing less than a year after he signed a $40 million contract extension with the Patriots. Several nights before Lloyd’s murder, Hernandez allegedly saw Lloyd talking to people at a Boston bar and suspected them of discussing a 2012 double drive-by murder that Hernandez was accused of. Last week, a jury acquitted Hernandez of those two murders. His body was found the day the Patriots visited the White House to celebrate their victory in Super Bowl LI.
Rice behaved appropriately: Both Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have concluded that former national security adviser Susan Rice did nothing unusual or inappropriate when she requested that Trump aides mentioned in U.S. surveillance transcripts of foreign targets be “unmasked,” CNN reported last week. President Trump has accused Rice of breaking the law by asking for those individuals’ identities while she served under President Obama. “It’s going to be the biggest story,” said Trump. But after reviewing classified reports, committee members from both parties found that Rice was entirely within the law to ask that redacted names be unmasked in order to understand the intelligence. “It was all completely normal,” said an unnamed official. In some cases, Rice wouldn’t have even known she was dealing with Trump aides, said another. Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is now under an ethics investigation for speaking publicly about those classified documents.