Feature

The week at a glance...United States

United States

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. 
Afghan massacre: The soldier accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, appeared at a preliminary hearing this week that will determine whether he will face a court-martial. According to fellow soldiers testifying at the trial, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39, spent the evening of the alleged attacks, in March, drinking contraband whiskey with colleagues and watching Man on Fire, a movie about revenge killings, before leaving his base in Kandahar province and opening fire on sleeping civilians in at least two villages. Returning to the base covered in blood, he was detained by fellow soldiers, who described him as “calm” and “compliant.” When asked what he had been doing, Bales replied, “I’m not going to answer that—because I love you guys.” He is charged with 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder. If convicted, Bales could face the death penalty.

Sacramento
Death-penalty repeal fails: California voters this week rejected a ballot measure to repeal the state’s death penalty. Proposition 34, which would have made life in prison without parole the state’s maximum sentence for murder, lost by about 6 percentage points in a hard-fought contest. Capital punishment has remained in favor in California since it was instituted by a 1978 referendum, which passed with 71 percent of the vote. Support for the death penalty has eroded slightly in recent years, fueling the hope of Prop 34 activists, who stressed the cost of capital punishment—an estimated $130 million a year more than life sentences. Gov. Jerry Brown, a well-known opponent of the death penalty, remained silent on the measure until this week, when he told reporters that “of course” he had voted for Prop. 34. Only 13 of more than 800 convicts sentenced to death have been executed in California since 1978. 

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut
Sandy’s aftermath: As many as 40,000 people in the New York City area may have been left homeless in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said this week. New York City officials, who call that estimate a worst-case scenario, are nonetheless struggling to find shelter for tens of thousands of stunned survivors, most of them residents of public housing whose homes were flooded or damaged by wind-driven sand. As the city braced for a new nor’easter projected to bring freezing temperatures, snow, and 65 mph winds, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised that officials would go door-to-door to help vulnerable residents evacuate their properties. Similar operations were being carried out across the state and in neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut, where the super-storm caused vast devastation. More than 277,000 people had applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster assistance, 95,000 people in New York and New Jersey were eligible for emergency housing, and just under one million people were still without power in the affected states. In New Jersey alone, over 5,000 people remained in shelters, and tens of thousands of others continued to reside with family and friends. Analysts have predicted that Sandy could cost the economy up to $50 billion in damages and lost production, making it one of the most expensive natural catastrophes in history.

State College, Pa.
Penn State officials charged: Former Penn State President Graham Spanier and two high-ranking university officials have been charged with participating in a “conspiracy of silence” in the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal. In June, former Penn State football coach Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and later sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. During the investigation, it was determined that in 2001, Spanier exchanged emails with athletic director Tim Curley and former university Vice President Gary Schultz regarding allegations that Sandusky had abused a young boy, but the three men did not alert authorities. All three face criminal charges, including child endangerment and criminal conspiracy. “This is not a mistake, an oversight, or a misjudgment,” said state Attorney General Linda Kelly. “If these men had done what they were supposed to do and legally required to do, several young men may not have been attacked by a serial predator.” 

Pittsburgh
Boy mauled by wild dogs: A 2-year-old boy visiting the Pittsburgh Zoo with his mother was mauled to death by a pack of wild African dogs after he fell into their enclosure, zoo officials said. Maddox Derkosh had been placed on top of a railing 14 feet above the exhibit by his 34-year-old mother, to give him a better look at the animals, known as African painted dogs. The toddler then lost his balance, fell into a safety net, and then tumbled down into the pit, where he was immediately attacked. “It was very horrific,” said Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police. Stunned onlookers called zoo staff and police, who responded within minutes and were able to chase away 10 of the attacking dogs, but one refused to move away from the toddler and was shot dead. A medical examiner later announced that the young boy had bled to death.  

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