Devonte Hart
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Devonte Hart Declared Dead In Murder-Suicide Committed By Adoptive Parents

A year after Devonte Hart and his siblings were killed by their adoptive parents, the teenager has been declared dead, though his body was never recovered.

The 15-year-old adopted child of Sarah and Jennifer Hart, who made national news after he was photographed tearfully hugging a police officer during a 2014 protest over the failed indictment of the cop who killed Mike Brown, died in a fatal car crash that was ruled a murder-suicide by a coroner’s jury Thursday (April 4), reports the Associated Press.

Following testimony from authorities and a forensic pathologist who conducted autopsies on the deceased, jurors determined that Sarah and Jennifer killed themselves and their six adopted children, who ranged from ages 12 to 19.

At the time of her death, Jennifer Hart’s blood alcohol level was found to be .102%, far above California’s legal limit. She was the only one wearing a seatbelt when she drove the family SUV off of a Northern California cliff on March 26, 2018. The vehicle was later found partially submerged in the ocean following a 100-foot drop.

Sarah Hart, who was in the passenger seat, had high amounts of Benadryl in her system. The children were also found to have the sedative in their systems. During the drive to California, Sarah Hart searched suicide, potential ways to overdose on the allergy medication and whether or not drowning would be painful, authorities said.

The couple and the children died of broken necks, forensic pathologist, Greg Pizarro, testified Wednesday (April 3) sharing the grizzly details of the murder-suicide. Sarah Hart was identified by her driver’s license, but Pizarro was unable to positively identify Jennifer Hart “due to her fall.” She was later identified by authorities.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney concluded that the pair simply “succumbed to a lot of pressure,” likely due to a looming child services investigation into claims of child neglect.  Barney said that the two had “a lot of stuff going on in their lives, to the point where they made this conscious decision to end their lives this way and take their children’s lives.”

A neighbor filed a complaint alleging that the Harts were starving the children as punishment, but when a social worker came to the family home in Woodland, Wash., no one answered the door. The Harts killed themselves and the children three days after the visit. The couple were also the focus of a 2013 child welfare investigation that was later closed.

The bodies of Markis, 19, Jeremiah and Abigail, both 14, were found near the vehicle. The remains of Ciara Hart, 12, were pulled from the Pacific Ocean weeks later. Her body was too badly decomposed to determine the cause of death, but Pizarro believes she likely died in a similar manner to “all the other children.” A human foot found on a beach by a hiker’s dog was later determined to be that of 16-year-old Hannah Hart.

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Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP

Second Man Convicted In The 1998 Death Of James Byrd Jr To Be Executed

In 1998, Jasper, Texas became the epicenter of the nation when James Byrd Jr's dismembered body was found outside of a predominately black church. The rest of his body was found about a mile and a half away.

Byrd was beaten by three white supremacists men and tied to the back of a pick-up truck and reportedly dragged three miles. All men were found guilty for his brutal murder. One was sentenced to life in prison, one was executed in 20111 and another will be put to death today (April 24).

According to CNN, Jon William King, 44 who's been on death row for 20 years, will die by lethal injection.

King has long maintained coconspirator Shawn Berry was solely responsible for Byrd's death. King has appealed his conviction, alleging ineffectiveness from his defense team. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case last October.

In 2011, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed and Shawn Berry was sentenced to life. While murders are devastating, Byrd's dragging death placed a blinding spotlight on the racial tension in America. The fallout from the case helped to pass the nation's hate crime bill, named after both Byrd and Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teen who was viciously beaten to death.

Byrd's family, however, have opposed the death penalty and made it clear they would prefer that King be sentenced to life in prison. Byrd's son Ross has been quoting saying, "You cannot fight murder with murder."

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Charles Eckert

Chanel Lewis Sentenced To Life In Prison For Murder Of Queens Jogger

A New York judge sentenced the man accused of sexually assaulting and murdering a Queens jogger to life in prison Tuesday, (April 23) despite there being accusations of a coerced confession and jury misconduct.

Cheers broke out inside a courtroom when 22-year-old Chanel Lewis learned his fate. He spoke briefly in court apologizing to the victim's family. “I’m innocent,” Lewis said. “I’m sorry for the family’s loss, but I didn’t do this.”

The victim, Karina Vetrano, 30, went jogging on a park trail in Howard Beach, Queens in August 2016 when prosecutors say she was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. Her body was discovered in August 2016 by her father.

Lewis' sentencing was initially postponed amid accusations of jury misconduct. However, Judge Michael Aloise decided Monday to move forward with the sentencing. Lewis' first trial resulted in a hung jury and his defense team stated that a desire to swiftly put the case away led to Tuesday's sentencing.

“While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano’s death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case – from the police investigation to jury deliberations – was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs,” The Legal Aid Society, which represents Lewis, said in a statement.

Lewis' defense argued his two-taped confessions were coerced and there wasn't enough DNA evidence linking him to the crime. During the confession, Lewis reportedly said he was upset at his neighbor for playing loud music and when he saw Vetrano he "lost it."

He said he strangled the jogger but didn't sexually assault her. His defense team argued the DNA evidence wasn't gathered properly and didn't match the victim's injuries.

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Muhammed Selim Korkutata

Alabama Deputy On Leave After Comments About Gay Teen's Suicide

An Alabama deputy has been placed on leave after making insensitive comments on social media about a teen who committed suicide after allegedly being bullied for his sexual orientation.

According to reports, the officer has been with the Madison County Sheriff's Office in Huntsville for 12 years and sparked backlash for referring to LGBTQ qualms as "a fake movement which requires no special attention but by persons with an altered ego and fake agenda."

"Liberty. Guns. Bible. Trump. BBQ. That’s my kind of LGBTQ. I’m seriously offended that there is such a thing such as this movement," the deputy allegedly wrote in a Facebook post. "Society cannot and should not accept this behavior. I have a right to be offended and will always be offended by this fake movement which requires no special attention but by persons with an altered ego and fake agenda.”

The law enforcement officer defended his statement as freedom of speech before it was taken down. It was made in reference to 15-year-old Nigel Shelby who took his own life Thursday (April 18) after being bullied for being gay.

In a statement, Monday, the Madison County Sheriff's Office revealed a deputy had been placed on leave, while Local sheriff Kevin Turner offered kind words to the friends and family of Nigel Shelby.

Turner said: “Bullying of any group or person in or outside of schools is unacceptable, and I welcome any and all efforts to raise awareness to bullying and bring bullying to a stop. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is proud of the community support and engagement we have received over the years, and we look forward to growing those community partnerships.”

 

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