Mississippi school district pulls ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because it ‘makes people uncomfortable’

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Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was removed from a Mississippi school district lesson plan because the book’s language made some people feel uneasy.

Administrators at the Biloxi School District announced early this week they were pulling the novel from the 8th-grade curriculum, saying they received complaints that some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable.”

The Sun Herald reported that the book was pulled from the lesson plan because the novel contained “the N word.”

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A message on the school’s website says “To Kill A Mockingbird” teaches students that compassion and empathy don’t depend upon race or education.

School board vice president Kenny Holloway says other books can teach the same lessons.

However, the book will still be available in Biloxi school libraries.

The novel, published in 1960, chronicled the adventures of Jean Louise Finch aka Scout and her brother Jeremy aka Jem and the racial inequality that existed in their small Alabama town. The book followed a court case their father, Atticus, was involved in.

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In the story, Atticus defended Tom Robinson, a black man who was accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a young white woman. Despite strong evidence of Robinson’s innocence, he was found guilty of raping Ewell.

The book was adapted into a movie in 1962, starring Gregory Peck, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. 

The Sun Herald reported the novel was listed at No. 21 on the American Library Association’s most “banned or challenged books list in the last decade.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Puerto Rico raises Hurricane Maria death toll to 48

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Authorities in Puerto Rico raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria by 3 to 48 on Saturday based on a review of medical records.

The medical examiner concluded that the hurricane was the deciding factor in the three newly disclosed deaths, Secretary of Public Security Hector Pesquera said.

Precise details were not available, but one occurred in the central town of Caguas when a person was unable to get dialysis treatment after the storm knocked out power.

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Another happened in nearby Juncos when a person with undisclosed respiratory problems could not get treatment.

The third occurred in the northern city of Carolina when a person suffering a heart attack was also unable to get treatment.

Pesquera said that the medical examiner is still reviewing all deaths that occurred in island hospitals around the time of the storm and the toll could rise further.

“We are reviewing each and every case to see if the storm was a direct or indirect cause,” he said following a news conference in the capital. “I doubt seriously that we will have any direct at this juncture.”

Maria hit the U.S. island territory Sept. 20 as a category 4 hurricane. The government says about 85 percent of the island remains without power.

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Gov. Ricardo Rossello says he is pushing for outside aid to restore electricity and his goal is to have it back for half the island by Nov. 15 and for 95 percent by Dec. 31. But he conceded the task of rebuilding the transmission and distribution network is enormous.

“These are aggressive goals,” Rossello told reporters.

Previously, officials had said it could take as long as March to reach that goal. 

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Attacker with knife flees after woman reveals her concealed carry gun, police say

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A woman in Illinois was reportedly able to protect herself with her concealed carry firearm after a stranger with a knife jumped into her car.

Police said a woman who was parked near a shopping mall in Moline on Sunday was attacked by a man who fought his way into her car, according to WQAD 8.

During the fight, the man reportedly slashed the woman’s arm with a knife. He then ordered the woman to drive to Rock Island County, a rural area, according to police.

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Once the woman stopped the car, she was able to reach her gun, which she had a concealed carry firearm permit for, WQAD 8 reported.

After the attacker saw the weapon, he reportedly ran off and she was able to drive herself to the hospital.

Police subsequently opened an investigation and arrested Floyd R. May, 61.

May was charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery with a weapon, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and aggravated assault.

He is reportedly in Rock Island County Jail on $550,000 bond.

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Florida pit bull dies after being left for dead in suitcase, stabbed 50 times

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A Florida pit bull who had people across the nation pulling for him after he was left for dead in a suitcase with multiple stab wounds died Thursday night. Ollie was 1.

Ollie’s story drew attention after there was a major effort to keep him alive. People across the country offered to adopt him.

Ollie was found in Hollywood, Fla., Tuesday stuffed inside a blue suitcase. He’d been stabbed more than 50 times, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

A GoFundMe page that was set up for him raised about $40,000 before his death.

Ollie7202

Ollie had been beaten and stabbed more than 50 times.

 (Grateful Paws Rescue)

He was found when someone heard his cries about 1 a.m. Tuesday, and contacted police, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Ollie was taken to the VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital, where he died, the newspaper said.

Jan Milbyer, founder of Grateful Paws, said she was devastated when she learned about his death.

 “I was crying when he was alive, so I’m even worse now,” she told the Sun-Sentinel. “There were so many people offering to adopt him. But he died knowing he was surrounded by people who cared.”

A necropsy will be performed to determine his cause of death. Hollywood police are looking for the person or people who beat and stabbed Ollie.

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Teacher-teen sex tryst case won’t be dismissed

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An Alabama judge has refused to dismiss a sexual assault case against a teacher until another state court decides whether the law used to charge the teacher is constitutional.

Lawrence County Circuit Judge Mark Craig denied a motion to dismiss on Thursday in the case against Taylor Brooks Boyles, 27, a Moulton Middle School teacher who allegedly had a sexual relationship with a student during the student’s senior year at Lawrence County High School, the Decatur Daily reported.

She was arrested in May and charged with being a school employee engaging in a sex act or deviant sexual intercourse with a student under the age of 19, court records said.

Craig stayed the case until a separate court made a decision in two other trials concerning a similar matter, the report said.

TEACHER-STUDENT SEX LAW SHOULD BE TOUGHER, MINNESOTA PROSECUTOR SAYS

Boyles’ lawyer reportedly expressed disappointment with the decision, considering the circumstances.

“This is a peculiar situation because we have a statute designed to protect students,” Attorney Mark Dutton said. “As a father, I’m proud of that. But I believe when this code section was adopted, (the Legislature) failed to consider the conflict that was created versus the law in Alabama that a 16-year-old and above is able to consent to sexual contact if the consent is freely and voluntarily given… I don’t believe what (Boyles) is accused of doing may be right. But I believe what she is accused of doing is not criminal.”

The law in question was passed in 2010 and prohibits school employees from having sex with students under the age of 19, the Decatur Daily reported. But defense attorneys argued that this regulation ran against a state law that deems 16 to be the legal age of consent.

In the cases Craig referenced, two teachers were separately accused of having sexual relationships with students, all of whom were reportedly older than 16.

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Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson deemed the 2010 law unconstitutional arguing that the students were legally old enough to consent to sex, the Decatur Daily reported.

“This Court acknowledges that a disparity of power may inherently exist in a teacher/student relationship, but it clearly does not exist between every school employee and every student regardless of where the student is enrolled,” he wrote. “By eliminating the requirement that the state show a position of authority, grooming, abuse, coercion, or lack of consent, the state criminalizes behaviors outside the state’s legitimate purpose.”

The ruling by Thompson is reportedly under appeal by the district attorney and state attorney general.

State Senator Arthur Orr requested a new draft of the legislation, modeled after other states’ constitutional versions of the law, in the event that the judge’s ruling is upheld, the Decatur Daily reported.

The goal remains to prevent inappropriate relations between teachers and students, Orr said.

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Convicted sex offender suing Big Tobacco for $50M, report says

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A 64-year-old registered sex offender in Philadelphia has reportedly filed a $50 million lawsuit against tobacco conglomerate R.J. Reynolds, as well as other cigarette makers and executives, claiming they are responsible for his health problems.

Ted McCracken claims he was recently diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and emphysema — conditions that all can be caused by cigarette smoking.

McCracken says he started smoking at age 15, and developed a one- to two-packs-per-day habit, Philadelphia Magazine reported.

The magazine says McCracken’s legal filing recounts the long legal history involving Big Tobacco, including the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, in which the Big Tobacco firms agreed to pay out $206 billion to cover states’ future health costs related to smoking and to educate the public.

The magazine also notes that McCracken is a convicted rapist, listed on the Megan’s Law registry as a Tier 3 sex offender.

Click here for more from Philadelphia Magazine.

 

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Tillerson: Trump will scorn but not bolt from Iran nuke deal

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President Donald Trump will say on Friday the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in America’s national security interests, but he won’t withdraw from the landmark 2015 accord or immediately re-impose sanctions, U.S. officials said.

The announcement is essentially a compromise that allows Trump to condemn an accord that he has repeatedly denounced as the worst deal in American history. But he stops well short of torpedoing the pact, which was negotiated over 18 months by the Obama administration, European allies and others.

Instead, Trump will kick the issue over to Congress, asking lawmakers to come up with new legislation that would automatically re-impose sanctions should Iran cross any one of numerous nuclear and non-nuclear “trigger points,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said in remarks released ahead of Trump’s announcement.

Those “trigger points” would include violations of the deal involving illicit atomic work or ballistic missile testing, support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and other groups that destabilize the region, human rights abuses and cyber warfare, they said.

Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to snap the sanctions back into place, modify the law or do nothing. Any decision to re-impose sanctions would automatically kill America’s participation in the deal.

In a White House speech on Friday afternoon, Trump will notify Congress that he is “decertifying” the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, arguing that while Iran is complying with the letter of the agreement, the accord itself is not sufficient to be in U.S. interests.

“We don’t dispute that they’re under technical compliance,” Tillerson said. “We’ve said the agreement has a number of weaknesses in it, and, in fact, one of the weaknesses is the standard to remain in technical compliance is not that difficult, or has not been that difficult for them to meet.”

In remarks ahead of his address to a group of conservative voters, Trump previewed his position by calling Iran “a terrorist nation like few others” and urged his audience to listen in.

Both defenders of the Iran nuclear deal and critics are likely to be displeased by Trump’s decision. Those who support the deal believe Trump’s move will badly damage U.S. credibility in future international negotiations, while opponents think he does not go far enough in unraveling the accord.

Trump will urge lawmakers to codify tough new requirements for Tehran to continue to benefit from the sanctions relief that it won in exchange for curbing its atomic program, according to Tillerson. And he’ll announce his long-anticipated intent to impose sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps by designating it a terrorist organization under an existing executive order.

“The reckless behavior of the Iranian regime, and the IRGC in particular, poses one of the most dangerous threats to the interests of the United States and to regional stability,” the White House said in a statement. The statement denounced the Obama administration for its “myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities” and said the same “mistakes” would not be repeated.

Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker, said Friday that any U.S. move against a nuclear deal with Iran would be an “insult” to the United Nations because the U.N. had given the deal its blessing.

He added that any revision of the deal would allow Iran to take its own actions, and warned that the U.S. move could destabilize the international situation.

“We will continue to adhere to our obligations … for as long as other parties observe the agreement,” he said on a visit to Russia.

In his speech, Trump also will ask Congress to amend or replace legislation that currently requires him to certify Iranian compliance every 90 days. Officials have said that Trump hates the requirement more than the nuclear deal itself because it forces him to take a position every three months on the deal. That frequency hassend also irritated aides who have complained that they are spending inordinate amounts of time on certification at the expense of other issues.

American allies, who have pressed the White House to remain in the nuclear accord, will be closely watching the president’s address. Trump wants to impress on the European parties to the accord — Germany, France and Britain — the importance of fixing what he sees as flaws in the nuclear accord and addressing malign behavior not covered in the agreement.

The Europeans, along with the other parties, Iran, Russia and China, have ruled out reopening the deal. But some, notably France, have signaled a willingness to tackle unresolved issues in supplementary negotiations.

Among those issues are the expiration of several restrictions on advanced nuclear activity under so-called “sunset clauses” that will allow Iran to begin ramping up its enrichment capabilities after 10 years, the end of an arms embargo and the eventual easing of demands for a halt to its missile program.

In the speech, Trump hopes to “recruit” the Europeans into joining his broad strategy, particularly by punishing the Revolutionary Guard, which he and his national security team believe is fomenting instability, violence and extremism throughout the Middle East and beyond, according to one official.

In anticipation of Trump’s announcements, Republican legislators have drawn up a new version of the law replacing the current 90-day timetable with “semi-annual” certifications, according to drafts seen by the Associated Press this week.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said in a statement on Friday that his panel had agreed to fresh certification criteria to include items that are also the province of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and require the U.S. intelligence community to determine if Iran is carrying out illicit activity in facilities to which the International Atomic Energy Agency has not had access.

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Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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Texas inmate executed for prison guard’s death

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A Texas inmate convicted in the death of a prison guard was put to death Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his lawyer’s attempts to halt the execution.

Robert Pruett was given a lethal injection for the December 1999 death of corrections officer Daniel Nagle at a prison southeast of San Antonio. Nagle was repeatedly stabbed with a tape-wrapped metal rod, though an autopsy showed he died from a heart attack that the assault caused.

Prosecutors have said the attack stemmed from a dispute over a peanut butter sandwich that Pruett wanted to take into a recreation yard against prison rules.

The 38-year-old Pruett, who was already serving a 99-year sentence for a neighbor’s killing near Houston when he was convicted in Nagle’s death, lost two appeals at the Supreme Court as his execution neared. He became the 20th prisoner put to death this year in the U.S. and the sixth in Texas, which carries out the death penalty more than any other state. Texas executed seven inmates last year.

Pruett’s lawyers had asked the high court to review whether lower courts properly denied a federal civil rights lawsuit that sought additional DNA testing in his case. They also questioned whether a prisoner like Pruett, who claimed actual innocence in federal court because of newly discovered evidence after exhausting all other appeals, could be put to death.

Pruett avoided execution in April 2015, hours before he could have been taken to the death chamber, when a state judge halted his punishment so additional DNA testing could be conducted on the rod used to stab the 37-year-old Nagle. The new tests showed no DNA on the tape but uncovered DNA on the rod from an unknown female who authorities said likely handled the shank during the appeals process after the original tests in 2002.

Pruett’s attorneys unsuccessfully sought more DNA testing and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit arguing Pruett had been denied due process. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit last week, and the lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Attorneys for Texas told the Supreme Court that Pruett’s appeals were delay tactics after issues were “repeatedly raised” and “properly rejected” by the courts.

No physical evidence tied Pruett to Nagle’s death at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s McConnell Unit near Beeville. At his 2002 trial, prisoners testified that they saw Pruett attack Nagle or heard him talk about wanting to kill the guard. According to some of the testimony, he talked about possessing a weapon as well.

Pruett had said he was framed and that Nagle could have been killed by other inmates or corrupt officers at the McConnell Unit.

Pruett’s 99-year murder sentence was for participating with his father and a brother in the 1995 stabbing death of a 29-year-old neighbor, Raymond Yarbrough, at the man’s trailer home in Channelview, just east of Houston. Pruett was 15 when the attack happened.

According to court testimony from a sheriff’s detective, Pruett argued with Yarbrough and then got his father and brother to join him in attacking the man. Pruett punched and kicked Yarbrough and held him down while his father stabbed the man multiple times, the detective said.

Pruett’s father, Howard Pruett, is serving life in prison. His brother, Howard Pruett Jr., was sentenced to 40 years.

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The Latest: Doctor: Speaking clearly hard for burned woman

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The Latest on the trial of a man charged with burning to death a 19-year-old Mississippi woman (all times local):

7:20 p.m.

A doctor says a 19-year-old woman who was found alive with severe burns in Mississippi but later died from her injuries suffered so much damage to her mouth, throat and chest that she would have had trouble clearly saying words.

Dr. William Hickerson testified as an expert witness Thursday in the capital murder trial of Quinton Tellis in Batesville, Mississippi, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Memphis, Tennessee. Prosecutors say Tellis set Chambers and her car on fire and left her to die along a back road in Courtland, Mississippi, in December 2014.

Firefighters who treated a severely burned Chambers on the scene said they heard her say that someone named Eric or Derek set her on fire. Defense attorney Darla Palmer contends that Chambers’ statements show Tellis is falsely accused in the case.

Hickerson testified that Chambers had third-degree burns on most of her body. He said the scorched skin on her chest became tight like leather and she could not speak correctly due to a lack of air.

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12:54 p.m.

A jury in the trial of a man charged with setting a 19-year-old Mississippi woman on fire and leaving her to die along a rural road has visited the road and other key locations in the case.

Prosecutors say Quinton Tellis set Jessica Chambers’ car on fire near a tree farm in Courtland on Dec. 6, 2014. A passing motorist saw Chambers walking down the road and called authorities.

Emergency personnel responded and treated Chambers, who had burns on most of her body. She died at a hospital.

The 29-year-old Tellis faces a murder charge. His lawyer says he has been falsely accused. The 15-person jury visited eight important locations in the investigation Thursday, the trial’s third day.

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5:10 a.m.

A jury in the trial of a man charged with setting a 19-year-old Mississippi woman on fire and leaving her to die along a rural back road is scheduled to visit the crime scene in the case.

Prosecutors say Quinton Tellis set Jessica Chambers’ car on fire near a tree farm in Courtland, Mississippi, on Dec. 6, 2014. A passing motorist saw Chambers walking down the road and called 911.

Emergency personnel responded to the scene and treated Chambers, who had burns on most of her body. She died at a hospital.

The 29-year-old Tellis is on trial on a murder charge in Batesville, Mississippi. His lawyer says he’s falsely accused. The jury is scheduled to visit important locations in the investigation Thursday, the trial’s third day.

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Hotel: Gunman shot at crowd seconds after shooting guard

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Even as investigators struggle to unravel the mystery of what motivated a gunman to open fire on a Las Vegas concert crowd, confusion surrounds the sequence of events in the fatal few minutes of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

On Thursday, the hotel where gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire from his high-rise hotel suite disputed the official timeline for the Las Vegas massacre and rejected any suggestion hotel officials delayed summoning police for several minutes after the gunman’s initial burst of fire.

It was the latest head-turning change in the investigation that has been frustrating for all involved. Since the Oct. 1 massacre, the timeline of the shooting has changed several times and police and hotel officials can’t seem to agree on the basics of when the shooting happened.

In the most recent chronology given by investigators on Monday, police said Paddock sprayed 200 rounds into the hallway on the 32nd floor Oct. 1, wounding an unarmed security guard in the leg, six minutes before he unleashed his barrage of bullets on the festival crowd. That raised a series of questions about whether officers were given information quickly enough to possibly have a chance to take out the gunman before he could carry out the bloodshed.

But on Thursday, MGM Resorts International, which owns the Mandalay Bay, said it was no more than 40 seconds between the time the guard using his walkie talkie to call for help and Paddock opening fire on the crowd from two windows in his suite.

The 64-year-old high-stakes gambler and real estate investor began his 10-minute attack on the crowd at 10:05 p.m., firing more than 1,000 rounds from his bashed-out windows, police said. Police didn’t arrive on the 32nd floor until 10:17 p.m., two minutes after he had stopped shooting.

The timeline given by police earlier this week differed dramatically from the one they gave last week: that Paddock shot through his door and wounded Campos after the guard distracted him

Hotel officials said the reported time of the hallway shooting, which Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said happened at 9:59 p.m., came from a report that was manually created after the massacre and “is not accurate.”

A spokesman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment on MGM’s statement.

The hotel said Las Vegas police officers and armed hotel guards immediately responded to the shooting and the company is continuing to cooperate with police.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said investigators haven’t yet determined a motive behind the mass shooting but they’re still digging.

“There’s a lot of effort being put into unraveling this horrific act,” Wray told reporters after a ribbon-cutting for the FBI’s new Atlanta building. “We don’t know yet what the motive is, but that’s not for lack of trying, and if you know anything about the bureau we don’t give up easy.”

Also Thursday, a funeral was held for Erick Silva, a 21-year-old security guard at the festival who was shot in the head while helping people climb over a barricade to escape the gunfire. Dozens of fellow “yellow shirt” security guards were among the hundreds of mourners at the service, where Silva was hailed as a hero.

“We counted on him, and he didn’t let us down,” said his boss, Gina Argento.

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Associated Press writers Ken Ritter and Sally Ho in Las Vegas, Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Michelle Price in Salt Lake City, Utah contributed to this report.

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For complete coverage of the Las Vegas shooting, click here: https://apnews.com/tag/LasVegasmassshooting .

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