April 18, 2013
By VERENA DOBNIK
NEW YORK (AP) — A Rwandan genocide survivor who became a U.S. citizen Wednesday says she was saved because her father trusted an exceptional member of an enemy tribe that slaughtered the rest of her family.
“My father always used to tell us, ‘Never judge people by putting them in boxes, because of their country, their race, their tribe,’” Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Tutsi, told fellow immigrants at a Manhattan naturalization ceremony.
The 43-year-old mother of two is the author of “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” — a best-selling book translated into 35 languages that has turned her into a successful speaker around the world.
Eyes brimming with tears, she received her citizenship 14 years after being granted asylum in the United States. Then, as the ceremony's keynote speaker, she took 50 other immigrants on the personal journey that transformed her from an angry, emaciated young Rwandan hiding from ethnic killers into a radiant American who forgives them and feels “that no tragedy is big enough to crush you.”
The 1994 civil war claimed more than a half-million African lives, with members of the Tutsi tribe pitted against the ruling Hutus.
Life for her family — four siblings with parents who were teachers — changed on April 7, 1994, when she was a college student visiting her village and her brother announced that the Rwandan president died in a plane that was shot down.
He belonged to the Hutu tribe, and the Tutsis were blamed. The killings began.
Ilibagiza said her father decided she should flee to the home of a neighbor he knew and trusted — a Hutu.
She told fellow immigrants from 16 countries that “if I am here today, it's because my father had trust in the man from that tribe” — whose members “were supposed to be our enemies.”
She spent three months locked into a tiny bathroom in his house with seven women and girls, sleeping practically upright and eating what little he could shove through the door daily. She was 23 and weighed 65 pounds, her bones protruding from her limbs.
“I was angry a lot; I thought, if I ever come out, I was going to be a killer,” she said.
In despair, she said her Catholic childhood prayers. But when she got to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” — she stopped.
“How do you forgive somebody who is killing you?”
Suddenly, one day, something unexpected happened inside her.
“I felt God was showing me there are two parts of the world: a part that was love, and a side that was hate — people like Hitler, and like people causing genocide in Rwanda,” she said. “And people like Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King — people who have suffered but who will do everything to make sure that those who are wrong change their mind.”
She began to think of those doing the killing “as people who were lost, who were blind,” she said. “And if I did not let go of the anger, I would not be here today; I would have tried to kill people, and they would have killed me.”
The eight captives left their hiding spot when the genocide was over.
The Hutus had won the civil war.
Everyone in Ilibagiza’s family was killed, “my mom, my dad, my two brothers, my grandpa, my grandma, my aunts, neighbors, schoolmates, best friends.”
She got a job with the United Nations in Rwanda, and eventually moved to New York.
Here, “I saw Koreans, and Indians and Chinese and I thought, ‘Those are not Americans,’” she said. “But no, they are Americans; every nationality here is accepted as Americans.”
And they had their stories too — some equally tinged with tragedy.
Friends who watched her thrive, despite her past, urged her to write her story. They wondered, she said, “how can you be happy after what happened to you? Why are you smiling today?”
“Something in my heart was born anew; I did not have to hate no matter how much you hate me,” she said.
She gets hundreds of emails and letters “telling me, ‘because of your story, I’m a better mom, I’m a better dad, I can forgive my wife, I can forgive my husband, my friends.’”
Ilibagiza’s life now is not so different from other Americans. She's divorced and bringing up her two children — a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy — on Manhattan’s East Side.
On Wednesday, Ilibagiza planned to join friends for a celebratory lunch, “and I want a really good hamburger, because I’m feeling so American today,” she said with a carefree laugh.
April 18, 2013
City News Service
A man charged with murder and other counts in a shooting and fiery crash on the Las Vegas Strip nearly two months ago has been extradited from Los Angeles to Nevada. Ammar Harris, 27, was released just after 11:30 p.m. Monday to Nevada law enforcement officials, according to jail records. Harris was returned to Clark County, Nev., where he was awaiting a court appearance on Wednesday, according to Tess Driver of the Clark County District Attorney's Office.
He had been jailed in Los Angeles since his arrest at a Studio City apartment complex on February 28. After examining photographs and fingerprints, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba said she determined last month that Harris is ``the same individual'' being sought by the state of Nevada. Authorities allege that Harris opened fire Feb. 21 from a Range Rover on Oakland-based rap artist Kenny Clutch, legally known as Kenneth Wayne Cherry, after a verbal altercation.
The fatally wounded Clutch crashed the Maserati he was driving into a cab that burst into flames, killing taxi driver Michael Boldon and passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund. A criminal complaint filed Feb. 22 in Nevada charged Harris with 11 counts, including three counts of murder with use of a deadly weapon, one count of attempted murder, two counts of discharging a firearm at or into a vehicle and five counts of discharging a firearm out of a motor vehicle.
April 18, 2013
By JULIE PACE
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama pronounced the deadly Boston Marathon explosions an act of terrorism on Tuesday as individuals close to the investigation said the two bombs were made of pressure cookers packed with ball bearings and metal shards that cut into the victims.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said investigators do not know if the attack was carried out by an international or domestic organization, or perhaps by a “malevolent individual.” Three people were killed, including an 8 year-old boy, and more than 170 were wounded.
In his second public statement in less than 24 hours since the explosions, the president said, “Clearly we are at the beginning of our investigation.” He urged anyone with information relating to the events to contact authorities.
Individuals briefed on the probe said the two bombs were made up of pressure cookers, one packed with ball bearings and the other with shards of metal, presumably to inflict maximum injuries. The bombs were placed inside black duffel bags on the ground near the finish line of the annual race, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation remains active and they were not authorized to be quoted by name.
Obama said investigators “don’t have a sense of motivation yet” as they begin to evaluate the attack.
Despite the loss of life and limb, Obama declared, “The American people refuse to be terrorized.”
As he had on Monday, he said those responsible for the attacks would be brought to justice.
The president had avoided labeling the incident a terrorist attack when he stood at the same White House lectern shortly after the explosions. Members of Congress quickly concluded on Monday afternoon that's what it was, and White House officials said the FBI was investigating the attack as a terror incident.
The administration’s public assessment began to shift when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress in a morning appearance that the attacks were “a cruel act of terror.”
Appearing on television a short while afterward, Obama said the events in Boston were a "heinous cowardly act, and given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism.”
“Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why. Whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual. That’s what we don’t yet know.”
The president praised those who had come to the aid of the injured.
“If you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil, that’s it: selflessly, compassionately, unafraid,” he said.
Obama stepped to the microphone after receiving a briefing at the White House from Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other top aides.
The bombs exploded on Monday afternoon near the finish line of the famed Boston Marathon, an annual 26 mile race through the neighborhoods of the city.
April 11, 2013
By TAMI ABDOLLAH Associated Press
When Los Angeles cold case detectives caught up with Samuel Little this past fall, he was living in a Christian shelter in Kentucky, his latest arrest a few months earlier for alleged possession of a crack pipe. But the LA investigators wanted him on far more serious charges: The slayings of two women in 1989, both found strangled and nude below the waist — victims of what police concluded had been sexually motivated strangulations.
Little's name came up, police said, after DNA evidence collected at old crime scenes matched samples of his stored in a criminal database. After detectives say they found yet another match, a third murder charge was soon added against Little.
Now, as the 72-year-old former boxer and transient awaits trial in Los Angeles, authorities in numerous jurisdictions in California, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio are scouring their own cold case files for possible ties to Little. One old murder case, in Pascagoula, Miss., already has been reopened. DNA results are pending in some others.
Little's more than 100-page rap sheet details crimes in 24 states spread over 56 years — mostly assault, burglary, armed robbery, shoplifting and drug violations. In that time, authorities say incredulously, he served less than 10 years in prison.
But Los Angeles detectives allege he was also a serial killer, who traveled the country preying on prostitutes, drug addicts and troubled women.
They assert Little often delivered a knockout punch to women and then proceeded to strangle them while masturbating, dumping the bodies and soon after leaving town. Their investigation has turned up a number of cases in which he was a suspect or convicted.
Police are using those old cases — and tracking down surviving victims — to help build their own against Little.
"We see a pattern, and the pattern matches what he's got away with in the past," said LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts.
Little has pleaded not guilty in the three LA slayings, and in interviews with detectives after his September arrest he described his police record as "dismissed, not guilty, dismissed."
"I just be in the wrong place at the wrong time with people," he said, according to an interview transcript reviewed by The Associated Press.
Still, as more details emerge, so do more questions. Among them: How did someone with so many encounters with the law, suspected by prosecutors and police officers of killing for decades, manage to escape serious jail time?
"It's the craziest rap sheet I've ever seen," said Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman, who has worked many serial killer cold cases. "The fact that he hasn't spent a more significant period of his life (in custody) is a shocking thing. He's gotten break after break after break."
Deputy Public Defender Michael Pentz, who represents Little, declined to comment.
Authorities have pieced together a 24-page timeline tracking Little's activity across the country since his birth. His rap sheet has helped them pinpoint his location sometimes on a monthly basis. Law enforcement agencies are now cross-referencing that timeline with cold case slayings in their states.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is leading a review of that state's unsolved murders and helping coordinate the effort among 12 jurisdictions. The department published an intelligence bulletin alerting authorities in Florida, Alabama and Georgia about Little's case, noting he lived in the area on and off in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
"We strongly encouraged them to look at any unresolved homicides that they had during those time frames and then consider him as a potential suspect," said Jeff Fortier, a special agent supervisor at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The department is re-examining DNA evidence in about 15 cases that was collected before advances in forensic science allowed for thorough analysis, Fortier said.
"We are in the infancy stages of what we expect will be a protracted investigation," he said.
In Mississippi, Pascagoula cold case Detective Darren Versiga is re-investigating the killing of Melinda LaPree, a 22-year-old prostitute found strangled in 1982. Little had been arrested in that crime but never indicted, Versiga said. The detective has tracked down old witnesses and is working to reconstruct the case file because much of it was washed away during Hurricane Katrina.
Little, who often went by the name Samuel McDowell, grew up with his grandmother in Lorain, Ohio. His rap sheet shows his first arrest at age 16 on burglary charges. After serving time in a youth authority he was released and, months later, arrested again for breaking and entering.
In an hour- and 15-minute interview with Los Angeles detectives, Little spoke openly about his past and his time in the penitentiary, where he started boxing as a middleweight against the other inmates. "I used to be a prizefighter," he said.
In his late 20s, Little went to live with his mother in Florida and worked at the Dade County Department of Sanitation and, later, at a cemetery. Soon, he began traveling more widely and had more run-ins with the law; between 1971 and 1974 Little was arrested in eight states for crimes that included armed robbery, rape, theft, solicitation of a prostitute, shoplifting, DUI, aggravated assault on a police officer and fraud.
"I've been in and out of the penitentiary," he told the California officers.
"Well, for what?" a detective asked, to which Little responded: "Shoplifting and, uh, petty thefts and stuff."
Then came the 911 call of Sept. 11, 1976, in Sunset Hills, Mo.
Pamela Kay Smith was banging on the back door of a home, crying for help, naked below the waist with her hands bound behind her back with electrical cord and cloth. Smith, who was a drug addict, told officers that she was picked up by Little in St. Louis. She said he choked her from behind with electrical cord, forced her into his car, beat her unconscious, then drove to Sunset Hills and raped her.
Officers found Little, then 36, still seated in his car near the home where Smith sought refuge, with her jewelry and clothing inside. Little denied raping Smith, telling officers: "I only beat her." The case summary was recalled in court papers filed by prosecutors in Los Angeles.
Little was found guilty of assault with the intent to ravish-rape and was sentenced to three months in county jail. Pascagoula Detective Versiga, who reviewed the Smith case, believes Little may have pleaded to a lesser charge and received a shorter sentence because of the victim's lifestyle. The case file refers to Smith as a heroin addict who often failed to appear in court.
After that, the charges against Little grew more serious.
In Pascagoula, LaPree went missing in September 1982 after getting into a wood-paneled station wagon with a man witnesses later identified as Little. A month later her remains were found, and Little was arrested in her killing and the assault of two other prostitutes. Versiga believes grand jurors failed to indict in part because of the difficulty in determining a precise time of death but also because of credibility problems due to the victim and witnesses working as prostitutes.
Little, nevertheless, remained in custody and was extradited to Florida to be tried in the case of another slain woman.
Patricia Ann Mount, 26 and mentally disabled, was found dead in the fall of 1982 in rural Forest Grove, Fla., near Gainesville. Eyewitnesses described last seeing her leaving a beer tavern with a man identified as Little in a wood-paneled station wagon.
According to The Gainesville Sun's coverage of the trial, a fiber analyst testified that hairs found on Mount's clothes "had the same characteristics as head hairs taken from" Little. But when cross-examined the analyst said "it was also possible for hairs to be transferred if two people bumped together."
A jury acquitted Little in January 1984.
By October 1984, Little was back in custody — this time in San Diego, accused in the attempted murder of two prostitutes who were kidnapped a month apart, driven to the same abandoned dirt lot, assaulted and choked. The first woman was left unconscious on a pile of trash but survived, according to court records. Patrol officers discovered Little in a car with the second woman and arrested him.
The two cases were tried jointly, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. Little later pleaded guilty to lesser charges of assault with great bodily injury and false imprisonment. He served about 2.5 years on a four-year sentence and, in February 1987, he was released on parole.
As he told the LA detectives in his interview, Little then moved to Los Angeles, where three more women were soon discovered dead: Carol Alford, 41, found on July 13, 1987; Audrey Nelson, 35, found on Aug. 14, 1989; and Guadalupe Apodaca, 46, found on Sept. 3, 1989. All were manually strangled.
It is for those slayings that Little now stands charged. No trial date has been set, though Little is due back in court this month for a procedural hearing. If convicted, Little would face a minimum of life in prison without parole, though prosecutors said they may seek the death penalty.
When the case landed on Detective Roberts' desk, she had no idea it would grow from two local cold case slayings to a cross-country probe into the past of a man with some 75 arrests. As she studied her suspect, Roberts also began calling agencies that had dealt with Little most recently.
He had been arrested on May 1, 2012, by sheriff's deputies in Lake Charles, La., for possession of a crack pipe and released with an upcoming court date. At Roberts' request, deputies tried finding him but came up empty. Then last September deputies called with a hit tracing an ATM purchase by Little to a Louisville, Ky., minimart. Within hours he was found at a nearby shelter.
In his interview with police, Little said he didn't recognize the slain LA women. Detectives said that DNA collected from semen on upper body clothing or from fingernail scrapings connect him to the crimes.
Roberts and others who've investigated Little through the years said some cases may not have gone forward because DNA testing wasn't available until the mid-1980s and, even when it was, wouldn't have been useful in these cases unless authorities tested clothing, fingernails or body swabs. Due to this perpetrator's particular modus operandi, DNA wouldn't necessarily be found through standard rape kit collection.
Even in those cases that did go to trial, they said, jurors may have found the victims less credible because of their backgrounds, and the witnesses — often prostitutes — in some cases disappeared. Because Little was also a transient, Roberts said: "I don't think he stuck in a lot of peoples' minds much."
"But what's different now, we're just not going to allow that to happen," she said. "I think we owe it to the victims. I think we owe it to the families."
Tony Zambrano was 17 when he learned his mother, Guadalupe Apodaca, was killed after going out for a drink one night.
"My brother told me she left, she went to go have a couple beers, and never came home," he recalls. Soon after he learned of her slaying.
For years Zambrano tried to find out what happened to his mother. When Roberts called him following Little's arrest, he was grateful. But he's also upset.
"My mom shouldn't really be dead now. For all those charges in San Diego, who gets four years?" Zambrano said. "This thing ain't over for a long shot."