April 10, 2006 -
Chief Investigator Paul Hamilton awarded Certificate of Achievement by NCMEC for "dedication to the welfare of children."
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Body of 11-year-old abductee found
February 6 — A sad conclusion has come in the Florida abduction case that was caught on surveillance tape.
Late Friday morning, investigators removed the body of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia from the edge of the woods outside of a Sarasota County Church where she had been found.
Police have charged a Sarasota auto mechanic, 37-year-old Joseph Smith with her kidnapping and murder. They say he is the one caught on tape leading the girl away.
According to one source, police were able to find her body after negotiations with Smith, who has been in custody since Tuesday on unrelated drug charges.
"We have brought charges against Joseph P. Smith for first degree murder and kidnapping," said Sheriff Bill Balkwill of Sarasota County.
Smith could face the death penalty
Detectives fanned out around the church combing the area, collecting evidence to build their case against Smith.
"I will tell you and reassure you there have been no deals made in this case, none whatsoever," Said Sheriff Balkwill.
Under Florida law Smith could now face the death penalty. Smith’s neighbors were very surprised at his arrest.
"Totally shocked that I have lived next door to a person that we saw as one man and turned out to be a different person," commented Smith’s neighbor Linda Thompson.
The community is in mourning
At Mcintosh Middle School where Carlie was a popular 6th grader, counselors met with students and teachers to help start the healing.
The community that had invested so much hope and prayer for Carlie's safe return rallied around her family, holding her mother tight.
"They treated this case like it was their own daughter involved in it and they have all been fantastic," said Carlie’s father Joe Brucia.
Others in the community have created makeshift memorials all over town.
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Court Blocks Law Regulating Internet Access to Pornography
By LINDA GREENHOUSE, The New York Times
WASHINGTON, June 29 — The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Congress's latest effort to curb children's access to sexually explicit material on the Internet. But at the same time it gave the Bush administration a second chance to defend the law as a trial on its constitutionality goes forward in Federal District Court in Philadelphia.
The 5-to-4 majority kept in place an order that the district court issued in 1999, blocking enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act until its validity can be resolved. The six-year-old law, which imposes criminal penalties of as much as $50,000 a day on commercial Internet sites that make pornography available to those younger than 17, has never taken effect.
The decision came on the final day of the Supreme Court's term. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the government must now show why the voluntary use of filters to screen out material unsuitable for children would not work as well as the law's criminal penalties. Filters "impose selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source," Justice Kennedy wrote.
The opinion, which was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, suggested strongly that the government would not be able to demonstrate that the penalties were better than filters. Not only are filters less restrictive, but they "also may well be more effective," Justice Kennedy said, because they can block pornography from anywhere in the world, while the statute applies only to pornography posted on the Web from within the United States.
Even so, the court kept open the possibility that the law, known as COPA, might ultimately be upheld.
"This opinion does not hold that Congress is incapable of enacting any regulation of the Internet designed to prevent minors from gaining access to harmful materials," Justice Kennedy said.
He said the decision "does not foreclose the district court from concluding, upon a proper showing by the government that meets the government's constitutional burden as defined in this opinion, that COPA is the least restrictive alternative available to accomplish Congress's goal."
Under the court's First Amendment precedents, government-imposed restrictions must go no further than necessary to accomplish a "compelling government interest" - in this instance, protecting children from harmful material on the Internet. The government must show that it is using the "least restrictive means" to achieve its goal.
The coalition of Internet publishers and free-speech groups that filed suit to block the law have argued that the existence of filters showed that criminal fines and prison sentences were not the least restrictive approach. A year ago, the Supreme Court upheld a law that required public libraries to install Internet filters as a condition of receiving federal money.
In a dissenting opinion on Tuesday, Justice Antonin Scalia said the majority had subjected the Child Online Protection Act to too searching a constitutional review. He said that because the commercial pornography that is the law's target "could, consistent with the First Amendment, be banned entirely, COPA's lesser restrictions raise no constitutional concern."
The three other dissenters, Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sandra Day O'Connor along with Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, took a different approach. They said, in an opinion written by Justice Breyer, that the law should be interpreted to apply only to a narrow category of obscene material and should be upheld on that basis.
"Properly interpreted," Justice Breyer wrote, the law "imposes a burden on protected speech that is no more than modest," reaching only "borderline cases" beyond speech that is obscene and that thus lacks legal protection. Justice Breyer said that while the plaintiffs raised the specter that the law might apply to famous novels or serious discussions of sexuality, this was not the case. "We must interpret the act to save it, not to destroy it," he added.
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Cops: Couey Admits to Killing Girl
Friday, March 18, 2005
HOMOSASSA, Fla. — A registered sex offender has confessed to killing Jessica Lunsford (search), the 9-year-old Florida girl who has been missing since February, police said Friday.
"I've got my man," Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy (search) told a news conference.
Authorities said that John Evander Couey (search) admitted that he abducted Jessica from her bedroom more than three weeks ago. He also told them the general area where the young girl's body could be found, according to police.
Couey is now being held alone in a cell at Richmond County Jail in Augusta, Ga. He is being closely watched because he is viewed as a suicide risk, the Richmond County sheriff said.
Dawsy said Couey confessed after taking a lie detector test given by a polygraph investigator who had traveled to Augusta. After the test was finished, Couey told detectives that "you don't need to tell me the results. I already know what they are," Dawsy said.
"He apologized to the investigators for wasting their time," Dawsy said.
Before the confession was announced, authorities had cordoned off an area Friday near the home of Couey's half-sister, who lived about 150 yards from the home Jessica shared with her father and grandparents. Investigators said Couey sometimes stayed at the home.
Couey, 46, had been named as a "person of interest" in the case but was not initially charged. He was arrested in Augusta on Thursday on a probation violation for failing to notify officials that he was moving, a requirement for sex offenders.
Authorities said Couey left Florida on or about March 4, about a week after the girl's disappearance, after telling relatives that police would be looking for him.
Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, has said he has never seen Couey. A sheriff's spokeswoman who answered the phone at the Lunsford home Friday evening said the family declined immediate comment.
The girl's mother, Angela Bryant, lives in Ohio. Jessica's stepfather in Ohio, Lonnie Bryant, told the Associated Press that he and the girl's mother planned to come to Florida soon.
"I'm going through agony right now," Lonnie Bryant said.
Jessica, a third grader, was last seen when she went to bed Feb. 23 in the home where she lived with her father and grandparents. She was discovered missing the next morning, with an unlocked door and a missing stuffed animal serving as evidence of her disappearance.
Couey has an extensive criminal record that includes arrests for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon and indecent exposure. In 1991, he was arrested in Kissimmee on a charge of fondling a child under age 16. Records don't show how the case was resolved.
During a house burglary in 1978, Couey was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her, Dawsy said. Couey was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was paroled in 1980.
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Body ID'd as Missing Iowa Girl
Saturday, March 26, 2005
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The body of a girl found in an abandoned mobile home was identified Saturday as Jetseta Marrie Gage, the 10-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in Cedar Rapids.
The Johnson County sheriff's office said Gage died from asphyxia and that her death has been ruled a homicide. An autopsy was performed at University Hospitals in Iowa City.
The man accused of snatching Gage from her home was being held Saturday night on $1 million bond.
Roger P. Bentley, 37, a registered sex offender, made an initial court appearance earlier in the day in Linn County District Court on one count of child stealing. Bentley appeared disheveled during the court appearance, made via teleconference.
Maj. Steve Dolezal, of the Johnson County sheriff's office, said in a news release that charges against Bentley are pending in his county and could be filed by Monday morning.
Investigators discovered the body of a young girl Friday at an abandoned mobile home in a rural area near the small town of Kalona, about 45 miles south of the girl's home.
Authorities have declined to release many details of their investigation, which turned Friday when they received a call from a person who reported seeing a pickup matching the description of Bentley's parked outside the mobile home.
Bentley was taken into custody and the body was found later that day.
Described by the missing girl's mother, Trena Gage, as a friend of the family, Bentley was at the home Thursday afternoon working on the transmission of the family's mini van. Police say Trena Gage's seven-year-old son saw his sister get in the truck with Bentley, minutes after the children's grandmother, Teresa Gage, told them it was about time to go to bed.
"I told the (children) that they had 30 minutes to play before bedtime," Teresa Gage told The Gazette. She said she thought Bentley left the house about 8:15 p.m. "and when he left, I locked the door and went downstairs to check on Jetseta. I couldn't find her."
The family has been unable to locate Jetseta's father, Chris Kolvar.
Trena Gage said she met Bentley about five years ago through his brother, James Bentley, whom Gage once dated for about a year.
James Bentley, 33, is also being held in the Linn County Jail where he is awaiting a May 31 trial on second-degree sexual abuse charges, alleging he assaulted a girl repeatedly over a two-year period in Benton and Linn counties.
According to the state Sex Offender Registry, Roger Bentley was convicted in 1994 of lascivious acts with a seven-year-old child. He served two years of a five-year sentence.
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Ex-Boy Scout official faces child porn charges
March 29 — A former top official of the Boy Scouts of America faces federal Internet child pornography charges and is expected to plead guilty Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office said.
Douglas S. Smith Jr. faces a single count of receiving and distributing child pornography -- a charge resulting from a federal investigation conducted with German authorities.
The U.S. attorney's office in Fort Worth, Texas, filed the charges after federal investigators found images of children engaging in sex acts on Smith's computer.
Smith is scheduled to appear before a federal judge Wednesday in Fort Worth, said Kathy Colvin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office.
"We anticipate Mr. Smith will enter a guilty plea at that time," she said.
Smith retired from the Boy Scouts in February after a 39-year career with the youth organization, based in suburban Dallas.
The organization placed him on administrative leave after learning that he was under criminal investigation, and Smith stepped down soon afterward, BSA spokesman Greg Shields said.
Smith, a former Eagle Scout, previously served as the Boy Scouts' director of programming, Shields said.
"As a professional scouter, he was in more administrative positions -- most recently developing programs -- and not in direct contact with the youth," Shields said.
Shields said the Boy Scouts are "shocked and dismayed" by Smith's arrest, but the group has cooperated with investigators in the case.
"We surrendered his work computer to authorities," he said.
Smith turned himself in to authorities Friday and was released without bond, according to court records.
Smith's lawyer, Jack Strickland, told The Associated Press that his client is "not taking this well. I've got to tell you, this is a good man, and I would hate to see the entirety of his life and the good things he's done defined by one incident."
Smith's case is part of Operation Predator, an initiative that has resulted in more than 5,300 arrests worldwide since 2003, said Manny Van Pelt, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Those charged in previous cases have included doctors, police officers, teachers, camp counselors and coaches, he said.
CNN's Ed Lavandera and Stacia Deshishku contributed to this report.
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Sheriff: Sex offender confesses in missing girl case
RUSKIN, Florida (CNN) -- A convicted sex offender has confessed to killing 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde, Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee announced Sunday.
David Onstott, 36, was charged late Saturday night with first-degree murder Gee said. "He is the defendant."
Since Sarah's disappearance last weekend, authorities have been questioning Onstott, who was being held by authorities on unrelated charges.
The girl's partially clothed body was discovered Saturday morning in an abandoned fish pond about a half-mile from her home. It was not clear whether she had been sexually abused, Gee said.
"The defendant subsequently confessed to the crime post-Miranda," Gee said, referring to the rights suspects must be read for their statements to be admissible in court.
Onstott told police that between midnight and 5 a.m. on April 10, he went to the family's house looking for the victim's mother, who was not at home, Gee said.
The girl, who was alone in the house, invited him inside and became involved in a verbal confrontation with Onstott, which led him to put her in a choke hold, rendering her unconscious "and eventually causing her death," Gee said.
In addition to the charge of first-degree murder, "other charges are being reviewed at this time," Gee said.
Asked what made the man confess, the sheriff said, "I don't know."
Before Gee's announcement, Onstott's attorney denied that his client had anything to do with Sarah's disappearance. Onstott recently ended a relationship with the girl's mother.
Also before the announced charges, Sarah's 17-year-old brother said Onstott was at the family home in Ruskin early last Sunday -- hours after his sister was last seen. The brother told police it was the first time he had seen Onstott in months, and the man picked up a beer bottle before leaving.
On Friday, searchers were asked to keep an eye out for empty Budweiser or Bud Light beer bottles.
Worshippers at Sarah's church remembered her during the weekly service.
"Today she's in a much better place than we," said the Rev. Johnny Cook during services at First Apostolic Church. "She won't have to suffer no more. She's at peace with God."
Her mother, Kelly May Lunde, attended a portion of the informal memorial.
Sarah's disappearance prompted a search that was focused on a three-quarter-mile radius of her mother's home in Ruskin, about 10 miles south of Tampa.
Gee said the area where the body was found "was searched before at least once earlier in the week" before search dogs lead authorities to the body.
Someone had tried to weigh down the body so it would be hidden underwater, law enforcement sources said.
"It was clear from investigators who were at the scene that whoever put her there went to great effort to conceal her body," Gee said. "And right now, we are asking the public if they would assist us in any articles of clothing that you would see in this area."
Mark Lunsford -- father of a 9-year-old girl who went missing in February and was found dead in a nearby Florida community -- also attended Sunday's church service. He had participated in the search for Sarah, along with dozens of volunteers.
CNN's Susan Candiotti and Sarah Dorsey contributed to this report.
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Samantha Runnion Slay Suspect Convicted
By BEN FOX, Associated Press Writer
SANTA ANA, Calif. - A jury deliberated nearly nine hours before finding a factory worker guilty of kidnapping and murdering 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, whose 2002 death outraged the public and led to stronger efforts to rescue abducted children.
Alejandro Avila, 30, was convicted Thursday of kidnapping, murder and sexual assault during the second day of deliberations. In the penalty phase, set to begin Wednesday, jurors will decide whether to recommend the death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, hugged prosecutor David Brent as the jury left, and spoke to reporters with tears in her eyes outside the courtroom.
"He is guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! And that feels really good, because nobody should get away with this," Runnion said.
"I feel a tremendous sense of relief," she said, "that Samantha's fight was not in vain."
Ticking off the names of Samantha and other abducted children, Runnion called for parents to take steps to protect their children, the objective of a foundation she launched in the months after her daughter's death.
"How many children do they have to take away, before we as Americans get organized?" she asked. "We're going to organize our neighborhoods. We're going to talk to our children."
When the verdicts were read, one female juror was crying. Avila bowed his head toward the defense table but showed no emotion.
Samantha was abducted, kicking and screaming, from outside her home in Stanton on July 15, 2002. Her nude body was found the following day in mountains some 50 miles away, left on the ground as if it had been posed.
So many were moved by the young girl's murder that more than 4,000 people attended her funeral. After her death, then- Gov. Gray Davis ordered a statewide expansion of child abduction alerts posted on electronic billboards along freeways.
A police sketch of Samantha's abductor, based on a description from an 8-year-old friend of hers, resembles Avila. Prosecutors said cell phone and bank records indicate Avila had been in the area where Samantha was abducted, DNA matching his genetic profile was found under her fingernails, and sneaker and tire prints found near the girl's body also matched with the defendant.
Samantha's DNA was found on the inside of the door of Avila's car. That evidence came from a small amount of clear liquid that the prosecution said was consistent with tears or mucous.
Avila, of Lake Elsinore, had been acquitted of molesting two girls in 2001 in neighboring Riverside County, and authorities said they believe he killed Samantha to avoid another such trial.
Defense attorney Philip Zalewski contended that prosecutors had a "weak, circumstantial case," and that Avila couldn't have committed the crime within the timeline established by investigators.
Zalewski claimed the DNA from the fingernails was not reliable because it was not properly collected or analyzed, and suggested that the sample found in the car was planted by investigators — an allegation prosecutors denied.
Judge William Froeberg allowed the girls whom Avila was acquitted of molesting to testify in the murder trial, as well as a third girl who also claims Avila abused her. One of the girls in the 2001 case lived for a time in the same apartment complex as Samantha.
Samantha's killing occurred amid a series of incidents involving children, including the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam of San Diego and the abduction of 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Utah.
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Father charged in girls' deaths
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
ZION, Illinois (CNN) -- Police have charged Jerry Hobbs with killing his 8-year-old daughter, Laura Hobbs and her best friend, 9-year-old Krystal Tobias.
Hobbs faces two counts of first-degree murder.
He was reported to have found the girls' bodies early Monday in a park just blocks away from their elementary school, said police in Zion, about 45 miles north of Chicago.
Zion School Superintendent Connie Collins said the killings have left the community "in terrible shock."
"It's very difficult to begin to understand something like this," Collins said. "It's something that was not expected. In a community like this, we have never had this type of experience, so it's been very difficult for everyone."
Laura's grandmother, Emily Hollabaugh, said her granddaughter was "a typical 8-year-old girl" who "always had a smile for everybody," and Krystal was "just as sweet as Laura was."
"I have a lot of questions, but it's just mostly rage at whoever could do this to two little girls," she said.
Lake County Coroner Richard Keller said the girls appeared to have been stabbed to death. Investigators found no initial signs they had been bound or sexually assaulted, he said.
Parents, police and city and school officials were expected to attend a community meeting Tuesday night to talk about the killings, to offer safety tips and to provide an update on the investigation, Collins said.
She said the girls' class had recently touched on the issue of loss.
"Fortunately, in talking with the classroom teacher, she shared with me that the children recently read a couple of books on loss -- 'Charlotte's Web' and 'The Taste of Blackberries,' " Collins said. "The children had an opportunity to discuss feelings and talk about what it meant to lose someone and to share with each other."
The girls were last seen riding bicycles during the afternoon on Mother's Day, Malcolm said. One of the bikes was recovered near the spot where their bodies were found, shortly after 6 a.m. Monday by a man taking a walk in Beulah Park, a spot that neighborhood parents warn children to avoid.
"It's out of sight of many adults who might possibly be around the kids or monitoring them," Collins said. "We try to keep them in the open."
Earlier, Malcolm promised that "no stone will be unturned" in the investigation.
"Right now there's no solid leads that we're focusing in on," Malcolm said. "It's a heinous crime. It's a crime against not only those kids, but against all of us."
Hollabaugh said the girls were seen playing in the park about 5:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
"I know she didn't come home for dinner and we got worried, and her brothers and sisters went out looking for her," Hollabaugh told Chicago television station WLS. "They didn't find her, and then, about 9 o'clock, they called the police."
Keller estimated the time of death at 1 to 2 a.m. Monday, but said that estimate could be affected by rain and cool temperatures in the area. Each girl had been stabbed at least twice, he said. Malcolm said the bodies were found about 100 yards off a bicycle path in a wooded area on the north end of the park.
Zion isn't used to such criminal events, said Mayor Lane Harrison. "This is an unusual occurrence for our community," she said. "We are going to do everything we can to bring this to a quick resolution."
Zion, population 23,000, had three reported homicides in 2002 and none in 2003, according to the police department's annual reports.
CNN's Chris Lawrence and Keith Oppenheim contributed to this report.
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