Missing woman’s boyfriend talked to Dr. Phil before arrest

Oct. 1 in the Houston Chronicle

Mark Augustin Castellano told talk show host Dr. Phil the same story he’d told police about his missing girlfriend. In an interview for national television, he said Michelle Warner, 31, walked out of their Houston apartment after a fight on Sept. 22 and disappeared.

Two days later, on Sunday, Warner’s family had just landed in Los Angeles to film their segment with Dr. Phil’s show when they received a call: We’ve found Michelle.

Castellano had directed police to where he allegedly buried her body in an oil field between Odessa and Midland.

He confessed to killing a woman he loved greatly yet hated terribly, said Houston Police Department homicide detective Fil Waters. Castellano, 37, is in the Harris County Jail after being charged Monday with murder. A judge set his bail at $50,000.

When Castellano confessed to the killing on Sunday, he ended what Waters admitted could have been an unsolvable case. “His timeline was plausible. There was no physical evidence,” Waters said.

Yet, near the end of a two-hour interview, Castellano took off his glasses, looked at Waters and told him what had happened.

Read the full story at Chron.com.

War stories with a side of fries

Sept. 22 in the Houston Chronicle

Sometimes the spy is late or can’t make it, but that doesn’t stop Willard Pennington, 99, from pushing his walker through the door of McDonald’s every Saturday about 11 a.m.

John Mawhinney, 93, guides Pennington up the curb while the youngster, 89-year-old William Allison, holds the door for them.

Once seated, Pennington sometimes pulls out a silver naval whistle from the buttoned pocket of his plaid shirt and gives it a loud toot. Customers waiting in line jump at the shrill note, not knowing it heralds the weekly lunch gathering of World War II veterans.

“He’s got lungs, doesn’t he?” Allison observes as the whistle toots again and again. Pennington smiles broadly, and nobody tells him he’s interrupting. After all, Pennington has difficulty hearing and decides who passes muster to join the group.

He started going to lunch with his neighbor, ’50s Air Force vet Tom Miller, 78, to talk about football and tell stories about the war. They later invited Miller’s friend and colleague Bob Cordell, a 95-year-old retired spy, and Roy Dye, who had served under Gen. George Patton as an infantry captain and died in April at age 94.

Every day, hundreds of World War II veterans die nationwide. About 740 died each day last year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sitting at a table near the door, these members of what TV newscaster Tom Brokaw dubbed “the Greatest Generation” say they’ve met every Saturday for some 15 years. They know the odds but still talk with excitement about planning for Pennington’s 100th birthday in December.

Read the full story at Chron.com.

Ex officer ‘ruined my life’ woman tells jury

Sept. 5 in the Houston Chronicle

With her eyes on the former Houston police officer she accuses of rape, the waitress slammed her palms on the rail in front of the witness stand.

She was showing the jury how she says he had pushed her against a car parked just outside the cantina where she worked.

“That’s when he started touching my breast,” the woman, 37, said Wednesday through a translator.

“Do you remember? Do you remember when you did that to me?” she yelled, leaning forward. “He ruined my life! He ruined my life!”

She leaned back and rested her forehead on her fist to cry as state District Judge Denis Collins asked the jury to leave. Harris County prosecutors guided the woman into another room to calm down.

It was the most dramatic moment in the two-day trial of 28-year-old Abraham Joseph.

The former Houston Police Department officer is charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault in the alleged January 2011 rape, and faces a possible prison sentence of five years to life. His accuser has also filed a civil suit against him.

The Houston Chronicle does not identify victims of sexual assaults.

On Wednesday the jury heard the woman recount her first meeting with Joseph, months before the alleged rape.

Read the rest of the story on Chron.com.

Good Samaritan tells dying woman, ‘You are not alone’

June 1 in The Seattle Times

Just before Ian Stawicki shot Gloria Koch Leonidas, he was standing over her, straddling her. He pulled out a black gun, leaned down and extended his arm. He fired one shot into her head.

Jo Ann Stremler saw it out her driver’s side window. She was heading west on Seneca Street after a doctor’s visit and was stopped at a light when she heard someone scream, “Help me! Help me!” She looked left to see a man kicking someone who was flat on the ground. She grabbed her phone and dialed 911.

That’s when Stawicki fired.

“It seemed to have this bounce and bounce, and I thought, ‘It’s going to bounce all the way out to the Sound,’ ” she said of the noise.

That shot at about 11:30 a.m., and several others earlier Wednesday, have reverberated throughout Seattle. It followed several at Cafe Racer in North Seattle, where Stawicki gunned down five people — four fatally. Somehow, he got to Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street and found Leonidas putting a parking receipt on her dashboard.

He needed her car and shot her for it.

As Stawicki sped off, Stremler and another good Samaritan ran across traffic to help Leonidas.

“I didn’t think we could save her when we started working on her, but that wasn’t the point,” Stremler said. “I knew that her family would not have wanted her to die alone.”

Read the rest of the story here.



New state law expands authority of tribal police, fills gaps in state law enforcement

August 15 in The Oregonian

The badge and pistol aren’t the only signs of Starla Green’s authority.

The patrol officer speaks directly: “Ten-four.” “Morning.” “You OK?” “Get up.” She doesn’t need to say, “Or else.”

More often than not, people listen.

Green’s tone is backed by nearly two decades in law enforcement. When she graduated from the state police academy, she swore an oath to Oregon public safety. She’s also received specialized training to enforce city, tribal, state and federal laws. Yet at times, she and other state-certified tribal officers did not have the authority to enforce Oregon laws. Her training simply didn’t count when she worked on the Warm Springs reservation, yet suddenly gained credence when she went to work for Jefferson County.

A new law changes that.

Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill July 28 that changes the definition of “police officer” to hinge on training rather than the personal judgments of local sheriffs. Under the new law, reservation police can have the same authority as other Oregon police.

Read the rest of the story and watch the video here.

Dudley focuses on family, says he might run for political office again — someday

August 8 in The Oregonian

Chris Dudley razzes his oldest son as they do squats and butt kicks side-by-side on a basketball court at the heart of a sunny, forested summer camp. Holding his right foot behind him to stretch the top of his thigh, Dudley loses his balance and, for a moment, puts his hand on Charlie’s shoulder. Minutes later, the former Trailblazer center cleanly swings a leg over his son’s head and chuckles.

It is a snapshot of a man enjoying himself, spending time with his son at the annual basketball camp Dudley created nearly two decades ago to help teens realize that, like him, being diabetic doesn’t mean holding back their dreams.

After narrowly losing his bid to become Oregon’s first Republican governor in 24 years, Dudley has returned to the rhythms of private life, running the charitable Chris Dudley Foundation and working as a financial adviser.

Yet the Yale-educated diabetes advocate, who seemed to be a political novelty when he announced his campaign, still gets a glint in his eye when the discussion turns to politics. The loss — by a single percentage point — left Dudley and his family battered, but not defeated. He’s staying involved in the Republican Party and some hope he will run for political office again.

In the most detailed interview since the race, Dudley and his wife, Chris Love Dudley, tell The Oregonian they haven’t ruled out the possibility of another campaign, although when and for what office is far from decided.

Read the rest of the story and see a video interview here.

Body piercers, legislators debate role of new state board of body arts

Aug. 6 in The Oregonian

Jon Guac burned a design into his skin with a candle and fork to prove a point during a  dinner debate about whether branding was an art form. As a teenager, he carved “Iron Maiden” into his arm “for experimentation.”

Stories like his, along with graphic photos of extreme body modifications, encouraged the 2011 Oregon Legislature to establish a new Board of Body Art Practitioners. But body piercers worry that Internet photos of untrained hacks slicing bloody skin with scalpels will distract the board from writing rules for what they say is a bigger problem: licenses for common piercings like ears and belly buttons.

The board will oversee a hodge-podge of ‘body arts,’ from tattoos and ear piercings to laser hair removal and designs burned into the skin. The governor’s office is looking for seven members: two body piercers, two tattooists, one electrologist, one health care provider and one member of the general public.

Read the rest of the story here.

Animal rights groups disagree, scramble to define ‘humane’ in egg debate

July 6 in The Oregonian

Greg Satrum rubs his hands with sanitizer just inside the hen house door and the nearest hundred chickens pull their heads back into dark wire cages, racecar red combs flopping across their skulls and beaks. When he stands still, the hens quickly rejoin thousands of other white leg horns, stretching their necks through a slit to a feed trough mechanically filled five times a day and dully lit by a long red bulb.

“We keep it dim because it reduces their aggression,” says Satrum, owner of Willamette Egg Farms south of Canby and president of the Northwest Poultry Council.

Each of these 18,000-square-foot buildings house 60,000 chickens in conventional cages stacked three-high and lining aisles nearly the length of a football field. The birds stand shoulder to shoulder in cages the size of a file cabinet drawer. Beneath each layer is a wide gray belt that catches droppings and moves them during cleaning every other day. Narrow conveyor belts and mechanical ladders carry the eggs from the barns to the adjacent processing plant.

Under a new law, these cages will be torn down.

By 2026, hens must be moved into enriched colony cages with more space and more perks, like perches, scratching pads and nesting boxes. The law also requires farmers selling eggs in the state to follow care standards set by a board of scientific advisors for the American Humane Association, the United States’ first organization to certify animal products as humane.

Oregon is the one of the first states to implement space standards for egg-laying hens, just a few weeks behind Washington. Regional egg industry leaders accepted the new law as a compromise, but animal rights organizations are divided. The Oregon Humane Society supports the changes while the Humane Society of the United States says the new law doesn’t do enough.

A group backed by the Humane Society of the United States, Oregonians for Humane Farms, is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to eliminate chicken cages altogether, arguing that the law creates an illusion of reform and only barely improves the quality of life for hens.

Read the rest of the story here.

Healing the land that heals

May 27 for Montana Native News Project

Grandmother’s oven was his incubator.

But the gentle heat that rose through a soft blanket into the warming box where he lay was not what Marvin Weatherwax is convinced saved him from death as an infant 64 years ago.

His grandfather’s prayers and medicine did.

Weatherwax says he survived a premature birth because the Creator taught his ancestors to heal with the bodies and spirits of plants. He answered the people’s prayers in dreams and on vision quests that became stories shared through more than a dozen centuries.

The Creator sent Na’pi to form the Niitsitapiiksi, or Real People, in his hands from the Earth’s clay and he baked them over his prairie fire. He breathed life into the five tribes of the Blackfeet Confederacy and gave them the land east of the Rocky Mountains stretching south from the North Saskatchewan River to the Yellowstone River and east across the plains past modern day Great Falls. Na’pi told them to guard this land and that great trouble would come if they didn’t defend it from other peoples. He showed the Blackfeet Nation what the Creator had made to make them strong for this task.

Today the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana is less than 1 percent of the tribe’s original territory, but the mountains are still filled with the powerful spirits of bears, wolves and thunder. Na’pi also showed them rivers and lakes where the wise, but dangerous, Under Water People lived. Plants to nourish and heal their bodies and souls. Plants often considered weeds today. Plants, a natural resource for the tribe, that could die out unless Weatherwax and other tribal members can help revive the traditions that he says saved his life.

Click here to read the rest of the story and watch the video by Greg Lindstrom.

Popular bill to protect pregnant women loses support after divisive amendment

Tuesday Feb. 22 for Community News Service

Rep.  Pat Noonan was sure he had an idea everyone could buy. Who could oppose stiffer penalties for thugs who assault pregnant women?

But everything changed when Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee added the words “or her unborn child.”

With that amendment, the Butte Democrat found himself on the House floor today awkwardly defending a bill that he almost wished had died.

“You can’t assault an unborn child without assaulting the pregnant woman,” Noonan said. “I went from no opponents to half the people are opponents simply because of adding this in.”