Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Chronicle briefs for Sept. 22, 2022

Judge Temporarily Suspends Indiana Abortion Ban

An Indiana judge temporarily halted the state’s ban on most abortions Thursday, a week after the law took effect.

The decision came as part of a lawsuit brought by abortion providers challenging the state ban, which prohibits most abortions from conception. Indiana was the first state to pass new, sweeping restrictions on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure in June.

The judge’s ruling for now restores wider legal rights to abortion in the state, which has played a prominent role in the nation’s abortion debate, while the court case proceeds.

It also adds to the shifting and often chaotic patchwork of abortion regulations across the country as conservative legislatures push for tighter restrictions and abortion rights groups challenge them in court. The legal challenges are seeking to establish a right to abortion in individual state constitutions. Such cases, though in preliminary stages, are being watched closely to see whether that strategy works.

The Indiana law, signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, in early August, bans abortion from conception except in some cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality or when the pregnant woman faces risk of death or certain severe health risks.

The decision of Special Judge Kelsey Hanlon, a Republican, of the Owen County Circuit Court, means that abortions up to 20 weeks after fertilization, or 22 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual cycle, can resume in the state.

Putin Confidant Most Prominent Captive Released in Swap

Viktor Medvedchuk, the most prominent captive released by Ukraine in a prisoner swap with Russia, is a close friend of President Vladimir Putin of Russia who had acted as the Kremlin’s primary agent of influence in Ukraine for years.

Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian politician and oligarch, was handed over alongside Russian pilots and senior military officials, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday, in exchange for more than 200 Ukrainian fighters, including commanders of the Azov Battalion, who have been celebrated as heroes in Ukraine for their last-stand defense of Mariupol. It was the largest prisoner swap in the seven-month long war.

Russian officials had previously disavowed any claims to Medvedchuk, despite his long-known ties to Putin, who is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter. A Kremlin spokesperson in May had dismissed the idea of exchanging Medvedchuk with Ukrainian fighters, saying that he “has nothing to do with Russia,” according to Russian state media.

Medvedchuk was captured by authorities in Ukraine in April after he fled house arrest while awaiting trial on treason charges in a case initiated last year. After his detention, officials in Ukraine also seized some of his vast wealth, amassed through energy deals with the Kremlin while working in support of Russian interests in Ukraine and beyond.

At the time of the arrest, Zelenskyy posted a photo showing Medvedchuk in handcuffs, looking disheveled. “Let Medvedchuk be an example for you,” the Ukrainian leader said in a nightly address. “Even the former oligarch did not escape.”

A former deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, a presidential adviser and a negotiator in prisoner exchanges with Russia, Medvedchuk was a polarizing figure in Ukraine who championed a closer relationship with Moscow. His two-decade friendship with Putin is well documented. The Russian president visited Medvedchuk’s lavish Crimea residence in 2012, and an official Kremlin photograph showed Medvedchuk with Putin at a martial arts tournament in 2013.

Medvedchuk’s influence was such that his name emerged in the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He was a client of Republican political consultant Paul Manafort, who advised pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before becoming chairman of Donald Trump’s election campaign.

At the time, Ukrainian authorities released entries from an accounting document showing that Manafort had received $12.7 million from pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. In the middle of the investigation into Russian meddling in 2017, Reuters reported that the FBI was examining phone calls and text messages between people close to Trump and people with ties to Putin, including Medvedchuk.

Medvedchuk has denied wrongdoing, saying Manafort only advised his political party on electoral strategy.

His transfer to Russia is likely to mean he will not stand trial on charges that he faces in Ukraine, or be interviewed by investigators from other countries looking into Russian influence peddling.

Zelenskyy’s adviser, Andriy Yermak, said in a statement that it was a worthwhile trade and that Medvedchuk “had already given all the testimony he could.”

3 arrested in connection with $5 million jewelry heist

LOS ANGELES – Three suspects have been arrested in connection with a March robbery in which they allegedly stole $5 million worth of jewelry from a high-end Beverly Hills jeweler during a brazen daytime heist, authorities said.

Deshon Bell, 20, from Long Beach, and an unidentified juvenile from Long Beach were arrested Wednesday, the Beverly Hills Police Department said in a news release. Police also said they recovered a 9 mm handgun and high-capacity magazine during Bell’s arrest.

A third suspect, Jimmy Lee Vernon of Gardena, was arrested by California Highway Patrol officers during a traffic stop in Barstow.

The Beverly Hills Police Department and tactical teams from the FBI conducted simultaneous warrant services at three different locations in Long Beach, authorities said.

All suspects were booked and await charges stemming from the robbery at Luxury Jewels of Beverly Hills. Bell was booked on commercial burglary and conspiracy. The unidentified juvenile was booked on commercial burglary. Vernon was booked on federal criminal complaint for robbery.

Authorities said that a fourth suspect, Ladell Tharpe, 37, from Los Angeles, was already in custody for an unrelated offense. Tharpe has been charged in a federal criminal complaint with robbery in connection with the incident in the 200 block of South Beverly Drive.

On March 22, police responded to calls of up to six sledgehammer-wielding burglars who smashed the glass windows and display cases of Luxury Jewels of Beverly Hills and allegedly stole around $5 million in precious gems, designer watches and necklaces in broad daylight. The burglars fled within minutes, while the store was surrounded by Beverly Hills police cars. At the time, Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said that the burglars hid their features with hoodies and masks.

According to Stainbrook, police used surveillance footage in their investigation from private and public cameras and eventually identified the getaway vehicle and suspects. Police said it coordinated with agents from the FBI and the United States attorney’s office to secure arrest warrants against three suspects.

Evidence connecting the suspects to the South Beverly Drive crime was recovered during Wednesday’s arrests, authorities said.

The investigation remains ongoing.

dozens of whales SAVED after hundreds die IN Tasmania

Rescuers responding to a deadly mass whale stranding on Tasmania’s west coast said Thursday that they had released 32 pilot whales into deep waters, while three remain stranded but out of reach in the remote location on the Australian island state.

About 200 of the animals have died so far this week after the stranding was first reported Wednesday and marine wildlife experts rushed to Macquarie Harbor along with Tasmanian police and employees from the parks and wildlife service. The harbor is dangerously shallow, and its entrance is known as “Hell’s Gates.”

This week’s tragedy coincides with the anniversary of Australia’s largest mass stranding on record, when more than 350 pilot whales died in September 2020.

The cause of the latest stranding is unknown, and tests are being carried out on the carcasses, officials said.

Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said in a statement Thursday that the surviving whales were released into deep waters by teams that have been working around-the-clock to save the mammals, considered a protected species.