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Judge to re-sentence Scott Peterson in December to life term

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California judge said Wednesday that she plans to resentence Scott Peterson to life in prison Dec. 8 while she separately considers whether he receives a new trial in the 2002 murders of his pregnant wife and unborn son.

Peterson was sentenced to death in 2005 and has spent more than 15 years on death row, but the California Supreme Court tossed out his sentence last year and prosecutors say they won’t again seek to have him executed.

“This is no longer a death penalty case,” Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager reiterated during Wednesday’s brief hearing. “There is no way in the world this is anything other than a life without parole case.”

She expects the resentencing hearing to last no longer than two hours, with brief statements from family members of 27-year-old Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant at the time of her killing.

Peterson has been appearing at the hearings through a remote link from San Quentin State Prison, home to California’s death row, but will be present in person for his resentencing.

The high court ruled last year that jurors who personally disagreed with the death penalty but were willing to impose it were improperly dismissed.

It separately ordered Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo to decide if Peterson must receive an entirely new trial because of juror misconduct.

That in turn has complicated who should represent him, and the timing of the retrial decision. Defense attorneys who work for the Habeas Corpus attorneys may no longer be able to represent Peterson because by law they can only be involved in death penalty cases.

One of Peterson’s attorneys, Pat Harris, told Massullo that removing those attorneys could mean delaying the retrial decision “for what could be a substantial amount of time … maybe even a year or more for new counsel to get up to date. That obviously causes us a great deal of concern.”

Harris instead proposed holding the retrial hearing in mid-November, before Peterson’s resentencing date.

Massullo plans to consider the timing and who should represent Peterson during a hearing later this month.

Peterson’s lawyers contend the woman known as Juror 7 falsely answered questions during the selection process as she sought to join the jury. She later coauthored a book on the case.

Supreme Court justices said there was considerable circumstantial evidence incriminating Peterson in the first-degree murder of his wife and the second-degree murder of the boy they planned to name Connor.

Prosecutors said Peterson took his wife’s body from their Modesto home on Christmas Eve 2002 and dumped her in San Francisco Bay from his fishing boat. The bodies washed ashore in April 2003.

Defense attorneys say they have new evidence that nearby burglars may have committed the crime, though investigators say they were ruled out as suspects.

To get the chance to prove it, Peterson’s attorneys must persuade Massullo that the juror was biased because she had been a crime victim, something she did not disclose during jury selection.

It was later learned that the woman had been beaten by a boyfriend while she was pregnant in 2001. She also didn’t reveal that during another pregnancy she had obtained a restraining order against a boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend because she was fearful the woman would harm her unborn child.

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San Francisco announces cash rewards to collar auto burglars

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco will give out cash awards of up to $100,000 for information about the ringleaders of high-level auto burglaries — in yet another push to battle crime in a city marked by attention-grabbing vehicle smash and grabs, home break-ins and retail theft.

The cash rewards would come from private donors in the tourism and hospitality industry, Mayor London Breed said at a Tuesday news conference where she was joined by San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott.

The fund has about $225,000 so far and will pay for information leading to the arrest and conviction of “high-level leaders of organized auto burglary fencing operations,” according to a statement from Breed’s office.

Authorities have said they believe fewer than a dozen auto burglary crews are responsible for most of the smash-and-grabs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But news reports and viral video of break-ins have reinforced the perception of San Francisco as lawless and lenient. Last month, Breed and Scott announced the city would dedicate more police to combat retail shoplifting and make reporting of shoplifting cases easier.

Breed’s office said that auto burglaries reported to police have declined since 2017, when the city recorded about 31,400. More than 15,000 auto burglaries have been reported this year, but 2021 is on track to fall below the nearly 26,000 auto burglaries reported in 2019, according to her office.

“These break-ins hurt our residents, especially working families who do not have the time or money to deal with the effects, as well as visitors to our city whose experiences are too often tarnished after an otherwise positive experience,” Breed said.

Last week, Australian singer Clinton Kane posted on social media that robbers made off with more than $30,000 worth of camera equipment after they broke into his SUV, which was parked on the street while he and his crew dined nearby. They rushed over when they heard glass breaking and the robbers pointed guns at them.

San Francisco motorists and tourists face constant warnings to hide belongings in car trunks and to park in staffed lots when possible.

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‘A dangerous time’: Portland, Oregon, sees record homicides

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — It was nearly last call on a Friday when Jacob Eli Knight Vasquez went to get a drink across the street from the tavern where he worked in northwest Portland — an area with a thriving dining scene, where citygoers enjoy laid-back eateries, international cuisines and cozy cafés.

The 34-year-old had been at the pizza bar only a short time when shots rang out. Vasquez was struck by a stray bullet and died at the scene.

His killing in late September was one of the 67 homicides this year in Portland, which has surpassed its previous full-year record of 66 in 1987. And with more than two months remaining in the year, Portland will likely shatter its previous high mark.

In a metropolis wracked by gang violence, fear and frustration have settled over Portland as stories like Vasquez’s make some wary to go out at night. Unlike previous years, more bystanders are being caught in the crossfire — from people mourning at vigils and sitting in cars to children playing in a park.

“People should be leery because this is a dangerous time,” said Lionel Irving Jr., a lifelong Portland resident and a gang outreach worker.

Portland’s police department is struggling to keep up amid an acute staffing shortage and budget cuts. Now, the liberal Pacific Northwest city is implementing novel solutions aimed at improving safety, including adding traffic barrels to prevent drive-by shootings and suspending minor traffic stops so officers can focus on immediate threats.

But critics say Oregon’s largest city — where the population has grown by nearly 50%, to more than 650,000, over the past few decades — is flailing.

“Let’s please untie the hands of our law enforcement officers,” Vasquez’s brother-in-law, Don Osborn, said outside the business where Vasquez was slain. “I believe if the proper tools were in place for our law enforcement officers, this wouldn’t even have happened.”

So far this year, Portland has had more than 1,000 shootings, at least 314 people have been injured by bullets, and firearms have accounted for three-quarters of homicides. Police attribute much of the gunfire to gangs, fights and retaliation killings, but they are also affecting bystanders.

Nine-year-old Hadar Kedem recently told city leaders about a dangerously close call when she was caught in gunfire earlier this year.

Hadar had been playing with her father, brother and dog at a northeast Portland park when a group of people in ski masks started shooting. Hadar and her family dove for cover behind a metal equipment bin. One bullet landed within feet of the fourth-grader.

“I know that not only do I want change, but everyone wants change,” Hadar said during a City Council meeting last month. “I want to feel safe.”

Nationally, homicides increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. However, in Portland, deadly violence — which has been exacerbated by the pandemic — is increasing at a faster rate than nearly all major cities, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020.

Portland has had more homicides in 2021 than some larger cities, including San Francisco, and twice as many slayings as its larger neighbor, Seattle. Other hard-hit Western cities include the Albuquerque, New Mexico, metro area, which has about 679,000 residents and has had a record 97 homicides this year.

Portland police have struggled to quell the violence with a force 128 officers below its authorized strength. Since August 2020, about 200 officers have left the department. Many, in their exit interviews, cited low morale, lack of support from city officials and burnout from months of racial justice protests, which often ended in plumes of tear gas before largely dying down last fall.

“We are running on fumes. There’s no way we can investigate thoroughly, and correctly, all these shootings,” said Daryl Turner, executive director of Portland’s police union.

Turner says the city needs to hire 840 officers over the next five years to implement proper community policing and keep Portland safe.

Besides staffing, Turner said the increase in violence is directly related to budget cuts.

Amid booming calls to defund the police, city leaders slashed $27 million from the police budget last year — $11 million due to the pandemic-caused budget crisis — a decision that Turner says has cost lives.

Officials also disbanded a specialized unit focused on curbing gun violence, which long faced criticism for disproportionately targeting people of color. However, the City Council has approved the creation of a new team of officers to address gun violence, set to launch in November, but with no additional funds.

Insufficient manpower and money have forced officials to implement nontraditional ideas in an attempt to hinder gun violence.

More traffic barrels were installed this month in a southeast Portland neighborhood plagued by shootings, some linked to high-speed drivers. City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said they hope to slow activity at gun violence hot spots and make it harder to “both commit a crime and get away with it.”

“This is an all-hands-on deck situation where government needs to dig deep, think creatively,” Hardesty said. “From police to community-based organizations to infrastructure design — we all have a role to play in this emergency.”

In addition, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced in June that officers are no longer being directed to stop drivers for low-level traffic violations.

Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell said this was in response to data showing a disproportionate impact on Black drivers, but also because the city doesn’t have enough officers.

But experts, police and residents say these measures aren’t nearly enough to counter the most violent year in the city’s modern history.

“This past year has shattered anything that I’ve ever witnessed,” said Irving, the outreach worker and a former gang member.

He said he does not believe gun violence will slow unless more officers patrol the streets and a specialized gun violence unit is created. Investments also are needed for community-based organizations that help at-risk youth, he said.

Four cultural institutions in Portland’s Old Town Chinatown neighborhood recently sent a letter to officials, demanding immediate action to keep visitors, staff and volunteers safe.

The increasing violence and pleas for cities to do more have compelled some areas to switch from defunding police departments to restoring funding.

Portions of police budgets are also being restored around the U.S. There were massive budget cuts for departments such as Los Angeles and New York amid the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd last year. But local leaders have approved reviving some funding.

In Portland, there’s money available for public safety in the form of a $60 million general fund excess balance.

The City Council can use half the money, which came from business taxes last year and was far more than anticipated, however it wants. Whether a significant portion will go to the police bureau has not yet been determined.

“We have to realize that everybody has a role, from community members to the police department,” Irving said. “No one entity is going to solve gun violence.”

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Sara Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Oregon illegal pot grows: More calls to send National Guard

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — On the same day last week that a southern Oregon county declared a state of emergency amid a sharp increase in illegal cannabis farms, police raided a site that had about 2 tons of processed marijuana and 17,500 pot plants.

The raid illustrates that the proliferation of industrial-scale marijuana farms has gotten so bad and so brazen that Jackson County Commissioners asked Gov. Kate Brown to send in the Oregon National Guard “to assist, as able, in the enforcement of laws related to the production of cannabis.” They also directly appealed to Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek for help getting additional funding to tackle the problem.

During last Wednesday’s raid in Medford, near the California border, police found a vast outdoor growing operation, plus harvested plants hanging upside down on drying racks and 3,900 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of resinous buds stashed in huge bags and in stacks of plastic storage containers.

The officers took 26 migrant workers into custody, interviewed them and then released them. An arrest warrant was issued for the primary suspect, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said.

Courtney said he is so concerned about the surge in illegal marijuana farms in Jackson and neighboring Josephine counties that he agrees the Oregon National Guard should be sent in. Many of the illegal growers are armed.

“You can’t solve it just at the local level, and you cannot solve it, I’m afraid, just at the usual state level and have some more state troopers down there,” the Democrat said. “The National Guard, they’re going to have to get deployed down there some way or other.”

Brown, also a Democrat, is holding off on a deployment for now but could reconsider next year, her office said.

The Josephine County commissioners wrote to Courtney in August to describe how migrant workers are being exploited and subjected to “appalling conditions,” while living in tents with no toilets, no running water or bathing facilities, unrefrigerated food and unsanitary cooking facilities.

Jackson and Josephine counties are considered the northern extension of the Emerald Triangle, a fabled marijuana-growing epicenter, of which California’s Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties form the major part.

The increasing calls for National Guard intervention recalls the drug wars of the 1990s, when the citizen-soldiers were used, including in Missouri and California.

In California’s Humboldt County back then, some 200 Army soldiers, National Guardsmen and federal agents raided clandestine pot farms in rugged terrain. Residents responded with protests.

Both Oregon and California in recent years legalized the cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana, so long as those involved enter the regulated systems in each state and abide by the rules. While many have done so, with Oregon in particular reaping a bonanza in marijuana taxes, some growers have resisted.

California has also been hit by industrial-scale illegal marijuana growing operations, with eradication left to local authorities, and in federal territory, to federal officers.

In southern Oregon, the problem has gotten worse recently, law enforcement officials say.

Perhaps recognizing that local law enforcement is stretched thin, foreign cartels began setting up hundreds of unlicensed marijuana growing operations last spring, authorities say.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel said he believes the cartel masterminds expect to lose a few growing operations, but the sheer number of them means many will remain untouched until the marijuana is sold on the black market outside Oregon.

However, Daniel said Monday he doesn’t believe the National Guard is the answer.

“If you want some National Guard troops to help you cut down plants, great, but you’ve got to realize there’s a lot of investigation that goes into these operations, to get the search warrants,” Daniel said. “You’re going to have National Guard people sitting on their hands for a number of days at a time.”

The sheriff said he’d prefer having investigators from agencies like the Internal Revenue Service follow the money trail, and having the Drug Enforcement Administration involved.

“This is a billion-dollar industry or a multibillion-dollar industry,” he said. “Where are they?”

The DEA declined to commnent.

In California, the growing operations are increasing beyond the Emerald Triangle. In July, the largest illegal marijuana bust in Los Angeles County history netted 373,000 plants that authorities say would have been worth $1 billion on the street.

The raid in the Antelope Valley of Southern California’s high desert resulted in 131 arrests and the seizure of more than 33,000 pounds (14,969 kilograms) of harvested marijuana plants. That represented only a fraction of the region’s illicit growing operations, authorities said.

Officials said the wide-ranging problem has grown tremendously during the coronavirus pandemic. Armed cartel members run massive growing operations, some spanning dozens of greenhouses, that are undermining California’s legal marijuana market.

Amid a megadrought across the U.S. West, illegal growers are stealing water, depriving legal users including farmers and homeowners of the increasingly precious resource.

In Oregon, the Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District in Josephine County has held town halls about the issue recently.

“The people of the Illinois Valley are experiencing an existential threat for the first time in local history,” said Christopher Hall, the conservation district’s community organizer.

Asked if Brown was considering deploying the Oregon National Guard, her spokeswoman, Elizabeth Merah, said the Oregon Military Department already has a full-time National Guard service member embedded in each of three law enforcement teams in southern Oregon.

She said the situation would be reexamined next year.

“Because the current growing season is drawing to a close, we are not considering deploying additional resources this year,” Merah said in an email. “The governor remains concerned about the situation and will continue to monitor what resources might be needed for the 2022 growing season.”

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Associated Press writer Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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