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Judge OK’s Arizona rancher trial in illegal Mexican border crossers

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Judge OK’s Arizona rancher trial in Mexican killing…

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona rancher accused of shooting at a group of illegal migrants on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border, killing one man, will face trial on charges including second-degree murder and aggravated assault, a judge ruled Friday.

Santa Cruz County Justice of the Peace Emilio G. Velasquez made his decision following hours of testimony that he said aired a lot of new information about the Jan. 30 shooting, which left Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, a 48-year-old from Nogales, Mexico, dead on George Alan Kelly’s ranch outside Nogales, Arizona.

“Do I think there was some testimony that there might have been some holes on? Yes. I do,” the judge said. “But at the end of the day … the court does find that the offenses were committed by this defendant and I will be binding this over to Superior Court.”

There was no visible reaction from Kelly, who sat with his attorney, Brenna Larkin, during a livestream of the evidentiary hearing in Nogales.

The judge said Kelly, 74, can remain free on $1 million bail pending his March 6 arraignment, with restrictions including no contact with witnesses or Cuen-Buitimea’s family and a ban on possessing firearms.

Larkin earlier lost a bid to postpone Friday’s hearing after prosecutors lowered Kelly’s charge from a single count of first-degree murder, which would require a finding of premeditated intent to kill and can lead to a sentence of death or life imprisonment.

Chief Deputy County Attorney Kimberly Hunley told the judge that prosecutors intend to prove second-degree murder — that Kelly had no basis for “intentionally, knowingly, or under circumstances recklessly” shooting an AK-47 rifle toward eight or so unarmed migrants about 80 to 100 yards (meters) away.

“There is no justification for shooting an unarmed man in the back,” Hunley told the judge.

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During a warrant search of Kelly’s house following the shooting, sheriff’s deputies found several weapons but at first missed the AK-47. They returned with a second warrant and found it hanging on a door.

Larkin said her client shot into the air above the migrants. She has said Kelly feared for his and his wife’s safety and the property.

On Friday she pointed to phone calls Kelly made the day of the killing to U.S. Border Patrol agents he knew from previous incidents at his ranch, reporting that he heard shooting outside and “he might have to return fire or he is returning fire, something along those lines.”

“He sees armed people with rifles carrying backpacks going through his property, and he sees his horse running,” the defense attorney told the judge. She noted that two Border Patrol agents familiar with Kelly’s ranch testified “that is a high-crime area, that there are a lot of drug traffickers that go through that area.”

Larkin repeatedly asked sheriff’s deputies and Border Patrol agents who testified about “bias in the investigation” and told the judge she thought investigators scrutinized Kelly’s statements more closely than those of witnesses.

Kelly did not testify. He apparently wrote about his borderlands ranching life in the self-published “Far Beyond the Border Fence,” described on Amazon.com as a “contemporary novel which brings the Mexican Border/Drug conflict into the 21st century.”

Friday’s hearing featured sometimes-conflicting testimony from law enforcement agents and witnesses, including a Mexican man who recounted hearing gunfire and running behind Cuen-Buitimea when the victim said he had been shot, fell and died.

“I saw Gabriel,” said the man, who spoke through a Spanish-language interpreter and was referred to by the initials D.R.R. to protect his identity. “He held his chest and said, ‘I’m hit.’ He rolled his eyes and fell down.”

The court cut the video stream and provided only audio of the testimony from D.R.R., a farmworker in Mexico who said he had made “seven or eight” tries to cross the border to find work but was apprehended each time.

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Court records show Cuen-Buitimea also entered the U.S. illegally several times, and was convicted and deported, most recently in 2016.

D.R.R. testified that he and Cuen-Buitimea, whom he called a friend, had paid a guide for passage across the border on Jan. 30 and were heading to Phoenix. He also said neither of them was carrying a weapon, and the guide had left them. Cuen-Buitimea was wearing a green camouflage backpack as well as a bag on his belt.

The man said he believed he heard 15 or 16 shots fired as the group ran. A sheriff’s deputy testified that investigators recovered nine shell casings near Kelly’s south-facing back porch.

D.R.R said that as he fled he saw a man with white hair near the house and something in the man’s hand. He did not identify the object as a gun.

“I ran 20 meters (22 yards) when I turned around to see him,” D.R.R. said. “I turned around to see if it was government agents coming after us. I was able to jump and I jumped the wall back to Mexico.”

Two other migrants also told authorities that Kelly shot at them. They, too, were not hit and managed to escape back to Mexico.

Hunley has said her office, the court and the sheriff’s department “have all received disturbing communications, some threatening in nature, that seem to indicate an ongoing threat to the safety of the victims.”

The shooting has stirred emotions as the national debate over border security heats up ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Less than six months ago, a prison warden and his brother were arrested in a West Texas shooting in which one migrant was killed and another was wounded. Michael and Mark Sheppard, both 60, were charged with manslaughter in the September shooting.

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Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press writer Anita Snow in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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