Life plus 1,000 years: Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro sentenced


An Ohio judge on Thursday sentenced Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro to life in prison for abducting, raping and holding captive three women for as long as 11 years, and murder for forcing one of the women to abort her pregnancy.

Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo imposed the prison sentence after an emotional court hearing at which one of Castro's victims, Michelle Knight, 32, said the former school bus driver put her through a life of hell.

“I served 11 years of hell. Now your hell is just beginning,” Knight said of Castro in a statement read to the court.

Castro pleaded guilty last week to hundreds of criminal charges to avoid the possibility of the death penalty.

Wearing leg shackles and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, Castro listened to her testimony without expression.

[Related: Cleveland kidnappings: We must be our brother’s keeper]

Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23 and Knight, all went missing from the west side of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004. They were discovered on May 6 after neighbors heard Berry's cries for help from Castro's home.

Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro admitted at the hearing on Thursday that he was a sick man but said he is not the monster described by prosecutors.

Castro delivered a rambling statement to the court that he makes no excuses for his behavior, which he said was “wrong.”

Reporting by Kim Palmer; Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Gunna Dickson

Egypt’s Mubarak sentenced to life, protests erupt


Hosni Mubarak, toppled by an uprising last year after 30 years ruling Egypt, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Saturday for his role in killing protesters after a trial that sets a precedent for holding Middle East autocrats to account.

But it was not enough for thousands of Egyptians who poured onto the streets afterwards in a nation already on edge before a deciding presidential vote in two weeks. Some wanted Mubarak executed, others feared the judge’s ruling exposed weaknesses in the case that could let the ex-military strongman off on appeal.

Wearing dark glasses, the 84-year-old Mubarak was wheeled into a courtroom cage on a hospital stretcher to join co-defendants including his two sons Alaa and Gamal, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and six security officials.

Addressing the hushed courtroom, Judge Ahmed Refaat said: “The court has ordered a punishment for Hosni Mubarak of life in prison based on charges of participating in crimes of killing and attempted killing.”

Propped up on the stretcher and stony-faced during the verdict, the only words the former air force commander uttered were to acknowledge to the judge over a microphone that he was present before the ruling was read out. Afterwards, he was whisked off by helicopter to a prison hospital.

His two sons, businessman Alaa, and Gamal, a former banker was once seen as being groomed for president before his father was toppled on February 11, 2011, had corruption charges quashed, but stay in jail over another case referred to court last week.

Refaat sentenced Adli, whose police force was hated for the brutal tactics used against the revolt, to life in prison. About 850 people were killed in the 18-day uprising against Mubarak.

But the judge acquitted the senior security officials for lack of evidence, a decision that worried lawyers for victims’ families who said that could help Mubarak win any appeal.

Businessman and Mubarak ally Hussein Salem, being tried in absentia, was also acquitted of corruption charges.

It was the first time an ousted Arab leader had faced an ordinary court in person since a wave of uprisings shook the Arab world last year, sweeping away four entrenched rulers.

State television said Mubarak suffered a “health crisis” when he was flown to Cairo’s Tora prison, where he was admitted to a hospital facility. Mubarak had been held at a luxurious military-run hospital during the 10-month trial.

ONCE FETED, NOW FALLEN

A medical source said Mubarak argued with those around him when he landed at Tora, refusing to leave the aircraft. Mubarak always appeared in court sessions on a stretcher but his ailment has not been defined.

Long feted by Arab leaders and his U.S. and other Western allies as a lynchpin politician who offered stability in a turbulent region, Mubarak’s ousting has helped redraw the Middle East’s political map and let Islamists he once repressed sweep up parliamentary seats in the Arab world’s most populous state.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest Islamist group, is now fielding one of the two challengers in a fraught run-off vote for the presidency against Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, who like his former boss once led the air force.

Unlike elections in Mubarak’s time, that were routinely rigged and the outcome guaranteed, no one can be sure who will emerge victor in the June 16 and 17 run-off that has polarized the nation, leaving many worrying both about Islamist rule and the alternative of handing power back to a former military man.

Refaat opened proceedings by hailing Egyptians for removing the only leader many of them had known. Mubarak came to power in 1981 after his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by Islamists angry at Egypt’s 1979 peace deal with Israel.

“The people of Egypt woke on Tuesday, January 25, 2011, to a new dawn, hoping that they would be able to breathe fresh air … after 30 years of deep, deep, deep darkness,” he said, referring to the day the uprising erupted.

Yet many Egyptians are still waiting for the light – the chaos that erupted in court after the ruling typifying a messy political transition that has been led by the military. Generals say they will hand over power to a new president by July 1.

After a silence during sentencing, scuffles broke out inside the court between security officers and people chanting “Void, void” and “The people want the cleansing of the judiciary”.

Rather than a healing experience that many Egyptians wanted, many saw the trial that acquitted top security officials as showing how much of Mubarak’s old order was still in place.

Protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, focus for the uprising that drove Mubarak out. In Alexandria, demonstrators chanted: “We are done with talk, we want an execution!”

Al Jazeera reported that Mubarak would lodge an appeal. His lawyers could not be reached immediately for comment.

BROTHERHOOD WANTS RE-TRIAL

Yet some Egyptians said Mubarak’s sentencing was enough, even if they were unhappy security officials were off the hook.

“I think the verdict on Mubarak is fair, he is over 80 years old and a life in prison verdict is a hard one, as it means he will certainly spend all his remaining years in jail,” said Ahmed Raouf, 30, who works at a private Cairo computer firm.

Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi promised in a news conference he would deliver “retribution for the martyrs” and would dig up evidence to try those responsible for killings.

“The blood of the martyrs will keep boiling in my veins,” he said, painting himself as the choice for revolutionaries and those seeking change in the presidential race.

Ahmed Shafiq, appointed premier in the last days of Mubarak’s rule and who calls the ex-president a role model, said on his Facebook page the trial showed no one was above the law.

“This verdict brings Egypt back to its leading regional role as the country witnesses the first condemnation of an Arab pharaoh who ruled for 30 years,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah from the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

But he said the verdict would be a political football in the election. He said Mursi wanted to show he was the only one who could reform the system and Shafiq would seek to prove that this showed the judiciary could deliver a tough sentence, despite criticism of the ruling by protesters.

Lawyers acting for the families of victims said the acquittal of the six security officials showed the weakness of the prosecution case. They said the sentence was designed to appease public anger, but could be overturned at appeal.

“Regarding accusations against the police leadership, the court is of the opinion that none of the actors who committed the crimes of murder were caught during or after the events, so there is no direct evidence for the charges,” the judge said.

Charges against the six included complicity in killing protesters and failing to prevent damage to public property.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the ruling “sends a powerful message to Egypt’s future leaders that they are not above the law”. But it said the acquittals suggested a prosecution failure to fully investigate killings of protesters.

Few Egyptians had expected Mubarak to be put to death, although protesters have often hung his effigy from lamp posts.

Hanafi el-Sayed, whose 27-year-old son was killed early in the uprising, travelled from Alexandria for the trial.

“I want nothing less than the death penalty for Mubarak. Anything less and we will not be silent and the revolution will break out again,” he said shortly before the verdict.

Additional reporting by Yasmine, Saleh, Tom Perry, Patrick Werr and Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Ralph Gowling

Ex-soldier Anat Kamm sentenced for stealing classified documents


Former Israeli soldier Anat Kamm, who turned classified military documents over to a reporter, was sentenced to 54 months in jail.

The 4.5-year sentence and 18-month probation, announced Sunday in Tel Aviv District Court, is much less than the 15 years requested by prosecutors.

Her two-year house arrest will not be counted as time served.

Kamm was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. She had originally been charged with espionage; the charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain. Kamm was arrested in late 2009 or early 2010.

Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded on to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army’s Central Command. She turned the information over to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who wrote stories based on the information that were approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau’s source

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that was then partly owned by Haaretz.

“I didn’t have the chance to change some of the things that I found important to change during my military service, and I thought that by exposing these [materials] I would make a change,” Kamm is quoted as saying in the police documents. “It was important for me to bring the IDF’s policy to public knowledge.”

N.Y. synagogue bomb plotter sentenced to 25 years


The last of four men convicted last year in a bombing plot that included two New York synagogues received the minimum mandatory prison sentence, 25 years.

At Wednesday’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon and the defendant, Laguerre Payen, questioned whether Payen fit the definition of a terrorist.

Payen and three other co-conspirators were convicted last October of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, as well as other charges, for planning to blow up the Riverdale Jewish Center and the Riverdale Temple in the Bronx. They also are accused of seeking Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down military aircraft.

The four men, all from Newburgh, N.Y.,  were arrested in 2009 as part of an FBI sting operation that had begun the previous year.

The sting operation, which was aided by a paid government information posing as someone with high-level connections to a terrorist group, has come under criticism—notably from McMahon.

“The government made them terrorists,” she said Wednesday, The New York Times reported. “I’m not proud of my government after what it did in this case.”

At the hearing, Payen made the unusual move of addressing the court.

“Am I terrorist?” he asked McMahon, according to the Times. “Am I what they say, an extremist? Am I guilty?”

The judge at least partially agreed with the defendant while handing down the minimum mandatory sentence.

“I can tell you this: You were prepared to do a terrible thing, and you tried to do a terrible thing, and you tried to do it for a terrible reason,” McMahon told Payen. “Maybe it doesn’t make you a terrorist, but it makes you a criminal.”

Auschwitz sign stealer sentenced to prison


A Swedish neo-Nazi leader who organized the theft of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign from Auschwitz was sentenced to nearly three years in prison.

A Polish court on Thursday sentenced Anders Hogstrom, who acted as a middleman between a neo-Nazi buyer and five Polish thieves, to 32 months in prison, according to news reports. The sentence was part of a plea bargain struck in late November.

Hogstrom could have faced up to 10 years in prison. He will serve his sentence in a Swedish prison.

The iron sign, which measures 16 feet across and means “work makes you free,” was stolen from the former Nazi concentration camp on Dec. 18, 2009 and recovered across the country 72 hours later. It was found cut into three pieces.

Hogstrom, who was arrested in February in Stockholm and extradited to Poland in April, founded the National Socialist Front, a Swedish neo-Nazi movement, in 1994.

Accused Iranian spy for Israel sentenced to death


An Iranian man accused of spying for Israel has been given a death sentence.

Iranian news services reported the death sentence on Sunday. Iran’s Supreme Court must still approve the verdict, according to reports.

Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, said that more such espionage cases are under investigation, the Associated Press reported.

In 2008, Iran executed an electronics salesman after he was convicted of transferring information to Israel. Ten Iranian Jews were convicted of spying for Israel in 2000, but were released from prison early following international pressure.

Lebanon sentences Israel spies to death


A Lebanese military court sentenced three of the country’s citizens to death for spying for Israel.

Two of the alleged spies had fled the country, reportedly for Israel, and were sentenced in absentia.  The third man, Jawdat el-Hakim, admitted to working for Israel for 10 years beginning in 1999, Ynet reported.

The men can appeal the sentence to a higher court.

Former SS soldier sentenced to life


Former SS member Heinrich Boere was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for killing three civilians in Nazi-occupied Holland.

Boere, 88, had admitted to the district court in Aachen, Germany, that he shot the three in 1944, but insisted he was following military orders and could have faced imprisonment in a concentration camp or the death penalty if he refused.

The shootings were ordered in reprisal for attacks carried out by the Dutch resistance.

Lead judge Gerd Nohl said that the murders were of “practically incomparable maliciousness and cowardice—beyond the decency of any soldier,” according to German news reports. The defendant, who is half German and half Dutch, was an enthusiastic National Socialist and handed over fellow citizens to be executed, the judge said.

Efraim Zuroff, Israel director and chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, praised the efforts of prosecutor Ulrich Maas and said the trial proved that Holocaust perpetrators could still be held accountable for their crimes.

“The conviction of Boere, who volunteered to join the SS and openly admitted the crimes he committed, is an important reminder that the overwhelming majority of the murderers of the Holocaust did so willingly and without any coercion whatsoever,” Zuroff said in a statement.

“Despite the passage of decades, this trial clearly shows that Nazi war criminals can still be brought to justice if there is political will to do so, which unfortunately is not the case in most European countries,” he said.

Zuroff has been among many observers of the ongoing trial in Munich of John Demjanjuk, 89, for involvement in more than 29,000 murders in the Sobibor death camp.

Boere had told Focus magazine last year that he was following orders.

“It was not difficult: You just had to bend a finger,” he said.

After the war, Boere was found guilty of murder in Holland and fled to Germany, where he took on German citizenship. Meanwhile, the Dutch death sentence was commuted to a life sentence.

Community Briefs


Fallout From Holy Day Ballot

The Rosh Hashanah election fracas took another odd turn this week when Orange County officials placed the county’s registrar of voters on paid administrative leave. Steve Rodermund, who has held the position since late 2003, was relieved of his duties Aug. 25, a week after scheduling a special election to fall on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for Jews.

Rodermund’s status has nothing to do with the election controversy, said Diane Thomas-Plunk, a county spokesperson. But the timing invited exactly that sort of speculation about the scheduled Oct. 4 balloting, which is a primary to replace Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who resigned from Congress to accept President Bush’s nomination to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The county has since apologized to the Jewish community and pledged to make amends, short of changing the election.

But that’s exactly what state Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) has in mind. This week, he introduced legislation to give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that authority.

“I think it would be analogous to holding an election on Christmas,” said Richman, himself Jewish, and a candidate for state treasurer.

Area Jewish leaders estimate that more than half of Orange County’s 80,000 to 100,000 Jews live in the 48th District formerly represented by Cox. It includes Irvine, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, among other cities.

Richman said he had contacted Schwarzenegger’s office but that the governor had taken no position on his proposed legislation.

Schwarzenegger’s lack of involvement has angered some in the Jewish community.

“The governor’s office needs to step forward and become an active partner in solving this very unfortunate scheduling problem,” said Rabbi Marc Dworkin, executive director for the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “As the highest elected official in the state of California, the governor has an obligation to send a message both to the Jewish community and to other groups in Orange County that something like this will never happen.”

The governor’s office told The Journal this week that his staff knew the primary fell on Rosh Hashanah but thought the holiday began after sundown, which would have given Jewish voters the entire day to cast their ballots. The governor supports efforts to provide early voting, absentee balloting and other means to make it easier for people to vote, a spokesperson said.

Registrar Rodermund could not be reached for comment. In an earlier interview he said the chosen date was the best available, given scheduling constraints.

Chief Deputy Registrar Neal Kelley, who is filling in for Rodermund, said the county would set up booths in synagogues, community centers and city halls, where Jews and other county residents could vote before Oct. 4. Leisure World, a senior community, and the cities of Irvine, San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Niguel have agreed to offer early voting. The county, he added, planned to mail out information on absentee ballots.

Kelley added that, going forward, he hoped Jewish groups and others would join the Community Advisory Committee, which typically meets 90 days before an election to discuss dates, the distribution of equipment, polling sites and poll workers. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Panitch Killer Denied Parole

David Scott Smith’s best chance for parole probably evaporated after he answered the Parole Board’s first question about why he killed Robbyn Sue Panitch, a 37-year-old psychiatric social worker.

Smith replied that he hadn’t killed Panitch at all. He said he had stabbed another woman, someone named Gladys. Robbyn Panitch, he insisted, was still living — in a secret location in Russia.

“They didn’t ask him a whole lot of questions after that,” recounted Alan Panitch, the 81-year-old father of the victim, who attended last week’s hearing at a medium security prison in San Luis Obispo.

Smith, a psychotic and homeless Air Force vet, was a patient of Robbyn Panitch when he stormed into her Santa Monica office in February 1987 and stabbed her with a butcher’s knife more than 30 times. He’d been released from commitment because of budget cuts, and, at the time, county mental-health facilities lacked effective security systems.

After the murder, Alan Panitch and his late wife, Gloria, also had to endure an anti-Semitic hate-mail campaign, which prompted their eventual move from Palos Verdes to Seattle.

Smith was sentenced to 26 years to life in February 1991, making him eligible for parole as early as 2006.

These days, Alan Panich volunteers his time helping crime victims and at-risk kids. But for the last several months, he focused on gathering petition signatures opposing Smith’s release. At the parole hearing he was joined by his son and daughter-in-law, as well as by L.A. Deputy D.A. David Dahle.

“Smith’s crime was particularly bloody and heinous and he posed a dangerous threat to society,” Dahle said he told the panel. “I told them I believed he will try and kill again if he ever gets out of prison.”

Smith entered the room much older than Panitch remembered, with a paunch and a monotonic voice. Seeing Smith again made Panitch forget his prepared remarks.

“It all went out of my head,” Panitch said. “I just told the panel how he destroyed our lives. You never get over it,” he continued. “When I rode in the ambulance with my wife the night she died, she said to me, ‘Now, I’m going to see Robbyn again.'”

The two panel members left the room for about 15 minutes before they returned to announce that the parole was denied.

Smith’s court-appointed attorney did not return calls.

Said Panitch: “I’ll be back in five years to make sure he gets turned down again.” — Jim Crogan, Contributing Writer