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America Conducted Fewest Executions Since 1994

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Death Penalty Information Center on Thursday released its annual report, which found that America conducted the fewest executions in 20 years in 2014.

The report says that just 35 executions took place in 2014 in seven states, the smallest number of people put to death since 1994. Also in 2014, only 72 people received death sentences, the smallest number in the 40 years of the modern death penalty.

Three states -- Texas, Missouri and Florida -- accounted for 80 percent of the country's executions.

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Ohio Supreme Court Says Traffic Camera Can Stay

Timothy Epp/iStock/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- The Supreme Court of Ohio on Thursday upheld the city of Toledo's automated traffic camera system used to catch drivers who run red lights or commit speeding violations.

According to the court documents, the court heard arguments from an Ohio man who claimed that the policy "usurps the jurisdiction of the municipal court, is unconstitutionally vague and violates due process." The crux of the complaint is that the appeal process through which a motorist would have to go if they were to contest a camera-issued ticket is established by the Toledo Police Department.

The state supreme court says that the Toledo law "does not offend...the Ohio Constitution" and that cities are within their rights to establish automated ticketing systems.

Three justices wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that the city council did not have the power to limit a municipal court's jurisdiction, as they believe the Toledo system does.

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Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Appears in Court

FBI(BOSTON) -- With a slight, scruffy beard and long, tousled hair, accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared in federal court Thursday -- the first time he’s been seen in public in a year and a half.

The 21-year-old politely answered the judge’s questions in a final status conference, what is expected to be his last pretrial hearing before jury selection in his case begins in January.

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to a litany of charges connected to twin explosions that ripped through the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three, including an 8-year-old boy, and injuring more than 260 others.

Investigators say that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, planted the bombs and followed the horrific attack up with a series of other crimes.

Four days after the explosions, investigators say, the Tsarnaevs murdered MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, carjacked a Mercedes SUV driver, and led police on a high-speed chase in Watertown where a bomb and bullet battle erupted in the street. Tamerlan was killed in the firefight.

Dzhokhar fled the scene and hid for more than 16 hours until his capture on a dry-docked boat, where he appeared to explain his motive for the crime with a note written inside, according to prosecutors.

“We Muslims are one body. You hurt one of us you hurt us all," read part of a note allegedly written by Tsarnaev on the wall of the boat amid bullet holes. “Know you are fighting men who look into the barrel [of] your gun and see heaven.”

Court documents filed in March gave a potential hint of at least part of the defense strategy Tsarnaev’s legal team could use: saying Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was under the control of his older brother -- “an all-powerful force who could not be ignored or disobeyed.”

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'Slender Man' Stabbing Suspects Competent to Stand Trial

iStock/Thinkstock(WAUKESHA, Wis.) -- Two Wisconsin girls who allegedly stabbed a friend over Slender Man were found competent on Thursday to stand trial.

A Wisconsin judge found 13-year-old Anissa Weier competent, while the second suspect, Morgan Geyser, waived her right to a hearing and was, as a result, ruled competent.

Testimony from three doctors who evaluated Weier -- one hired by the prosecution, the other two by her defense -- presented their findings before the judge.

The prosecution's doctor found her competent, while the defense's doctors found her incompetent.

When Weier herself was asked by Judge Michael Bohren if she considered herself competent, Weier said, "I consider myself incompetent, sir."

By stating such, under Wisconsin law, Weier set a very high burden of proof for the prosecution to clear and the judge ruled that they had met the burden.

Later in the day, a second hearing to determine Geyser's competency was waived by the teen's lawyers, agreeing with a doctor's opinion that she is competent. The judge agreed and as a result Geyser was ruled to be in fact competent.

According to investigators, Geyser and Weier from Waukesha, Wisconsin, decided they wanted to be with Slender Man, a fictional horror character born from a dark corner of the Internet.

In stories they read about him online, Slender Man kidnaps and kills children. Not only did the girls believe he was real, police said, they were convinced the only way to get in his good graces was to kill someone.

But Slender Man isn’t real. And their friend, a girl named Payton Leutner, survived being stabbed last May with a large kitchen knife 19 times.

All three girls were 12 at the time.

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North Carolina Driver Gets Into Two Accidents, Caught on Video

Evgueni Sinigalia/Hemera/Thinkstock(HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C.) -- A driver in Holly Springs, North Carolina, was hit by two cars in domino accidents both caught on his car cameras.

Rear- and front-view cameras captured the first hit from behind on a two-lane road.

"I was rear-ended by this guy on my way home from school," the YouTube user wrote in the video description. "He claimed that his window was fogged up, so he did not see me. It doesn't show in the video, but I saw him coming in my rear view mirror. His windshield was NOT fogged up and I could see his eyes were pointed downward. Clearly, he was playing around on his phone."

The impact pushed the car into oncoming traffic.

"The driver at fault was hauled off to the hospital complaining of back pain, and the lady who hit my car from the front said her finger was hurt."

The air bag was deployed and the car was "considered a total loss by the insurance company," the YouTube user wrote.

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New York AG Sends Cease-and-Desist Letters to Companies Selling Realistic-Looking Toy Guns

sunstock/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Thursday that his office has sent cease-and-desist letters to retailers including Walmart, Amazon and Kmart, urging them to stop selling toy guns that break New York state law by lacking distinguishing designs from the real thing.

"When toy guns are mistaken for real guns," Schneiderman said, "there can be tragic consequences." The law prohibits the sale of toy guns in realistic colors -- such as black, blue, silver or aluminum -- unless it has a non-removable, one-inch-wide orange stripe running down the sides and front end of the barrel.

"New York State law is clear," Schneiderman added, "retailers cannot put children and law enforcement at risk by selling toy guns that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing."

Schneiderman's office also sent cease-and-desist letters to and Sears.

At least four people have been killed and one child seriously injured since 1997 due to law enforcement officers mistaking toy guns for real guns.

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Mystery in Texas Meteorologist's Shooting Deepens

KCEN/Facebook(WACO, Texas) -- Police in Texas don't have a suspect or a motive in the shooting of a TV meteorologist in the station's parking lot on Wednesday.

The suspect fled on foot as the weatherman was able to drive a short distance in his bullet-ridden car to get help.

"We are actively looking for [the suspect]," Trooper D.L. Wilson told ABC News Thursday. "We had troopers out overnight, but we didn't get any calls of suspicious people. We can't rule out that he's not in the area, but more than likely, he's left the area."

Because there is no specific search area, police are "kind of scaling back," he added.

Police are interviewing the victim, KCEN-TV's Patrick Crawford, and trying to get enough information for a forensic sketch of the suspect.

The man shot Crawford at least twice on Wednesday as he was getting into his car outside the Bruceville-Eddy, Texas, TV station, and left 11 bullet holes in his vehicle, Wilson said.

"Mr. Crawford is advising he has never seen this man before," the trooper said.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, doctors at Baylor Scott and White Hospital said Crawford suffered wounds to his abdomen, shoulder and the back of his head.

The suspect has been described as a white male, 30 to 35 years old, with a medium build and a receding hairline.

"We'll do our best, follow any leads, and hopefully we can track this gentleman down," Wilson said.

Crawford's wife Heather Brinkmann, who is also a meteorologist at the station, posted an update on her Facebook page Wednesday night to say her husband is in stable condition.

KCEN-TV reported that police were at the station Thursday, checking IDs of everyone driving in the parking lot.

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Al Sharpton Meets with Sony's Amy Pascal over Hacked Emails

Win McNamee/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Rev. Al Sharpton met with Sony Chairman Amy Pascal Thursday morning about the racial remarks in private emails that were leaked after the company was hacked, and while he said that they discussed possible routes for improved relations, he did not let her off the hook.

"The jury is still out with where we go with Amy," Sharpton said at a news conference after his meeting with Pascal.

Pascal is the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and her emails were a main target in the hack. She has already apologized for the contents of the emails, but said that the private messages "are not an accurate reflection of who I am."

That was not enough for Sharpton, however, who said that she called his advocacy organization, the National Action Network, as soon as the inappropriate remarks were released.

"I said to her at that time that the climate and environment of Hollywood only confirms the type of language that was used in those emails," Sharpton said Thursday.

"Being that Hollywood is an environment that still resembles 1950s America, it is a context that confirms the language," he said.

Sharpton did confirm that the National Action Network, as well as the NAACP, the National Urban League and the Black Women's Roundtable, will work with executives from Sony about ways to increase and improve racial diversity in the entertainment industry.

"Our interest is in changing Hollywood...seeing to it that Sony is on the right side of changing Hollywood," said Mark Morial, the president of the National Urban League, who appeared alongside Sharpton during Thursday's new conference.

Both men concluded their comments by condemning the hack itself, with Sharpton slamming the "dangerous precedent" that was set by what Sharpton described as a foreign government being able to "manipulate and bully the American corporate structure."

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American Kennel Club Recognizes Four New Breeds

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Four new breeds of dogs have made it into the big league when it comes to dogs, the American Kennel Club.

The Spanish Water Dog, Cirneco dell’Etna, Bergamasco, and Boerboel have each gained full recognition, the AKC announced on Wednesday.

The four new breeds had to meet the requirements of having, “a minimum number of dogs geographically distributed throughout the U.S., as well as an established breed club of responsible owners and breeders,” in order to become AKC recognized, the organization reports.

The breeds will become recognized breeds and be allowed to compete in AKC-sanctioned dog shows on Jan. 1, 2015.

The Spanish Water Dog is described by the AKC as, “lively, hardworking, and very intelligent,” in addition to being “naturally protective.”

The Cirneco dell’Etna is described as, “a hunter that works by scent, sight, and hearing.”

The AKC calls the Bergamasco an, “athletic, sociable and intelligent dog that has a deep desire to please its owner.”

The Boerbol is described as not the dog for first-time dog owners, but one that still has, “strong protective instincts and loves its family.”

The four breeds' recognition means there will be 184 AKC-recognized dog breeds come Jan. 1.

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49ers Drop Ray McDonald Following Alleged Sex Assault

Christian Petersen/Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) — Amid allegations of possible sexual assault, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald was released by his team Wednesday.

In a statement, 49ers General Manager Trent Balke said, "This is about a pattern of poor behavior. We expect a lot from our players, hold them accountable for their actions."

Although no arrests have been made, the San Jose Police Department say that McDonald's home had been searched after a woman told detectives "she was possibly sexually assaulted."

According to cops, the alleged victim sought treatment at a hospital Tuesday, which then notified authorities about her accusations against McDonald.

Earlier this year, McDonald was arrested by Santa Clara police following an alleged domestic violence incident involving his fiancée. However, charges were never filed.

Now a free agent, McDonald had played for San Francisco since 2007.

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After Five Years in Prison, Alan Gross Says It's 'Good to Be Home'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- For Alan Gross, the American subcontractor released Wednesday morning after more than five years in a Cuban prison, "it’s good to be home.”

"What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country," he said Wednesday afternoon.

Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail after Cuban authorities accused him of a “subversive” plot to "destroy" the government, praised President Obama’s plan to restore diplomatic relations with the island nation, calling the move “a game changer.”

“To me, Cubanos -- or at least most Cubanos -- are incredibly kind, generous, and talented; it pains me to see them treated so unjustly as one consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies,” he said. “Five and a half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment.”

“It was particularly cool to be sitting next to the secretary of state as he was hearing about his job description for the next few months,” added Gross, who watched the president’s address with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Reportedly suffering from partial blindness and degenerative arthritis, Gross acknowledged the "extraordinary and determined" efforts of his wife, Judy, and his attorney, Scott Gilbert, who Gross called "my personal Moses."

"They have my endless gratitude, love, and respect," he said. “I want to thank all of the members of Congress from all sides of the aisle, such as Senator Jeff Flake and Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Barbara Lee, who supported, spoke up for, and visited me, subjected themselves to my ranting, and helped me to regain some of my weight. Even in Cuba, M&Ms melt in your mouth."

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Pedestrians Struck in Deadly Crash in Redondo Beach, California

iStock/Thinkstock(REDONDO BEACH, Calif.) — At least three people are dead and several others injured after a car slammed into a group of pedestrians Wednesday in Redondo Beach, California, police said.

The crash occurred outside St. James Catholic Church where a Christmas service had just ended, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Some of the pedestrians were rushed to hospitals with critical injuries, Redondo Beach police Lt. Joe Hoffman said. Police initially said that one adult died at a hospital, and that the injured included at least one child. The Los Angeles County coroner later said that two more victims had died, bringing the death toll to three.

According to ABC station KABC-TV, police said that a woman was driving northbound on Pacific Coast Highway when she ran a red light, striking the pedestrians and hitting another car.

The woman was taken in police custody to a hospital, where she was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, authorities said.

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Deployed Airman Dressed as Santa Claus Surprises Son

Fuse/Thinkstock(MT. JULIET, Tenn.) -- Aaron Williams, a kindergartner from Tennessee, may never look at a Santa Claus anywhere, anytime the same way again.

The 6-year-old was surprised at his school Tuesday by his dad, a member of the U.S. Air Force who dressed as Santa Claus, white beard and all, for the surprise.

Aaron’s dad, Senior Airman Nicholas Williams, is in the middle of a year-long deployment to South Korea, so Aaron thought his dad would not be home to celebrate Christmas.

“He started actually crying when I told him that,” Aaron’s mom, Whitney, told local ABC affiliate WKRN, referring to how she kept the secret from her son by telling him that his dad would not be home.

“He was really upset and I felt really bad, like a horrible mother for lying to him like that,” she said.

All was perhaps forgiven Tuesday morning when Aaron and his classmates at Lakeview Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., gathered in the school library to, they thought, be read a story by an elf.

When Santa Claus appeared and the elf, the school's physical education teacher in costume, asked who wanted to pull Santa's beard, it was Aaron who, by chance, raised his hand first.

"He's actually a really shy little boy so it was so sweet that he wanted to do it the most of all of them," Tiffany Brown, the school's assistant principal, told ABC News.

"It took him a few times of tugging on the beard and it wasn't until it came off that he saw," Brown said. "He stopped laughing and went into kind of awe and his first word was very clearly, 'Daddy.'"

"There wasn't a dry eye in the room," she said.

Williams will have 28 days at home with his family before returning to South Korea through May to complete his military tour, WKRN reports.

“I couldn’t ask for really anything more than to be home for Christmas,” Williams told the station.

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Former Justice of the Peace Sentenced to Death for 2013 Murders

Kuzma/iStock/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- A Texas jury sentenced former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams to death in connection with the 2013 murder of the wife of a district attorney.

The jury had found Williams guilty in the murder of Cynthia McLelland, the wife of District Attorney Mike McLelland, earlier this month.

Among those who testified against Williams was his ex-wife, who described in detail the planning that went into Williams' revenge killings. District Attorney Mike McLelland and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse had prosecuted Williams for theft, effectively ending his legal career.

The McLellands were killed in March 2013. Williams was charged with killing Mike McLelland as well as Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, who was killed about two months earlier, but never tried for their deaths.

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Suspect in Kidnap of New Hampshire Girl Faces 205 Charges

New Hampshire Attorney General's Office(CONCORD, N.H.) -- A New Hampshire man who allegedly kidnapped a teenage girl and held her for nine months now faces more than 200 charges, including assault and felonious sexual assault, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Nathaniel Kibby, 34, is charged with 80 counts each of aggravated felonious sexual assault and sexual assault, as well as 40 other crimes, said Jane Young, assistant attorney general of New Hampshire.

Kibby allegedly used an "anti-bark shock dog training collar" on the teen to prevent her from making noise, according to court documents. Other times, the court records accuse him of using a gag in her mouth, zip ties around her wrists and a motorcycle helmet on her head with her eyes taped shut.

The name of Kibby's alleged victim was initially released publicly when she went missing and when she returned to her family, but now that she is alleged to be the victim of sex crimes, her name is being withheld.

The girl was 14 years old when she vanished in October 2013. She mysteriously returned to her mother's home in New Hampshire on July 20, and Kibby was arrested eight days later.

Court records accuse Kibby of using a Taser to kidnap the girl, threatening to shoot her with a rifle and confining her to commit sexual assault.

Parts of the report released Wednesday have been redacted, but the charges make it clear that the suspect is accused of repeated, violent sexual assault.

Questions about the relationship between the girl and her alleged captor were initially raised because she did not immediately identify Kibby to police, though a spokesman for the girl's family later said the girl did not know her attacker prior to her abduction. The court records say that at one point, Kibby allegedly laid on top of the girl and put a gun in her hand, telling her that it was better to shoot him than to tell police about the kidnapping.

Kibby, who is being held without bail, is scheduled to appear in Coos Superior Court on Jan. 8 for arraignment.

Attempts to reach his attorney for comment weren't immediately successful.

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