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7/22/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: July 22, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

rat trap

7/21/14 7:30pm

Colombian Drug Lord Dubbed 'The Rat' Trapped In Spain

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Drug kingpin Hernan Alonso Villa, accused of running a Narco-trafficking gang in Columbia that has killed over 400 people, was arrested in Spain on July 19.

Known as “El Ratón” or “The Rat” in Spanish—but most often translated as “The Mouse” by media sources—Villa’s organization, La Oficina de Envigado, inherited the business of the Medellin cartel, the now-defunct cocaine empire set up by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Police in the Spanish region of Alicante said Saturday that they had arrested a 40-year-old man whom they identified as the head of the military wing of La Oficina de Envigado and one of Colombia's most wanted criminals. "El Ratón was arrested thanks to the work of our people and the Spanish authorities," said Rodolfo Palomino, the Colombian chief of police. "Villa committed serious crimes in Medellin, in particular  murders, disappearances, extortions and kidnappings. He then went to Europe seeking to continue his activities in drug dealing and coordinating trafficking routes."

The former left-wing guerrilla Diego Murillo Berajano, or Don Berna, established La Oficina de Envigado in the 1980s to be Escobar's muscle and to meet the Medellin Cartel’s growing demand for paid assassins. When Escobar was killed in 1993, this hodgepodge of killers took over much of his empire. La Oficina de Envigado is now a loose-knit patchwork of smaller organizations that has sought alliances with street gangs to keep control of the drug trade.

Arrested in a joint operation with Colombian police, Villa has been accused of homicide, forced displacement, and manufacturing and carrying illegal weapons. The Spanish police ministry explained how "he took a number of security measures in an attempt to avoid arrest, including constantly changing addresses, changing telephones and using different false identities…He had more than 200 people under his command and was responsible for exporting cocaine to Spain, the United States and Holland.”

According to the Spanish ministry, Villa was caught with more than $50,000 in cash when he was arrested. He will be subject to an extradition order by the Colombian police. Spain is one of the main entry points for illegal narcotics into Europe for Columbian narco-traffickers. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Colombia produced 320 tons of cocaine in 2013.

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By John Lavitt

brain food

7/21/14 5:30pm

Fish Oil Could Reduce Risk of Alcoholic Dementia

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Long-term alcohol use is known to increase the risk of brain damage and dementia, but staunch booze fans can fight off these side effects with fish oil, according to researchers in a new study.

Scientists from Loyola University Health System gave rats alcohol equivalent to about four times the legal limit for driving for several days. Afterwards, they gave some of the rats a compound found in fish oil called omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They found that the rats exposed to the fish oil had 90% lower neuroinflammation and neural brain cell death.

"Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers," said lead study author Michael Collins in a press statement. "At the very least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them."

The researchers still think that further studies on fish oil and alcohol dementia needed to be done on adult rats before knowing for sure whether or not the popular supplement can help humans. The same team of researchers found before that moderate drinking reduces the risk of dementia in 2011.

Aside from reducing brain damage and dementia, omega-3 fish oil has been shown to reduce the desire for alcohol, according to a University School of Medicine study.

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By Bryan Le

on hold

7/21/14 3:30pm

Appeals Court Delays Execution Over Drug Secrecy

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A federal appeals court in Arizona has stayed an execution set to take place this week on the grounds that the condemned inmate has a right to know more about the drugs to be used in the lethal injection.

Joseph R. Wood was scheduled to die on Wednesday from lethal injection. He was given the death penalty in 1991 following a conviction for the murder of former girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father Eugene Dietz. Issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District, the ruling cited the ongoing controversy over lethal injection following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma this past June.

“Information concerning execution protocol is not only of general interest to the public, it is important for consideration by the courts...We, and the public, cannot meaningfully evaluate execution protocol cloaked in secrecy,” the ruling stated.

The three-judge panel placed a stay on the execution until the state of Arizona provides more information about the qualifications of the medical personnel who will perform the lethal injection. The reasoning stemmed from the botched Oklahoma execution, which placed part of the blame on the execution personnel failing to properly administer the injection.

“Today the Court has made a well-reasoned ruling affirming the core First Amendment principles regarding the public’s right to know, which aid all parts of our democratic government,” said Dale Baich, an attorney for Wood.

State Attorney General Jeffrey Zick disagreed with the court's decision and stated that Arizona will be asking the full court to consider the opinion. Refusal of such consideration by the court could potentially move the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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By Shawn Dwyer

devil's dandruff

7/21/14 1:00pm

Italian Priest Arrested On Suspicion of Dealing Drugs

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It seems that Sunday services may have been getting a bit rowdy in a village in Northern Italy after a local priest was arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs.

Father Stefano Maria Cavalletti was the Catholic priest in the town of Carciano di Stresa before being arrested for possession of cocaine in Milan. He had gone missing last weekend and a replacement priest was brought in to cover in his absence, with the police failing to track him down for another two days.

Concerned residents at an apartment building in Milan called police to report a drunken Cavalletti screaming and shouting on their block. When he was finally tracked down, the priest was found ripping up his passport and trying to flush the drugs down a toilet. He later told police that he had been abusing the drugs as a means of coping with depression. But although it doesn’t appear that Cavalletti had any intention to deal the drugs, Italian law presumes that the owner of the substance is intending to deal it if the weight is above a certain amount.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time he has found himself in trouble with the law. He was given a suspended sentence last September by a court in Verbania after allegedly trying to swindle money from an elderly woman. His congregation said in a statement that they were "profoundly disconcerted and saddened" by the arrest and were “praying to God for light to be shed on the incident.”

Cavalletti is but one of several men of the cloth to get into trouble with drugs in recent years. Back in 2012, a Connecticut priest was given the unflattering name of “Monsignor Meth” after being arrested for trafficking the drugs out of his home. Kevin Wallin was the pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport for nine years before resigning in 2011, citing personal issues, but his priesthood powers were permanently revoked after his arrest the following year. He is still awaiting sentencing, but faces 11-14 years behind bars.

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By McCarton Ackerman

sea change

7/21/14 10:30am

U.S. to Reduce Prison Sentences for Tens of Thousands of Drug Offenders

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Late last week, the United States Sentencing Commission made a historic decision to potentially reduce the drug sentences of over 51,000 drug offenders in federal prisons.

The decision mirrored a federal sea change taking place in regard to reforming drug sentencing in the criminal justice system. As the federal agency that sets criminal sentencing policies for judges, the commission voted on July 18 to allow inmates serving time for drug crimes to apply for reduced sentences. If approved by Congress and judges in the courtroom, it will be the largest such sentencing reduction in modern U.S. history.

The unanimous vote by the seven members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission will apply to the majority of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons. After examining the results of a similar 2007 decision solely focused on crack cocaine offenses, the commission found that the inmates released early posed no greater risk of committing more crimes than those who had served their full terms.

Judge Patti B. Saris, the chair of the commission, said in a statement that, “This amendment received unanimous support from the commissioners because it is a nuanced approach…It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

Congress has until November 1 to disapprove of the commission’s decision. If lawmakers let the new rules stand, judges across the country can begin considering individual petitions from inmates for sentence reductions. The average reduction of the sentences would be about two years. According to a special rule added by the commissioners to the new program, no prisoners can be released until Nov. 1, 2015. Saris explained that the delay was intended to protect public safety by allowing time for judges to make an “appropriate consideration” of each petition.

The sea change reflects the views of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have said they strongly support a lesser emphasis on imprisoning low-level drug offenders. At around 216,000 inmates, the federal prison population currently exceeds capacity by 32% and the population is overflowing because of such low-level drug offenders.

Julie Stewart, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, expressed complete support for the decision. “This vote will change the lives of tens of thousands of families whose loved ones were given overly long drug sentences,” she said.

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By John Lavitt

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