‘Not a partisan issue’: As classroom culture wars rage, a stark warning about learning loss

Courtesy Jay Artis-Wright

In the four years since schools were shuttered in an effort to protect students from the onset of COVID-19, public education has been placed under a microscope and turned into a major political talking point.

Conservatives, led by political figures like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and groups like Moms for Liberty, have embraced a mantle of parental rights and claimed — in part because of the window that remote schooling opened into the classroom — that public school instruction has been hijacked by inappropriate curricula on LGBTQ topics, race and discrimination and more.

Opponents like the progressive group Red, Wine and Blue and leaders like California Gov. Gavin Newsom have pushed back on what they call efforts to de-emphasize focus on minority groups and social issues through controversial changes like Florida teaching middle-schoolers that slaves sometimes learned beneficial skills, as well as bans on books and more.

The classroom culture wars still rage in various states, but educational and parental advocates across the ideological spectrum who spoke with ABC News for this story worry that a pivot is needed away from those battles, some of which these groups first sparked, and back to education.

“Parents want to see our children read. It’s not a matter of banning a book if they can’t read it,” parent Jay Artis-Wright, a critic of what she called Republican-led culture wars and a former leader of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit organization empowering parents based in Los Angeles, told ABC News.

The slogans and school board shouting have exaggerated and overshadowed more pressing issues, according to Artis-Wright and other activists on both sides of the issue.

“Teaching kids to read in school should not be a political issue,” said Tiffany Justice, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, which has become widely recognized and polarizing. “It is not a partisan issue and I actually think it’s the greatest national security risk that we have as Americans: a nation of people that are illiterate.”

Moms for Liberty, founded in 2021, broadly says its mission is about “educating and empowering parents” and it includes numerous chapters that describe themselves as school board “watchdogs.” But the group has also come under fire, with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) saying they spread “hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community,” which Moms for Liberty leaders previously maintained to ABC News was “nonsense.”

Beyond politics, fears for students’ education are well-founded, according to national data and recent expert analysis.

More than a third of the nation’s fourth-grade students were below proficient readers in 2022, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the “nation’s report card.”

NAEP’s math, history and civics scores all sunk in 2022, too. Fourth- and eighth-grade students saw their largest declines ever in math and eighth-grade students received the lowest history scores since 1994, when the history assessment was first administered.

In February, Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research Faculty Director Tom Kane issued a stark warning for parents.

Despite Kane’s Education Recovery Scorecard outlining one-year gains last school year, the study, based on state-level and NAEP results, found that the average district is still “one more year away from catching up in math” and “two more years from catching up in reading.”

“If we allow these achievement losses to become permanent, students will be paying for the pandemic for the rest of their lives, like in the form of lower college-going [and] lower earnings once they get out of college,” Kane, who co-authored the scorecard in collaboration with the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, told ABC News.

Liberal leaders say they are tired of the culture war critics who sometimes focus less on interrupted instruction and zero-in on discussions of race and gender ideology. A new Pew Research Center study found most of the American public believes parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about LGBTQ issues if the way these topics are taught conflicts with the parents’ personal views or beliefs, but only about a third believe parents should be able to opt their children out of similar discussions on race.

Pew also found nearly 70% of teachers said the topics of sexual orientation and gender ideology rarely or never came up in the classroom last school year.

National Parents Union (NPU) President Keri Rodrigues said the conversation should instead emphasize America’s illiteracy problem.

“Every child in America deserves the right to read proficiently by third grade,” Rodrigues told ABC News, adding, “if we can solve that, there are a whole host of things that will fall in line.”

Justice, with Moms for Liberty, said there’s no doubt that learning loss has affected “every student” and it’s a topic that is a “concern for the future of the kids.”

Artis-Wright also said schools must focus on issues beyond culture war topics, such as book banning and other flashpoint issues that a vocal group of advocates and parents have been pushing since the start of the pandemic.

“There needs to be this overall look of how we reimagine what school looks like coming out of the pandemic — from every perspective,” she said.

Republican Rep. Lisa McClain, who chaired a congressional hearing on K-12 education oversight at the start of the year, said this should not be a partisan topic. Parents like Rep. McClain and Artis-Wright hope to shift the focus to kids catching up in school, particularly in math and reading.

“Unfortunately, K-12 education headlines this year likely will fixate on laughable book ban claims or semi-hysterical mass layoff assertions due to the long scheduled end of federal … funding,” the director of parental rights group Education Freedom Center at the Independent Women’s Forum, Ginny Gentles, said during McClain’s Healthcare and Financial Services Subcommittee hearing in January.

“Choose instead to focus on students’ academic recovery needs,” Gentles added.

NPU’s Rodrigues was more blunt.

“We’ve been yelling and screaming about it [learning loss] now for years,” she told ABC News. “If we do not start to address these things with urgency by having radical transparency around where our kids are, where we’re trying to get them so that we can all be all-hands-on-deck to get them there, then we’re just going to continue to see more of the same.”

Struggling students should utilize summer programming, tutoring and after school contracts, according to Kane. He said it’s imperative for school districts to use the remaining Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars in the American Rescue Plan before it’s too late. (The deadline for districts to tap this funding is September)

“We’ve got to make sure parents are well informed about just whether or not their child is below grade level,” Kane said, adding, “They can’t wait for the state tests to come back to tell them. Schools need to tell them this spring so they can sign up for the summer.”

Rep. McClain, a conservative mother of four, said America’s public schools could do “a lot better” as the issues persist nationwide.

“As parents we must advocate for our children,” she said, adding, “We must take these issues seriously: Our nation’s children — or the so-called ‘pandemic cohort’ — do not deserve to be left behind.”

Both sides, despite cultural differences, say they agree on this.

“Parents really are looking for, you know, quality educational options,” Progressive Policy Institute’s Reinventing America’s Schools Project Co-Director Curtis Valentine told ABC News.

“All parents want good schools, good teachers and good options.”

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At least 1 dead as wildfires tear through Texas Panhandle

ABC News

Several large wildfires continue to tear through northern Texas, including one that has grown into the second-largest blaze in state history.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire that ignited in Hutchinson County remained active as of Wednesday night, having burned an estimated 850,000 acres and was just 3% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The flames, which cover an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, have spread across state lines into parts of Oklahoma.

Hutchinson County Public Engagement Coordinator Deidra Thomas confirmed there was at least one wildfire-related fatality in the small town of Stinnett, Texas, according to Amarillo ABC affiliate KVII.

The Windy Deuce Fire that ignited in Moore County was also still active as of Wednesday night, having burned an estimated 142,000 acres and was 30% contained. The Grape Vine Fire that ignited in nearby Gray County had burned an estimated 30,000 acres and was 60% contained as of early Wednesday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The raging wildfires have consumed swathes of the Turkey Track Ranch, a 120-year-old, 80,000-acre private property located along the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle. The sprawling, historic ranch has been up for sale and is listed at $180 million.

“The loss of livestock, crops, and wildlife, as well as ranch fencing and other infrastructure throughout our property as well as other ranches and homes across the region is, we believe, unparalleled in our history,” managers of the Turkey Track Ranch Family Group said in a statement Wednesday. “Our early assessment estimates that The Turkey Track Ranch has suffered and lost approximately 80% of our pastures, plains, and creek bottom vegetation. We continue to assess the total damage to other infrastructure and the loss of livestock.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday declared a disaster declaration for 60 counties due to “widespread wildfire activity throughout the state.”

The weather forecast for Thursday shows relative humidity will be high, with cooler temperatures and a chance of rain and snow for the Texas Panhandle, which would help with firefighting efforts. Wind gusts could get up to 30 miles per hour, but aren’t expected to be as extreme as they were earlier in the week.

However, unseasonably warm and windy weather is expected to return to wildfire-ravaged region this weekend, creating ideal conditions for critical fire danger. Temperatures in the Texas Panhandle are forecast to surpass 70 and even 80 degrees Fahrenheit from Friday through Sunday, while wind gusts could be 30 to 45 mph.

ABC News’ Max Golembo and Marilyn Heck contributed to this report.

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At least 1 dead and several others injured in Orlando shooting

WFTV

At least one person is dead and several others have been injured following a shooting in Orlando, Florida, police said.

At approximately 11 p.m., officers from the Orlando Police Department responded to the area of Iron Wedge Drive and South Lake Orlando in reference to several shots fired and, upon arrival, located multiple victims, including one dead.

“We are working to identify all victims and their conditions,” Orlando police said. “This is an ongoing investigation, once we have more information we will make that available.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Illinois, Florida, California saw largest increase in abortions in first 15 months after Roe v. Wade

Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Illinois, Florida and California had the largest total increases in the number of abortions performed in the first 15 months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to data gathered in the WeCount report released by the Society of Family Planning on Wednesday.

Researchers estimate that more than 120,000 people were not able to get abortion care from a provider in their state in the first 15 months after Roe was overturned, according to Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, WeCount co-chair and professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

Illinois had more than 28,000 more abortions than expected in the first 15 months after Roe was overturned, compared to data prior to the Supreme Court decision. In June 2023 alone, Illinois saw a 45.4% increase in the number of abortions compared to April 2022.

Florida had over 15,000 more abortions than expected in the first 15 months after Roe was overturned. In June 2023 alone, Florida saw a 48.2% increase in the number of abortions performed in the state compared to April 2022, before Roe was overturned.

California had over 12,000 more abortions than expected in the first 15 months after Roe. The state saw an 11.2% increase in the number of abortions performed in June 2023 alone, compared to April 2022.

While the majority of the surges in the number of abortions were in states that bordered bans, the report also found increases in states distant from bans including New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, the report found that there were only 10 abortions performed in Texas in June 2023, a sharp 99.7% decline when compared to April 2022.

In the 14 states that have ceased nearly all abortion services, there were over 120,000 fewer abortions compared to before Roe was overturned. The states with the greatest decline in abortion volume include Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama, according to the report.

The report highlighted that 16% of all abortion care provided nationwide was provided via Telehealth. In September 2023 there were 13,770 Telehealth abortions.

“For people who are not able to travel from a state with an abortion ban some have gotten medication abortion through mail, as described in the telehealth data. Others have been forced to remain pregnant against their will,” Upadhyay said.

“We don’t know from our WeCount data, what happens to the people who can’t get out of their states and don’t get pills by mail, or how many of them are forced to stay pregnant,” Upadhyay said.

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Person of interest images released as police investigate explosive left at Alabama attorney general’s office

FBI/ALEA

(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — Authorities on Wednesday released images of an unknown person of interest as they investigate an explosive device left outside the Alabama attorney general’s office.

The device was detonated outside the AG’s office in Montgomery at about 3:42 a.m. Saturday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said.

No injuries or damage was reported and the area was deemed safe, the agency said.

The ALEA, FBI and Alabama Attorney General’s Office are now asking the public to help them identify a person of interest who they say “may have information related to this crime,” the ALEA said in a statement Wednesday.

While a motive has not been released, the incident came one day after Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he wouldn’t prosecute in vitro fertilization providers or families in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children.

Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit information online here.

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Why the Texas Panhandle is seeing such explosive wildfires right now

Texas A&M Forest Service via Getty Images

(AMARILLO, Texas) — Multiple fires are impacting the Texas Panhandle, including what has quickly grown to become the second-largest wildfire in Texas history.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a disaster declaration for 60 counties on Tuesday due to “widespread wildfire activity throughout the state.” The largest of the blazes — the Smokehouse Creek Fire — has burned an estimated 850,000 acres since initially reported on Monday and was 3% contained as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The massive blaze is the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history, with Texas A&M Forest Service records going back to 1988. The largest fire in the state’s history is the East Amarillo Complex of 2006, which burned 907,245 acres.

The Texas A&M Forest Service is also monitoring several other wildfires in the region. They include the Windy Deuce Fire, which is an estimated 90,000 acres and 25% contained as of midday Wednesday, and the Grapevine Creek Fire, which is an estimated 30,000 acres and 60% contained as of Tuesday night. The agency alerted the public about both fires on Monday.

Several factors came together to produce an extreme wildfire event in the area, according to the National Weather Service.

Tough terrain with fuel to burn

The Smokehouse Creek Fire began in the Canadian River Valley, more rugged terrain than the flat area of the Texas Panhandle that is harder to access, according to Mike Gittinger, head meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

“The initial fire attack by firefighters was delayed due to the topography,” Gittinger told ABC News. “Also, that area has more vegetation, since it’s near the river, not just grassland, hence more fuel for burning.”

Wet conditions over the spring and summer last year means more fuel to burn now, Gittinger said.

“Parts of the Texas Panhandle received up to 13 inches of rain in just 30 days — this was months worth of rain for the area,” Gittinger said. “Due to this factor, vegetation was able to grow and be available to burn with this fire.”

Hot, dry, windy conditions

February is shaping up to be one of the top-10 warmest on record for Amarillo. The temperature on Monday in Amarillo hit a record 82 degrees — helping dry things out more and enhance the fire.

Winds gusted to 50 mph on Monday and 70 mph on Tuesday in the Amarillo area, along with very low relative humidity, which also helped the fire spread.

Climatologically speaking, the Texas Panhandle is entering the peak of its wildfire season — March and April. At this time of the year, the vegetation was dormant, due to the earlier winter freeze, so it was extra dry.

Forecast

As the Smokehouse Creek Fire burns largely out of control, the next 48 hours are expected to see improving conditions — including lighter winds with increased humidity and a chance for rain and snow.

By this weekend, winds are expected to increase once again — gusting 30 to 45 mph — and temperatures are expected to return into the 70s, well above the average of 59 degrees. However, overall fire weather conditions are forecast to not be as critical.

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FirstNet outage concern for some law enforcement leaders

Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — When FirstNet, the emergency communications network, went out of service last Thursday morning, some law enforcement officials who spoke with ABC News said they feared it would be impossible to communicate with first responders in a crisis.

Born out of 9/11, the First Responder Network Authority was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2012 and offers a single “interoperable network” for public safety.

The system is run off the AT&T network, which went down Thursday because of a software update gone wrong, the company said.

“To have this develop — and it wasn’t just five- or 10-minute outage, as a corrected minor problem — it was for several hours that AT&T was not working,” Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, told ABC News. “And that just can’t be done.”

Sheriff Fitzgerald helped develop what is now FirstNet, which was codified into law in 2012, and he served on the FirstNet board for two years after the authority was signed into law.

He called the FirstNet outage “unfathomable” and said there should be federal oversight to figure out what happened and ensure a situation like Thursday never happens again.

The First Responder Network Authority is an independent agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and is made up of a board that includes the Homeland Security secretary, the U.S. Attorney General, local sheriffs and fire chiefs among others.

“The First Responder Network Authority is working with its nationwide network contractor, AT&T, to conduct a thorough assessment of the outage and its impact on public safety operations,” FirstNet Authority said in a statement to ABC News. “Following the outage, AT&T took immediate action to prioritize restoration for public safety users of FirstNet, and service is currently running normally across the FirstNet network.”.

Charleston County, South Carolina, Sheriff Kristin Graziano, who sits on the FirstNet board said while her department wasn’t impacted by the outage, they had redundancies.

“One of the things I’ll be doing is personally reviewing the after action reports, we’ve had extensive conversations, and we’ll be overseeing as a board member next steps,” Sheriff Graziano said. “All I can tell you is as a result of what happens regardless if it’s an outage, we look at things worst case scenario and and and plan for the worst. And luckily though, this was not the case. It was not one of the worst case scenarios. It wasn’t a cyber attack that affected us, but we plan for that. The system is designed not to fail. It’s designed to be resilient. And I think that’s exactly what you saw with this particular outage.”

Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Jim McMahon told ABC News that the LAPD had no adverse impact because of the FirstNet outage and said the partnership between FirstNet and law enforcement has been “positive.”

“It’s been a great partnership and this example and how they’ve responded to things that will happen with technology,” he said.

In a statement to ABC News, AT&T said service was restored by about 6 a.m. Eastern time.

“The FirstNet networked was restored by around 5:00 a.m. CST on Thursday, Feb. 22 – about 3 hours since service was initially affected for some FirstNet subscribers across the country,” an AT&T spokesperson told ABC News. “Initial review of the cause indicates it was due to the application and execution of an incorrect process, and we took immediate action, prioritizing restoration of public safety’s communications. We are committed to identifying key learnings and have already implemented changes to prevent this from happening again.”

Prior to getting the contract, AT&T said it conducted several years of “outreach” to the first responder community.

“While network outages are uncommon, we understand our mission and is committed to taking the actions and applying the learnings to ensure continued mission-critical and highly reliable service for America’s first responders. The contract requires it, and public safety demands it.”

The Smith County, Texas, Sheriff’s office said sheriffs’ deputies were not allowed to make phone calls on their county issued cellphones for an hour and 15 minutes, and that FirstNet is installed on those devices.

“Fortunately, it happened early in the morning when our call load isn’t near as heavy as it is during the day,” Larry Christian, the Public Information Officer for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said. “So that would have been a blessing in and of itself.”

Athens, Georgia, Deputy Chief Keith Kelley told ABC News that they did have some outages in the early morning hours.

“Well, it’s very impactful. So, for example, our mobile data terminals are what police officers are using to take police reports and push them through our record system. It’s how they get computer aided dispatch information,” Kelley said. It’s very important that those systems are up and running and that they are reliable. It can affect our operations from a reporting standpoint, and it can affect officers getting calls.”

Kelley said when systems go down, they need to be restored quickly and that is what FirstNet did in this case.

“FirstNet is built for public safety. It is very important to us that when there’s network congestion or issues that are that are occurring in the network, as far as call loading, that our public safety responders have priority within that network, and that’s been our experience with FirstNet.”

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the police department’s computers inside their police cars were down for about one hour, according to the police chief there.

“It’s always a concern when you disrupt anything that puts emergency services in touch with our community and our citizens because, sometimes that’s the lifeline that seconds can save lives,” Chief Johnny Jennings of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department told ABC News. “And we want to make sure that that we’re always having that open line so that we can be reached whether that’s whether network goes down or whether we’re having people on hold or anything we take that very seriously.”

Jennings said his 911 call center was not impacted, but was concerned that many citizens could not reach 911 if they had AT&T as a wireless carrier.

John Cohen, former head of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, said that adversaries have taken note of what occurred and “could potentially leverage it” down the road.

“Any interruption in vital communication capabilities is a problem the longer that outage last, the more the higher with risk is that any interruption in communications is a problem,” Cohen, now an ABC News contributor, said. “But a widespread, long lasting outage, is highly dangerous and can lead to officer safety and public safety issues impacting entire communities.”

The federal government pays millions of dollars to AT&T to contract out the network, and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has said the National Telecommunications and Information Administration cannot share any information about independent audits of FirstNet, including whether any vulnerabilities discovered have been fixed – due to a nondisclosure provision in the contract it negotiated with At&T.

“While the outage last week was apparently caused by human error, I remain deeply concerned about the security of FirstNet and its vulnerability to hacks by foreign governments. It is a disgrace that there are still no minimum federal cybersecurity standards for the phone companies, including FirstNet operator AT&T,” Wyden said in a statement to ABC News. “Instead of acting to protect U.S. critical infrastructure, as our ally the United Kingdom has done by mandating cybersecurity standards for phone companies, U.S. government agencies like the FCC are asleep at the wheel.”

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Prosecutors allege sham safety school gave bogus certifications to thousands of NYC construction workers

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(NEW YORK) — A company and six of its executives were charged Wednesday in New York with allegedly operating a sham safety school that said it certified thousands of construction workers as properly trained when, in fact, it had not, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors said the alleged fraud cost at least one worker, Ivan Frias, his life in 2022 in a fall from the 15th floor of a job site on the Upper West Side.

According to the indictment, Valor Security and Investigations purported to have trained 20,000 construction workers between December 2019 and April 2023, claiming the workers were fully trained in “safety training, safety inspections, safety plans and security services” after 40 hours of instruction.

Instead, Valor allegedly issued “thousands and thousands of safety certificates and cards without providing any training at all,” according to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, charging between $300 and $600 for a bogus site safety training card.

“New York City construction workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the city,” Bragg said Wednesday. “Fraud has dire consequences. Fraud can mean life or death.”

Construction workers have been required by law to receive safety training since 2017.

Valor, its president, Alexander Shaporov, and five other employees are charged with enterprise corruption, according to the indictment. Nineteen alleged brokers, including two master plumbers, were charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument. The plumbers’ licenses have been suspended.

The defendants were all arrested Wednesday morning and are expected to appear in court later the same day. It was not immediately clear whether any had obtained lawyers.

Prosecutors said they obtained text messages and emails that quote Shaporov allegedly telling his employees on one occasion to “make one up” for 40 purported trainees who lacked the requisite safety cards.

Frias died in November 2022 when he fell from the 15th floor of a construction site on West End Avenue. According to the indictment, Valor allegedly falsely certified that Frias had completed 10 hours of safety training, including eight hours of fall protection.

“I think every New Yorker has a right to be a little disgusted,” New York City Buildings Commissioner Jimmy Oddo said Wednesday, adding the department would consider revoking Valor’s license to issue safety cards.

Oddo said any construction worker who received a card from Valor should seek retraining.

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Death chamber glitch halts execution of serial killer Thomas Creech

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(WASHINGTON) — Serial killer Thomas Eugene Creech, Idaho’s longest-serving death row inmate, was spared from death on Wednesday after the medical team assigned to administer a lethal injection failed to establish an IV line, preventing the execution from proceeding, officials said.

The 73-year-old Creech was to be executed at Idaho Maximum Security Institution near Boise, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his last-minute request to stay his execution.

“Mr. Creech will be returned to his cell and witnesses will be escorted out of the facility,” the Idaho Department of Corrections said in a statement. “As a result, the death warrant will expire. The State will consider next steps.”

The surprise twist came after Associate Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan issued a decision Wednesday morning denying Creech’s request for a stay of execution, clearing the way for prison authorities to carry out the ultimate punishment.

Attorneys for Creech had filed a certiorari petition that the High Court halt the execution to give the panel time to review the decision by the Idaho Supreme Court denying Creech’s appeals.

“The application for a stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is denied,” the ruling said. “The edition for a write of certiorari is denied.”

Days before the execution, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said he had “zero intention” of halting the execution at Idaho Maximum Security Institution near Boise.

“Thomas Creech is a convicted serial killer responsible for acts of extreme violence,” Little said in a statement issued on Jan. 29. “His lawful and just sentence must be carried out as ordered by the court. Justice has been delayed long enough.”

In the petition to the Supreme Court, Creech’s attorneys argued that his due process rights were violated by the Idaho Supreme Court.

“Mr. Creech has identified a substantial need for guidance from the Court on an issue of great national importance and he has brought a strong vehicle for it to do so,” Creech’s attorney wrote in the petition, asking for “clarity on [the] question of when a state’s post-conviction regime affords little meaningful review to legitimate federal constitutional claims that it violates due process.”

The petition added, “There are strong reasons to suspect that at least some states have gone too far in limiting post-conviction review, thus calling for the Court’s intervention.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco also denied Creech’s latest appeal in a ruling issued Saturday, prompting attorneys for the condemned man to take their argument to the Supreme Court.

Prior to the death chamber glitch, Idaho Department of Corrections issued a statement Wednesday morning saying it is prepared to move forward with Creech’s execution.

“Last night, Mr. Creech visited with his wife throughout the evening. Additionally, his religious advisor spent an hour with him this morning. Mr. Creech had fried chicken, mash potatoes with gravy, corn, rolls, and ice cream for his last meal. Mr. Creech has remained cooperative in the days leading up to the execution,” the corrections department statement read.

Creech, according to prosecutors, has been convicted of five murders in three states, including three committed in Idaho.

In a 1993 opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court denying an appeal filed by Creech, late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that “Creech admitted to killing or participating in the killing of at least 26 people.”

“The bodies of 11 of his victims — who were shot, stabbed, beaten, or strangled to death — have been recovered in seven states,” she said.

The last murder Creech pleaded guilty to occurred in 1981 at an Idaho maximum security prison when he killed 23-year-old David Dale Jensen, a disabled fellow inmate, by beating him to death with a sock filled with batteries, according to prosecutors. At the time of Jensen’s slaying, Creech was serving two life sentences for a double murder he committed in Idaho and had been convicted of murders in California and Oregon.

Creech argued in his recent appeal that his due process rights were violated by the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole and the Ada County, Idaho, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

At the commutation hearing in October, Ada County deputy prosecutor Jill Longhurst told the commission that Creech is a “sociopath” who has “utter disregard for human life.”

“Mr. Creech is a serial killer, and in 1981 said he would kill again, and he did,” Longhurst told the commission. “Thomas Creech is the most prolific serial killer in Idaho.”

Creech’s execution came despite pleas to spare him from the most unlikely advocates — prison staffers who have cared for him behind bars.

A former prison nurse, a former prosecutor, prison guards and even the judge who sentenced Creech to death all filed declarations backing his request for clemency, which was denied in a 3-3 vote on Jan. 29 by the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole.

Judge Robert Newhouse of the Fourth Judicial District Court in Boise, who sentenced Creech to death in 1983, said in his declaration to the commission that Creech should serve the rest of his life in prison and that executing him would “just be an act of vengeance.”

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Judge in Trump civil fraud case received envelope with white powder, police respond to courthouse: Sources

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(NEW YORK) — The New York City judge who oversaw former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial received an envelope containing a white powder Wednesday, prompting an emergency response from police and fire officials, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The envelope was addressed to Justice Arthur Engoron, who imposed a nearly half-billion dollar judgment against Trump.

Two court officers were the only ones exposed to the substance, which is not believed to be harmful, the sources said.

The letter was received in the operations office of the downtown Manhattan courthouse, the sources said.

The judge was never in any danger, sources said.

Engoron received multiple threats before, during and after Trump’s civil fraud trial, including a bomb threat at his Long Island home on the day of closing arguments.

Engoron imposed a limited gag order on Trump’s statements to protect court staff.

A similar gag order is being sought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for Trump’s criminal trial, which is set to begin next month at a courthouse two blocks away.

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