February trial set for woman accused in killer clown case

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The woman accused in South Florida’s killer clown case will stand trial in February.

It’s been more than 18 months since authorities charged Sheila Warren in the shooting death of Marlene Warren in Wellington nearly 29 years ago.

Jailed without bond, Sheila Warren, 55, has waived her right to a speedy trial and pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder with a firearm.

During a court hearing Wednesday, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx set jury selection to begin Jan. 31 for the monthlong trial.

On May 26, 1990, the 40-year-old victim opened the door of her Aero Club estate home for a clown wearing an orange wig, a red bulb nose, gloves and a smile painted on white makeup. The clown held two balloons and flowers in one hand and a pistol in the other.

The clown fired at Marlene Warren’s face and fled in a white Chrysler LeBaron, which was found four days later abandoned at a shopping center parking lot. After a massive investigation, the case eventually turned cold.

Detectives dusted off their files in 2014, ordering new DNA testing through the FBI’s crime lab. They apparently used saved samples of Sheila Warren’s hair and vials of her blood through a 1990 search warrant.

It led to the 2017 arrest of Sheila Warren, known as “Debbie,” but specifics about the DNA breakthrough haven’t been revealed.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the former West Palm Beach car “repo lady,” who lived in a southwest Virginia mountain town with husband Michael Warren at the time of her arrest.

The case features a love triangle: He was married to Marlene Warren, 40, and having an affair with then-Sheila Keen at the time of the murder, according to court files.

Michael Warren then denied any involvement and later was convicted of financial crimes connected to his used car business, where his mistress had worked, records show.

Years after he was released from a Florida prison, Michael and Sheila Warren married in Las Vegas in 2002. Together, they operated a popular fast-food restaurant in Kingsport, Tenn., not far from their Abingdon, Va., home.

Since his wife’s arrest, he has stood by her and also said he had nothing to do with the slaying.

— Sun Sentinel

Winning lottery ticket almost blew away in the wind

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina man is “counting his blessings” after beating the almost 1-in-a-million odds to win a lottery prize, according to the NC Education Lottery.

And it all happened after he came uncomfortably close to losing his lucky ticket, the lottery said on Twitter.

“Whenever I get my tickets, I put them in my car door,” said John Hepburn of Fayetteville, per the lottery’s Twitter post.

Then last week, “a few of my tickets blew out of the car,” he said, according to the lottery’s news release.

“So I figured I should probably check the other ones and see if I won anything,” Hepburn continued.

Hepburn checked a ticket for Friday’s drawing and discovered he won a $489,211 prize from the Cash 5 game, according to the lottery.

“My son had to help me figure out how much I won,” Hepburn said, per a lottery news release. “ I couldn’t believe it when he told me.”

Hepburn gets more than $346,000 after tax withholdings, the release said.

—The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Israel’s president taps Netanyahu to form next government

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s president asked Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government Wednesday, a week after the incumbent prime minister held off a strong centrist challenge in national elections.

After consulting with all parties that made it into parliament, Reuven Rivlin concluded only Netanyahu’s Likud could form a coalition supported by a majority of the 120-member Knesset. Netanyahu now has six weeks to haggle with potential partners over ministries and principles for a government that’s likely to be one of the most conservative in the country’s recent history.

“The precedent in Israel is that he will have to exploit the full 42 days, because everybody is playing at being a tough negotiator,” Hebrew University political scientist Avraham Diskin said. “What will be decided after 42 days could already be decided on tomorrow morning. But Israeli politicians play the game until the very end.”

The center-right Likud won 35 seats in the next Knesset, the same as Benny Gantz’s center-left Blue & White bloc. Netanyahu, though, can draw on the support of smaller right-wing and religious parties to form a coalition with 65 seats.

Though it’s Netanyahu’s fifth term as prime minister, he told Rivlin Wednesday night he was “as excited as the first time — in a certain way, maybe even more.”

Two issues are likely to emerge as critical in the negotiations: the looming U.S. peace plan and Netanyahu’s legal troubles. The peace plan’s main author, Jared Kushner, said Wednesday the plan will be released sometime after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan concludes in early June.

Speculation is rife over whether the plan will include a Palestinian state or allow Israel to annex West Bank land the Palestinians also claim. Netanyahu said in the closing days of the campaign that if re-elected he would extend Israeli sovereignty to West Bank Jewish settlements, but it’s not clear if he was serious or just fishing for right-wing support amid a tight race.

Netanyahu also may probe whether potential coalition partners are willing to shield him from prosecution as long as he’s in office.

—Bloomberg News