Utah man charged with murder in deaths of 2, including LA deputy

LOS ANGELES — A Utah man was charged with two counts of murder Thursday after he allegedly gunned down a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy and another man in a pair of seemingly random shootings, officials said.

Rhett McKenzie Nelson, 30, was to make his first appearance in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Thursday afternoon in connection with the shooting deaths of veteran sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Solano and 30-year-old Dmitry Alekseyevich Kolstov, according to a statement issued by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors say Nelson opened fire on Solano inside an Alhambra Jack in the Box restaurant at 5:45 p.m. Monday. Solano was shot in the back of the head and died of his injuries Wednesday, officials said.

One hour before the attack in Alhambra, prosecutors said Nelson shot and killed Kolstov while sitting in a car in the 1900 block of East Seventh Place in downtown Los Angeles after a brief verbal exchange. Kolstov was shot at 4:50 p.m., and pronounced dead at the scene less than 20 minutes later, according to Sarah Ardalani, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Investigators also accused Nelson of robbing a gas station and a 7-Eleven in Long Beach, according to the district attorney’s office. Police in San Diego also consider him a suspect in five armed robberies in recent days.

Nelson was arrested Tuesday in Long Beach, after calling his father in Utah and making reference to having killed someone in Southern California, investigators have said.

— Los Angeles Times

N.C. Republican congressman won’t challenge Tillis for Senate seat

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mark Walker will not run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2020, ending months of speculation about whether the Greensboro congressman would challenge incumbent Thom Tillis and set up what could be a divisive GOP primary.

Walker said he met with President Donald Trump in May and has another meeting scheduled with the president, whose endorsement would carry enormous weight in a GOP primary. Tillis has angered some conservatives with stances seen as anti-Trump, including co-sponsoring a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller and vowing to vote against the president’s emergency declaration. Tillis reversed his position and voted with the president on the emergency declaration.

Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker is running in the GOP primary against Tillis. Sandy Smith, a farmer from Winterville, is also running for the nomination.

Walker, a former Baptist pastor, is in his third term in the U.S. House. He served as chairman of the Republican Study Committee and is now the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.

— McClatchy Washington Bureau

Snake on a plane: It happened on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Hawaii

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A 20-year-old Virginia man was startled to find out that a snake had apparently hitchhiked a ride in his backpack when he flew from Fort Lauderdale to a Hawaii vacation spot.

The small, non-venomous southern black racer slithered out when the man was unpacking at his vacation rental in Maui Monday night, Hawaii News Now reported.

After the resort owner contacted state agricultural workers, the visitor told authorities that he didn’t intentionally bring the snake to the islands from Florida where it is a common species.

The chair of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture told Hawaii News Now that exotic creatures are a threat to the state’s unique environment and that the snake, which measured about 1 foot long, was being taken to Oahu for safe handling.

— Sun Sentinel

Suspect in New Zealand mosque attacks pleads not guilty

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Australian man accused of killing 51 people and wounding dozens of others in two Christchurch mosques in March pleaded not guilty on Friday when he appeared in the city’s High Court.

The 28-year-old last month was charged with terrorism in addition to the 51 murder and 40 attempted murder charges he was already facing for the March 15 attacks. It will be the first time New Zealand’s terrorism law will be used in court.

The alleged white supremacist pleaded not guilty to all 92 charges through his lawyers when he appeared by video link from a prison in Auckland, more than 600 miles north of Christchurch, where he is being held in isolation in a high-security wing.

Local media reported the accused smiled when his lawyer entered the pleas, which were met with gasps from the victims and their families.

Justice Cameron Mander said the trail was set to start May 4.

Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamaluddin Abdel-Ghany was killed in the Al Noor mosque, told local website Stuff that his family had hoped to not have to wait for justice but they understood the process.

“I guess we were hoping to not wait another year to get it over and done with, but at the same time there is a court process that needs to be done so we just have to be patient,” he said.

— dpa