Slain University of South Carolina student to be awarded posthumous degree

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The University of South Carolina will award a posthumous degree to a student who was abducted and killed just weeks before graduation.

Samantha Josephson was abducted from outside a Five Points bar in the early hours of March 29 after getting into what police say she thought was an Uber. The 21-year-old senior and New Jersey native was found dead the next day in rural Clarendon County.

“Her parents contacted me on Sunday to tell me they’re coming down for what would have been her graduation,” university President Harris Pastides said Monday while speaking to the Rotary Club of Aiken, according to the Aiken Standard. “And I said, ‘We’ll be there waiting for you.’ She had been accepted for law school — a free ride at Drexel University.”

University spokesman Jeff Stensland confirmed to The State on Tuesday that Josephson will be awarded the posthumous degree.

Nathaniel Rowland has been charged with murder and kidnapping in Josephson’s death, which rattled the city of Columbia and the University of South Carolina campus.

— The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Case of suspended Broward sheriff going directly to Florida Supreme Court

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The legal argument over whether Gov. Ron DeSantis had the legal authority to suspend Broward Sheriff Scott Israel is going directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

There won’t be an intermediate stop at the appeals court after the 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday certified the case as a matter “of great public importance.”

The issue stems from a lawsuit Israel filed challenging DeSantis’ authority to remove the sheriff from office.

Israel’s attorneys, Benedict Kuehne and Stuart Kaplan, said their client welcomes the opportunity to get a definitive ruling from the state’s high court.

“The recognition of this case as presenting issues of great public importance is precisely what Sheriff Israel has maintained throughout this litigation,” Kuehne and Kaplan said in a statement. “This case presents an important constitutional question testing the very limits of the governor’s suspension power when used to challenge discretionary decisions by an elected constitutional officer like Sheriff Israel.”

On Thursday, Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes upheld DeSantis’ use of his executive authority.

On Friday, Israel’s attorney’s filed a notice that they intended to appeal the circuit judge’s ruling.

DeSantis’ response: “Scott Israel continues to live in denial.” The governor added that the circuit court “has recognized my authority as governor to suspend him for neglect of duty and incompetence and this appeal is just his latest delay tactic.”

The governor asked the appellate court to move the case to the state Supreme Court, which is what the appeals court did on Tuesday.

The Florida Constitution gives the Florida Senate the authority to rule on gubernatorial suspensions. The Senate has put off action on the Israel case until all court proceedings are complete.

— Sun Sentinel

Man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull heading to trial this fall

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Hollywood man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull will head to trial this fall, nearly two years after the animal cruelty case made headlines.

Brendan Evans, 32, stands accused of stabbing Ollie more than 50 times, then trapping him inside a blue suitcase, still breathing. A couple passing by heard cries coming from the suitcase and called police. That was on Oct. 10, 2017. The dog died two days later.

Evans, who has pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of animal cruelty, made a rare appearance in court Tuesday, dressed in dark navy prison garb, with his hands cuffed and ankles shackled.

It was the first time Evans had appeared in court since his arraignment in November 2017. Scheduled hearings have been canceled seven times over the past year.

In court filings, defense attorney Sarah Anne Mourer has cited the intense public interest in the case as a reason for delaying the trial, to give the community and media “substantial time to calm down or redirect their attention to other matters.”

And at Tuesday’s hearing, she argued that any reporters in the courtroom be removed.

Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein rejected the request.

Prosecutor Maria Schneider said she hopes to try the case this year.

On Tuesday, the judge said he plans to set a trial date for September, if both sides are ready.

Mourer still has lots of witnesses to interview, she told the judge.

She has not yet decided whether Evans will take the stand, Mourer said outside the courtroom.

In previous interviews, she said Evans began showing signs of mental illness in his 20s. She declined to say Tuesday whether that will become part of his defense.

— Sun Sentinel

Colombian president meets indigenous representatives after threat

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian President Ivan Duque on Tuesday met indigenous representatives in a southwestern town amid heavy security after Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez said there had been a plan to attack him.

The 40-minute meeting in Caldono took place in “a closed space,” broadcaster RCN reported.

However, Duque refused to meet indigenous people, hundreds of whom had gathered on a public square, citing security concerns, according to broadcaster Caracol.

The indigenous people’s organization CRIC accused the president of not keeping his word. Duque “did not have the capacity to listen to the people,” it said in a statement.

The president had agreed to meet representatives of indigenous communities after they cleared a major highway they had been blocking for nearly a month.

The protesters from 11 communities had set a meeting with the president as a condition for lifting the blockades, but Duque only accepted to meet them after they reached an agreement with the government and the Pan-American highway was reopened.

Martinez said Monday that armed groups had infiltrated the indigenous protest and were preparing “a terrorist act” with “a high-precision weapon” that could affect the security of the president.

A military source quoted by RCN attributed the alleged plan to dissidents of the former guerrilla group FARC, most of whose members handed over their weapons following a 2016 peace deal.

In December, the government also said there had been a plan to assassinate Duque and that three Venezuelans had been arrested.

Indigenous leaders had said issues they planned to discuss with the president included the protection of water sources and the government’s National Development Plan, the daily El Tiempo reported.

They also wanted to raise the issue of the killings of human rights activists and other community leaders, hundreds of whom have been assassinated since 2016.

— dpa