Tag Archives: Georgia

With cameras running, Savannah owls are a hit again

Cue the tears from the empty-nesters. The second season of The Landings owls show has come to a close.

The younger of two adorable owlets raised under live-streaming cameras fledged over the weekend. It had made a few previous forays out of this converted eagle nest seven stories above a golf course green and returned home, but this exit seemed to be for good.

As they did during last year’s inaugural season, the owls provided months of entertainment and education to viewers allowed to peek into their world. As before, the mama owl was unfailingly vigilant, the dad a good provider. Even what seemed like a mishap when the older owlet fledged on a windy day had a happy ending.

Two cameras were trained on them, both equipped with infrared lighting to provide nighttime viewing. A Minnesota researcher examined the raptors’ voiceprints and determined it was the same male and female returning to raise a second brood. Amateur and professional ornithologists have provided insight into the birds’ biology and behavior.

Savannahian Mary Lambright has chronicled much of the owls’ activity on Twitter and Facebook feeds, where the great horned owls have attracted a worldwide audience and tallied more than two million interactions.

“I feel like their publicist sometimes,” said Lambright, a retired biology teacher who taught at Johnson High for nearly three decades. She cracked up as a squirrel with an apparent death wish repeatedly scrambled past the nest of the predators. And she watched as they gobbled down less fortunate squirrels, plus swamp rats, snakes and lizards. The size of the prey these raptors hauled home for the babies was a surprise this season.

“I think the highlight this year was seeing they could bring in great egrets,” Lambright said. “I never thought about how large a prey item they could take.”

Great horned owls are among the most common owls in North America and are the “quintessential owl of storybooks,” with their “long, earlike tufts, intimidating yellow-eyed stare and deep hooting voice,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a partner in the Landings Bird Cam project.

The nonprofit Skidaway Audubon is the primary driver of the nest cam. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides technical assistance and birding expertise. The private California-based HDOnTap provides the live streaming and recordings.

Others who contributed money or in-kind services include Coastal Conservation Association, Skidaway Chapter; Ogeechee Audubon; Wild Birds Unlimited Savannah; the Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association; The Landings Club; and The Landings Association.

Earlier this month some camera viewers panicked when the older owlet appeared to have been swept away from its perch by a stiff breeze. When volunteer Rick Cunningham was dispatched to check on junior, he spied the owlet safely ensconced in an adjacent tree rather than stuck on the ground as owl watchers feared.

“I had to make sure there was not a cat or two prowling around,” he said. “People really needed reassurance.”

Cunningham expects the owls’ loblolly pine to survive another year, so the show may go on if the owl couple returns in 2017. Hooked on the bird show, Cunningham is also eyeing other nesting sites and plotting how best to wire a camera near them.

“I think we really would like to have bald eagle,” he said.


An AP member exchange feature.

Man arrested for stinking up bar with flatulence spray

A Georgia man has been arrested after police say he unleashed a bottle of Liquid Ass inside an Athens bar named “Whiskey Bent.”

The Athens Banner-Herald reports that a woman told officers 20-year-old Blake Leland Zengo sprayed her in the face with a product designed to smell like flatulence.

An Athens-Clarke County police report says several people left the bar, citing the foul smell inside.

When police found Zengo in the bar’s patio area, he claimed to not know what was going on, saying that he didn’t spray anything. But police described Zengo as being “very inebriated, and … slurring his words.”

Police found a bottle of the flatulence spray in his pants pocket, but did not indicate whether it was his back pocket.

The website for the prank product promises: “Once unleashed, this power-packed, super-concentrated liquid begins to evaporate, filling the air with a genuine, foul butt-crack smell with hints of dead animal and fresh poo. The funny pranks you can pull with Liquid ASS are unlimited. Watching the facial grimaces of people and hearing their comments about the part-your-hair, gagging stench will have you laughing until it hurts.”

Apparently the spray lives up to its promise, except for the “laughing until it hurts” part.

Athens is home to the University of Georgia.

Georgia gov. vetoes ‘religious exemptions’ bill

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on March 28 vetoed legislation that would have legalized faith-based discrimination against LGBT people.

Deal, a Republican, vetoed the bill with the statement, “I have examined the protections that this bill proposes to provide to the faith-based community and I can find no examples of any of those circumstances occurring in our state.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. — PHOTO: Courtesy
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. — PHOTO: Courtesy

He also stated, “I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.”

Republican majorities passed the bill to claiming their goal was to protect people acting on their religion.

The bill’s opponents said the measure permitted discrimination and could trample local ordinances protecting LGBT people.

Coca-Cola and other big-name Georgia companies joined the NFL, Hollywood celebrities and film studios urging Deal to reject the bill.

Some threatened to boycott the state if Deal didn’t veto the measure.

Deal said his decision to reject the bill was “about the character of our state and the character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming state; it is full of loving, kind and generous people.”

Transcript from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of HB 757

The decision surrounding HB 757 has generated more intense feelings that most legislation, perhaps because it has highlighted the concerns of many in our religious communities regarding the actions of federal courts, especially the United States Supreme Court in its 5-4 opinion last summer which legalized same sex marriage. (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ____(2015)).

HB 757 enumerates certain actions that religious leaders, faith-based organizations and people of faith shall not be required to take or perform. These include solemnizing a marriage, attending such marriages, hiring church personnel or renting church property when such acts would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs. While most people would agree that government should not force such actions, there has not been a single instance of such taking place in Georgia. If there has been any case of this type in our state it has not been called to my attention. The examples being cited by the proponents of this bill have occurred in other states that have very different laws than Georgia.

One example that is used is the photographer in New Mexico who refused to photograph a same sex marriage (Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P. 3d53 (2013)).  That state has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but it was not applicable. It was the New Mexico Human Rights Act that determined the results in that case. Georgia does not have a Human Rights Act.

The second case that is cited is that of the bakery in Colorado that refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple. There the court ruling was based on Colorado’s Public Accommodation Act which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation (Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. ____ P 3d_(2015)). Georgia does not have a Public Accommodation Act.

Therefore, as I have examined the protections this bill seeks to provide to religious organizations and people of faith I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia. It is also apparent that the cases being cited from other states occurred because those state had passed statues that specifically protected their citizens from adverse actions based on their sexual orientation. Georgia has no such statues.

HB 757 appeared in several forms during the recent session of the Georgia General Assembly. I had no objection to the “Pastor Protection Act” that was passed by the House of Representatives. The other versions of the bill, however, contained language that could give rise to state sanctioned discrimination. I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith based community.

I appreciate the efforts of the General Assembly to address these concerns and my actions today in no way disparage their motivations on those who support this bill, Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it will allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate on something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment of the United State Constitution.

That may be why our Founding Fathers did not attempt to list in detail the circumstances that religious liberty embraced. Instead, they adopted what the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia referred to as “negative protection.” That is, rather than telling government what it can do regarding religion, they told government what it could not do, namely, “establish a religion or interfere with the free exercise thereof.” They had previously proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that Man’s Creator had endowed all men “with certain unalienable rights,” including “Liberty” which embraces religious liberty. They made it clear that those liberties were given by God and not by man’s government. Therefore, it was unnecessary to enumerate in statue or constitution what those liberties included.

In light of our history, I find it ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask government to confer upon them certain rights and protections. If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should need the “hands off” admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statues can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.

Some of those in the religious community who support this bill have resorted to insults that question my moral convictions and my character. Some within the business community who oppose this bill have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state. I do not respond well to insults or threats. The people of Georgia deserve a leader who will made sound judgments based on solid reasons that are not inflamed by emotion. That is what I intend to do.

As I’ve said before, I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives. Our actions on HB 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia.

This is about the character of our State and the character of its people. Georgia is a welcoming State filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.

For that reason, I will veto HB 757.

A century after lynching of Leo Frank, Marietta still wrestles over history

Down past the Big Chicken, the 56-foot-high, steel-beaked beacon of extra crispy that may be this town’s most prized landmark, and just across from Fast Eddie Auto Sales, the wedge of dirt hard by Interstate 75 is notable only for its lack of notability. And when Rabbi Steven Lebow pulls up there, he leaves the engine running and door open.

Nearly ever since the South Florida native found a pulpit in this fast-changing county just north of Atlanta three decades ago, this spot — or, more specifically, the tale of murder and vengeance that has stained its ground and local history for 100 years — has weighed on him.

But with transportation crews readying to build over the place where Marietta’s leading citizens lynched a Jewish factory superintendent named Leo Frank on an August morning a century ago, Lebow talks only of what’s worth preserving.

“There’s nothing to see here. It’s anonymous. That’s why we need to be the memory,” Lebow says, as trucks grind past. “We don’t want to remember it, but it’s a cautionary tale.”

As this community revisits that tale, though — “whether it wants to or not,” the Marietta Daily Journal’s “Around Town” columnists wrote recently — there are reminders that it remains unsettled as well as unsettling.

In 1913, Frank was convicted of murdering a 13-year-old girl, Mary Phagan, who worked for 10 cents an hour in his Atlanta factory. The case, charged with race, religion, sex and class, exploded in a national media frenzy, cementing a North-South divide and exposing the resentments of economic upheaval. When Georgia’s governor commuted Frank’s death sentence, citizens took matters in their own hands.

The case established the Anti-Defamation League as the country’s most outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism, while helping fuel rebirth of what had been a dormant Ku Klux Klan, months after the lynching.

Until ADL lawyers pressed officials to posthumously pardon Frank in the 1980s, the case was hushed in Atlanta’s synagogues, the homes of Old Marietta, and among Phagan’s descendants.

The pardon, though granted, was less than conclusive. Now, in a summer that has already seen Southerners wrangle with the best-known symbol of the region’s embattled past, Lebow and others want to reopen a painful chapter some would prefer to let be.

But their effort to right history, as they see it, has renewed charges that, in doing so, they are unfairly trying to rewrite it.

Soon After Dan Cox turned an abandoned Civil War-era hotel off the downtown square into the Marietta Museum of History more than two decades ago, he knocked on the door of a 96-year-old resident. She regaled him with stories until Cox asked about Leo Frank.

“You could see the iron curtain fall,” says Cox, who’s 76. “I said, ‘Why won’t you tell me?’ But she said, ‘We were told not to talk about it,’ and they never did.”

Even so, actors and academics, reporters and playwrights, have repeatedly delved into the story.

Frank, raised in New York, ran a factory in industrializing Atlanta, where he married into a prosperous Jewish family. In 1913, Phagan, her hair in bows, stopped to collect her pay from the factory, where she ran a machine that inserted rubber erasers into pencils. She was on the way to the city’s Confederate Memorial Day parade.

That night, a watchman found her bloodied body in the basement. Prosecutors alleged she’d been raped. Police arrested several men before settling on Frank, who proclaimed his innocence. His conviction rested on the testimony of a custodian, Jim Conley, a rare case of a black man’s word used against a white defendant.

Frank’s lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that a climate of anti-Semitism had resulted in an unfair trial. The court upheld the verdict, 7-2. In 1915, Gov. John Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life, and a furious crowd hanged the politician in effigy.

“Jew money has debased us, bought us and sold us,” wrote Thomas Watson, who used his Jeffersonian newspaper to attack Frank. “In the name of God, what are the people to do?”

Months later, a group of men from Marietta, the Phagan family’s hometown, took Frank from the state prison. As the sun rose that Aug. 17, they hanged him in a grove outside town. Nobody was ever charged.

“The Frank case was like a lightning strike,” says Steve Oney, an Atlanta native whose 17 years researching the case produced the book, “And the Dead Shall Rise.” “Everything in the South stood briefly in relief and then it was dark again.”

Substantial evidence points to Frank’s innocence, Oney says, but “there are imponderables that are always going to be imponderables.”

When Oney’s book was published in 2002, Cox says he thought it would air old questions and vanquish stereotypes of a county whose synagogues, taquerias and six-fold population increase since 1960 testify to change.

But calls to the museum about Frank kept coming, even as the sites of nearly 4,000 lynchings of black men throughout the South mostly remain unmarked.

The ADL is marking the anniversary with a push for Georgia to pass a hate-crime law. The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in nearby Kennesaw opens a Frank exhibit. A musical about the case, “Parade,” is being re-staged in Atlanta. The Georgia Historical Society is bringing Oney to Marietta to talk about a case that white supremacist websites continue to pore over.

And on Aug. 16, Lebow will lead a memorial service at which he and some current and former Georgia Supreme Court justices plan to call on state lawmakers to declare Frank’s exoneration.

“This is a story that won’t go away,” Cox says. He leads the way through exhibits detailing Cobb County’s past _ Cherokees banished on the Trail of Tears, Confederates and their Unionist neighbors, and more. The only nod to the Frank case is a single placard and an old historical marker, soon to be returned to storage.

“I don’t want to minimize the event, not at all,” Cox says. “But it needs to be put away, like the flag, in its proper place.”

Dale Schwartz was 11 when his parents took over a department store in a small north Georgia town, where they became the only Jewish family. When they hired a black couple, a group of white women confronted his mother.

“Wait, they raise your children and give them milk from their breasts and they can’t sell you a dress?” his mother said. “They stormed out,” Schwartz says, chuckling at the memory.

Soon, though, crosses were set afire on the Schwartz’s lawn. The living room window was shot out while young Dale lay on the sofa. The family called the ADL.

More than 60 years later, Schwartz is a lawyer who keeps a print of Don Quixote in his office lobby. And his story is by way of explaining why, when an ADL official called in the early 1980s, he agreed to pursue a pardon for Frank.

The effort was prompted by the words of Alonzo Mann, the office boy for Frank, who, 69 years after Phagan’s murder, told the Nashville Tennessean he’d caught Conley with the girl’s body, but stayed silent because he was threatened with death.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected the first request.

“It was like Atlanta didn’t want to revisit that story,” Schwartz says, recalling a packed meeting at a Jewish center. “These old people got up to the microphone and they begged us not to do it. They said it was too big a wound.”

But in 1986, officials granted a pardon, recognizing the state’s failure to protect Frank, “without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence.”

The ADL deemed the pardon closure of its “oldest case.” Schwartz calls it one of his proudest moments, while acknowledging it was a compromise. To challenge it now and fail “would cast a shadow over what we’ve already got,” he said. And yet, as the 100th anniversary of Frank’s death approaches, the recent mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., is on his mind.

“Somehow the juxtaposition of these events keeps popping up in my head,” he says. “There is still some element of society that thinks that hate is OK.”

When Roy Barnes came home after losing re-election as Georgia’s governor, he renovated an abandoned church in downtown Marietta as a law office, commissioning a huge stained glass window of Lady Justice, lit up at night. Settled in an armchair in what used to be the sanctuary, the Democrat reflected on a fascination with the Frank case.

Barnes, who is 67 and was raised on a Cobb County farm, recalls the hush around Frank’s name when he was a boy, and how, as a legislator, he borrowed books on the case from the state library to pass time when debate dragged. As details surfaced, he learned the lynching party included Cicero Dobbs — grandfather of Barnes’ wife, Marie.

Dobbs owned businesses including a taxi company that provided transport that fateful night. Other lynchers included a judge, a former mayor turned state prosecutor, a leading lawyer and the scion of one of Marietta’s wealthiest families. They’re all long gone, with many descendants who openly acknowledge what happened.

But Barnes says some people tell him that, while they agree Frank didn’t get a fair trial, he was still guilty.

Barnes is certain that’s wrong and should be corrected. The Frank story needs to be talked about, “to remind people here that we’re only one step away from mob rule, even from the leaders in our community, and we need to be told that and study so that we never let that happen again,” he says.

Reminded that he lost the governorship in no small part because he pushed to eliminate the Confederate battle flag from the state banner, Barnes paraphrases the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

“You know, the arc of history does bend toward justice,” Barnes says. “And for Leo Frank, justice hasn’t been given yet.”

Just off a gravel road tucked into North Georgia’s hills, Mary Phagan Kean ushers a visitor into a moss-green room filled with scrapbooks, family photos and files detailing the life and death of a 13-year-old girl a century ago.

“She’s my family. She’s my history. History is what makes you who you are,” she says.

Phagan Kean was 13, herself, when a teacher asked if she was related to the girl murdered at the National Pencil Co.

Her father confirmed that she was the victim’s great niece and namesake. Phagan Kean began years of research that produced a book and confirmed her certainty of Frank’s guilt.

When the ADL sought Frank’s exoneration, Phagan Kean recalls telling her family that it was time to speak up. Her protest saw the pardon limited.

When a historic marker was proposed for Phagan’s grave, she asked for wording making clear the pardon was based on the state’s failure to protect him, “not Frank’s innocence.” That is the marker now retired to the Marietta museum, replaced by one Lebow lobbied for, noting simply that Frank was pardoned.

Phagan Kean bought the empty plot just below Phagan’s a few years ago. If Lebow and others keep pushing, she says, she’ll erect her own marker, reminding visitors of the verdict.

“They’re not telling the truth. They’re swaying the truth their way,” says Phagan Kean, a retired teacher who acknowledges that anti-Semitism played a role, but only in the lynching.

In thoughtful, but separate, conversations, she and Lebow voice frustration over each other’s repeated insistence.

Southerners, Phagan Kean says, should not have to apologize for history. Lebow, who recently posted a picture of Frank on Facebook, followed soon after by a photo of Cobb County’s first Jewish same-sex wedding, says acknowledging mistakes of history is the only route toward a “newer South.”

Each speaks of a responsibility.

Phagan Kean, noting that for years she’s dismissed inquiries from white supremacists seeking to use the case for their own purposes, says she acts as a voice for the murdered girl because “there’s nobody to protect her but me.”

And Lebow, noting that time has taught Jews the danger of forgetting the past, recalls hearing about the case at a Kiwanis meeting years ago and realizing he had, by accident, become Leo Frank’s rabbi.

“We’ve got to be the memory of this guy,” he says, “because no one else wants to be.”

Can the KKK ‘adopt a highway’? That’s a legal question

A Georgia court heard arguments on July 9 about whether the state violated a Ku Klux Klan group’s constitutional rights by refusing its application to a highway cleanup program and whether a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision applies in the case.

The north Georgia KKK group applied to join the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program in May 2012, hoping to clean up along part of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains. The state Department of Transportation, which runs the program, denied the application. The department said its program was aimed at “civic-minded organizations in good standing.”

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation sued on behalf of the KKK group in September 2012, arguing that the state violated the group’s right to free speech.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua agreed and ruled in the group’s favor in November, saying the KKK’s group’s application was treated differently than others and that “viewpoint-based discrimination” is not allowed under the Georgia Constitution.

The state appealed, and the Georgia Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case Thursday. The judges made it clear that they are very interested in hearing arguments from both sides as to whether a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Texas case issued last month applies in this case.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas’ refusal to issue a specialty license plate sought by the Sons of Confederate Veterans bearing the group’s logo, which includes the Confederate battle flag. The 5-4 ruling said Texas could limit the content of license plates because they are state property.

Senior assistant attorney general Julie Jacobs said the KKK’s claims are barred by the principle of sovereign immunity, which protects government entities from being sued without their consent.

Alan Begner, who represents the KKK, argued the state is not protected by sovereign immunity from the constitutional challenges raised in this case.

“All citizens must have the right to challenge constitutional violations or we’d have no Constitution at all,” he said.

But even if sovereign immunity doesn’t apply, the KKK’s arguments are still unsound because the Adopt-A-Highway signs constitute government speech and not constitutionally protected free speech, the state’s lawyers argued.

The state of Georgia controls the message and design of the Adopt-A-Highway signs, and roadway signs are generally associated with the state in the public’s mind, which makes it government speech, assistant attorney general Brittany Bolton argued.

In a briefing in the case before the Supreme Court’s decision came down, the KKK group’s lawyers said specialty license plates are the speech “most analogous” to the Adopt-A-Highway signs. Many courts have ruled the plates are a mix of government and individual speech, the group’s lawyers argued.

Maya Dillard Smith, executive director of the ACLU in Georgia, told reporters after the hearing that, unlike license plates which are used for safety and regulation, participation in the Adopt-A-Highway is constitutionally protected free speech.

The implications of denying that speech go far beyond whether the KKK can join the cleanup program, she said, adding that it amounts to the government singling out one group for scrutiny.

Begner argued before the judges that the brochure for the Adopt-A-Highway program proves that the act of joining is an expression of speech – it says belonging sends a message to the public that the participant is environmentally conscious.

Appeals Court Judge Anne Elizabeth Barnes told Begner the court wants to hear more of his arguments on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in this case and asked him to submit a supplemental brief.

Georgia woman jailed for using abortion pills now faces new charges

A Georgia woman spent nearly three days in jail without bond before prosecutors decided police had wrongly charged her with murder after being told she had used pills ordered online to terminate her pregnancy.

Kenlissia Jones, 23, has been freed and no longer faces a malice murder charge. But her legal case isn’t over. District Attorney Greg Edwards told reporters that he still plans to pursue a misdemeanor charge against Jones for possessing a dangerous drug.

Abortion rights advocates say the case is troubling because it appears to be part of a creeping trend in which women are being prosecuted for exercising their abortion rights. An Indiana woman last March was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of feticide for using pills to end her pregnancy.

Jones may have escaped a murder prosecution in Georgia, but the police’s decision to charge her is chilling, said Lynn Paltrow, an attorney and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women in New York.

“The initial reaction of the police and prosecution to view her as a murderer is reflective of the current political climate in this country,” Paltrow said.

Even abortion opponents such as Genevieve Wilson, a director of Georgia Right to Life, were stunned by the proposed murder charge.

Georgia has prohibited the prosecution of women for feticide or for performing illegal abortions in cases involving their own pregnancies. Edwards said the arresting officers acted within their authority and used “their best understanding of the law,” but that their understanding was incorrect.

“Georgia law presently does not permit prosecution of Ms. Jones for any alleged acts related to the end of her pregnancy,” the prosecutor said.

Edwards noted that police had charged Jones without consulting his prosecuting attorneys.

Jones was arrested after seeking help at a hospital. A social worker told police that Jones had taken four Cytotec pills she ordered online after breaking up with her boyfriend. The pills induced labor and she delivered the fetus, which did not survive, in a car on the way to the hospital, according to an Albany police report.

Although the Supreme Court has declared that American women have legal rights to abortion, states have put limits on where abortions can be performed, who can perform them and at what stages of pregnancy abortions are allowed. Traditionally, those state laws have targeted doctors and other abortion providers, but not women seeking to end their pregnancies.

Abortion rights advocates worry that this could be changing.

In March, 33-year-old Purvi Patel of Granger, Indiana, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a baby. Prosecutors said Patel ended her seven-month pregnancy using drugs from China instead of seeking a doctor’s help. Paltrow’s group called it the first time an American woman was convicted and sentenced for trying to end her pregnancy.

Cytotec is a brand name for misoprostol, a prescription drug used in combination with mifepristone to induce nonsurgical abortions. Used as recommended, mifepristone kills the fetus, and then misoprostol induces the labor that expels it. The pills are sold with prescriptions in the U.S. but available over the counter and online in many countries.

In many cases, women are using misoprostol alone — partly because it is more easily obtained, because it has long been approved as a drug that prevents and heals ulcers.

Dr. Beverly Winikoff, president of the women’s health research organization Gynuity Health Projects, said misoprostol has been used in more than 2.5 million abortions in the U.S. and in hundreds of millions of abortions overseas in European countries as well as nations such as India and China.

“I would say it’s a very safe drug,” said Winikoff, who said its more common side effects include chills, fever and sometimes cramping. “The reason some people think it’s unsafe is because it can cause abortion, which people who are anti-abortion don’t like.”

The police report does not say how far along Jones was in her pregnancy. WALB-TV reported earlier that authorities estimated Jones was about five-and-a-half months pregnant.

A phone number for Jones was not accepting incoming calls and there was no answer at the address for her listed on the police report.

Restoration begins at site of 1st R.E.M. show

Workers are beginning to restore the steeple of the old church in Athens where Georgia rock band R.E.M. played its first show.

The Athens Banner-Herald reports that scaffolding is rising around all that remains of the structure — its now-iconic steeple.

Last year, the nonprofit Nuçi’s Space launched a 60-day crowdfunding campaign aimed at restoring the steeple and helping to fund the organization’s health care assistance and other services it provides to local musicians. Nuçi’s Space works to prevent suicide.

The Athens newspaper reports that R.E.M. performed its first show at the church on April 5, 1980, as Twisted Kites and renamed itself a few weeks later.

R.E.M. formed in Athens, where all four members were students.

New coalition forms to push for end to capital punishment

With the country’s final executions of 2014 are scheduled to take place in Georgia, Missouri and Texas this week, a new coalition has launched a campaign to push for an end to capital punishment.

The goal — to mobilize the 90 million Americans who support ending capital punishment — was announced early on Dec. 9 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The coalition includes civil rights, religious, human rights and libertarian organizations and the movement is called the “90 Million Strong Campaign.”

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is coordinating the effort. An announcement said the coalition is responding “to a shockingly high number of death row exonerations, botched executions and an increase in government secrecy surrounding the practice.”

The campaign also “comes at a time when the nation is still grappling with significant questions about fairness, particularly when it comes to race, in the criminal justice system.”

In the last decade, six states have abolished capital punishment. Thirty-one states plus the District of Columbia either don’t have the death penalty or have not carried out executions in at least five years.

Since 1973, including last month’s freeing of the longest-serving innocent prisoner, 149 people have been exonerated from Death Row.

Voters at Georgia polling place charged to park

The Center for American Progress and other organizations raised concerns on Election Day with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp about access to the polls. They are calling for immediate action to ensure all eligible voters have uninhibited access to the polls and can exercise their legal and constitutional right to vote.

The state of Georgia’s website with vital voter information went down on Election Day and the polling location on Georgia Tech’s campus is charging voters for parking in order to vote there, according to multiple reports.

“Egregious voting issues reported in Georgia today are simply unacceptable and need immediate attention from local officials. Georgia officials need to address the fact that voters in their state at Georgia Tech polling locations are effectively being charged to cast their votes” said Michele Jawando, vice president of legal progress at the Center for American Progress. “Georgia’s history of voter suppression in this election cycle—including tens of thousands of Georgians facing voter registration barriers earlier this year — make the call to address voting issues reported on the ground today all the more urgent.”

A letter from Jawando to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said, “There is evidence of barriers to voting in Georgia that need to be immediately addressed. For example, there are reports that your website, touted as a way for voters to find their polling locations, was down this morning. Another report indicates that voters were required to pay for parking at Georgia Tech’s student center polling location and voters left polling locations because of excessively long lines. Today’s disturbing reports come after a lawsuit was filed alleging that upwards of 40,000 voter registrations from three Georgia counties have gone missing.

The examples of long lines, missing registrations, and a disabled voter information website makes it clear that voters in Georgia are not freely able to exercise this most cherished right. We call upon the secretary of state’s office and the county board of elections to investigate and address these issues immediately to ensure that Georgians can exercise their legal right to vote.”

Gay Georgia teen posts video of family throwing him out, raises $93,000 in donations

Online donations for a gay 19-year-old youth from Kennesaw, Georgia, exceeded $93,000 in three days after he posted a video online of his family beating him and throwing him out of his home after he came out to them as gay.

About 4.7 million people have watched the clip, in which the voice of Daniel Ashley Pierce can be heard telling his father, step-mother and sister that he was born gay and could never change. His step-mother and sister take the most combative roles, with his step-mother saying, “We will not support you any longer. You will need to move out and do whatever you want to, because I will not allow people to believe that I condone what you want to do.”

Pierce’s step-mother says that she’s known he was gay since he was a child, but she denies that he was born that way and insists homosexuality is a path he’s chosen. She also says that she loves him but hates what he’s doing — before she proceeds to physically attack him.

Pierce tries to argue that science proves homosexuality is an innate characteristic, prompting his step-mother to reply, “You can go by all the scientific proof you want to, but I am going by the word of God.”

“You know you wasn’t born that way,” she says before smacking him. “You know damn good and well.”

Pierce’s step-mother also argues that she’s not a homophobe, because she has gay friends. The difference, she ways, is that Pierce is related to her.

On the gofundme.com page that Pierce set up to raise money to start a life on his own, he thanks his supporters and asks them to donate to an Atlanta group that helps homeless LGBT youth.

“I would like to the opportunity to thank each and everyone of you who has so generously donated,” he writes. “My intent is to pay if forward and hopefully turn something so negative into something positive. I will do my best to value the gift I have been given by so many of you. Thank you for your love and support.

“If you would still like to make a donation please consider donating to Lost-N-Found Youth in Atlanta (http://www.lost-n-found.org.) They have been an amazing support and resource through this difficult time.”

According to a 2012 study by the Williams Institute, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Eighty-nine percent of them wound up on the streets due to their families’ reactions to their sexual orientation.

Homeless LGBT youth are 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth, and they commit suicide at higher rates (62 percent) than heterosexual homeless youth (29 percent). 

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