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    A man whose attempted-murder conviction was tossed by a California judge walked free Tuesday after 20 years in prison. Marco Contreras, now 41, was embraced by his mother as his lawyers cheered following a Los Angeles court hearing during which he was declared factually innocent. 'I just had to be patient, and wait,' said Contreras, telling KCAL-TV he always knew he would be exonerated. Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent, which fought for his release, pointed to a combination of factors that resulted in the conviction for a shooting and robbery at a Compton gas station in 1996. Contreras' vehicle, which he had lent to someone else, was in the vicinity. An eyewitness wrongly identified him as the shooter, despite the fact that he was at home sleeping at the time. A probe by the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office not only determined that Contreras was innocent, but led to the arrest of another suspect in the case. The law school project and prosecutors jointly petitioned Superior Court Judge William Ryan to release him. Contreras, who served two decades of a life-plus-seven-years sentence, said his spirituality helped him suppress anger during his time behind bars. He steadfastly maintained his innocence and fought to have his case re-investigated. Paula Mitchell, Loyola's legal director, said before the hearing that erroneous eyewitness identifications account for about 75 percent of all wrongful convictions in the U.S.
  • The question of collusion between Russian interests and Donald Trump's campaign is far from answered, despite repeated assertions by the president's spokesman that it's case closed. Sean Spicer angrily dismissed inquiries about the matter Tuesday, declaring that 'every single person who's been briefed on this, as I've said ad nauseam from this podium ... have been very clear that there is no connection between the president or the staff here and anyone doing anything with Russia.' That goes for 'Republican, Democrat, Obama appointee' and career civil servants, he added. They 'have all come to the same conclusion.' THE FACTS: The matter is being investigated by the FBI and two congressional committees, so no conclusions have been reached at all. According to a report published at the end of the Obama administration by the outgoing director of intelligence, James Clapper, no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia had been established. But investigations are continuing into that very question. FBI Director James Comey said last week: 'I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.' He said that 'as with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.' As for Clapper's report, his spokesman Shawn Turner said last week that the findings 'could not account for intelligence or evidence that may have been gathered since the inauguration on January 20th.' Spicer's claim that even Democrats who have been briefed on the matter agree there was no collusion is at odds with statements from Democrats. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a recipient of classified briefings, has said 'there is more than circumstantial evidence now' of a relationship between Russian interests and Trump associates. Michael Flynn was fired as national security adviser when his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. emerged. As for 'staff here' being in the clear, as Spicer put it, they have neither been identified as targets of the investigations nor ruled out. A close adviser to Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has agreed to talk to lawmakers about his business dealings with Russians. Other Trump associates have volunteered to be interviewed by the House and Senate intelligence committees as well. ___ AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report. ___ Find all AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd EDITOR'S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures
  • Montenegro is set to become NATO's newest member after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to ratify the tiny Balkan nation's entry into the alliance. Senators on Tuesday approved a resolution of ratification, 97-2. Despite its small size, Montenegro bears strategic importance. A former ally of Russia, the country is in the midst of a clash between the West and Moscow over influence in the Balkans. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pressed the Senate earlier this month to act quickly on Montenegro's admission. He told Senate leaders that the chamber's approval needed to come ahead of a summit scheduled for May that will include NATO heads of state and government. Tillerson said the U.S. was one of the last remaining NATO members not to have given Montenegro's bid full parliamentary approval.
  • A cyanide device for killing coyotes that spewed the poison on a boy and killed his dog was set up on public land in Idaho in February despite a decision months earlier by federal officials to halt use of the devices on all U.S.-owned land in the state, officials said Tuesday. The device activated March 16 when 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield and his dog checked it out 300 yards (275 meters) from their home on the outskirts of the small city of Pocatello. The boy has suffered headaches since he was exposed. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Erin Curtis told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the device that went off and another one were put there by the U.S. Agriculture Department in late February. An Agriculture Department document said the agency would stop using the devices last November on all federally owned Idaho land to reduce health risks to people and domestic animals. The department did not immediately comment Tuesday on why the device was placed on the land in an apparent violation of its policy, but said in an emailed statement to the AP that 'the unintentional lethal take of a dog is a rare occurrence.' It also said its wildlife services division is reviewing its 'operating procedures to determine whether improvements can be made to reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences happening in the future.' Mark Mansfield, the boy's father and a physician, said an emergency room doctor and a toxicologist who examined his son told him they were surprised that the boy did not die after he was sprayed with the cyanide powder emitted by the device. 'I'm panicking for my son,' he said in an interview. 'We're worried, and we just don't know. It's a miracle he lived in the first place.' The family is consulting with medical specialists about the boy's continuing headaches, his father said. The devices called M-44s look like water sprinkler heads and were put on the land as part of a federal effort to kill coyotes that target livestock. But Mansfield said the area where his son came across one is a hill that overlooks houses with barking dogs and children playing. M-44s are spring-activated devices typically smeared with bait that shoot cyanide into an animal's mouth when it tugs on the device. 'We're shocked that a human being, whether you work for the government or a private company, would put this near someone's home,' Mansfield said. The federal government uses the devices to control predator populations to limit losses for ranchers and other livestock owners. They killed about 12,500 coyotes, mostly in Western U.S. states, in 2016, the wildlife services division said on its website. The device that went off was put there by a worker with the wildlife services division who has not been identified and the Agriculture Department has not said why the worker did so. The area has a mix of public and private land, so it's not clear whether the worker accidentally ended up on public land. The ban on using the devices on public land does not apply to private land, and some private landowners want the devices put on their land to kill coyotes and other predators. Local officials are conducting a criminal investigation and plan to turn over findings to prosecutors in Bannock County who would decide whether to pursue charges. 'The problem we have is that we have houses in every direction from where the device was placed,' said Sheriff's Det. Lt. Andy Thomas. 'We know the boy got it on his eyes, arms and legs. We have no clue why he's not dead.' Thomas said he and other deputies initially thought the device was a pipe bomb, but found no external injuries on the dog, a Labrador retriever named Casey. After learning several hours later what the device actually was, Thomas was examined at a hospital with the Mansfield family members for cyanide exposure. All of their clothes were burned after they were examined to avoid spreading the toxin. Thomas interviewed the worker who set up the device but declined to provide details because the investigation is ongoing. The event is an example of how some Agriculture Department efforts to protect livestock are outdated at a time when hikers, bikers and others increasingly explore public lands, said John Freemuth, a Boise State University environmental policy professor and public lands expert. 'They're a symbol of the old West confronting the more diverse West,' he said.
  • The Southeastern Conference said Tuesday it wants Arkansas lawmakers to exempt college sporting events such as football games from a new law greatly expanding where concealed handguns are allowed, citing concerns about safety at its games. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey that the measure signed into law last week by Gov. Asa Hutchinson creates concerns for the conference and its member institutions. The new law allows people with concealed handgun licenses to carry on college campuses, government buildings and some bars if they undergo up to eight hours of active shooter training. The University of Arkansas is an SEC school, and Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium holds 72,000 people. 'Given the intense atmosphere surrounding athletic events, adding weapons increases safety concerns and could negatively impact the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Arkansas in several ways, including scheduling, officiating, recruiting and attendance,' Sankey said in a statement. A spokesman for the conference declined to answer whether the new law would threaten future SEC games in Arkansas. A Senate-backed measure to exempt college sporting events has the backing of Hutchinson and was expected to go before a House committee Tuesday afternoon. The National Rifle Association, which supported the expanded concealed handguns law, opposes the exemption measure. The law takes effect Sept. 1, but Arkansas residents likely won't be allowed to carry concealed weapons into the expanded locations until early next year. The law gives Arkansas State Police until January to design the additional training that will be required. More than 220,000 people have concealed handgun licenses in Arkansas.
  • Kansas' Republican-controlled Legislature approved an expansion Tuesday of state health coverage to thousands of poor adults under former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, days after the collapse of GOP leaders' repeal effort in Washington. The bill would expand the state's Medicaid program for the poor, disabled and elderly so that it would cover up to 180,000 additional adults who aren't disabled. It now heads to conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The collapse of efforts by President Donald Trump and top Republicans in the U.S. House to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act buoyed supporters of expanding Medicaid in Kansas. But the move's success in the GOP-leaning state also reflected elections last year that brought more moderates and liberals into the Legislature. 'I'm ecstatic! I am, and I'm high on happiness,' said state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican and retired anesthesiologist. 'The citizens of this state took a stand in November and said we wanted change, and now you're seeing it.' But lawmakers on both sides of the debate expect Brownback to veto the measure. He has long been a vocal critic of Obama's health care law and endorsed a plan pursued by Trump and GOP congressional leaders. The term-limited governor declared in January that expanding Medicaid under the law would be 'airlifting onto the Titanic,' though he hasn't said whether he would veto this bill. The failure of Republicans in Washington to quickly repeal Obama's health care law has created speculation that more states will consider Medicaid expansion. Democratic governors are pursuing expansions in North Carolina and Virginia; an initiative is on the ballot in November in Maine. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that he will give its Republicans another chance at passing a health care overhaul but did not offer a timeline. 'I don't think it makes any sense to jump on expanding Medicaid when the rules could change significantly,' said Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican. The bill would not have passed the Kansas Legislature last year. At least eight new state senators replaced Republicans who were likely to have opposed expanding Medicaid. In the House, the same could be said for at least 20 members. But the 25-14 vote Tuesday in the Senate was two votes shy of the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto. The House approved the bill last month on an 81-44 vote , three votes short of a two-thirds majority. Obama's Affordable Care Act encouraged states to increase the number of people eligible for Medicaid by promising to pay most of the costs. Thirty-one states, including some led by GOP governors, have expanded Medicaid. Kansas critics argued that expanding Medicaid still would be too expensive for the state, which is facing projected budget shortfalls of more than $1 billion through June 2019 following massive personal income tax cuts championed by Brownback. Kansas' Medicaid program covers about 377,000 poor, disabled and elderly residents, but poor adults under 65 who aren't disabled and don't have children aren't eligible. Brownback's administration projected the extra costs of expanding the program at $66 million total for the state's 2018 and 2019 budgets. 'There's no question in my mind that this would be a huge cost to the state,' said Shawn Sullivan, the governor's budget director. But the Kansas Hospital Association projects a net gain for the state, arguing in part that an influx of federal dollars would ripple through the state's economy. Hospitals were a crucial part of the lobbying for the bill; supporters believe the expansion would prevent some hospitals from shuttering. 'What I saw were people who couldn't afford insurance using emergency rooms, not getting adequate care,' said freshman Republican state Sen. Ed Berger, a former central Kansas community college president who led his local hospital's board. 'Those hospitals were having to absorb a lot of that.' ___ Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zalidvar in Washington and Allison Kite in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report. ___ Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna
  • In the behind-the-scenes drama of who's up and who's down in Donald Trump's White House, chief of staff Reince Priebus is playing a starring role. Priebus, a genial Midwesterner with deep ties to the Republican establishment that Trump toppled, has faced questions about his future since the day he set foot in the White House. And the focus on him is intensifying following Trump's failure to get enough GOP lawmakers to support a White House-backed health care bill, an embarrassing blow for the new president. There's blame to spare for the health care debacle at both the White House and on Capitol Hill. But Priebus is a particularly rich target, given that his value to Trump is tied to his relationships with GOP lawmakers, many of whom were elected during his six years as chairman of the Republican National Committee. 'Reince doesn't have a magic wand,' said Henry Barbour, a friend and Republican national committeeman. 'He doesn't have an ability to make people do what they don't want to do — and he doesn't want to.' Priebus' standing in the White House has broad implications for Trump's agenda. Beyond Vice President Mike Pence, he represents the president's most direct link the traditional underpinnings of the Republican Party and is the buffer between the fiery nationalists and the more liberal New Yorkers who also occupy top White House jobs. Trump has voiced confidence in Priebus in recent conversations with associates, including after House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the health care bill off the floor Friday, and White House officials say the two men appear have developed a comfortable relationship. During the Republican primary, Priebus, 45, often remarked to colleagues that he spoke with Trump more than any of the other 17 GOP candidates. The president likes to make good-natured digs at Priebus in public remarks, joking about his 'crazy name' and telling a meeting of auto industry executives that his chief of staff might end up running a car company someday. For laughs, Trump will sometimes recount a tense exchange with Priebus at one of the campaign's lowest moments: the release of a video in which Trump is heard making predatory comments about women. During an emergency campaign meeting, Priebus told Trump he should either drop out of the race or risk dragging down Republican candidates across the country. Steve Bannon, Trump's senior adviser, said it's not Priebus' grim — and ultimately inaccurate — warning that stuck with the president. It's the fact that Priebus showed up at all, given the intense pressure at the time for Republican leaders to abandon the party's nominee. 'Reince had the courage to get on a train in Washington, D.C., go to Penn Station, go to Trump Tower and come to the meeting,' Bannon said. 'That's courage.' Bannon, who was also considered for the chief of staff job, has grown unexpectedly close to Priebus and has distanced himself from the criticism by Breitbart News, the far-right website Bannon ran before joining Trump's campaign. 'They've got their heroes, they've got their villains, it's never going to change,' Bannon said of Breitbart. He vouched for Priebus' populist credentials, saying, 'When left to his own devices, he's not really that establishment.' Priebus inspires intense loyalty among those who worked with him at the RNC, several of whom followed him to the White House, including press secretary Sean Spicer. They describe him as a workhorse who is determined to unite the disparate factions of Trump advisers. 'He wants input, he wants buy-in, he wants people to feel like they're part of the process,' said Katie Walsh, who worked alongside Priebus at the RNC and is now deputy chief of staff at the White House. But one White House official said Priebus' approach backfired early in the administration, leaving the impression that he was a pushover who didn't have full control of the staff. His style has also created uncertainty on Capitol Hill, where Republican lawmakers sometimes get conflicting messages from top White House officials, including during the health care debate and on a tax overhaul. A GOP leadership aide said Priebus himself appears to be less involved in shaping the details of Trump's agenda and more focused on trying to get White House officials on the same page. The aide was among about a dozen White House officials, Trump associates and congressional aides who spoke about Priebus, some on the condition of anonymity in order to disclose private conversations. Priebus is said to be sensitive to the criticism that has sprouted up about him, particularly when it's focused on his competency and management of the West Wing. That's created a mild sense of paranoia among his allies, according to another White House official, leading them to respond in outsized ways, both privately and publicly. 'He's somebody that always hears footsteps,' the official said of Priebus. He's had to adjust the traditional role of chief of staff to fit a highly unconventional president. Unlike many of his predecessors, Priebus spends much of his day by Trump's side and typically sits in on his meetings with CEOs and other outside visitors. Kellyanne Conway, Trump's White House counselor, said that's a function of a president who can make decisions in those meetings that the chief of staff needs to know. 'This is a president that allows a lot of access,' Conway said. For Priebus, she said, 'it requires a lot more physical presence.' Priebus supporters say he has moved to tighten the reins in the West Wing in recent weeks, leading crisper discussions in his daily 8 a.m. staff meeting and taking a tougher line with those who veer from the day's plans. 'Reince has been on a learning curve in the executive branch, he's never been there,' said Chris Ruddy, a friend of Trump's and among those who have been publicly critical of Priebus. 'There's a settling in that's taken place.' ___ Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
  • Senate Republicans and the White House sounded ready to abandon efforts to repeal and replace the nation's health care law, at least for now, even as House Republicans insisted on Tuesday they were not ready to give up on their years-long quest. The intraparty dispute came in the wake of last Friday's collapse of health care legislation in the House, a GOP humiliation at the climactic moment of seven years of promises to get rid of former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made his views clear after a closed-door lunch with fellow Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence. 'It's pretty obvious we were not able, in the House, to pass a replacement. Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place, and I think we're just going to have to see how that works out,' McConnell said. 'We believe it will not work out well, but we'll see.' 'I want to thank the president and the speaker, they went all out to try to pass repeal and replacement. Sorry that didn't work,' McConnell added. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short also emerged from the Senate GOP lunch indicating the administration was moving on despite President Donald Trump's promises as a candidate to immediately get rid of Obama's law. 'We understand there's probably members in Congress who feel like 'Look, we probably need to revisit this, and we need to make an effort to get it done,' and if that's the case, if the legislation reaches the president's desk, I'm sure he'll look to sign it,' Short told The Associated Press. 'But at this time, at this time today, there are other things that we have on our priority list that we're moving on to.' Short pointed to the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, whose nomination will be on the Senate floor next week, as well as a looming funding deadline on April 28 that must be met to keep the lights on in the government. Short said that 'of course' the White House hopes to avoid a shutdown. And, senior Republicans and the White House are eager to move on to tax overhaul legislation. The comments on health care from Senate Republicans and the White House were a cold reality check on the newly revived hopes of House Republicans. Just this Friday, House Republicans couldn't muster the votes for their marquee legislation to repeal and replace the health care law and pulled it off the floor in an embarrassing setback for Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan. But Tuesday morning, they exchanged pledges of unity in a closed-door meeting and emerged eager to continue their efforts on health care, although they provided no specific plans or timeline for how they would proceed. Ryan proclaimed, 'We are going to work together and listen together until we get this right. It is just too important.' House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said: 'We promised that we would repeal and replace Obamacare, and that's exactly what we're going to do.' And House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., claimed: 'I think we're closer today to repealing Obamacare than we've ever been before.' Those comments landed with a thud on the Senate side. Asked if it were realistic for the House to try to revive its health care legislation, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said: 'No. I'm about health cared out.' The discussion on health care came with a hard deadline looming to pass legislation by the end of next month to keep the government running. GOP leaders in Congress and at the White House were trying to take steps to avoid stumbling into a shutdown. Ryan said Tuesday that any provision to 'defund' Planned Parenthood didn't belong in the catchall measure, while Senate GOP leaders like Roy Blunt of Missouri made clear they'd like to avoid a showdown over Trump's border wall, which is loathed by Democrats and disliked by some Republicans as well. Keeping Planned Parenthood and the border wall out of the spending bill would greatly improve its chances to get necessary Democratic votes in the Senate, although conservatives in both chambers might object. ___ Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
  • One day after approving the Oakland Raiders' move to Las Vegas, NFL owners got busy passing several rules changes and adopting resolutions they believe will speed the game and enhance player safety. Most notable Tuesday was the change in handling officiating of video replays. Referees will now watch replays on the field using tablets, eliminating 'going under the hood' to the watch on television monitors. League officiating chief Dean Blandino and his staff in New York will make the final decisions on those calls, with input from the referee, who in the past was the ultimate arbiter after consulting with league headquarters. 'And I think that's important to remember, we're not taking the referee out of the equation,' Blandino has said. 'The referee will still be involved, the referee will still give input, but will no longer have the final say.' Also at the league meetings owners extended bringing touchbacks out to the 25-yard line for another year; eliminating 'leapers' trying to block field goals or extra points; added protections for defenseless receivers running their routes; and made permanent the rule disqualifying a player who is penalized twice in a game for specific unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Other actions taken Tuesday included: —Crackback blocks by a backfield player who goes in motion are now banned. —Creating an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for committing multiple fouls during the same down with the purpose of manipulating the game clock. —Allowing teams to interview or hire an employee of another team during the season if the other team consents. —Modified some bylaws regarding bringing draft-eligible players to clubs' facilities; changed procedures for returning a player to the active ranks from lists such as physically unable to perform, non-football injury or non-football illness. The leaper rule clearly falls under the category of enhancing player safety, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said last week. 'I would say it's going to go as far as it needs to from a player safety standpoint,' said McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. 'We're not going to put players in a position in which we think there is an unreasonable risk of injury. 'When we met with the NFLPA it was a rule that certainly caught their attention and they favored it right from the outset given what they felt like was a danger to the player, to the leaper and the risk of injury.' Owners also were considering whether to allow players and coaches to use the Microsoft Surface tablets for video on the sidelines — they are limited to still photos now; eliminating the summer cutdown to 75 players, making for one cut at the end of the preseason; allowing unlimited coaches' challenges and expanding what calls can be challenged; and reducing the length of overtime games from 15 minutes to 10 during the regular season. ___ For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • Republican President Donald Trump's lawyers say he's immune while president from defamation claims brought by a former contestant on his reality TV show 'The Apprentice' who accused him of unwanted sexual contact. The lawyers said in a state Supreme Court filing Monday they'll formally ask for a dismissal or a suspension of the January claims by Summer Zervos until he leaves office. They said the Constitution immunizes Trump from being sued in state court while president. The lawyers said their position is supported by a long line of U.S. Supreme Court cases requiring courts to show deference to the president and his schedule. Zervos was a contestant on Trump's reality show in 2006. She sued after Trump dismissed as 'fabricated and made-up charges' her claims at a news conference that he made unwanted sexual contact with her at a Beverly Hills hotel in 2007. The lawsuit sought an apology and $2,914. Trump's lawyers said in Monday's filing that the president denies 'these unfounded accusations' and was prepared to show that they were 'false, legally insufficient and made in a transparent politically-motivated attack.' They said the allegations have been disputed even by a member of Zervos' family. Zervos was among several women who made sexual allegations against Trump when he was the Republican nominee during the presidential race last year. Trump has strenuously denied their allegations. After appearing on Trump's show, Zervos said she later asked him for a job. She said they met and he kissed her on the lips and asked for her phone number. She said at a later meeting at a California hotel he became sexually aggressive, kissing her and touching her breasts. During the presidential campaign, a tape of Trump talking about fame enabling him to grope and try to have sex with women emerged. On the 2005 'Access Hollywood' tape, Trump says when he's attracted to beautiful women 'I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet.' He says when you're a star, women let you. 'Grab them by the p----,' Trump adds. 'You can do anything.' Trump later said in a presidential debate that he never did any of the actions heard on the tape, which he described as locker room talk. Trump's wife, Melania Trump, blamed 'Access Hollywood' host Billy Bush for what Trump said. She said they were involved in 'boy talk, and he was led on, like egged on, from the host to say dirty and bad stuff.' A Zervos attorney, Gloria Allred, said she doesn't believe the president of the United States enjoys legal immunity from a defamation lawsuit. She said the Supreme Court addressed the legal immunity issue in a case involving Democratic President Bill Clinton and 'determined unanimously that no man is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States.' 'We look forward,' she said, 'to arguing this issue in court.