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Politics
AP
Trump boasts of economic gains on eve of impeachment verdict

WASHINGTON — Standing before a Congress and nation sharply divided by impeachment, President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address Tuesday to extol a “Great American Comeback” on his watch, just three years after he took office decrying a land of “American carnage” under his predecessor.

The partisan discord was apparent for all to see as the first president to campaign for reelection while facing impeachment vigorously made his case for another term: Republican legislators chanted “Four More Years.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of Trump’s speech as he ended his address.

“America’s enemies are on the run, America’s fortunes are on the rise and America’s future is blazing bright,” Trump declared. “In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back!”

Offering the nation’s economic success as the chief rationale for a second term, Trump’s speech resembled a lower-volume version of his campaign rallies, offering something for every section of his political base.

But while he tweets daily assailing his impeachment, Trump never mentioned the “i-word” in his 78-minute speech. He spoke from the House of Representatives, on the opposite side of the Capitol from where the Senate one day later was expected to acquit him largely along party lines.

Pelosi, a frequent thorn in Trump’s side, created a viral image with her seemingly sarcastic applause of the president a year ago. This time, she was even more explicit with her very public rebuke.

Trump appeared no more cordial. When he climbed to the House rostrum, he did not take her outstretched hand though it was not clear he had seen her gesture. Later, as Republicans often cheered, she remained in her seat, at times shaking her head at his remarks.

Trump, the former reality TV star added a showbiz flavor to the staid event: He had wife Melania present the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to the divisive conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he has advanced lung cancer.

He stunned a young student in the gallery with a scholarship. And he orchestrated the surprise tearful reunion of a solider from overseas with his family in the balcony.

Even for a Trump-era news cycle that seems permanently set to hyper-speed, the breakneck pace of events dominating the first week of February offered a singular backdrop for the president’s address.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who has presided in the Senate over only the third impeachment trial in the nation’s history, was on hand again Tuesday night — this time in his more customary seat in the audience. Trump stood before the very lawmakers who have voted to remove him from office — and those who are expected to acquit him when the Senate trial comes to a close.

The leading Senate Democrats hoping to unseat him in November were campaigning in New Hampshire.

In advance of his address, Trump tweeted that the chaos in Iowa’s Monday leadoff caucuses showed Democrats were incompetent and should not be trusted to run the government.

Among Trump’s guests in the chamber: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has been trying to win face time with Trump, his most important international ally.

The president offered Guaidó exactly the sort of endorsement he’s been looking for as he struggles to oust President Nicolás Maduro from power. Trump called Guaidó “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela.”

“Socialism destroys nations,” Trump declared.

The president entered the evening on a roll, with his impeachment acquittal imminent, his job approval numbers ticking upward and Wall Street looking strong. H e struck a largely optimistic tone Tuesday night, though even in past moments when Trump has struck a tone of bipartisanship and cooperation, he has consistently returned to harsher rhetoric within days.

In the closest historical comparison, Bill Clinton did not mention his recent impeachment when he delivered his State of the Union in 1999. In his address a year ago, Trump did remain on message, making no mention of how Pelosi had originally disinvited him from delivering the speech during the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.

Trump spent much of the speech highlighting the economy’s strength, including low unemployment, stressing how it has helped blue-collar workers and the middle class, though the period of growth began under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

And what Trump calls an unprecedented boom is, by many measures, not all that different from the solid economy he inherited from President Barack Obama. Economic growth was 2.3% in 2019, matching the average pace since the Great Recession ended a decade ago in the first year of Obama’s eight-year presidency

Trump stressed the new trade agreements he has negotiated, including his phase-one deal with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement he signed last month.

While the White House said the president would have a message of unity, he also spent time on issues that have created great division and resonated with his political base. He attacked Democrats’ health care proposals for being too intrusive and again highlighted his signature issue — immigration — trumpeting the miles of border wall that have been constructed.

He also dedicated a section to “American values,” discussing efforts to protect “religious liberties” and limit access to abortion as he continues to court the evangelical and conservative Christian voters who form a crucial part of his base.

The Democrats were supplying plenty of counter-programming, focusing on health care — the issue key to their takeover of the House last year.

Trump, for his part, vowed to not allow a “socialist takeover of our health care system” a swipe at the Medicare For All proposal endorsed by some of his Democratic challengers.

Many female Democrats were wearing white as tribute to the suffragettes, while a number in the party were wearing red, white and blue-striped lapel pins to highlight climate change, saying Trump has rolled back environmental safeguards and given free rein to polluters


Elections
Winston-Salem residents Evelyn Terry and Kanika Brown are running for N.C. House District 71 seat

State Rep. Evelyn Terry, D-Forsyth, is running for her fifth term in the N.C. House against Democratic challenger Kanika Brown of Winston-Salem.

Terry, 76, and Brown, 44, are running for the seat in House District 71, which encompasses areas from the city’s southeastern regions to its southwestern sections. The primary is March 3.

Terry, a former Winston-Salem City Council member, was initially elected to the N.C. House District 71 seat in November 2012, and she was re-elected in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

“The citizens of House District 71 and Forsyth County can count on me to be their voice,” Terry said.

Terry hopes Democrats will win the majority of seats in the N.C. General Assembly in the November elections, she said.

“It would be wonderful to be there and work with colleagues whose philosophy and values represent the values of Winston-Salem and everywhere in the state,” Terry said.

Brown is running for her first public office. The winner faces no Republican candidate in the November elections.

“I am asking people to come out and vote fore me,” Brown said.

Brown is campaigning for education, disabled people, jobs, economic development, seniors, veterans and women’s rights, she said.

The district has 26,649 registered Democratic voters, 8,233 registered Republican voters and 14,538 unaffiliated voters, according to the Forsyth County Board of Elections.

Both candidates agree on many hot-button issues facing the General Assembly and state residents.

If re-elected, Terry is willing to work with House Republicans to pass the proposed $24 billion state budget, she said. The state is operating on a continuing $23.8 billion spending plan.

“The art of politics is compromise,” Terry said.

Democratic and Republican legislators need to put aside their differences and approve the proposed state budget, Brown said.

“These are tax dollars, and we need to know what’s going on,” Brown said.

Brown and Terry support the Medicaid expansion in North Carolina that could cover an additional 450,000 to 650,000 state residents, they said.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the proposed state budget in late June 2019, citing the lack of Medicaid expansion as a primary reason, along with not enough money in the Republican budget compromise dedicated to public-education spending, infrastructure and environmental issues.

“We can expand and get health care for the citizens,” Terry said. “It’s insane not to.”

The state is already paying the medical bills of current Medicaid recipients, Terry said.

Medicaid expansion is needed because “we have a lot of people who are sick or have disabilities in North Carolina in need of that,” Brown said.

Terry and Brown also support increasing the annual salaries of public-school teachers, they said.

“We have teachers working two or three jobs just to make ends meet,” Brown said. “We have teachers coming out of their pockets trying to provide for their students.”

Last year, Cooper proposed a state budget that contained a substantial increase for education, including raises for teachers, Terry said.

The candidates have different views on North Carolina’s voter-identification law.

Terry pointed to a recent ruling by Judge Loretta Biggs of U.S District Court who issued an injunction preventing the law’s photo ID requirement from being used at least for the March 3 primary. Biggs’ ruling guarantees residents fair access to ballot box, Terry said.

Terry opposes any measure that prevents people from voting, she said.

Brown has mixed views about the voter ID law, she said. It’s appropriate that voters will not have the show ID for the March 3 primary, Brown said.

However, county and state voting officials must have controls in place to prevent people from voting multiple times, Brown said. The voter ID law can help people or it can hurt people, she said.

Terry voted against the Republican-sponsored bill that was passed last year by the N.C. General Assembly that would force North Carolina’s 100 sheriffs to comply with detainers issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on jail inmates who are suspected of being in the country illegally. Cooper vetoed the legislation in August 2019.

Terry said she agreed with the stance of several sheriffs in urban counties, including Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. of Forsyth County, who opposed the bill. Local sheriffs should not be responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, Terry said.

“They (sheriffs) shouldn’t be using their resources to chase down people,” Terry said.

The state’s sheriffs should decide whether the bill is the right approach, Brown said.

“I would leave that up to those sheriffs,” Brown said. “The sheriffs know their towns,and what they are dealing with.”

Brown and Terry said that legislators should approve tougher laws to protect and improve North Carolina’s air and water quality. The legislation should protect people against cancer-causing asbestos and lead in drinking water, Brown said.

“We need to be better stewards of the resources of the earth, and clean water is essential,” Terry said.

Brown is opposed to local police departments using traffic checkpoints in neighborhoods. Police departments statewide typically use traffic checkpoints to enforce state motor-vehicle laws and to snare suspected drug dealers in local communities.

Critics say that the practice can lead to racial profiling.

Brown said she’s concerned about the purpose of traffic checkpoints and has several questions about the practicing, including whether there will be oversight over the officers conducting the checkpoints, particularly in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Terry said she understands that law-enforcement agencies often plan and carry out traffic checkpoints in local neighborhoods. However, Terry said she also is opposed to law enforcement agencies indiscriminately establishing traffic checkpoints and stopping people.

“That doesn’t sound constitutional to me,” Terry said.


Z-no-digital
New trial for Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens in Davidson County killing

M. Corbett

Martens

The N.C. Court of Appeals has overturned the second-degree murder convictions of Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens in the death of Corbett’s husband, Irish businessman Jason Corbett, and ordered a new trial.

The judges were split 2-1 in the ruling, which concluded that the trial judge made errors that deprived Molly Corbett, 36, and Thomas Martens, 70, of getting a fair trial in 2017 in Davidson Superior Court. Because the judges were split, state prosecutors have a right to appeal the decision to the N.C. Supreme Court.

“Although Defendants raise 13 issues on appeal — many of which are interconnected and complex — this case is deceptively simple, boiling down to whether Defendants lawfully used deadly force to defend themselves and each other during the tragic altercation with Jason,” the court said in its decision, filed Tuesday. “Having thoroughly reviewed the record and transcript, it is evident that this is the rare case in which certain evidentiary errors, alone and in the aggregate, were so prejudicial as to inhibit Defendants’ ability to present a full and meaningful defense.”

The case drew national and international attention.

In 2008 in Ireland, Jason Corbett, 39, hired a young woman named Molly Martens who was working in the country as an au pair to take care of his children, Sarah and Jack, after his first wife died. Jason and Molly began dating and then married in 2011, moved to the United States and settled in an upscale golf community in Davidson County.

Then four years ago, Davidson County sheriff’s deputies, responding to a 911 call, found Jason Corbett’s nude body in the master bedroom of the couple’s house.

Prosecutors alleged that Molly Corbett and Martens, her father and a former FBI agent, brutally beat Jason to death with a 28-inch Louisville Slugger baseball bat and a concrete paving brick. A medical examiner testified that Jason had been hit in the head at least 12 different times and that his skull was crushed.

Claims of self defense

Molly Corbett and Martens claimed self-defense. Martens testified in court that he and his wife had traveled from Tennessee to visit Molly and had stayed overnight in a guest bedroom in the basement. Martens had brought the baseball bat as a gift for Jack. Martens said that on the morning of Aug. 2, 2015, he heard noise from upstairs, grabbed the bat and went to investigate. He followed the sounds into the master bedroom where he said he found Jason with his hands around Molly’s neck.

Then Jason put Molly in a chokehold, according to Martens, and repeatedly threatened to kill her. Martens testified that he hit Jason multiple times to save his daughter in a struggle that started in the bedroom, moved into an adjoining bathroom and then back into the bedroom, where Jason grabbed the bat and threw Martens across a bed. Martens said that he believed both he and his daughter were in mortal danger and that he rushed Jason, got the bat back and beat Jason until he went down. At some point in the struggle, according to a statement she made to police, Molly tried to hit Jason with the paving brick.

According to court testimony, she did hit Jason with the brick.

The appellate court ruled that Judge David Lee, who presided over the Superior Court trial in Lexington, made several decisions about evidence that prevented Molly Corbett and Martens from mounting an effective defense. If Lee had not made those decisions, the jury might have rendered a different verdict, the court said.

According to Irish media outlets, Jason Corbett’s family was shocked by the appellate court’s ruling. Tracey Corbett-Lynch, Jason’s sister, has written a book, “My Brother Jason: The Untold Story of Jason Corbett’s Life and Brutal Murder by Tom and Molly Martens.” In that book, she alleges that Molly Corbett manipulated Jason and conspired to murder him with her father’s help.

In a statement, Jason Corbett’s family declined to comment: “We are aware of the decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeal in relation to the retrial of the Martens. We will not be commenting at this time on the decision and we would ask that our family’s privacy would be respected. We will not be making any further comment at this time.”

Walter Holton, one of Molly Corbett’s attorneys, said in a statement that his client has always cooperated with investigators and that she and Martens have consistently told the truth.

“This was self-defense, plain and simple,” Holton said. “Molly has no fear of the truth. She is not the one trying to suppress the children’s statements that were given at the time this event occurred and were given, in what the court has called, the exact correct circumstance in interviewing children. This opinion takes a huge step toward the truth and we welcome that.”

David Freedman, one of Martens’ attorneys, said he is happy that the court “recognized the rule of law.”

Michael Earnest, Molly Corbett’s uncle, said this is the first step toward “freeing two innocent people from prison.” After the trial in 2017, he called the guilty verdict the most egregious miscarriage of justice he had ever seen.

“The appellate court vindicated that statement and went far beyond what I had even recognized, having sat through the trial,” Earnest said Tuesday. “We are gratified by the court’s ruling.”

Garry Frank, the district attorney for Davidson County, and Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, both said their offices are reviewing the decision. Frank said his office plans to consult with the state attorney general’s office before any appeal is filed.

Prejudicial error

Lee made a number of prejudicial errors, the appellate court said Tuesday.

One error had to do with excluding statements that the children — Sarah, now 13, and Jack, now 15 — made to social workers at the Union County Department of Social Services and Dragonfly House Child Advocacy Center in Mocksville. Those statements were made to social workers soon after Jason Corbett’s body was discovered.

Prosecutors had sought to exclude those statements, saying they were not reliable because they were hearsay and made during a time when the children believed the statements might be used in a custody battle between Molly Corbett and Tracey Corbett-Lynch and her husband, David Lynch.

But the court agreed with the defendants that the statements were obtained for a medical diagnosis and treatment and that they were reliable. And the children could not be forced to come from Ireland to testify, making the statements even more critical, the court said.

In the statements, the children said that Jason physically and emotionally abused Molly, which would have been used to bolster arguments that Jason was a violent man.

The court also said that the statements contained information that would have helped the jurors in the case. For example, the court said prosecutors never explained why the paving brick was in the bedroom and even referenced that there was no explanation for it during closing arguments.

But Jack did provide an explanation, the court ruled. Jack said Molly, he and Sarah were planning to paint the brick and Molly Corbett placed it in the bedroom because it had been raining and no one wanted the brick to get wet.

Prosecutors argued that the children had recanted those statements, but the court’s decision said Jack recanted the statements at his home in Ireland with prosecutors present. Sarah recanted, the court said, in diary entries that were never authenticated.

The court also ruled that Lee should have excluded testimony from Stuart James, a national expert in bloodstain-pattern analysis. James found out the day before he testified that stains on the inside hem of Martens’ shorts and on the bottom of Molly Corbett’s pajama pants were never tested to confirm that they were blood and that it was Jason’s blood.

James testified that the lack of testing didn’t change his opinion, even though the fact that the stains were not tested violated his own protocols, the court said.

He made the critical conclusion that the location of those stains meant that Molly Corbett and Martens were at or above Jason’s head when they hit Jason. The court said if the stains weren’t confirmed as blood, there’s no way that James should have been allowed to testify about them or make any conclusions.

“By failing to ensure that suspected blood stains are appropriately tested for the presence of human blood, the State knowingly risked depriving its expert witness of the ability to conduct a blood spatter analysis in accordance with established and reliable principles and methods,” the court said in its ruling. “This risk is exacerbated where, as here, the expert testimony regarding those specific stains is both a crucial element of the State’s case, and highly prejudicial to Defendants.”

Lee also was wrong, the court said, to give an instruction on what is known as the aggressor doctrine to the jury. The aggressor doctrine says that a defendant cannot raise a claim of self-defense if there is sufficient evidence that he might have been the aggressor.

The appellate court argued that state prosecutors didn’t present any evidence to contradict Martens’ version of events. And the fact that Martens and Molly Corbett had no visible injuries isn’t enough, the court said.

There was other corroborating evidence, including a blonde hair found on the palm of Jason’s right hand. That hair was never tested. Also, the court noted, Molly was found suffering from shock. Her attorneys said during the trial that there was redness around her neck. Prosecutors said during the trial that one of the law-enforcement agents who observed her didn’t see any visible tears or any signs she was injured. She also declined medical treatment, prosecutors said at trial.

The appeals court dismissed the allegations of jury misconduct that defendants raised in a motion for appropriate relief in Davidson Superior Court, citing insufficient evidence. Lee had denied that motion.

“The tragic and unusual circumstances of this case are a humble reminder of the importance of the jury’s vital role in our delicate system of justice,” the appeals court said. “Due to the compounding evidentiary and instructional errors that occurred both before and throughout the three-week trial in this matter, Defendants were prevented from presenting a meaningful defense, or from receiving the full benefit of their claims of self-defense and defense of a family member. As a result, the jury was denied critical evidence and rendered incapable of performing its constitutional function.”


Z-no-digital
Surgeon general talks about reducing stigma, working with local partners to reduce opioid use

As the surgeon general of the United States talking to hundreds of health-care workers, Dr. Jerome Adams could easily have waded knee-deep into medical jargon while speaking about the opioid epidemic.

Adams did demonstrate how easy it is to administer naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, and the importance of increasing the number of addiction psychiatrists, but his message at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center on Tuesday centered on erasing the stigma faced by people with substance-use disorder.

“Stigma is the biggest mental, emotional and spiritual killer,” he said. “We treat people as if they chose to be addicted to heroin. Addiction is a neuro-biological diagnosis.”

A board-certified anesthesiologist who practiced extensively in Indiana, Adams was named surgeon general in 2017, becoming the fourth black person to hold that position, and the second black male. His visit to Wake Forest Baptist was part of the medical center’s recognition of Black History Month.

As Indiana’s state health commissioner, he helped reverse an HIV outbreak in rural Scott County that was linked to injection drug use by starting a syringe-exchange program.

Among those he had to convince to try such a program was Vice President Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana, who was morally opposed to syringe exchange.

Adams recalled how he also had to convince the Scott County sheriff that providing clean needles to drug users could stem the number of HIV cases and lead more people to treatment.

But before he could sell the idea of a syringe-exchange program, he had to listen to and acknowledge the sheriff’s concerns.

“The sheriff became our biggest advocate,” Adams said. “I can go over the science. But if there’s one thing you can take away, it’s to be a partner. When is the last time you talked to a local partner? To law enforcement? To your faith community?”

North Carolina has several syringe-exchange programs, including in Forsyth County. But much of Northwest North Carolina, with the exception of Wilkes County, does not, including Yadkin, Stokes and Surry counties.

A feeling exists in some of those counties that syringe-exchange programs enable drug users. People who advocate for such programs, including Adams, say the programs reduce dangerous infections such as HIV and hepatitis C and give drug users a point of contact with people who encourage them to seek treatment.

Adams talked about a new opioid-response guide put out by the Office of National Drug Control Policy that deals with stigma in rural communities.

“It’s important we address that by sitting down with local churches and local law enforcement and understanding where their legitimate concerns come from. That’s how we tackled the problem in Scott County, and that’s what it’s going to take across the country. It’s not going to be because the surgeon general said so,” Adams said. “We’re not just out there handing out syringes. We’re connecting people to care.”

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