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DEEP WATER THWARTS ROBOT SUB'S 1ST SEARCH FOR JET

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 06:58 Published in National News

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- A robotic submarine hunting for the missing Malaysian jet aborted its first mission after only six hours, surfacing with no new clues when it exceeded its maximum depth along the floor of the Indian Ocean, officials said Tuesday.

Search crews sent the U.S. Navy's Bluefin 21 into the depths Monday to begin scouring the seabed for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 after failing for six days to detect any new signals believed to be coming from its black boxes.

But the 16-hour mission was cut short when the unmanned sub, which is programmed to hover 30 meters (100 feet) above the seabed, entered a patch that was deeper than its maximum depth of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet), the search coordination center and the U.S. Navy said.

A built-in safety feature returned the Bluefin to the surface and it was not damaged, they said.

The data collected by the sub was later analyzed and no sign of the missing plane was found, the U.S. Navy said. Crews were shifting the Bluefin's search area away from the deepest water and were hoping to send it back on another mission later Tuesday.

Search authorities had known the primary search area for Flight 370 was near the limit of the Bluefin's dive capabilities. Deeper-diving submersibles have been evaluated, but none is yet available to help.

A safety margin would have been included in the Bluefin's program to protect the device from harm if it went a bit deeper than its 4,500-meter limit, said Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at the University of Sydney.

"Maybe some areas where they are doing the survey are a little bit deeper than they are expecting," he said. "They may not have very reliable prior data for the area."

Meanwhile, officials were investigating an oil slick about 5,500 meters (3.4 miles) from the area where the last underwater sounds were detected.

Crews collected an oil sample and sent it back to Perth in western Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days, said Angus Houston, the head of the joint agency coordinating the search off Australia's west coast.

He said it does not appear to be from any of the ships in the area, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.

The Bluefin can create a three-dimensional sonar map of any debris on the ocean floor. But the search is more challenging in this area because the seabed is covered in silt that could potentially cover part of the plane.

"What they're going to have to be looking for is contrast between hard objects, like bits of a fuselage, and that silty bottom," Williams said. "With the types of sonars they are using, if stuff is sitting up on top of the silt, say a wing was there, you could likely see that ... but small items might sink down into the silt and be covered and then it's going to be a lot more challenging."

The search moved below the surface after crews picked up a series of underwater sounds over the past two weeks that were consistent with signals from an aircraft's black boxes, which record flight data and cockpit conversations. The devices emit "pings" so they can be more easily found, but their batteries last only about a month and no sounds have been heard for seven days.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were "very confident" the underwater signals were from the black boxes on Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board, mostly Chinese.

Houston said Monday that the signals were a promising lead, but that finding aircraft wreckage in the remote, deep patch of ocean remains extremely difficult.

The submarine is programmed to take 24 hours to complete each mission: two hours to dive to the bottom, 16 hours to search the seafloor, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to upload the data.

The black boxes could contain the key to unraveling the mystery of what happened to Flight 370. Investigators believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a satellite and an analysis of its speed and fuel capacity. But they still don't know why.

On Tuesday, Malaysia's defense minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, pledged to reveal the full contents of the black boxes if they are found.

"It's about finding out the truth," he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. "There is no question of it not being released."

Up to 11 planes and as many ships were scouring a 62,000-square kilometer (24,000-square mile) patch of ocean about 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth on Tuesday, hunting for any floating debris.

The weekslong surface search is expected to end in the next two days. Officials haven't found a single piece of debris confirmed to be from the plane, and Houston said the chances that any would be found have "greatly diminished."

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Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this report.

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Follow Margie Mason on Twitter at twitter.com/MargieMasonAP

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

POLICE: SUSPECTED KILLERS WORE GPS DEVICES

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 06:57 Published in National News

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Two convicted sex offenders dutifully checked in with police every month and wore their GPS trackers around the clock - the rules of parole that are designed to tip off authorities if a freed felon backslides.

Yet for at least two months last fall, authorities claim, Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon were raping and killing at least four women - and probably a fifth - in the seedy prostitution hangouts of Orange County.

It was data from their GPS trackers - along with cellphone records from the victims and other evidence - that helped investigators link them to the killings, police said.

"That was one of the investigative tools we used to put the case together," Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada said at a news conference Monday.

Cano, 27, and Gordon, 45, were arrested by investigators on Friday. Each was charged Monday with four felony counts of special circumstances murder and four felony counts of rape.

If convicted, they could face a minimum sentence of life without parole or the death penalty. They were being held without bail and expected to be arraigned Tuesday.

The men had known each other at least since 2012, when they cut off their GPS trackers and, using fake names, fled to Las Vegas, where they stayed at the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino for two weeks before they were rearrested, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada.

While out on parole, police believe the men killed three women in Santa Ana last October and November and an another woman in Anaheim earlier this year. All had histories of prostitution.

Quezada said authorities were confident that there was at least a fifth victim and perhaps more.

Investigators "put a stop to a serial killing that would likely have continued beyond this point," District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.

The department has contacted other places with missing-persons cases across the country.

Kianna Jackson, 20, of Las Vegas, arrived in Santa Ana the first week of October for a court hearing on four misdemeanor charges of prostitution and loitering to commit prostitution. Her mother said she stopped responding to her text messages soon after she arrived in Santa Ana.

She checked in to a Costa Mesa hotel but never paid the bill nor checked out, and her belongings were found there.

Josephine Monique Vargas, 34, was last seen Oct. 24 after leaving a family birthday party in Santa Ana to go to a store.

Martha Anaya, 28, asked her boyfriend to pick up their 5-year-old daughter so she could work on Nov. 12, then stopped responding to his messages later that night. She had been planning a birthday party for her daughter.

Santa Ana investigators didn't realize that they were looking for murder victims at first, Police Chief Carlos Rojas said.

Instead, police considered them missing persons. Investigators searched a canyon, examined the women's cellphone records, alerted hospitals, put the word out on social media and even checked motels they were known to frequent but without success in finding them.

Then, on March 14, the naked body of Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, 21, was found March 14 on a conveyor belt at an Anaheim trash-sorting plant.

That was the key that broke the case, authorities said.

In the weeks before the discovery, Estepp had become a regular on a strip of Beach Boulevard in Anaheim long known for prostitution.

Estepp had "a similar profile to our victims; we were able to ... move forward," Rojas said.

Investigators planned to search for the bodies of the three Santa Ana victims, he said.

Cano and Gordon each served time after being convicted in separate cases of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14.

Gordon was convicted in 1992 and has a 2002 kidnapping conviction, according to the Orange County district attorney's office. Cano's conviction dates to 2008, prosecutors said.

After their Las Vegas escapade, Cano and Gordon pleaded guilty to failure to register as a sex offender. They were ordered to provide DNA samples and have their computers monitored by federal agents, according to the federal documents, which were first obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The men also checked in with Anaheim police every 30 days, as required, and provided updated photos, fingerprints and addresses, Anaheim police Lt. Bob Dunn said.

In fact, both men checked in earlier this month, Dunn said.

Cano was wearing a state-issued ankle monitor and Gordon was wearing a federal GPS device, he said.

---

Associated Press writers Anthony McCartney and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles and Amy Taxin in Santa Ana contributed to this report.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about ourPRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

RUSSIA TESTS OBAMA'S ABILITY TO STOP ITS ADVANCES

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 06:55 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the White House asserting that Russia is stoking instability in eastern Ukraine, President Barack Obama is once again faced with the complicated reality of following through on his tough warnings against overseas provocations.

Obama has vowed repeatedly to enact biting sanctions against Russia's vital economic sectors if the Kremlin tries to replicate its actions in Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine, elsewhere in the former Soviet republic. Despite those warnings, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be testing Obama's limits, instigating protests in eastern Ukraine, the White House says, and massing tens of thousands of troops on the border, but so far stopping short of a full-scale military incursion.

"They have been willing to do things to provoke the situation that no one anticipated," Matthew Rojansky, a Russia analyst at the Wilson Center, said of Russia. "It's such a high-stakes, high-risk situation, and here they are right in the middle of it."

For Obama, the U.S. response to the chaos in Ukraine has become more than a test of his ability to stop Russia's advances. It's also being viewed through the prism of his decision last summer to back away from his threat to launch a military strike when Syria crossed his chemical weapons "red line" — a decision that has fed into a narrative pushed by Obama's critics that the president talks tough, but doesn't follow through.

While there has been no talk of "red lines" when dealing with Putin, Obama has said repeatedly that the Kremlin's advances into eastern Ukraine would be a "serious escalation" of the conflict that would warrant broad international sanctions on the Russian economy. But perhaps trying to avoid another Syria scenario, White House officials have carefully avoided defining what exactly would meet Obama's definition of a "serious escalation," even as they make clear that they believe Russia is fomenting the violence in cities throughout Ukraine's vital industrial east.

"We are actively evaluating what is happening in eastern Ukraine, what actions Russia has taken, what transgressions they've engaged in," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. "And we are working with our partners and assessing for ourselves what response we may choose."

As with the situation in Syria, Obama faces few good options as he watches Russia destabilize Ukraine, the former Soviet republic that has sought greater ties with Europe.

There's little appetite in either the U.S. or Europe for direct military action, and the White House said Monday it was not actively considering sending Ukraine lethal assistance. That's left Obama and his international partners largely reliant on economic and diplomatic retaliation.

The president has wielded some of his available options since the situation in Ukraine devolved in late February, but those actions so far have had little success in stopping Russian advances.

Obama's initial warning that Putin would face "costs" if he pressed into Crimea was largely brushed aside by the Russian leader, who went so far as to formally annex the peninsula from Ukraine. Economic sanctions on several of Putin's closest associates followed, as did Russia's suspension from the exclusive Group of Eight economic forum, but neither appears to have discouraged Moscow from making a play for eastern Ukraine.

With tens of thousands of troops massed on Russia's border with eastern Ukraine, Obama is facing calls from some Republicans to take tougher action now. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent Obama a letter over the weekend calling on the administration to immediately ratchet up economic penalties against Moscow.

"Rather than wait for a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine to implement additional sanctions, which seems to be U.S. policy at the moment, we must take action now that will prevent this worst-case scenario before it becomes a reality," Corker wrote.

Privately, some of Obama's advisers are also pushing for more robust penalties now to serve as a deterrent against a full-on Russian military incursion. But questions remain about Europe's commitment to take the kind of coordinated action that would stand the best chance of changing Putin's calculus.

Europe has a far deeper economic relationship with Russia than the U.S., meaning its sanctions would hurt Moscow more. But leaders on the still economically shaky continent fear that the impact of those sanctions could boomerang and hurt their own countries just as much.

European foreign ministers met Monday to debate whether additional sanctions should be enacted on Russia. A high-ranking European Union official said they did decide to sanction more Russians with asset freezes and visa bans, but they appeared to stop well short of targeting Russia's broader economy.

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