DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) – The case of a Massachusetts man charged with abusing a dog so severely that it had to be euthanized is in the hands of the jury.

The prosecution and defense in the animal cruelty trial of Radoslaw Czerkawski (RAD’-oh-slaw zehr-KAW’-skee) made closing statements on Thursday.

Czerkawski’s attorney said although his client owned the dog, it ran away and someone else was responsible for the abuse. He said prosectors had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt his client caused the dog’s injuries.

The prosecutor said a blood stain found inside Czerkawski’s home matched the dog’s DNA.

The starving female pit bull mix dubbed Puppy Doe was found in a Quincy, Massachusetts park in 2013 with injuries so severe veterinarians determined it could not be saved.

Czerkawski already is in prison on unrelated larceny convictions.

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By KEITH RIDLER

Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Idaho officials have started the process of opening a grizzly bear hunting season this fall that would allow the killing of one male grizzly.

The Fish and Game Commission in a 7-0 vote Thursday directed the Department of Fish and Game to gather public comments on the possible hunt.

The department will use those comments to draft a possible grizzly bear hunting season for the commission to consider in May.

“There would be a lot of interest in the possibility of a grizzly season,” Commissioner Derick Attebury said after the meeting. Attebury represents the portion of eastern Idaho where the hunt would occur

The process for making comments and possible public meetings haven’t been announced.

About 700 grizzlies live in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Montana doesn’t plan to hunt grizzlies this year, while a proposal in Wyoming would allow the killing of up to 24.

Wildlife advocates and Native Americans have filed lawsuits to restore Endangered Species Act protections for the bears and prevent the hunts.

“It’s disappointing that another state is moving in the direction of hunting grizzly bears,” said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The group is a plaintiff in one of several lawsuits seeking to restore protections for Yellowstone grizzlies.

The formula for the number of bears that can be hunted in each state involves a region surrounding Yellowstone National Park called the Demographic Monitoring Area. The number of bears for each state is based on how much land area is in the monitoring area.

The number of bears allowed to be hunted in total is based on mortality studies of bears. The end result is that this year, officials say, Idaho can hunt one male bear, Montana six and Wyoming 10 within the monitoring area. Two female bears are also included, but not allotted to a state.

A much larger region includes additional bears not within the monitoring area. Wyoming’s proposal allows the killing of 14 bears in that additional area. Toby Boudreau, Idaho Fish and Game assistant wildlife chief, said Idaho wasn’t looking at hunting in that area this year.

Santarsiere questioned Idaho’s ability to hunt one male bear with no females allowed, noting hunters could mistakenly kill a female.

Boudreau said most hunters would be inclined to hunt male bears. He said any inadvertent killing of a female would be subtracted from the following year’s hunt allotted to the three states. Boudreau said the killing of multiple female bears could possibly shut down hunting seasons.

“Whatever your feeling about grizzly bears,” Boudreau said, “this is one of the West’s greatest conservation stories. It’s a pretty small timeline that we’ve actively managed grizzly bears to a point where (hunting) is even a possibility.”

If hunting seasons occur in Idaho and Wyoming this fall, they would be the first since grizzlies received federal protections under the Endangered Species Ace in 1975. Federal officials lifted those protections last year.

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HOUSTON (AP) – A man being beaten by several people outside of a Houston club early Thursday fled to his car and then drove into the crowd in an apparent act of retaliation, striking at least four people and killing one of them, according to police.

The car’s driver and several people he hit were taken to a hospital, said police, who haven’t released the name of the driver or the man who died.

Witnesses said the man’s car also struck nearby vehicles. It came to a stop against a fence.

“It came in like a hurricane,” Teanna Macintosh told the Houston Chronicle. “It just appeared out of nowhere and he just came in and started hitting and running over people and dragging people and tearing up people’s cars. You couldn’t calm him down.”

Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said Thursday afternoon that homicide detectives are still investigating the death and it remains unclear as to what charges may be filed.

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By JOSH LEDERMAN and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – He came, he saw, he got fired on Twitter. And now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said farewell, with a parting plea Thursday to America’s diplomats not to let anyone violate their integrity.

Tillerson did not mention his erstwhile boss, President Donald Trump, as he spoke to several hundred State Department workers who gathered at headquarters in Foggy Bottom to watch him depart. Nor did he directly address the icy manner in which he was terminated last week after one of the shortest stints by a secretary of state in recent history.

“This can be a very mean-spirited town,” Tillerson said, eliciting laughter at first and then applause. “But you don’t have to choose to participate in that.”

When he arrived in the nation’s capital last year, Tillerson made no secret of his unwillingness to play the Washington-style games that turn governing into blood sport: one-upmanship, aggressive public posturing, surreptitious leaking and even sabotage. Weeks into his tenure, the Texas oilman famously declared he wasn’t big on press access, explaining, “I personally don’t need it.”

Others in Trump’s administration didn’t see it the same way, and Tillerson quickly found himself on the receiving end of negative reports, leaks from his rivals and mounting speculation about his future until being abruptly fired last week, four hours after returning from Africa. Often at odds with the White House, he also lost the confidence and support of many of the State Department’s 75,000 workers over his moves to cut the budget, leave key leadership positions vacant and downplay human rights and democracy-promotion as diplomatic priorities.

Still, there was sustained applause for several minutes as he departed the marbled lobby of the Harry S. Truman Building, the same lobby where the former Exxon Mobil CEO introduced himself as “the new guy” in his hallmark Texas drawl 14 months ago. A few former staffers whose tenures were even shorter than Tillerson’s also returned to see him off.

Then Tillerson set off for his home in Texas – “a more familiar climate,” Deputy Secretary John Sullivan joked, “which I know suits him well.” If the Senate agrees, he will soon be replaced by current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who frequently bumped heads with Tillerson over Iran and other issues.

“Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity,” Tillerson says. “Only you can relinquish it or allow it to be compromised. Once you’ve done so, it is very, very hard to regain it. So guard it as the most precious thing you possess.”

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP and Matthew Lee at http://twitter.com/APDiploWriter

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By FREIDA FRISARO and JENNIFER KAY

Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) – Police and rescue workers arrived at the scene of a pedestrian bridge collapse near a Florida university campus even before witnesses could finish making 911 calls for help, according to audio files released Thursday.

Miami-Dade Police released 15 calls made to 911 dispatchers in the moments after the collapse on March 15.

Sirens could be heard blaring behind several frantic callers moments after the 950-ton (860-metric ton) structure fell into traffic.

“Oh, my gosh. A lot of cars are under the bridge,” one woman told a 911 dispatcher.

She started crying and added, “Hurry up, please,” before realizing police had arrived at the scene.

Another woman said in a shaken voice that she was driving to work when the bridge fell in front of her.

“There are dead people,” she said in Spanish to the dispatcher.

A male caller told a dispatcher the bridge had collapsed across the whole eight-lane roadway.

“They just put it up, they were working on it, and it collapsed into the middle of the road. We’ve got a big, big deal here,” he said.

“It’s a big, big, mess,” he said, adding the police were already at the scene.

The dispatcher asked if anyone was injured.

“From what I see, it must have hurt somebody,” he said.

The bridge was intended to span a busy roadway between Florida International University and the neighboring city of Sweetwater. The collapse killed six people.

The family of one of the victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday in state court. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the son and wife of victim Rolando Fraga seeks unspecified damages from Munilla Construction Management and FIGG Bridge Engineers, the two main entities involved in the bridge construction.

The lawsuit claims the two companies were negligent because they had warning that a public safety hazard existed and the flow of traffic beneath the bridge should have been shut down while work was being performed.

Several other lawsuits also have been filed since the collapse.

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Associated Press writers Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida, and Curt Anderson in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.

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By JONATHAN DREW

Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A North Carolina mother helped her 1-year-old daughter smoke marijuana in videos of the child puffing on a cigarillo that garnered millions of views online, according to an arrest warrant.

Authorities were alerted Wednesday by concerned social media users after two videos of the girl smoking sparked outrage. One of the videos showed the hand of an adult off-screen holding the cigarillo to the girl’s lips. The child makes a cooing sound, appears to inhale and lets out a puff of smoke before turning toward the adult with an expressionless look.

The newly released warrant said the mother inflicted harm by having the child inhale marijuana smoke from a blunt more than once over a two-month period starting last December. The girl has been placed with county child protective services.

The mother, 20-year-old Brianna Ashanti Lofton, was held on charges of child abuse, marijuana possession and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

During a brief court hearing Thursday, a Wake County judge set Lofton’s bond at $100,000 and ordered her to have no contact with her daughter.

A prosecutor had asked for a higher bond, noting Lofton recently faced separate charges including marijuana possession and simple assault.

Public defender Caroline Elliot noted those were misdemeanors.

“This is the first … kind of this charge that she has ever looked at,” Elliot told the judge, referring to the felony child abuse accusation.

Elliot noted her client lives with her mother and grandmother and is working on her high school equivalency diploma.

“She does have family support,” she told the judge.

Elliot declined further comment after the hearing.

No one answered at an apartment listed as Lofton’s address in the warrant, nor at another house previously listed for her in court papers.

Police issued a thank-you on Facebook on Wednesday to members of the public who alerted them to the video.

While police said multiple Facebook users alerted them to the video, an account holder whose post was seen by millions said he shared the video hoping the woman would be held responsible. He included a message urging her arrest.

The user, who identified himself as Rasheed Martin of Rochester, New York, said he doesn’t know the mother and first found out about the video when a friend shared it online. He said in an interview Wednesday that once other users alerted him to the mother’s own social media account, he posted screenshots of that, too, “so everyone could know exactly who … did that to the poor little girl.”

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Follow Drew at www.twitter.com/JonathanLDrew

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By LOLITA C. BALDOR

Associated Press

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AP) – The U.S. has a role to play in setting the conditions for members of the Taliban to lay down their weapons and move back into Afghanistan’s society, the top U.S. commander for the war said Thursday.

Noting that integration talks are already going on behind the scenes, Gen. John Nicholson said U.S. and Afghan officials are working out a plan that will lay out how the U.S. will support the peace effort.

Some of the steps could include providing funding and setting up a system to remove certain groups from the U.S. list of terror suspects, which will help convince them they can return to their communities without being targets of American counterterrorism strikes.

“We have work to do,” Nicholson said as he sat in a small building on the edge of the Kandahar Airfield runway. “Some things need to be put in place to enable this. They need to know they can move back securely, live in safety.”

Just outside the door, the governor of Kandahar was waiting to talk to him.

“A number of these folks are interested in returning to Kandahar,” Nicholson told a small group of reporters. “This is what we talk about. How we can enable this to happen.”

The prospect for peace negotiations with the Taliban has long been a goal, but it comes fraught with challenges and will take years. U.S. military leaders say that after more than 16 years of war, Taliban members may be weary and factions could be split apart and enticed to the peace table.

Senior U.S. defense officials, including Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who was in Afghanistan last week, define victory as a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. And while he acknowledged that getting the Taliban to reconcile en masse may be “a bridge too far,” he said elements could be brought in piecemeal.

President Donald Trump, however, said on Jan. 29 that he sees no basis for peace talks as long as the Taliban are “killing people left and right.”

The Taliban, meanwhile, has insisted that talks for a conflict-ending compromise must take place with Washington, not Kabul. While U.S. officials urge the group to negotiate with the Afghan government.

Nicholson sounded an urgent tone, saying that some Taliban members are “ready to reintegrate now” whether there’s a broader peace deal with the larger group or not. “We want to be able to accommodate that,” he said.

In various insurgent strongholds across the country, military commanders said they only had limited experience so far with Taliban members turning themselves in and seeking reintegration.

In those scattered cases, Nicholson said, there is often a small, yet symbolic, ceremony, and the members turn in their weapons and agree to return to society. For its part, the local government promises they will not be jailed, but will be allowed to remain in the community and not be targeted.

Down in Kandahar, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Paul Stryker, who is an adviser for the Afghan police, said he’s only heard of one instance so far. Stryker said the police chief in Urozgan had a 22-year-old Taliban fighter turn in his weapons and rejoin the community.

Nicholson and other commanders say that military, political and social pressure is needed to convince more to turn themselves in. He said a key moment will be if the Afghans can hold a secure and successful election later this year – which will legitimize the government.

The election was initially planned for July, but it hasn’t yet been officially announced by the election commission yet, and it can’t happen until six months after that announcement.

All told, he said, it will require significant effort and take years to play out.

There may be a time, he said, when some reconciliation is taking place while fighting is still going on.

“I expect we’re in that period right now,” he said. “We have talking going on, the offers are out there. We are still fighting. I anticipate this will continue.”

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By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN

Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – A coalition of environment groups filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to stop work to replace existing vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern New Mexico.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. claims the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not have authority to waive environmental laws as a way to speed construction along a 20-mile stretch near the Santa Teresa port of entry.

The $73 million contract for the work was awarded to a Montana company in February, but it’s unclear when construction will start.

The move follows a stymied legal effort by environmentalists to halt border wall work in California.

In that case, a federal judge sided with the Trump administration, rejecting arguments that it overreached its authority by waiving laws requiring environmental and other reviews before construction could begin. An appeal is pending.

The lawsuit filed over the New Mexico project contends that converting vehicle barriers into bollard walls along the border will obstruct the migration of wildlife. The region is home to the Aplomado falcon, kit foxes and desert bighorn sheep. It also includes the historic range for jaguar and Mexican gray wolves.

“Our nation’s environmental laws protect both people and wildlife from bad decisions,” Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Waiving these safeguards to rush construction of President Trump’s ill-conceived border wall will no doubt adversely impact the communities and wildlife along the border.”

Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the federal agencies would not be able to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The administration has issued three waivers since August 2017 – two to build barriers in parts of California and one in part of New Mexico. Work is underway on a 30-foot (9.1-meter) high barrier in Calexico, California.

President George W. Bush’s administration issued the previous five waivers, allowing the government to quickly extend barriers to about one-third of the border.

The lawsuit argues the waiver authority is no longer valid since it was initially meant to clear the way for border wall construction under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

As for the work planned at Santa Teresa near New Mexico’s state line with Texas, federal officials have said the area remains an active route for human smuggling and drug trafficking. Officers in the area are responsible for a sprawling desert territory that spans a portion of West Texas and all of New Mexico.

In announcing plans to bolster barriers in the Santa Teresa area, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a Federal Register notice posted in January that the goal was to deter illegal crossings.

A mile-long (1.6 kilometer-long) section of border near Santa Teresa also is the focus of an easement dispute between New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and federal officials.

Dunn contends the federal government never received authorization to access state trust land that borders the international boundary and has not compensated the state for using the property.

The land is held in trust for the benefit of New Mexico, with the proceeds of any easements, development or leases helping to fund public education.

Federal officials have said they are reviewing property records and plan to meet with Dunn next month.

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Vermont, considered by many to be one of the most liberal states in the country with a higher-than-average percentage of women serving in the state Legislature, is the only state to have never sent a woman to Congress.

Vermont fell to the bottom of the women-in-Congress list Wednesday when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed fellow Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed retiring GOP Sen. Thad Cochran; she will face at least two opponents in a nonpartisan special election in November to complete the term Cochran started, which expires in January 2021.

Former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat and the state’s first female chief executive, called it “a little embarrassing to be beaten out by Mississippi.”

Deb Markowitz, who served 12 years as Vermont’s secretary of state and then six as the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources under Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, said there is little turnover in the state’s congressional delegation, all of whom serve the state well.

Vermont, with a population of about 625,000, is the second-least populous state in the country, meaning it has only one at-large representative to the U.S. House.

Nevertheless, Markowitz tweeted Thursday, “We have a great delegation – but when there is a vacancy, count me in!”

Markowitz, who is now teaching at the University of Vermont, said after she tweeted that she missed public service and didn’t believe the lack of women in Congress meant the state’s voters were hostile to women.

“If the timing was right, I think you can get an awful lot done in Congress and it’s high time we had a woman representing Vermont,” she said.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy was first elected to the Senate in 1974. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders was elected to the Senate in 2006, after serving in the U.S. House, the post to which he was first elected in 1990.

Vermont’s lone U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, the newcomer to the delegation, was first elected in 2006. In that race, Welch defeated his Republican opponent, former Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Martha Rainville, the first woman to lead a state national guard.

Welch, at 70, is also the youngest member of the delegation. Leahy will be 78 later this month. Sanders is 76.

Despite the lack of women in Congress, Vermont’s political bench is filled with possible female candidates. A survey of women in state legislatures shows that 40 percent of the members of the Vermont Legislature are women. The national average is just over 25 percent.

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Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to say that the term started by Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi expires in 2021, not 2020.

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By KEN RITTER

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Hotel surveillance video from the days before the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, made public Thursday, shows the gunman as an unremarkable Las Vegas hotel guest and casino patron.

Footage provided by MGM Resorts International shows Stephen Paddock interacting with Mandalay Bay resort staff members, wheeling suitcases toward elevators and pulling his Dodge Caravan into the hotel valet.

It offers no outward sign that Paddock would carry out the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 58 people and injured hundreds at an outdoor concert on the Las Vegas Strip.

“Paddock gave no indication of what he planned to do and his interactions with staff and overall behavior were all normal,” company spokeswoman Debra DeShong said in a statement.

“MGM and Mandalay Bay could not reasonably foresee that a long-time guest with no known history of threats or violence and behaving in a manner that appeared outwardly normal, would carry out such an inexplicably evil, violent and deadly act,” she said.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Las Vegas police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The 32 video clips, first obtained by The New York Times , offer no motive for the 64-year-old Paddock opening fire with assault-style rifles from a 32nd-floor suite into a concert audience of 22,000 people.

They show Paddock checking in at the Mandalay Bay on Sept. 25, gambling at high-limit video poker several times, buying snacks, stepping into elevators, driving into the valet area and accompanying hotel employees wheeling carts with his suitcases.

Videos suggest that employees had no indication what was in the suitcases.

Records show that over the course of several days traveling between the hotel and his home in Mesquite, Nevada, Paddock amassed an arsenal of 23 assault-style rifles and one handgun in his suite.

Lombardo released a preliminary report in January saying police and the FBI believe Paddock acted alone.

However, an Arizona man, Douglas Haig, is facing federal charges that he also illegally provided armor-piercing ammunition to Paddock. Haig maintains he legally sold tracer ammunition to Paddock weeks before the carnage.

Authorities have characterized Paddock as a gambler on a losing streak who was obsessed with cleanliness. They said he may have been bipolar and having difficulties with his live-in girlfriend, who was in the Philippines when the shooting occurred.

Paddock was a retired accountant who amassed a millionaire’s fortune, owned homes in Reno and Mesquite, Nevada, and earned casino perks wagering thousands of dollars on high-stakes video poker.

Police reported finding just $273 in cash the hotel room where Paddock was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

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