New fingerprint technology may free Nebraska inmate

By MARGERY A. BECK

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A man convicted of a 1988 double killing in western Nebraska is seeking to reopen the case by using new technology to identify fingerprints left at the crime scene, even as a new documentary series nearing completion calls into question his guilt.

Jeff Boppre, who is serving two life sentences, has maintained for three decades that he was framed for the killings of Richard Valdez and his pregnant girlfriend, Sharon Condon, in a Scottsbluff home. The Nebraska judicial system has upheld his 1989 conviction numerous times.

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But a renewed effort by Boppre’s lawyers — coupled with a documentary reminiscent of the popular 2015 Netflix series “Making a Murderer” that explored a Wisconsin case — promise to bring fresh attention to Boppre’s conviction.

Producer Douglas Thornton with Middle West Studios said work began nearly a decade ago on what was intended to be a 90-minute documentary. It has ballooned into a series of seven to nine episodes set to wrap up late this year. The piece is being licensed to a TV network, though Thornton wouldn’t say which one.

The work was never intended to prove Boppre’s innocence, Thornton said, but it’s clear he believes Boppre has been wrongfully convicted.

“The evidence does not — and never will — line up to Jeff Boppre,” he said.

On Thursday, lawyers for Boppre, 55, and the Nebraska attorney general’s office made arguments for and against analyzing fingerprints found at the crime scene — that did not match Boppre or the victims — using the new technology.

Latent fingerprint technology developed since Boppre’s 1989 trial can make matches from low-quality fingerprints or even a single finger. Previously, investigators typically needed …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World

      

NASA probe begins 7-year mission to study sun and its dangers

By Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino

It was dark on Earth when NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched on its journey to endless day. The first spacecraft designed to swoop by a star took flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:31 Sunday morning. A roaring Delta IV Heavy rocket carried the probe out of Earth’s atmosphere. Next stop: A loop past Venus to rendezvous with the sun.

The source of all light and life on Earth is also the source of one of its biggest natural threats: space weather. The sun’s atmosphere regularly erupts with fast-moving flashes of protons and explosions of energetic particles that can hit Earth within minutes and disrupt radio communication, interfere with GPS, and fry the electric grid. A “worst-case scenario” space weather event could cause more damage than Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Sandy combined.

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“It sounds like science fiction,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist William Murtagh, who heads the Space Weather Prediction Center. “But it’s something that’s not only possible but very likely to happen in the not-too-distant future.”

Scientists have long struggled to understand and predict space weather events, because the ferocious environment around the sun makes them difficult to witness as they form.

Murtagh and scores of other researchers watched as NASA’s newest spacecraft embarked on a mission that should take it closer to the sun than any human-made object has gone before.

The probe is the culmination of a half-century effort to understand our star, Murtagh says, and it may help us prepare for the hazards the sun may throw at us in the future.

Part of the sun erupted on Sept. 1, 1859. English astronomer Richard Carrington noticed a brilliant white solar flare …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World

      

Cooler weather helps crews fighting Southern California fire

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. (AP) — Aided by slightly cooler temperatures, firefighters made steady progress Sunday in battling a wildfire that destroyed 16 structures as it raged through Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest.

And progress continued in battling Northern California’s biggest blazes.

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The Mendocino Complex fire, burning north of Sacramento, was reported as 70 percent contained. On Sunday, it had covered 525 square miles.

The two-week-old Carr Fire that killed eight people and burned more than 1,000 homes was more than 50 percent contained late Saturday.

The Holy Fire in Southern California was 41 percent contained Sunday afternoon after burning across 35.5 square miles of dry timber and brush, said Lynne Tolmachoff of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The weather out here in California seems to be cooling down today and over the next couple days, and that should hopefully help firefighters get even more containment,” Tolmachoff said. “They should make better progress over the next couple of days.”

They’ll need to, with temperatures, expected to again reach 100 degrees or more by the end of the week.

The Holy Fire — named for Holy Jim Canyon, where it began last Monday — is one of nearly 20 blazes burning across California as the state sees earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.

With firefighters beginning to get a better handle on the blaze, they began to lift evacuation orders over the weekend for areas previously in its path, said Tolmachoff, who did not have exact numbers. More than 20,000 people were reportedly told to evacuate at one point.

Aircraft have made flight after flight, dumping water and …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World

      

Orca abandons dead calf after heartbreaking, weeks-long journey

By Avi Selk

A grieving orca whale has released the body of her dead calf after carrying it for at least 17 days through the Pacific Ocean in an unprecedented act of mourning, according to researchers.

On Saturday, Tahlequah, as the mother has come to be called, was observed swimming without the body of her calf, according to Center for Whale Research Founder Ken Balcomb.

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“Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky,” read an update on the research center’s website.

The center said whale-watchers near Vancouver, British Columbia, had reported seeing Tahlequah without her calf’s body last week, but Saturday was the first time researchers were able to confirm those reports.

Tahlequah’s mourning had astonished and devastated much of the world.

The orca gave birth on July 25 in what should have been a happy milestone for her long-suffering clan.

The pod of killer whales that roams between Vancouver and San Juan Island has dwindled to 75 members over the decades. The cause is no mystery: Humans have netted up the whales’ salmon, driven ships through their hunting lanes and polluted their water, to the point that researchers fear Tahlequah’s generation may be the last of her family.

The 400-pound, orange-tinted baby that wriggled out of her that morning was the first live birth in the pod since 2015, Chiu wrote. It lived about half an hour.

People love to anthropomorphize animals, often fallaciously. But studies have found that orcas really do possess high levels of intelligence and empathy, and emotions that may not be totally alien to our own.

So, when Tahlequah did not let her emaciated calf sink to the bottom of the Pacific, but rather balanced it …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World

      

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