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AP

AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

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Alex Jones ordered to pay $45.2M more over Sandy Hook lies

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, adding to the $4.1 million he must pay for the suffering he put them through by claiming for years that the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax.

The total — $49.3 million — is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut. But the trial marks the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the massacre, claiming it was faked by the government to tighten gun laws.

Afterward, Lewis said that Jones — who wasn't in the courtroom to hear the verdict — has been held accountable. She said when she took the stand and looked Jones in the eye, she thought of her son, who was credited with saving lives by yelling “run” when the killer paused in his rampage.

“He stood up to the bully Adam Lanza and saved nine of his classmates’ lives," Lewis said. "I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope that inspires other people to do the same.”

It could be a while before the plaintiffs collect anything. Jones' lead attorney, Andino Reynal, told the judge he will appeal and ask the courts to drastically reduce the size of the verdict.


'What recession?': US employers add 528,000 jobs in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added an astonishing 528,000 jobs last month despite flashing warning signs of an economic downturn, easing fears of a recession and handing President Joe Biden some good news heading into the midterm elections.

Unemployment dropped another notch, from 3.6% to 3.5%, matching the more than 50-year low reached just before the pandemic took hold.

The economy has now recovered all 22 million jobs lost in March and April 2020 when COVID-19 slammed the U.S.

The red-hot numbers reported Friday by the Labor Department are certain to intensify the debate over whether the U.S. is in a recession.

“Recession — what recession?’’ wrote Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings. “The U.S. economy is creating new jobs at an annual rate of 6 million — that’s three times faster than what we normally see historically in a good year."


China cuts off vital US contacts over Pelosi Taiwan visit

WASHINGTON (AP) — China cut off contacts with the United States on vital issues Friday — including military matters and crucial climate cooperation — as concerns rose that the Communist government's hostile reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan visit could signal a lasting, more aggressive approach toward its U.S. rival and the self-ruled island.

China's move to freeze key lines of communication compounded the worsening of relations from Pelosi’s visit and from the Chinese response with military exercises off Taiwan, including firing missiles that splashed down in surrounding waters.

After the White House summoned China's ambassador, Qin Gang, late Thursday to protest the military exercises, White House spokesman John Kirby on Friday condemned the decision to end important dialogue with the United States as “irresponsible.”

The White House spokesman blasted China's “provocative” actions since Pelosi's trip to Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. But Kirby noted that some channels of communication remain open between military officials in the two countries. He repeated daily assurances that the U.S. had not changed its policy toward the Communist mainland and the self-ruled island.

“Bottom line is we’re going to continue our efforts to keep opening lines of communication that are protecting our interests and our values,” Kirby said. He declined to speak about any damage to long-term relations between China and the United States, calling that a discussion for later.


Israeli strikes on Gaza kill 10, including senior militant

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes Friday on Gaza, killing at least 10 people, including a senior militant, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it targeted the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to an “imminent threat” following the recent arrest of another senior militant.

Hours later, Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets as air-raid sirens wailed in Israel and the two sides drew closer to another all-out war. Islamic Jihad claimed to have fired 100 rockets.

Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory's 2 million Palestinian residents.

A blast was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured out of the seventh floor of a tall building. Video released by Israel's military showed the strikes blowing up three guard towers with suspected militants in them.

In a nationally televised speech, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”


Blaze kills firefighter's 10 relatives, 3 of them children

NESCOPECK, Pa. (AP) — Fire tore quickly through a house in northeastern Pennsylvania early Friday morning, killing seven adults and three children and horrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to battle the blaze only to discover the victims were his own family, authorities said.

The children who died were ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release, while the seven adults ranged from their late teens to a 79-year-old man. Autopsies were planned for this weekend.

Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter in the town of Nescopeck, said the 10 victims included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives. He said his two children and the other young victims were visiting their aunt and uncle's home for swimming and other summertime fun.

He said 13 dogs were also in the two-story home, but didn’t say if he knew whether any survived.

“All I wanted to do was go in there and get to these people, my family. That’s all that I was thinking about, getting in to them,” Baker said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.


GOP Rep who voted to impeach advances in Washington primary

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, who voted to impeach Donald Trump, advanced Friday to the general election following days of vote counts in Washington state's primary, but fellow Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler saw her advantage against an opponent endorsed by Trump rapidly shrink to within recount territory with thousands of votes left to count.

Both drew interparty challenges due to their vote to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Newhouse, the four-term incumbent in the 4th Congressional District in central Washington and Democrat Doug White were essentially tied, with each capturing about 25% of the vote on a crowded ballot. White also advanced to the fall ballot. Loren Culp, a Trump-endorsed former small town police chief who lost the 2020 governor’s race to Democrat Jay Inslee, was at about 21%.

In the 3rd Congressional District in southwestern Washington, Democrat Marie Perez was the top vote getter, with 31% of the vote. Herrera Beutler, who had about 24% on Tuesday night, dropped to 22.6% Thursday night, 257 votes ahead of Joe Kent – a former Green Beret endorsed by Trump — who was at 22.5%.

A mandatory recount would occur if the margin of votes between the No. 2 and No. 3 candidates is less than half of 1% and closer than 2,000 votes.


Sinema gives her nod, and influence, to Democrats' big bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Joe Manchin sealed the deal reviving President Joe Biden’s big economic, health care and climate bill. But it was another Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who intently, quietly and deliberately shaped the final product.

Democrats pushed ahead Friday on an estimated $730 billion package that in many ways reflects Sinema's priorities and handiwork more than the other political figures who have played a key role in delivering on Biden's signature domestic policy agenda.

It was Sinema early on who rejected Biden's plan to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, as she broke with party's primary goal of reversing the Trump-era tax break Republicans gave to corporate America.

Sinema also scaled back her party's long-running plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies as a way to reduce overall costs to the government and consumers. She limited which drugs can be negotiated.

Her insistence on climate change provisions forced the coal-state Manchin to stay at the table to accept some $369 billion in renewable energy investments and tax breaks. She also is tucking in more money to fight Western droughts.


Breonna Taylor supporters relieved by charges against police

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville activists put in long hours on phones and in the streets, working tirelessly to call for arrests in the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor — but it was mostly two years filled with frustration.

This week they saw their fortunes suddenly change, when U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced federal charges against four officers involved in the March 13, 2020, raid that ended in Taylor's death.

After a series of disappointing setbacks, the charges brought a welcome sense of relief.

“It is such a weight lifted," said Sadiqa Reynolds, president of Louisville's Urban League, who has advocated for Taylor's family and led protest marches. “What this decision yesterday did is to begin lifting the cloud that had been hanging over us.”

The indictments represent the first time Louisville police officers have been held accountable for Taylor’s shooting death in her home. Most of the new charges center around the faulty warrant that led officers to Taylor’s front door.


Flash floods strand 1K people in Death Valley National Park

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Flash flooding at Death Valley National Park triggered by heavy rainfall on Friday buried cars, forced officials to close all roads in and out the park and stranded about 1,000 people, officials said

The park near the California-Nevada state line received at least 1.7 inches (4.3 centimeters) of rain at the Furnace Creek area, which park officials in a statement said represented “nearly an entire year’s worth of rain in one morning.” The park’s average annual rainfall is 1.9 inches (4.8 centimeters).

About 60 vehicles were buried in debris and about 500 visitors and 500 park workers were stranded, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries and the California Department of Transportation estimated it would take four to six hours to open a road that would allow park visitors to leave.

It was the second major flooding event at the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday after they were inundated with mud and debris from flash floods that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.

The rain started around 2 a.m., said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company who witnessed the flooding as he perched on a hillside boulder where he was trying to take pictures of lightning as the storm approached.


NCAA hoops leagues grapple with unequal pay for women's refs

The NCAA earned praise last year when it agreed to pay referees at its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments equally. The gesture only cost about $100,000, a tiny fraction of the roughly $900 million networks pay annually to broadcast March Madness.

Now, as the NCAA examines various disparities across men's and women's sports, pressure is rising to also pay referees equally during the regular season. Two Division I conferences told The Associated Press they plan to equalize pay, and another is considering it. Others are resisting change, even though the impact on their budgets would be negligible.

“The ones that are (equalizing pay) are reading the writing on the wall,” said Michael Lewis, a marketing professor at Emory University's Goizueta Business School.

The details of NCAA referee pay are closely guarded, but The Associated Press obtained data for the 2021-22 season that show 15 of the NCAA’s largest — and most profitable -- conferences paid veteran referees for men's basketball an average of 22% more per game.

That level of disparity is wider than the gender pay gap across the U.S. economy, where women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to the 2020 census. And it is an overwhelming disadvantage for women, who make up less than 1% of the referees officiating men’s games.

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