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After 14 Years in Prison, Wrongly Convicted Man "Truly Happy"


Johnny Williams spent 14 years in prison for an attempted rape he never committed. On Friday, a judge overturned his conviction. And on Tuesday, the 37-year-old Williams spoke publicly for the first time.

"I'm truly happy," Williams said in a one-on-one interview at Santa Clara University. That's where a team of students and lawyers comprising the Northern California Innocence Project helped prove that the DNA on a 9-year-old's T-shirt did not belong to him. The DNA is what lead to his 1998 attempted rape arrest.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said.

This is the second innocent person the Innocence Project has exonerated this year, and its 16th victory since its creation in 2001. The class at Santa Clara University also helped free Ronald Ross, 51, who was convicted in 2006 for an attempted murder, and was released at the end of February, when the judge dismissed the case.

Williams, born and raised in Oakland, has a different twist to his story.

He served his entire 14 years and was released from prison in January.  So, when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman wiped his record clean, he had already served out his whole punishment, the last stretch at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego - one that began when he was 23 years old.

Before this, he had no criminal record.

But Williams on Tuesday did say that his life had been heading in the wrong direction before his arrest. He said he never graduated high school and never finished college. Being behind bars for most of his adult life made him realize he now has a second chance.

"I want to learn from my past experiences," Williams said, not wanting to elaborate on his past life in Oakland. "I'm just happy to be back on the streets. I'm trying my best to get a job and go to school."

As for the Oakland police who arrested him, Williams only had this to say: "We all make mistakes."

On Sept, 28, 1998, a man who called himself  “Johnny” sexually accosted a 9-year-old girl as she walked home from school.  The next day, while walking in the same area, the same man attempted to rape her. Williams was a former neighbor of the girl and familiar with her family.  When the girl first reported the assault she did not say she knew the attacker, which suggested a stranger.

However, people who knew the girl suggested to police that “Johnny” may be Williams, according to Santa Clara University's Innocence Project.  One week after the attack, Oakland police collected the clothes the girl was wearing during the assault.  Forensic tests at the time of trial were unable to confirm biological evidence and no DNA testing was performed.  On June 8, 2000, Williams was convicted of two counts of forcible lewd conduct against a child and one count of attempted rape. 

Williams wrote the Innocence Project a letter, and the students took up his case along with their sister organization, the California DNA Project. Working with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, the T-shirt was retested and Williams' DNA was excluded.

The Innocence Project's supervising attorney Maitreya Badami said years were taken off Williams' life, but he is eligible for a significant sum of money. All eligible, exonerated prisoners can earn up to $100 a day for every day they wrongly spent in prison. Badami said that could be about $500,000, and even though it may take a long time to get it, Williams is definitely a candidate for that money.

Related stories:

Wrongly Accused Oakland Man Set Free

Santa Clara University Class Helps Clear Name of Convicted Sex Crimes Suspect

 Contact Lisa Fernandez at 408-432-4758 or lisa.fernandez@nbcuni.com.

Crashes Slow Morning Commute


Crashes in Goshen, Berlin Tolland, Stratford and Bridgeport are slowing the morning commute on Wednesday.

Two people are trapped in a rollover in Berlin and the road is closed at Route 4 and East Street in Goshen after a car hit a pole.

Police said they are responding to several crashes this morning as temperatures drop after a day of rain.

A tractor-trailer overturned on Interstate 84 Eastbound in Tolland between exits 67 and 68 and the right lane was blocked.

Tolland officials said a tandem tractor-trailer was involved and a  contractor was brought in to pump off the fuel tanks on the tractor portion.

A tractor-trailer and a car collided on Interstate 95 Northbound between exits 32 and 33 in Stratford and the right lane was closed.

There was also a backup on the 25/8 connector Southbound in Bridgeport between exit 1 and Interstate 95. The delays extended back to exit. 4. 

Photo Credit: Connecticut State Department of Transportation

Crash Closes Road in Burlington


The road is closed at Route 4 and Smith Lane in Burlington after a car hit a pole.

The pole snapped and is across the road. Police said the road could be closed for awhile.

This is one of several crashes reported this morning.

2 Pulled from Car After Berlin Rollover


Two people have been pulled from a car that rolled over at High and Lincoln streets in Berlin on Wednesday morning after hitting an icy patch, according to police.

The people are free after crews cut the roof of the car. They refused medical treatment.

The intersection was closed as crews responded.

Conditions in the area are icy after rain yesterday.

Chicago Man Sparks Anti-Violence Campaign


After the murder totals in Chicago started racking up after January of this year, South Side native Bryant Cross decided he'd seen enough.

The 28-year-old speech communications professor started thinking of effective ways to spread an anti-violence message and came up with the 500campaign, head shots of Chicagoans with the slogan "Angry Because Over 500 Youth Were Murdered in Chicago."

"I came across a picture of myself looking sad and that's what started it," Cross says. "I posted it on Instagram and Facebook with the text, and next thing I know, 20 people emailed me asking to do it for them."

He's had fairly steady requests over the past couple of weeks, but when 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins was fatally shot on Monday, the requests started coming in fast and furious.

He's edited hundreds of photos for his followers, who in turn are spreading the message on their own social media networks.

"There's a depression out here, people are wondering what they can do," Cross said. "I wanted to get people worked up so they at least feel like there's something they can do to address the violence."

Cross would like to harness the group energy into creating an anti-violence rally in downtown Chicago this summer.

"It's time to boost the morale of the city," Cross says. Whenever people outside of Chicago think of our city, they think of sports and violence. I want to see a day with no shootings and no killings ... a day of peace."

Photo Credit: instagram.com/500campaign

San Francisco Symphony Threatens to Strike


EDITOR'S  NOTE: On Wednesday, the symphony announced it is on strike. Read more here.

That sour note you hear is labor negotiations at the San Francisco Symphony. As the prestigious symphony prepares to take its noted version of Mahler's Ninth Symphony on an East Coast tour, a contract dispute is threatening to derail the train before it hits the tracks.

"It's incredibly stressful and it kind of puts a cloud over everything," said symphony viola player Katie Kadarauch. The contract negotiations have stretched on since September, playing out along the traditional battlefield of dollars and cents.

The musicians are seeking roughly around a five percent raise to keep them on par with Los Angeles' and Chicago's orchestras, the only two earning more than San Francisco.

"Our musicians are among the highest paid orchestra members in the country," said symphony spokesman Oliver Theil. "Their average salary is over $160 thousand dollars a year with over ten weeks paid vacation."

The musicians insist most of their members earn closer to the starting salary of $140 thousand. "The management has come to us with a set of proposals that would freeze our salaries the first year," said David Gaudry, who plays viola and handles the musician's labor bargaining.

"We don't feel we're getting the support we need and have come to expect traditionally in the past."

On Tuesday, a string quartet of symphony musicians played Beethoven in San Francisco City Hall to rally support for their cause.

The musicians wore Dodger baseball caps to signify the Los Angeles Symphony earns more than San Francisco musicians.

The publicity event preceded new negotiations between musicians and management scheduled for the afternoon with a federal mediator.

"Our latest proposal offers the same benefit levels as our current contract," said Theil, "in addition to raises that keep the orchestra paid among the three highest paid American orchestras."

But Gaudry said the 5% salary increase the musicians are seeking is justified because the symphony's endowment had grown from $175 million in 2005, to its current level of $268 million.

He noted the symphony also spent $11 million dollars last year on celebrations for its centennial anniversary. Musicians recently voted to authorize a strike if a deal isn't soon hammered out. With an East Coast tour, including a concert in Carnegie Hall set for later this month, the saber rattling had reached a discordant climax.

"I think there's at least a very good probability there'll be a strike this week," Gaudry said.

The symphony threatened to cancel concerts and tours during a similar labor dispute in 2006. Like that occasion, both sides are hoping to strike a note of harmony just before the fat lady tunes up her vocal chords and steps out on stage.

Photo Credit: Joe Rosato Jr.

Naked Man Captured After Taking Baby: Police


Police in Connecticut arrested a man they said was high on PCP as he ran naked through the streets of Bridgeport and an interstate highway while carrying a baby.

Surveillance cameras showed the man, who police identified as Santos Rodriguez, walking around naked around 4 a.m. on Saturday as he carried his girlfriend’s son. 

He stopped on Burr Road, near his apartment, took off the baby’s diaper, then tossed it in the middle of the street, according to police.

Seconds later, Rodriguez ran through a BP gas station on Fairfield Avenue, then onto Interstate 95 with the baby boy and streaked through both lanes of traffic. Police finally caught him on an exit ramp after receiving frantic calls from drivers.

“It was crazy,” Rodriguez’ neighbor said. “I never saw him do anything crazy like that. … A first time for me.”

Police said problems started when Rodriguez showed up at his apartment after a night of partying.  
They said he got into a fight with his girlfriend, snatched her baby out of his playpen and took off with him.

“I think he's gotten progressively worse, then just slipped off the deep end,” Sal Zucaro, a relative of Rodriguez’ landlord, said.

Police said the baby was checked out at the hospital and was not injured. He is back with his mother.
Rodriguez was in prison on Tuesday night, charged with first-degree kidnapping, risk of injury to a minor, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.

Rodman Arrives in Rome to "Support the Cause"


Dennis Rodman, fresh off a trip to North Korea, landed in Rome on Wednesday.

The former Chicago Bulls star known as "The Worm" showed up at St. Peter's Square to campaign for Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson to become the first black pope.

Dressed in a multi-color, flower-print blazer and yellow Converse shoes, Rodman told the media he doesn't have a favorite cardinal to become pope but said "the one from Ghana, he's gonna win."

"I'm just here to support the cause of the Church," Rodman said, "because I think the Church needs some revamping."

To prove his point, Rodman plans to return with a makeshift popemobile later in the day.

The campaign won't be heard by the 115 cardinals, who walked into the Sistine Chapel Tuesday to begin their secret meeting to choose a new pope. As of Wednesday morning, black smoke from the papal chimney signaled that no pope had been chosen.

This isn't the first of Rodman's recent worldly travels. He flew to North Korea last month and met authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un where the two watched basketball together and apparently foraged a friendship. Kim Jong Un told him, "You have a friend for life."

Upon his return home, Rodman told reporters Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung "were great leaders" and had only kind words about Kim Jong Un.

"He's proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him," Rodman said. "Guess what, I love him. The guy's really awesome."

The two apparently plan on keeping in touch.

Rodman says he is vacationing with the leader in North Korea in August.

Greenwich Billionaire and Sons Save Twinkies


Late yesterday, the news broke that two companies had come together to save Hostess products, including Twinkies, and Dolly Madison brand products.

Now, we know a little bit more about the people who plan to save the snacks you grew up with, including a Greenwich billionaire and his sons.

C. Dean Metropoulos, of Greenwich, and his firm at part of that deal and his son, Daren Metropoulos, posted on Tumblr last night that Twinkies could be back on a store shelf near you by summer.

Metropoulos & Co., based in Greenwich, and Apollo Global Management, LLC have agreed to pay $410 million to purchase the brands, five bakeries and some equipment, pending approval from U.S. Bankruptcy Court. 

Metropoulos & Co. buys companies that are struggling then fixes them, according to Bloomberg news and  C. Dean Metropoulos leads the company.

You might not know his name, but he is financial force in his own right.

Forbes includes him in its list of the richest people on the planet in 2013, which comes out in the March 25 issue.

In November,  his son, Daren Metropoulos, told Bloomberg news service that his company was interested in Hostess.

“Our family would love to purchase these iconic brands,” he told Bloomberg. “We are actively pursuing this deal as no doubt strategics will also.”

On Tuesday night, Daren Tweeted about the deal.

The two firms also plan to acquire Ho Hos®, Ding Dongs® and Donettes® snack cakes.

The Metropoulos also bought Pabst Brewing Company and Daren's last Tweet combines the two iconic brands in a clever graphic.

"The agreement results in significant value for our stakeholders and we look forward to putting the proposed transaction before the Court next week," said Hostess Brands Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gregory F. Rayburn.


Photo Credit: Getty Images

Extra Police Presence at Naugatuck School After Shots in Woods


Police said gunshots reported from the woods in the area of Andrew Mountain Road/Andrew Avenue extension were no threat to Andrew Avenue School, but the school was locked down briefly as a precaution and police will remain at the scene for the rest of the day.

At 8:55 a.m. on Wednesday, Naugatuck Police responded to the area.

Because the Andrew Avenue School is located close to where the shots were heard, the school was notified and locked down as a precaution while officers investigated.

Police searched, found no one and the lockdown was canceled.

However, the Naugatuck Police Department will have an office at the school for the remainder of the school day.

Hundreds Evacuated in New Haven After Gas Odor


Hundreds of people were evacuated from residences at the 9th Square apartment building in New Haven as the New Haven Fire Department investigated a gas odor.

Officials said a valve was left open at a nearby restaurant.

There are 188 units in the apartment building and residents were evacuated around 9 a.m. The evacuation lasted for about two hours.

The streets surrounding the building, located at 44 Orange St., were blocked off for the investigation.


Photo Credit: Lynn Sferrazza, NBC Connecticut

Fighting Irish Beat Huskies Again


We've seen this movie before, the one where UConn is on the wrong end of a heart-breaking loss at the hands of archival Notre Dame. It happened again Tuesday, this time in the conference championship, giving the Fighting Irish another first: a Big East title in their last-ever conference game.

This time, it happened on a last-second layup courtesy of Natalie Achonwa that gave Notre Dame a 61-59 lead. That proved to be the difference, and now the Huskies head to the NCAA Tournament with four losses, three thanks to the Fighting Irish.

UConn didn't help themselves though; unlike their last matchup that went to triple overtime and had the Huskies leading by six at the break, Notre Dame jumped out to a 35-26 lead. But a furious second-half comeback tied the score with a few ticks on the clock. Then Achonwa happened. Ball game. Again.

"What can I say, I feel really bad for these guys," coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards, via the Associated Press. "They played an amazing second half and we put ourselves in a big hole in the first half. They deserved to win because they made one more play at the end than we did."

This post-game speech has become old hat for Auriemma, whose team has now lost seven of eight to Notre Dame. The loss also kept the Huskies from their third-straight conference title. But if turnovers were the problem the last time these two teams got together, Tuesday it was UConn's inability to buy a basket from behind the arc. They were 0-5 (four misses by Breanna Stewart, the other by Kelly Faris), and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the team's best three-point shooter, didn't have an attempt.

"For us to go 0-for, I never think we're going to do that," Auriemma said. "I think we'll make our share and we always do."

Stefanie Dolson led the Huskies with 18 points and 16 rebounds but the team was again unable to stop Kayla McBride, who finished with 23 points. Skylar Diggins was held to just six points, but her decisive steal with the score tied and eight seconds on the clock that set up the Achonwa layup proved to be the difference.

"I've had a lot of big wins in my years here -- wins against UConn to go to national championship games, it definitely is up there," Diggins said. "It means a lot not only to me, means a lot to coach and our program."

And now the Huskies are left in the familiar position of trying to pick up the pieces, this time ahead of the NCAAs.

"At this point this program is all about how you respond and that's what coach teaches us how to do," Faris said. "We haven't responded the way we need to, the way the program is used to. That's why we are sitting where we're at right now. This is our last chance right now to respond in the right way. This is our last opportunity to step up and make something of it."

Photo Credit: Allyson Porter

Man Fired For Wrestling Shark While on "Sick Leave"


A Welsh charity worker on “sick leave for stress” was vacationing in Australia where he made headlines after wrestling a shark away from children, the BBC reported. While beach goers and lifeguards praised Paul Marshallsea for his bravery, his bosses disagreed.

Marshallsea, 62, and his wife, Wendy, 56, were in Bulcock Beach when 6-foot-long dusky whaler shark swam up to shallow waters. A nearby local TV crew was able to film Marshallsea grabbing the shark by the tail and guiding it into deeper waters.

Marshallsea reportedly came home to a letter of dismissal from the Pant and Dowlais Boys and Girls Club where he had worked for 10 years as a project coordinator. The Club's trustees wrote, “Whilst unfit to work you were well enough to travel to Australia and, according to recent news footage of yourself in Queensland, you allegedly grabbed a shark by the tail and narrowly missed being bitten by quickly jumping out of the way,” the BBC reported.

The charity worker argued that he and Wendy, who was also fired from the charity, were advised by a doctor to take a break from work.

“I didn’t have a broken leg or a bad back, I had work related stress,” Marshallsea told the BBC.

In a second letter, the trustee cited Marshallsea’s termination with the charity as a "breakdown" of confidence and trust.

According to the BBC, the Pants and Dowlais Boys and Girls Club was advised not to comment on the matter.

Tractor-Trailer Crash on I-84 West, Southbury


Only one lane of Interstate 84 Westbound is open  in Southbury between exits 16 and 15 after a crash involving a tractor-trailer.

No further information is available.

Truck Stuck Under Bridge in Waterbury


A truck is stuck under a bridge at South Washington Avenue, just east of South Leonard Street in Waterbury, near Route 8.

The trailer part of the truck is stuck under the bridge.

Photo Credit: Doug Greene, NBC Connecticut

Madison Soldier Killed in Afghanistan


A soldier from Madison, Connecticut has been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and Gov. Dannel Malloy has ordered all U.S. and Connecticut flags to fly at half-staff.

Army Capt. Andrew Pedersen-Keel was killed by an Afghan policeman while conducting a patrol brief in the Jalrez District, according to Madison First Selectman Fillmore McPherson and Governor Malloy. Pedersen-Keel's parents live in Madison, McPherson said.

“Captain Pedersen-Keel made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our state and our nation," Malloy said in a statement on Wednesday rnorning. "Our thoughts are with his family, his friends, and his unit during this very difficult time. We pray for a safe homecoming for our troops who are stationed around the world, and thank them for their bravery and service.”

Pedersen-Keel graduated from Avon Old Farms in 2002 and then graduated from West Point Military Academy in 2006. The family moved to Madison in 2003, according to McPherson.

Headmaster Kenneth LaRocque said Pedersen-Keel was an outstanding student, varsity athlete and a friend to everyone.

He said Pedersen-Keel was overjoyed to get accepted to West Point, went there with a great deal of courage and commitment and was excited to serve his country.

"Obviously I and everyone in the Avon Old Farms School family extends the deepest sympathy to his family," LaRocque said.

Pedersen-Keel was a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Two American soldiers were killed when a man dressed as an Afghan police officer opened fire on U.S. and Afghan forces in the eastern province of Wardak on Monday.

Flags will remain at half-staff until Pedersen-Keel is buried or a memorial has been held.

Photo Credit: West Point Association of Graduates

Fire Damages Wolcott Auto Body Shop


Firefighters are responding to a fire at John Morrone's Service Center, 1552 Wolcott Road, in Wolcott.

One employee was working on a vehicle inside the auto body shop when the car caught fire, according to Wolcott's fire chief.  The employee was able to escape uninjured.

A convenience store attached to the auto body shop was damaged by fire a year ago, the fire chief said.  The store hasn't reopened since that fire.

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of Tuesday's fire.

Photo Credit: Wolcott Police Chief Ed Stephens

Sistine Seagull: A Smoke Cam Star


The cameras of the world were fixed on the humble chimney atop the Sistine Chapel Tuesday awaiting a smoke signal from the conclave meeting to elect the new pope when a winged creature appeared.

It was not the Holy Spirit, but a seagull, who suddenly became the talk of Twitter and the news organizations covering the papal election.

"Maybe the seagull on the stovepipe will be our canary in the coal mine," NBC's Mark Luka tweeted. "Will he feel the heat rising?"

Black smoke had billowed from the copper chimney twice before the bird made its landing Tuesday and spectators were awaiting the results from an afternoon vote.

The bird groomed itself, pecking at its feathers, shaking itself out, seemingly unabashed by the media attention.

Its every move was carefully monitored on air and on social media -- where it spawned the Twitter accounts @PapalSeagull and @SistineSeagull.

It flew away, but then returned. It left again and was soon replaced by a fellow seagull. It lifted its leg, and the speculation intensified. Could it be that the bird was feeling heat from below? Perhaps the bird was feeling chilly and trying to warm itself. Or maybe there was a pope. See the speculation and commentary below.

Photo Credit: AP

NJ to Use Industrial Deodorant on Rancid Landfill


New Jersey environmental protection authorities say the operator of one of the state's most noxious landfills can try to use industrial-strength deodorant to cover up the rotten-egg stench wafting from the Morris County dump to neighboring highways, homes and nostrils.

Residents who live near the Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury have been complaining about the odors emanating from the garbage site, which reopened in 2011 after a 32-year closure so authorities could fill it, cap it and build a solar facility on top of it. 

But Daniel Marchese, an attorney representing a group of residents suing to have the landfill shut down, say the operator has not stopped accepted refuse. Until that happens, the capping phase of the project cannot begin, which means those who live near the dump continue to be afflicted by its malodorous smells, according to NJ.com.

As an interim solution, landfill operator Strategic Environmental Partners said it wanted to see if applying industrial-strength deodorants to the landfill helped prevent the smell from spreading. 

Strategic tells NJ.com it's had a large amount of deodorant sitting in a trailer since the beginning of December, but it had to wait for approval from the state's Department of Environmental Protection before using it.

New Jersey's DEP authorized the deodorant application this week, saying Strategic could apply it to a small section of the landfill, and if the plan works to reduce the odors without causing any undesirable environmental effects, it could expand.

Marchese says the residents he represents aren't thrilled about the use of chemicals to try to eradicate the stench, but at this point, "we want the smell to go away," he told NJ.com. 

The attorney said he wrote a letter to Gov. Chris Christie last week, asking the Republican to press for swifter action to mitigate the odor. Marchese said he didn't hear back from Christie, but said the governor wouldn't have to go far to smell the rotten-egg stench since he lives nearby.

"All he has to do is take a 10-minute trip to Route 10. The smell is the worst it’s ever been. It reaches all the way to Town Hall now," Marchese told NJ.com.

A judge gave Strategic until Friday to "certify that no further (construction and demolition) deliveries are needed" to complete the first phase of the solar project, and that it needed to give 72 hours notice if more deliveries were necessary, reports NJ.com. 

Dolphin Spotted in NYC's East River


A dolphin has been spotted in New York City's East River, near East 96th Street in Manhattan. 

Timothy Machnica from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation told NBC 4 New York the mammal doesn't appear injured, but the agency will continue to observe it. 
He said it's either a common dolphin or an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.
Machnica said the DEC will consult with a marine biologist at the Riverhead Foundation to determine if it should be guided out of the river.
In January, an injured dolphin died after becoming stranded in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A necropsy determined the dolphin suffered from a series of chronic conditions, including stomach ulcers and kidney stones. 

Photo Credit: Brynn Gingras
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