February 23, 2021

Virginia, historically America's most prolific practitioner of capital punishment, will become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty as soon as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signs legislation given final approval Monday. The state Senate passed the House's capital punishment ban 22 to 16, with one Republican joining all Senate Democrats. The House of Delegates passed an identical Senate bill 57 to 43, with support from two Republicans.

"Over Virginia's long history, this Commonwealth has executed more people than any other state. And, like many other states, Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person," Northam, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D), and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D) said in a joint statement after the vote. The death penalty is "inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane," and "it's time we stop this machinery of death."

Once Northam signs the legislation, Virginia will be the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty, following Colorado's ban last year. Virginia has not executed any inmates since 2017 and hasn't sentenced anyone to death since 2011. The two remaining inmates on death row, Thomas Porter and Anthony Juniper, will serve out the rest of their lives in prison.

Since America's first execution in 1608 — when the Jamestown colony executed a Spanish spy — Virginia has put to death 1,390 people, including 113 after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Those 113 executions put Virginia behind only Texas in modern-day use of capital punishment.

Abolishing the death penalty is "just the latest in a long list of sweeping policy changes enacted by Democrats" after they took full control of the General Assembly last year, The Associated Press reports. "Last year, lawmakers passed some of the region's strictest gun laws, broadest LGBTQ protections, its highest minimum wage, and some of its loosest abortion restrictions." Peter Weber

6:12 a.m.

One in five Americans still say they won't get the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the willingness by Americans to put all manner of junk in their bodies and eagerness to take anything offered freely, Jimmy Kimmel sighed on Thursday's Kimmel Live. Dr. Anthony Fauci "must be beating his head against the wall. Dr. Fauci appeared today before a congressional subcommittee on COVID-19 and was forced to endure the relentless stupidity of a shaved ape from Ohio named Jim Jordan," who screamed that Americans' liberties have been assaulted by public health measures. "Yeah, you know who else was assaulted? Those wrestlers when you were their coach at Ohio State," Kimmel said. "I guess that you didn't notice."

"Meanwhile, there are new details in the sordid saga of future former Florida congressman Matt Gaetz," Kimmel said. "Yesterday we learned that Gaetz was involved in more wild house parties than Kid 'n Play in the '90s. Reportedly, there were drugs and sex at these parties, where women were given gifts and money in exchange for their 'participation,' much of it paid through Venmo."

Accused ringleader Joel Greenberg made at least 150 payments to young women, including at least 16 to a future Gaetz girlfriend, Kimmel said, "and of course we know about all of this because stupid Joel Greenberg made his Venmo transactions public, as did Matt Gaetz — they didn't check the privacy box. What's the opposite of a criminal mastermind? "

"Gaetz faces an intensifying investigation in which authorities seized his phone last winter," Seth Meyers said at Late Night, and "I'm no lawyer, but it can't be good when they seize your phone. No one's happy to have their phone seized," even if it's just your wife, he joked. "Chances are pretty high that if you've broken the law, there's evidence of it on your phone, especially since Gaetz was reportedly using Cash App and Venmo to make payments to his indicted buddy."

We're also learning more about those parties Gaetz, Greenberg, and their GOP friends would allegedly hold, Meyers said. "You know, my grandmother used to say nothing good ever happens after midnight, and I'd say the same is true about anything that happens at a party in a gated community in suburban Orlando where they make you give up your phone." Peter Weber

4:28 a.m.

Joel Greenberg, 36, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), 38, became friends soon after Greenberg was elected Seminole County tax collector and Gaetz won a seat in Congress in 2016. Both men were "brash politicians who hailed from families of considerable wealth and who themselves rose to power quickly," and "they also enjoyed parties and the company of women," The Washington Post reports, citing people who know both Gaetz and Greenberg. That latter interest — woman and parties — is also why both men are under federal investigation.

Before the feds got involved in late 2019 or early 2020, Greenberg had already been on the radar of local law enforcement — for, among other things, allegedly misusing public funds, handing lucrative and unnecessary contracts and state jobs to friends and allies, and impersonating a police officer, pulling over a woman for speeding using a badge and lights on his private vehicle.

But local police did not start investigating Greenberg until, according the a federal indictment, he tried to derail a GOP primary challenger, prep school music teacher Brian Beute, by sending his school a fraudulent note claiming Beute had carried on an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. Beute roped in a lawyer acquaintance, David Bear, who convinced the sheriff's office that whoever was behind the smear campaign had committed a crime. Bear also successfully encouraged the sheriff's office to seek help from the feds, the Post reports.

"When authorities arrested Greenberg and sifted through his electronic records and devices — according to documents and people involved in the case — they discovered a medley of other alleged wrongdoing, leading them to open an investigation of possible sex trafficking involving a far more high-profile Florida Republican," Gaetz, the Post reports. Beute thought about dropping the matter after local investigators cleared him of having sex with a student, but "he decided not to," Bear told the Post. "All of these other things mushroomed out of that one decision for him to stand tall."

Greenberg, facing 33 counts including sex trafficking of a child, is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors to earn some leniency. Gaetz denies the alleged focus of his investigation — paying for sex and having sex with a minor across state lines — and has not been charged or formally accused of wrongdoing. Read more about how the case came together at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

3:33 a.m.

Indianapolis police said early Friday that eight people have been confirmed dead after a mass shooting at a FedEx facility on the grounds of the Indianapolis International Airport late Thursday. Along with the eight people shot dead, at least four people have been hospitalized, one of them with critical injuries, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Genae Cook told reporters. Two other people were treated at the scene. Police said the gunman shot and killed himself after officers arrived at the FedEx facility just after 11 p.m. Thursday night.

"We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport," FedEx said in a statement early Friday. "Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected. We are working to gather more information and are cooperating with investigating authorities." Peter Weber

2:36 a.m.

President Biden halted construction of his predecessor's U.S.-Mexico border wall right after taking office, giving his administration time to study the contracts the Trump administration had signed and exploring ways to dispatch them. But the federal review was supposed to end March 20, and while border wall construction is still on ice, the legal cases to seize land for the wall are continuing, Politico reports. That's fueling concerns that wall construction could resume, despite Biden's pledge to stop the project.

The Justice Department still has about 140 eminent domain cases active along the Texas border, the Texas Civil Rights Project says. And at least 114 of those cases have progressed since Biden's 60-day study period ended on March 21, according to the group, which represents a handful of families fighting to keep their land, including the Cavazos family. Earlier this week, the U.S. government won the title to six acres of the Cavazos family's 77-acre ranch, Politico reports. The family said Biden broke his promise to end land seizures and they are asking the government to return the title to their land.

Customs and Border Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers "have suspended surveys, negotiations with landowners, and similar real estate acquisition activities, in accordance with the president's proclamation," a CBP spokesperson told Politico. But CBP and the White House referred questions about the eminent domain cases to the Justice Department, which said it has sought to delay the cases rather than end them, pending completion of Biden's review. The White House did not explain why the review has blown past its deadline.

"They can have all the excuses they want but it's real dicey to look at what they're doing right now," a person who consults with the White House on immigration policy and has grown frustrated tells Politico. "It's a lot of stuff Trump was doing." Peter Weber

1:54 a.m.

Several people were shot late Thursday night at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis International Airport.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Genae Cook said when officers responded to a report of shots fired at the facility, they discovered an "active shooter incident." Cook said police believe the shooter fatally shot himself and there is no active threat to the community. Law enforcement has not said how many people were injured in the shooting or if there are any deaths, only revealing that multiple victims have been taken to area hospitals.

The Indianapolis FedEx hub is the second largest in the company's global network, IndyStar reports, with more than 4,500 employees. Catherine Garcia

1:33 a.m.

To take his mom on the vacation of her dreams, Dustin Vitale needed to raise $10,000 in order to fly all 14 of his immediate family members to Egypt, and the Philadelphia middle school teacher came up with an idea that would make his hometown proud.

Last year, Dustin's mother, Gloria, was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer. Dustin knew how much she wanted to see the pyramids, and figured if he could make cheesesteaks and sell them to friends and family, he'd raise enough money to get his mother and their family to Egypt. His mom provided her tried and true recipe, and Dustin got to work whipping up cheesesteaks and fries.

It wasn't long before word spread about Dustin's delicious cheesesteaks and the reason behind his new venture, and people soon lined up outside his house to pick up an order. When a food truck operator learned that Dustin was doing all of this from his home kitchen, he offered his services. After six weeks, Dustin raised $18,000.

Their trip is planned for later this year, and Gloria told CBS News that the love being shown to her is "overwhelming." For Dustin, it didn't matter where his mother wanted to go — he would take her anywhere. "If she would have asked to go to the moon, I would have made that happen as well," he said. Catherine Garcia

1:05 a.m.

O.G. televangelist Pat Robertson isn't about to take to the streets to protest the police shooting of Daunte Wright at the hands of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, arrested Wednesday and charged with second-degree manslaughter. But like many people, Robertson is baffled that Potter evidently meant to use her Taser on Wright, not her gun.

"If you can't tell the difference in the feel of those things, it's crazy," and Potter "deserves" the consequences, Robertson said on Thursday's 700 Club, holding both a handgun and a Taser. "You know, I am pro-police, folks. I think we need the police, we need their service, and they do a good job, but if they don't stop this onslaught, they cannot do this," he said, pivoting to the other prominent police killing in the Minneapolis area. "And the thing that's going on in Minnesota about that Derek Chauvin — I mean, they ought to put him under the jail, he has caused so much trouble by kneeling on the death of George Floyd, I mean on his neck — it's just terrible what's happening."

"We don't have the finest in the police department," Robertson said. "They're low-paid people, Terri," and we need to hire "a more superior workforce." (The average annual wage for a police officer in the U.S. in 2019, not including overtime, was $67,600, or $71,840 in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) "We need police! We need them and we need to honor them and I'm all for," Robertson said. "But at the same time, we cannot have a bunch of clowns running around who are underpaid and who really are not the best and brightest." Peter Weber

Peter Weber

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