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Teen gets 9 years in murder of Barnard College student Tessa Majors

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Teen gets 9 years in murder of Barnard College student Tessa Majors

NEW YORK — A teenage boy was sentenced Thursday to nine years to life in prison for his role in the botched robbery that ended in the deadly stabbing of Barnard College freshman Tessa Majors.

Luchiano Lewis, 16, pleaded guilty to murder and robbery on Sept. 21 for the December 2019 stabbing inside Morningside Park.

During his guilty plea, Lewis told Judge Robert Mandelbaum that he and two school friends had planned to mug someone inside the upper Manhattan park that night. When their first attempt failed, Lewis said the group targeted Majors, 18, as she was jogging down a set of steps on W. 116th St. near Morningside Drive.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance charged Lewis as an adult. Rashaun Weaver, who allegedly stabbed Majors, has pleaded not guilty and is also charged as an adult. The third boy present for Majors’ killing pleaded guilty to robbery in June 2020 and got the max for a minor —18 months behind bars.

Lewis has said he didn’t know Majors had “been stabbed let alone killed” until reading it online the day after the stabbing. During his guilty plea he said Weaver stabbed the young student.

Majors’ parents, Inman and Christy Majors, are expected to read victim impact statements at the sentencing. They have traveled from Charlottesville, Va., to attend the majority of hearings in the case.

Lewis said earlier in court Majors “just walked up the long set of stairs and was walking toward us, but she was looking down at her phone. We were walking on the right side with the rails. When she passed us on our left, I saw Rashaun whisper something to (the 13-year-old), but I couldn’t hear what he said.”

He added: “Rashaun turned around, ran up behind Tessa Majors and kicked her hard in the back. I watched her stumble. Rashaun started screaming, ‘Give me your money, run your pockets, I’m not playing.’”

The teen said Weaver, who has pleaded not guilty to murder, “tussled” on the steps with Majors for some time before Lewis became spooked by an onlooker. They all fled the scene.

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WTA to AP: Loss of China events over Peng could go past ’22

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WTA to AP: Loss of China events over Peng could go past ’22

By HOWARD FENDRICH

The suspension of all WTA tournaments in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault, could result in cancellations of those events beyond 2022, the head of the women’s professional tennis tour told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“We’re hopeful we get to the right place, but we are prepared, if it continues as it is — which hasn’t been productive to date — that we will not be operating in the region,” WTA President and CEO Steve Simon said in a video call from California. “This is an organizational effort that is really addressing something that’s about what’s right and wrong.”

He said the move to put a halt to the tour’s play in China, including Hong Kong, came with the backing of the WTA Board of Directors, players, tournaments and sponsors. It is the strongest public stand against China taken by a sports body — and one that could cost the WTA millions of dollars.

Peng dropped out of public view after raising the allegations about former vice premier Zhang Gaoli in a Nov. 2 social media posting that was quickly taken down by Chinese authorities.

In the month since, Simon has made repeated calls for China to carry out an inquiry into the 35-year-old Peng’s accusations and to allow the WTA to communicate directly with the former No. 1-ranked doubles player and owner of titles at Wimbledon and the French Open.

“Our approach to this and our request to the authorities are consistent and they’ll stay there. We definitely would like to have our own discussion with Peng and be comfortable that she’s truly safe and free and has not been censored, intimidated or anything like that,” Simon told The AP. “We still haven’t been able to have that conversation to have the comfort that what we’re seeing isn’t being orchestrated, to date. The second element of that is that we want a full and transparent — without any level of censorship — investigation on the allegations that were made.”

China typically hosts about 10 women’s tennis tournaments each year, including the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals, which are scheduled to be held there for a decade. The nation is a source of billions of dollars in income for various sports entities based elsewhere, including the WTA (headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida), the NBA (run out of New York) and the International Olympic Committee (Lausanne, Switzerland).

Simon said the suspension, announced Wednesday via a statement from him issued by the tour, means that tournaments could still end up being staged in China if its government follows through with his requests. If not, the events could be moved to other countries, as happened this year, when the tour’s Asian swing was called off because of COVID-19 concerns; the WTA Finals, for example, were shifted to Guadalajara, Mexico, last month.

“We haven’t canceled, as of yet, but we’re prepared to get to that point,” Simon said on the video call. “And that’ll be a point of discussion at some point: Where do you get to cancellation? Is it 2022 only? Is it for the future? I mean, those are all questions that will come down the road.”

Beijing is set to host the Winter Games beginning on Feb. 4, and IOC President Thomas Bach said on Nov. 21 that he spoke with Peng — a three-time Olympian — on a 30-minute video call. The IOC did not release video or a transcript of the exchange and said only that Bach reported that she said she was well.

The IOC said in a statement that Peng appeared to be “doing fine” and said she had requested privacy. The IOC did not explain how the call was arranged, although it has worked closely with the Chinese Olympic Committee and government officials to organize the upcoming Games.

The European Union said Tuesday it wants China to offer “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe.

A number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people have disappeared in recent years after criticizing ruling Communist Party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

A statement attributed to Peng two weeks and tweeted out by the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV included a retraction of her accusations.

“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,” Simon said in the release announcing the suspensions. “Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

There was little immediate reaction in China, where repeated calls to the Chinese Tennis Association and the Tennis Management Center of the government’s General Administration of Sports rang unanswered on Thursday. On Chinese social media platforms, a few apparent references to the WTA’s announcement from fans were all very oblique with no direct references to the WTA or Peng in order to avoid censorship.

The U.S. Tennis Association commended Simon and the WTA, tweeting a statement that read: “This type of leadership is courageous and what is needed to ensure the rights of all individuals are protected and all voices are heard.”

International Tennis Federation spokeswoman Heather Bowler said the ITF Board would meet Thursday to discuss the matter.

“I applaud Steve Simon and the WTA leadership for taking a strong stand on defending human rights in China and around the world,” International Tennis Hall of Fame member and women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King said. “The WTA has chosen to be on the right side of history in defending the rights of our players. This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports.”

Concerns about the censoring of Peng’s post and her subsequent disappearance from public view turned #WhereIsPengShuai into a trending topic on social media and drew support from tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Martina Navratilova.

But news of the first #MeToo case to reach the political realm in China has not been reported by the domestic media and online discussion of it has been highly censored.

“I can only imagine the range of emotions and feelings that Peng is likely going through right now. I hope she knows that none of this is her fault, and that we remain very proud of her extreme courage that she’s shown through this,” Simon told the AP. “But the one thing that we can’t do is walk away from this, because if we’re walking away from the key elements — which is obviously not only her well-being, but the investigation — then we’re telling the world that not addressing sexual assault with respect to the seriousness it requires is OK, because it’s too difficult. And it’s simply something that we can’t let happen.”

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former Minnesota school principal sues, alleging retaliation over rainbow flag in support of LGBT students

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Former Minnesota school principal sues, alleging retaliation over rainbow flag in support of LGBT students

MARSHALL, Minn. — A southwest Minnesota middle school principal who lost her job after she displayed a rainbow pride flag in a school cafeteria filed a lawsuit this week alleging the district retaliated against her for supporting LGBT students.

A complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court claims Marshall Public Schools ousted middle school principal Mary Kay Thomas earlier this year after a heated disagreement in the community about a flag she displayed in a cafeteria in early 2020 as part of an inclusiveness campaign at the school.

According to the lawsuit, a small group of “anti-LGBTQ middle-school staff, parents, students, and local clergy” pressured the school to remove the flag, which is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride. In response to the push to remove the flag, Thomas began distributing rainbow stickers at the school.

The school eventually removed the flag in August 2021, after Thomas was forced from her position, the complaint said. She had been principal for 16 years.

Thomas claims the Marshall School District targeted her with an investigation, placed her on administrative leave, suspended her without pay and eventually drove her to quit after the district removed her as principal and placed her in a “demeaning” special projects position. She also claims school staff hostile to LGBT causes played a role in her removal and that Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams told her he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down.

In a statement, Williams said Marshall Public Schools has strong policies against discrimination to protect students and staff and is committed to creating a respectful and inclusive learning environment.

“While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct,” Williams said. “The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

Thomas had a long record of good performance reviews as principal, according to the lawsuit. In 2019, former Superintendent Scott Monson called her a “Champion of Students,” particularly the underrepresented and marginalized. But after complaints from staff stemming from the flag controversy, Williams in March placed Thomas on administrative leave pending an investigation into nonspecific workplace allegations, according to the lawsuit.

The investigation was supposed to last only two or three weeks, the complaint said, but lasted into May. Thomas, who remained on leave until the summer, filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Thomas’ lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the district and to reinstate her as principal of the middle school. It comes after a group of local residents, Marshall Concerned Citizens, sued the district in April, alleging school officials unfairly targeted a group of students petitioning for the removal of the pride flag. Their complaint claimed the school violated students’ First Amendment rights by suppressing speech in an environment “invited” by school officials.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright in August dismissed the Marshall Concerned Citizens lawsuit with prejudice, meaning the group cannot bring another lawsuit in the matter.

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The last county in Minnesota without a COVID-19 death has reported its first

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The last county in Minnesota without a COVID-19 death has reported its first

GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Cook County reported its first COVID-19-related death on Wednesday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The person who died in the county, located at the far end of northeastern Minnesota’s Arrowhead, was between ages 75 and 79.

Cook County still has the fewest number of COVID-19 deaths of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

The next-lowest totals are in Big Stone, Lake of the Woods and Lincoln counties, which each have five deaths.

Minnesota reported 100 more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, a backlog from over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, pushing the state’s death toll to 9,482 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Cook County’s vaccination rates are the highest in Minnesota, with 82.6% of the total population having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 76.8% fully vaccinated. Ninety-nine percent of Cook County residents age 65 and older are fully vaccinated.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the county’s total population to be 5,736 in 2019.

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