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The nation in brief: Mushroom farm worker pleads innocent

February 18, 2023 at 3:33 a.m.
Chunli Zhao (center) appears for a plea hearing Thursday with defense attorney Eric Hove (left) at San Mateo Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif. (AP/Zuma Press/David G. McIntyre)

Mushroom farm worker pleads innocent

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- A farm worker charged with killing seven people last month in back-to-back shootings at two Northern California mushroom farms has pleaded innocent.

Chunli Zhao, 66, is charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Prosecutors said that on Jan. 23 he opened fire at the Half Moon Bay farm where he worked, killing four co-workers and wounding another. They said he then drove to a farm he was fired from in 2015 and shot to death three former co-workers.

Zhao admitted to the shootings during a jailhouse media interview days afterward. He told KNTV-TV he was bullied and worked long hours on the farms and that his complaints were ignored.

On Thursday, Zhao appeared behind a glass partition in the courtroom with his head bowed and spoke only when a Mandarin translator relayed questions from the judge, the Mercury News reported. At a hearing last week, Zhao sobbed so loudly that the judge called for a brief recess.

Trump lawyers look to ban 'Access' tape

NEW YORK -- Attorneys for Donald Trump want to ban from his civil rape trial the "Access Hollywood" tape in which the former president boasts graphically about how celebrities can molest women.

Trump attorneys Alina Habba and Michael Madaio filed papers in Manhattan federal court late Thursday seeking to block references to the 2005 taped encounter and the tape itself from an April trial stemming from the claims of longtime advice columnist E. Jean Carroll.

They called the tape "irrelevant and highly prejudicial" and said it might unjustly be used to suggest to jurors that Trump had a propensity for sexual assault and therefore must have raped Carroll. They also asked to prevent testimony from two other women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct and to ban references to his campaign speeches.

Carroll, 79, sued Trump in November after New York state temporarily changed laws to allow adult rape survivors to sue their alleged abusers even if the attacks occurred decades ago. A trial is set for April 24, and Trump and Carroll are both expected to testify.

Carroll, a former columnist for Elle magazine, said in her 2019 book "What Do We Need Men For?" that Trump raped her in late 1995 or early '96 in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman, the luxury Manhattan department store.

Trump has vehemently denied the charge.

Arizona court denies election challenge

PHOENIX -- An Arizona appeals court has rejected Republican Kari Lake's challenge of her defeat in the Arizona governor's race to Democrat Katie Hobbs, denying a request to throw out the results in the state's most populous county and hold the election again.

In a ruling Thursday, the Arizona Court of Appeals wrote Lake, who claimed problems with ballot printers at some polling places were the result of intentional misconduct, presented no evidence that voters whose ballots were unreadable by tabulators at polling places were not able to vote.

The court said that even a witness called by Lake to testify had confirmed that ballots that couldn't initially be read at polling places could still ultimately be counted.

And while a pollster who testified on behalf of Lake claimed the polling place problems had disenfranchised enough voters to change the outcome in Lake's favor, the court said his conclusions were baseless.

The appeals court wrote Lake's appeal failed because the evidence supports the conclusion that "voters were able to cast their ballots, that votes were counted correctly, and that no other basis justifies setting aside the election results."

Shortly after the ruling, Lake tweeted: "I told you we would take this case all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court, and that's exactly what we are going to do. Buckle up, America!"

Lake, who lost to Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes, was among the most vocal 2022 Republicans promoting former President Donald Trump's stolen-election claims, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign. While most of the other election deniers around the country conceded after losing in November, Lake did not.

Coast Guard halts migrant boat off Cuba

MIAMI -- U.S. Coast Guard crews stopped a migrant boat carrying more than 300 people from Haiti offshore of Cuba, the agency said.

Petty Officer Nicole Groll, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said the boat was stopped Wednesday off Punta de Maisi, a town off the eastern tip of Cuba.

The group, which included women and children, was aboard an 80-foot vessel that looked from the photo the Coast Guard released to be either a small cargo ship or tugboat.

It appeared to be much more seaworthy than the types of dilapidated sail freighters that most Haitians have been using to try to get to the United States during the latest migrant surge that began more than a year ago.

The last large group of migrants to arrive in the United States was a week earlier when 114 people arrived off the Upper Florida Keys town of Tavernier on a sailboat.

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