A blind prisoner convicted of killing his estranged girlfriend by setting her on fire in her car was put to death Thursday in Tennessee's electric chair, becoming only the second inmate without sight to be executed in the U.S. since the reinstatement of the nation's death penalty in 1976.
Lee Hall, 53, was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. at a Nashville maximum-security prison, prison officials said. He chose the electric chair over Tennessee's preferred execution method of lethal injection — an option allowed inmates in the state who were convicted of crimes before January 1999. He also became the first blind inmate in U.S. modern history to die by electrocution.
Hall was asked if he had final words Thursday night. He asked for water so he could speak but was told there wasn't any. "People need to learn forgiveness and love and make this world a better place," Hall said shortly before being put to death.
Hall had his vision when he entered death row decades ago, but his attorneys say he later became functionally blind from improperly treated glaucoma. Only one other known blind inmate has been executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976: Clarence Ray Allen, 76, received a lethal injection in California in 2006.
Court documents state that Hall killed 22-year-old Traci Crozier on April 17, 1991 by setting her car ablaze with a container of gasoline that he lit and tossed in her vehicle while she was inside and trying to leave him. The container exploded and Crozier suffered burns across more than 90% of her body, dying the next day in the hospital.
Crozier's sister, Staci Wooten, and her father, Gene Crozier, had said earlier they planned to watch Hall's execution.
Defense attorney Kelly Gleason had asked the federal courts to stop Hall from being put to death after other attempts in state courts and with Tennessee's governor had failed. But late Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the inmate's 11th-hour request for a stay of execution. The court gave no explanation for its decision.
Previously, Hall's attorneys had been fighting for months to delay the execution plan, arguing that courts should have had the opportunity to weigh new questions surrounding a possible biased juror who helped hand down the death sentence decades ago against Hall, who was formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr.
The woman — simply known as "Juror A"— acknowledged publicly for the first time this year that she failed to disclose she had been repeatedly raped and abused by her former husband during Hall's jury selection process. Hall's attorneys argued the omission deprived him of a fair and impartial jury — a right protected in both the Tennessee and U.S. constitutions
However, both the Tennessee Supreme Court and Gov. Bill Lee declined to step in despite pleas from Hall's attorneys for more time to explore the possible legal concerns.
Lee, a Republican, has not intervened in any of the four execution cases that have come across his desk since he became governor in January. He also has previously declined to weigh in on whether he approves of the state's increased usage of the electric chair, noting instead that it's a legal option in Tennessee.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on whether use of the electric chair violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but it came close about 20 years ago after a series of botched electrocutions in Florida.
Meanwhile, state courts in Georgia and Nebraska have declared the electric chair unconstitutional.
The high court has also neither set an upper age limit for executions nor created an exception for a physical infirmity.
Tennessee is one of six states in which inmates can choose the electric chair, but it's the only state that has used the chair in recent years. Three out of five recent inmates put to death in Tennessee have chosen the chair since the state began resuming executions in August 2018.
Paris police fired tear gas at demonstrators Thursday as the Eiffel Tower shut down, France's high-speed trains came to a standstill and hundreds of thousands marched nationwide in a strike over the government's plan to overhaul the retirement system.
At least 90 people were arrested in Paris by evening as the protests wound down.
Police said 65,000 people took to the streets of the French capital, and over 800,000 nationwide in often-tense demonstrations aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to abandon pension reform.
The open-ended walkout by the country's unions represents the biggest challenge to Macron since the yellow vest movement against economic inequality erupted a year ago.
Opponents fear the changes to how and when workers can retire will threaten the hard-fought French way of life. Macron himself remained "calm and determined" to push it through, according to a top presidential official.
In Paris, small groups of masked activists smashed store windows, set fires and hurled flares on the sidelines of a march that was otherwise peaceful. Demonstrators also shot firecrackers at police in body armor. Some journalists were mugged in the street.
The Louvre closed some of its galleries, and the Palace of Versailles shut down. Subway stations across Paris closed their gates, high-speed TGV trains canceled their runs, and nearly 20% of flights at Paris' Orly Airport were reported grounded.
Many visitors, including the U.S. energy secretary, canceled plans to travel to one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.
Some travelers showed support for the striking workers. Others complained about being embroiled in someone else's fight.
"I had no idea about the strike happening, and I was waiting for two hours in the airport for the train to arrive, and it didn't arrive," said vacationer Ian Crossen, from New York. "I feel a little bit frustrated. And I've spent a lot of money. I've spent money I didn't need to, apparently."
Beneath the Eiffel Tower, tourists from Thailand, Canada and Spain echoed those sentiments.
Paris authorities barricaded the presidential palace and deployed 6,000 police officers. Police ordered all businesses, cafes and restaurants in the area to close and detained 71 people before the demonstration even started.
Authorities banned protests in the more sensitive neighborhoods around the Champs-Elysees avenue, the presidential palace, Parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Health workers showed up to decry conditions in hospitals. Students pointed to recent student suicides and demanded government action. Environmentalists emphasized that climate justice and social justice are one and the same.
And young and old roundly condemned the new retirement plan, which they fear would take money out of their pockets and reduce the leisure period the French expect have come to expect in the last decades of their lives.
Skirmishes broke out between police firing tear gas and protesters throwing flares in the western city of Nantes, and thousands of red-vested union activists marched through cities from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Lille in the north.
Lacking public transportation, commuters used shared bikes or electric scooters despite near-freezing temperatures. Many people in the Paris region worked from home or took a day off to stay with their children, since 78% of teachers in the capital went on strike.
The big question is how long the walkout will last. Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said she expects the travel troubles to be just as bad on Friday, and unions said they will maintain the Paris subway strike at least through Monday.
Joseph Kakou, who works an overnight security shift in western Paris, walked an hour to get to his home on the eastern side of town.
"It doesn't please us to walk. It doesn't please us to have to strike," he said. "But we are obliged to, because we can't work until 90 years old."
The deeply unpopular Macron is expected to reveal the details of his plan next week. The government has promised not to touch the official retirement age — 62, though lower for certain physically demanding occupations — but the plan will encourage some people to work longer.
To Macron, the retirement reform is central to his plan to transform France so it can compete globally in the 21st century. The government argues France's 42 retirement systems need streamlining.
The drowning of at least 58 migrants in the Atlantic Ocean off Mauritania sent despair through tiny Gambia on Thursday while some demanded a crackdown on human traffickers after one of this year's deadliest disasters among young Africans trying to reach Europe.
At least 83 survivors swam through rough seas to shore after their boat capsized Wednesday. They had been trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands but diverted toward Mauritania as fuel and food ran low, the U.N. migration agency said.
The boat, which the U.N. said was carrying an estimated 150 migrants, including children, had tossed on the Atlantic Ocean for a week.
As the survivors, 10 of them children, recovered from shock, authorities continued to search for an unknown number of missing people. Mauritanian officials said 10 people were receiving "urgent" hospital treatment.
All were being cared for in accordance with "human solidarity, fraternity and African hospitality," Interior Minister Mohamed Salem ould Merzoug said, adding that Mauritania will investigate those responsible for "this drama" including possible trafficking networks.
A doctor from the U.N. migration agency was arriving in Nouakchott Thursday to support local medical efforts and the agency is providing first aid kits, blankets and other supplies, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Gambia's President Adama Barrow expressed "great sadness" as his government said most of the survivors were Gambian. Six of the 19 Senegalese passengers survived.
Tens of thousands of young people have set off from Gambia in recent years in hopes of reaching Europe, many fleeing former President Yahya Jammeh's oppressive rule that severely affected the country's economy. Since Jammeh fled into exile in January 2017 after a surprise election loss, European countries have been pushing to return asylum seekers.
But the exodus from the coastal West African nation continues. The collapse of British travel company Thomas Cook this year led to an emergency meeting by Gambia's government as some said the sudden drop in tourists could be devastating for the economy.
Survivors said the boat that capsized had left Gambia on Nov. 27.
Back home, there was outrage and despair.
"It is just sad. There is nothing we can do," said Pa Sallah, a shopkeeper outside the capital, Banjul. Sallah's son, Momodou Sallah, left Gambia two years ago for Europe but it is believed he took the "back way" through the Sahara Desert instead. That route carries the risk of being sold into slavery in Libya, the last stop before a Mediterranean crossing on which thousands have died.
Many of those departing from Gambia leave from the nearby community of Barra, where fishing boats now carry young migrants instead.
While thousands once died off Mauritania's coast in attempts to reach the Canary Islands between 2005 and 2010, that later calmed, the country's interior minister said. But in recent months authorities have detained boats that mostly carry hundreds of migrants from Senegal, Gambia's neighbor.
Gambia's National Youth Council chairman Lamin Darboe said it was high time to investigate the people who benefit from what he called a macabre business.
"Government must take deliberate measures to crack down on smugglers and traffickers profiting from these criminal operations," he said.
The latest deaths show that the problems pushing Gambians to migrate are still not fully addressed, he said, calling for more employment and other opportunities to "fully restore their hopes."
At least 28 people have died in landslides in Burundi and that toll could grow with many people missing, local authorities said Thursday, as East Africa continued to struggle with weeks of unusually heavy rains.
A local official in Mugina commune, Desire Ndagijimana told The Associated Press that the bodies had been counted in the hilly areas of Rukombe and Nyempundu communities in Cibitoke province in the northwest.
"Many other families, including husbands, wives and children, are still missing. We think they are under their houses' ruins," Ndagijimana said.
Burundi's security ministry in a Twitter post confirmed 26 people dead, with 10 missing and seven others injured.
The chief of Nyamakarabo zone in Mugina commune, Renovat Ndayisenga, said local authorities and the Red Cross continued to search the hills for any survivors.
Several countries in East Africa, including Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, have reported deadly flooding and landslides in recent weeks of heavy rains, with more in the forecast for the region.
Four people, including a UPS driver, were killed Thursday after robbers stole the driver's truck and led police on a chase that ended in gunfire at a busy Florida intersection during rush hour, the FBI said.
Both robbers were shot and killed, and the fourth victim was in a nearby vehicle when shots rang out at a crowded intersection in Miramar, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of where the incident began, FBI Special Agent in Charge George Piro said during a news conference Thursday night.
Television news helicopters showed first responders tending to at least one person who fell out of the UPS truck, moments after several shots were fired when the chase ended.
"It's very early in the investigative process," Piro said. "There are a lot of questions that are still unanswered."
In Coral Gables, where the incident began, police said a jewelry store worker was also injured but did not say if she had been shot. There was no immediate update on her condition.
It all started shortly after 4 p.m., when police in Coral Gables received a silent alarm at the Regent Jewelers store in the city's Miracle Mile area. Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak said during a news conference that two suspects were at the store and that shots were being fired when police, summoned by a silent alarm from inside the store, arrived.
The suspects fled in a truck, then carjacked the UPS delivery truck and its driver not long afterward to start the chase into the southern portion of Broward County, running red lights and narrowly avoiding some crashes along the way. The UPS truck finally stopped in one of the middle lanes of a busy roadway, caught behind a wall of other vehicles waiting for a red light to turn green. Television footage showed several officers on foot, some with guns drawn, approaching the truck from the rear and the driver's side once it stopped.
News helicopters were following the chase and at least one showed the conclusion live, with one person falling out of the vehicle's passenger side after several shots were fired. It was unclear if the shots were fired from inside the truck, from law enforcement who were moving in or some combination thereof. The fourth victim, in another car at the intersection, was "an innocent bystander," Piro said.
"This is what dangerous people do to get away," Hudak said. "And this is what people will do to avoid capture."
Piro was asked if there was a chance that either the driver or the bystander may have been hit by a bullet fired by police.
"It is very, very early on in the investigation and it would be completely inappropriate to discuss that," Piro said. "We have just began to process the crime scene. As you can imagine, this is going to be a very complicated crime scene."
During the robbery, a bullet hit a window at Coral Gables' City Hall, which was locked down, Hudak said. No one inside City Hall was believed to be injured, Hudak said.
Hudak said officers responded within 90 seconds, including one officer on foot who was involved in a nearby traffic stop. It was not immediately clear if anything from the jewelry store was taken, Hudak said.
Hours after the chase ended, medical gauze, wrappers and other debris remained strewn across the Miramar roadway's middle lane, next to the truck which still had its right rear door open. Traffic remained snarled, and it was not clear how long it would take investigators to clear the scene.
There are multiple crime scenes — the jewelry store, the site where the UPS truck was stolen, and the intersection where the incident ended, adding to the challenge investigators will face in piecing together the details.
UPS spokesman David Graves said the company would cooperate with authorities.
"We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence," Graves said in a statement. "We extend our condolences to the family and friends of our employee and the other innocent victims involved in this incident."