Philadelphia, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Lawyers for Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill will ask an appeals court Tuesday to overturn a 2008 drug and gun conviction that's kept the Philadelphia rapper on probation for a decade.
The city judge who oversees the case and sent him to prison in 2017 on a parole violation has a grudge against the performer, the lawyers said, and city prosecutors agree.
Prosecutors under District Attorney Larry Krasner have filed a motion supporting his bid to toss the conviction and be retried under a new judge.
Mill, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, has become a symbol for criminal justice reform after Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced him in 2017 to two to four years in prison for minor probation violations. He spent about four months in prison before a court ordered him released last year.
Defense lawyers hope to persuade the state Superior Court that Williams' conviction be thrown out based on alleged credibility issues with the now-retired police officer who was the key witness against him at the nonjury trial. The officer said the then-19-year-old Williams pointed a gun at him during the arrest outside his southwest Philadelphia home. Williams has denied pointing a gun at police.
Williams has frequently tangled with the judge over terms of his parole, especially over reporting requirements and travel rules that he says conflicts with his music career. Brinkley, after a 2015 hearing that included testimony from Williams' then-girlfriend, Nicki Minaj, said she "has done nothing but try to help the defendant."
Williams is a fixture at NBA games in Philadelphia and has the support of many high-profile celebrities and athletes. He appeared in last month's season finale of Saturday Night Live, performing beside DJ Khaled, John Legend, SZA and other artists in a tribute to slain rapper Nipsey Hussle.
New York, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Baz Luhrmann's Elvis Presley biopic has found its King.
After a competitive casting contest, 27-year-old actor Austin Butler has been cast as Presley. Ansel Elgort, Harry Styles and Miles Teller all reportedly tested for the role ultimately won by Butler, who last year appeared in the Denzel Washington Broadway revival of "The Iceman Cometh."
Luhrmann says in a statement that through "a journey of extensive screen testing and music and performance workshops, I knew unequivocally that I had found someone who could embody the spirit of one of the world's most iconic musical figures."
Production is to begin early next year on the Luhrmann-directed film. Tom Hanks co-stars as Presley's manager Colonel Tom Parker.
Butler also has a role in Quentin Tarantino's upcoming "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood."
Los Angeles, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — An Australian model was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles to community service and probation for slapping a flight attendant and going on an obscene tirade during a flight, with a federal judge saying he believed she was deeply remorseful and did not deserve fines or prison time.
U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney sentenced Adau Mornyang to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Prosecutors had sought a month in jail for Mornyang. But Carney said he believed she was truly sorry after she tearfully read a statement in court saying she is now receiving treatment for anxiety and depression brought on by childhood trauma, instead of self-medicating like she did at the time of the flight.
"I've learned to deal with my emotions and trauma in a proper way," Mornyang said as she stood crying with her arm around her lawyer, her usually long hair cropped to a short flattop.
The incident, she said, has "pushed me to have proper medical treatment."
She talked about the humiliation of hearing the recording of herself during the trial.
"I'll do what it takes to prove to the world that I am not that woman," Mornyang said, and asked the court for "forgiveness, kindness and mercy."
The 25-year-old, a native of South Sudan who migrated to Australia as a refugee at age 10, was convicted of felony interference with a flight crew and misdemeanor assault. She was acquitted of a third count of assaulting an air marshal.
Mornyang was nine hours into a Jan. 21 flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles and had apparently been drinking wine excessively when she began "yelling obscenities and racial slurs and flailing her arms," prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum.
Her fellow passengers complained to the crew. But she only lashed out more when flight attendants attempted to calm her, and she slapped one of them. Several air marshals had to come out from undercover to help deal with her, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said in court Monday that Mornyang's statement of remorse said little about the passengers and crew whose flight she made so difficult.
But Carney welcomed the statement, and he said before sentencing that "I do believe she's remorseful and that she's committed to getting treatment to make sure this never happens again."
Carney said he had often sentenced terrorists, murderers and drug dealers, and that "those people need to be in custody," but not people like Mornyang.
"The trial process was punishment in and of itself," Carney said.
He added that her financial circumstances made the fine that would usually come with this crime untenable.
Mornyang is also required to submit to drug tests and receive mental health counseling throughout her three-year term.
She appeared relieved as the hearing ended. She did not talk to reporters outside court.
"I want you to have a wonderful life," the judge said after handing down his sentence. "I hope I never see you again."
Kampala, Jul 15 (AP/UNB) — Bobi Wine, Uganda's pop star-turned-opposition leader, said on Monday he will challenge longtime President Yoweri Museveni in elections set for 2021.
"I will challenge President Museveni on behalf of the people," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
But Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, said he was concerned about his safety after surviving what he believes was an attempt on his life last August when his driver was shot dead in his car following an incident in which protesters threw stones at the president's motorcade.
"I live every day as it comes, not being sure of the next day," he said in an interview at his home just outside the capital, Kampala. "I am not blind to the fact that the regime wants me dead and wants me dead as soon as possible."
Wine, who is 37, said he is fearful because "there has never been a threat to this regime like the threat we pose to it today as a generation."
As the leader of a popular movement known as "People Power," Wine has captured the imagination of many who want to see the exit of Museveni, who has held power since 1986 and looks set to run for a new term.
Wine first came to prominence in 2017 when, as an independent candidate, he won election as a lawmaker representing a constituency near Kampala. He has since successfully campaigned for other opposition candidates, raising his profile as a national leader and attracting calls urging him to run for president.
But Wine faces multiple challenges, including limited opportunities to hold rallies or stage concerts ahead of elections. The police have violently foiled his most recent attempts to hold public events. He also faces treason charges stemming from his alleged role in the incident in which the president's convoy was attacked with stones. Prosecutors have since amended the charge sheet to include the alleged offence of annoying the president, in addition to a separate charge related to alleged disobedience of lawful orders. He denies all the charges.
Wine would be ineligible to run for president if he were to be convicted of any of those crimes.
"We know that the regime is going to try anything within their reach to block us from contesting," Wine said.
Havana, Jul 15 (AP/UNB) — Dianelys Alfonso has a bold presence — brightly colored tattoos, spandex bodysuits, Technicolor hair — and a clarion voice that won her the label "Goddess of Cuba" for her turns on songs ranging from ballads to reggaeton.
Now she's also the center of a new phenomenon in Cuba after publicly accusing another renowned musician, flutist and bandleader José Luis Cortés, of repeatedly assaulting and raping her during their yearslong relationship while she was a vocalist for NG La Banda, one of the best-known Cuban bands of the last three decades.
Since Alfonso's accusations against Cortés on an internet video program last month, many Cubans have declared their support for her online, calling her the pioneer of the #MeToo movement in a country where open discussion of violence against women is rare.
Cortés has not publicly responded to the allegations or to messages seeking comment left by The Associated Press on his band's social media accounts or with his promoters.
Within hours of speaking to video host Alex Otaola and alleging that she had been abused by Cortés, hundreds of Cubans on the island and in its diaspora in the United States, Latin America and Europe began posting messages of support for Alfonso with the hashtags #IBelieveYouGoddess, #MeTooInCuba and #YouAreNotAlone.
Alfonso also has received reams of abusive messages calling her a liar and accusing her of besmirching Cortés' reputation to win greater renown.
"I look at everything happening online and I'm really stunned," the 38-year-old singer told The Associated Press. "I can't really understand what's happening online. I'm just trying to keep getting professional psychological help to deal with everything that's come at me for having told the truth."
Online activism of any kind is relatively new to Cuba, which only began permitting mobile internet this year. Until recently, open discussion of domestic abuse also has been rare in a communist society where the government portrays itself as able to take care of every social problem and where there are only a handful of non-governmental women's rights groups.
The government last year organized a publicity campaign to raise consciousness of domestic violence, with posters and announcements in official media under the slogans "You Are More" and "Evolve," though that appeared to focus more on physical than sexual abuse.
Some 500 Cuban artists and intellectuals have signed an open letter of support for Alfonso that condemns violence against women on a Facebook page titled, "I Believe You."
Actress and producer Violeta Rodríguez, daughter of Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez, wrote on her Facebook page last month that she had been abused by a "famous and powerful" Cuban man but had remained silent for years. The post was later deleted, without explanation.
Alfonso was lead singer for NG La Banda from 2003 to 2009, and was involved romantically with Cortés for much of that time. She said Cortés repeatedly hit her, raped her and verbally abused her, in private and in public, during their relationship and after it ended. She said the abuse finally stopped after she left the group in the middle of an Italian tour in 2009 and did not return to Cuba until 2014.
Alfonso's lawyer, Deyni Terry, said Cortés sent the singer a threatening text message after she went public with the accusations. Alfonso reported the threat to police, Terry said, adding that she and her client were investigating whether they can bring charges of abuse and sexual assault against Cortés so many years after the alleged crimes took place.
"Many victims wait years to say what happened and that complicates judicial action, especially in Cuba where many laws are outdated," the lawyer said.
Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.
Terry said the online reaction to Alfonso's accusations appeared to be a sign of changing attitudes on the island.
"People are being more daring, speaking out, talking about taboo topics," she said. "They're taking risks and have more freedom to speak out."
A national poll conducted in 2016 and published this year showed that some 27% of 10,698 women who responded to a questionnaire reported being mistreated or abused by a man over the past 12 months but less than 4% sought help.
The availability of the internet in Cuba has allowed activists for various causes — from animal rights to LGBTQ freedoms — to better organize and advocate over the last seven months. The same may now be happening for women's rights, observers said.
"The internet allows us to have a greater diversity of debates and struggles and bring many problems to light," said Francisco Rodríguez, a gay-rights advocate and blogger.