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TAMPA, Fla. – Jurors at the trial of a Tampa military wife accused of killing her two teenagers will see many disturbing images and hear hours of troubling evidence.
They will also see several sides to Julie Schenecker, a former military linguist who prosecutors say fatally shot her 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
They will see a colonel’s wife and attentive suburban mom, cheering from the sidelines as her kids played soccer. They will also see a woman who bought a gun the weekend before the killings — and who complained in a letter that a three-day waiting period would “delay the massacre.” They will see the handcuffed inmate, escorted by officers, who walked rigidly into jail following her arrest, her face contorted and eyes empty.
Jurors will have to decide which side of Schenecker, 53, is closest to the truth: an upper middle-class soccer mom who killed her children after planning the shootings for at least several days, or a woman who struggled with profound mental illness for decades and didn’t know what she was doing. Her attorneys are planning an insanity defense.
Schenecker goes on trial this week, charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Jury selection was scheduled to start Monday.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, but if convicted, Schenecker could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. If Schenecker is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the judge could still order her committed to a mental hospital until it is determined she is no longer a danger to others or herself.
According to Tampa Police, Schenecker shot her 13-year-old son, Beau, twice in the head with a .38-caliber pistol in the family car “for talking back” as she drove him to soccer practice. The report said Schenecker then drove to their upscale home and shot her 16-year-old daughter, Calyx, in the face as the high school cross-country star studied on her computer.
After Schenecker sent her mother a disturbing email, officers went to the house and found her drenched in blood on her back porch. They then found the teens’ bodies, a scene that was so troubling that a stress team was called to counsel them.
Julie Schenecker was born in Muscatine, Iowa. There, she was an athlete and that continued in college, where she played volleyball for the University of Northern Iowa.
Schenecker eventually joined the Army, advancing to the rank of sergeant as a Russian linguist. While she was stationed in Munich, Germany, she met and married Parker Schenecker in the late 1980s. She left the service a few years later.
Col. Parker Schenecker was a career military officer and the family moved around. At the time of the killings, he was attached to U.S. Central Command in Tampa. He had been deployed to the Middle East a few weeks before the killings happened. He has since divorced his wife and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her.
One reason the prosecutors declined to pursue the death penalty was because they thought there was enough evidence to prove Schenecker is mentally ill, but not legally insane.
Under Florida law, the burden of proof will be on Schenecker’s lawyers to prove she is insane. They will have to show that she was so mentally ill that she could not appreciate that killing her children was wrong.
“They have kind of an uphill climb,” said Bob Dekle, a University of Florida law professor and retired prosecutor.
It will be especially difficult for Schenecker because she purchased a handgun five days before the shootings, then picked it up after the three-day waiting period and soon used it to kill.
But court documents show that Schenecker has a long history of mental illness. In the early 1990s, she was diagnosed with depression and treated with medication. From 1997 to 2001, she was medicated daily except for when she was pregnant and nursing, records show.
In 2001, she suffered a debilitating bout of depression and was hospitalized for nine months. Documents also show that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizo-affective disorder and severe depression.
A few months before the killings, Calyx called the police on her mother, saying she had hit her. Police closed the case as there were no marks on the girl. The family was in counseling about a month before the killings.
Dekle points out that “being mentally ill doesn’t prove someone is insane,” and the two terms are not interchangeable in court.
“Mental illness is a medical concept,” he said. “Insanity is a legal concept.”
April 23, 2014: Pro-Muslim Brotherhood students block a road with burning tires and chant slogans against the police and army outside the main campus of Cairo University, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Aly Hazzaa, El Shorouk)
MINYA, Egypt – A judge in Egypt on Monday sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country’s ousted Islamist president in the latest mass trial that included the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, defense lawyers said.
But in a surprise reversal, the same judge also reduced most of the death sentences handed to 529 defendants in a similar case in March, commuting the majority of them on Monday to life imprisonment.
The judge, Said Youssef, said he was referring his ruling on the 683 death sentences for violence and the killing of policemen to the Grand Mufti, the top Islamic official — a requirement under Egyptian law, but one that is considered a formality.
Both mass trials are linked to deadly riots that erupted in Minya and elsewhere in Egypt after security forces violently disbanded sit-ins held by Brotherhood supporters in Cairo last August.
Hundreds were killed as part of a sweeping campaign against supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi, ousted by the military last July. The removal of Morsi — a year after he was elected — came after millions demonstrated against his rule, demanding he step down for abuse of power.
Among those convicted and sentenced to death on Monday was Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s spiritual guide. If his sentence is confirmed, it would make him the most senior Brotherhood figure sentenced to death since one of the group’s leading ideologues, Sayed Qutb, was executed in 1966.
After Mufti’s decision, the same court will hold another session on June 21 to issue the final verdicts.
Monday’s ruling sparked an outcry among families of the defendants outside the court, with women fainting and relatives wailing and crying out “Why? This is unfair!”
“My three sons are inside,” said a woman who only gave her first name, Samiya, as she screamed in grief. “I have no one but God.”
Lawyer Ali Kamal, said the hearing lasted only eight minutes. Security forces surrounded the court building and blocked roads, preventing families and media from attending the proceedings.
“This is against the spirit of the law. The verdicts will be easily appealed,” Kamal told reporters.
A total of 148 defendants were present inside the court Monday, according to a judicial official in the case. It wasn’t immediately clear why the others were absent or if some of the suspects were tried in absentia.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media, told The Associated Press that if the “Grand Mufti upholds the death sentences for all or recommends reversing them, it won’t mean anything to the judge.”
“Only the judge has the right and the power to reverse his earlier decisions,” the official said.
In the surprise reversal on Monday, the judge commuted the death sentences for all but 37 defendants in the March trial of 529 Islamists. The remaining suspects were given life sentences.
The March ruling had brought heavy international criticism from the United Nations, United States and European Union.
At the time, Amnesty International called the death sentences “grotesque” and Egyptian rights groups were stunned at the swift verdicts, passed after only one hearing — and without defense presenting its case.
Egypt’s interim, military-backed government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist group, a claim it denies.
Some 16,000 people have been arrested since the military ousted Morsi last July, including most of the group’s top leaders. Large numbers of pro-Morsi protesters have also been rounded up and detained by police.
In a separate development, an Egyptian court on Monday banned the April 6 youth movement that helped engineer the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
That ruling was seen by activists as part of a government- orchestrated campaign to stifle opposition and dissent. It can be suspended by a higher tribunal.
A Cairo court ruled in a suit filed by a lawyer who demanded the banning of the youth group over allegations it “tarnished the image of the Egyptian state” and conspired against the country’s national interests.
Leaders of April 6 — Ahmed Maher and Mohammed Adel — have been jailed for violating a new protest law that requires that any demonstration must have a police permit.
The racist rant attributed to Clippers team owner Donald Sterling is expected to be a topic of much attention this week at Los Angeles City Hall.
Councilman Bernard Parks said Sunday he is drafting a City Council resolution that will demand an apology to Magic Johnson and “the entire Los Angeles community” and ask local newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, to stop running ads for Sterling “that display his commercial real estate empire and his alleged civic activities.”
“Sterling’s actions are inconsistent with the United States human rights laws, the long-standing positions of the L.A. City Council, the diversity of the community, the fan base of the Clippers and the very high percentage of minorities who worked for and are working for the NBA,” Parks said in a statement Sunday. “Sterling’s actions and statements have no place in today’s society.”
TMZ posted an audio recording Friday that it said captured Sterling, telling a woman identified as V. Stiviano that, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people.” In the recording, the people identified as Stiviano and Sterling argued over the woman posting a photo of herself on Instagram alongside Magic Johnson.
An attorney for V. Stiviano told the Los Angeles Times that the recording was authentic. Clippers President Andy Roeser said in a statement Saturday that the team did not know if the man recorded was Sterling, but that the comments didn’t reflect Sterling’s “views, beliefs or feelings.”
The recording has set off a firestorm.
At 1739 Public House in Los Feliz, bartender Curtis Swanson said Sterling had been known as a racist and slumlord for 35 years. He doubted anything substantial would come of the controversy because “he’s got more money than the people yelling at him.”
“I grew up in the Deep South and old money is always racist money,” Swanson, 38, said. “It’s no different here. It’s just people jumping on the bandwagon.”
As for the fans, “they don’t realize who they’re supporting. He’s a slumlord. Unfortunately, it’s his team. They won’t do a thing. They’ll fine him and have him miss some games.”
Swanson said that Sterling’s comments would not turn him against the Clippers, however. He doesn’t support a boycott and will continue to follow the team.
“I love Chris Paul,” he said. “I’ve never seen Sterling out on the court throwing an assist.”
Among the crowd packing Buffalo Wild Wings, a watering hole and restaurant with more than a dozen television screens at the Crenshaw Mall south of Los Angeles, actor David Lesley weighed his words carefully.
“I hate the very idea of this owner putting his young players in a position to choose between chasing their dreams on the court or standing up in defense of their own dignity — how dare he,” the 40-year-old Marina del Rey resident said. “How dare he make them wonder whether they should play their hearts out or sit out the game because this owner doesn’t want to associate publicly with African Americans or other minorities.”
“Wake up, Donald Sterling. Wake up,” Lesley said.
Cynthia Gibson echoed the sentiments of many others in the 64-table establishment, which had called in every available staffer in anticipation of record business for a playoff game.
“It’s as though a secret door has been thrown wide open,” she said, sipping a frosty glass of lemonade, “revealing things many people had been trying to hide but every black person knows as hard facts of life.”
Late Friday, TMZ posted an audio recording it said captures Sterling making racist statements in the course of an argument with a woman identified as V. Stiviano. The Times has not confirmed the authenticity of the tape.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associated with black people,” the man in the recording says, later adding: “I’m just saying, in your … Instagram, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.”
A second audio recording allegedly capturing Sterling making insensitive racial remarks was released Sunday, days after the first tape was made public.
Some sports fans are still trying to reconcile the billionaire who allegedly chastised his girlfriend for posting a picture along Lakers legend Magic Johnson with the owner who hired a black coach, Doc Rivers, to head his team.
“It’s just so out of place for this man, knowing his position,” said Stan Jackson, 58. “He’s right in the middle of a sport that’s predominantly black. It’s not like he’s the owner of a white-dominated hockey team where he can hide and not have to mingle with blacks. It just does not add up. He’s surrounding himself around people that he doesn’t really care for.”
Jackson described himself as a Lakers fan, but said he appreciates the sport of the basketball as a whole and fear that Sterling’s statements will affect the sport.
“It’s just bad for the NBA,” he said. ”I’m worried about how this will impact the league. And it’s just bad we have to keep revisiting this shameful sore of racism. We don’t need this during the playoffs.”
The controversy over Sterling prompted marital discord between Nick and Shannon Kearney in the sports bar at El Chollo, south of downtown.
They had biked there from their home in North Hollywood and had no plans to watch the game, which had just started and was visible on TV screens near their table.
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas—
Tornadoes ripped through the south-central United States on Sunday, killing at least 17 people in Arkansas and Oklahoma and wiping out entire neighborhoods, authorities said as rescue workers searched in darkness for survivors.
Winds ripped houses off their foundations and flipped cars on top of the rubble in the small town of Vilonia in central Arkansas’ Faulkner county, one of the worst-hit communities, television pictures showed.
Arkansas authorities said at least 10 people had died in Faulkner and six more across the state–the first reported fatalities of this year’s tornado season. Another person was killed in neighboring Oklahoma, said the sheriff’s department.
Searchers were continuing to dig through rubble in Vilonia and a spokesman for the County Sheriff’s office said there was a “mass casualty situation.”
“An entire neighborhood of 50 or so homes has been destroyed. Many homes are completely gone except the foundation … There is more devastation like this in other parts of Arkansas,” state congressman Tim Griffin told Reuters.
Cable television’s Weather Channel showed videotape of mangled, overturned cars, some with people still inside, lining miles of Interstate 40 near Mayflower, 22 miles northwest of state capital Little Rock.
Motorists searched crushed vehicles for victims while others stood dazed on the road. Authorities closed the route.
A tornado hit the east side of Mayflower at around 7.30 pm, killing at least one person, tearing up trees and bringing down power lines, making it difficult for the emergency services to find stricken areas in the dark, officials there said.
“It’s extremely hazardous here right now,” said Will Elder, an alderman in the city. “The power lines are down, roads are blocked, and they will have to proceed with caution.”
The Arkansas National Guard was deployed to help out in the state.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said on its website 10 deaths had been reported in Faulkner, five in Pulaski county and one in White county.
At least one other person was killed in a tornado in the small town of Quapaw, in the northeast corner of neighboring Oklahoma, according to Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Derek Derwin.
That twister was spotted in the town 200 miles northeast of Oklahoma City at about 5:45 p.m., according to the weather service.
Media and the National Weather Service reported that two people were killed.
Overnight tornado watches and warnings were announced in several parts of Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
ESPN.com news services
An audio recording purportedly of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend is being investigated by the NBA.
In the recording, the man believed to be Sterling questions his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, about her association with minorities. TMZ reports that Stiviano, who is black and Mexican, posted a picture of her with Magic Johnson on Instagram, a photo that has since been removed.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the man believed to be Sterling says. He continues, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”
NBA spokesman Mike Bass issued the following statement: “We are in the process of conducting a full investigation into the audio recording obtained by TMZ. The remarks heard on the recording are disturbing and offensive, but at this time we have no further information.”
The Clippers have opened their own investigation, team president Andy Roeser said in a statement.
“We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered,” he said. “We do know that the woman on the tape — who we believe released it to TMZ — is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’
“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.
“He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him — both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter.”
Johnson wrote in a series of tweets that he would not attend another Clippers game while Sterling owned the team.
TMZ reported this morning that Clippers owner Donald Sterling doesn’t want me or other African-Americans to come to Clippers games.
- Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 26, 2014
.@cjbycookie and I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner.
- Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 26, 2014
In a later tweet he added:
LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s comments about African Americans are a black eye for the NBA.
- Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 26, 2014
Reverend Jesse Jackson also weighed in on Sterling’s alleged comments.
“The first burden is upon the commissioner, Adam Silver, to act decisively because we don’t want this to drag on throughout the playoffs,” the noted civil rights activist said. “Donald Sterling should be banned immediately. The question is for how long. To do otherwise would subject his players to the indignity of working for a racist.
“And since Donald Sterling doesn’t want blacks to go to his games, blacks should not go to his games. And whites who view blacks as equals should not go to his games. Why should the players even play for him when he has stated that their relatives — their children, their parents, some of their wives — are not welcome at their games?”
The Clippers held a 45-minute team meeting Saturday morning regarding the audio.
Sterling was set to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in May.
The NAACP issued a statement about the remarks.
“If these allegations are proven true, we are extremely disappointed in Mr. Sterling,” Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP California State Conference, said in the release. “Recent remarks like these, and those of Cliven Bundy, remind us that racism is not a footnote of our past, but a reality of our present that we must confront head on.
“… As the investigation is in progress, we urge the LA Branch of the NAACP to withdraw Donald Sterling from the honoree list at its upcoming Gala. We also suggest that African Americans and Latinos should honor his request and not attend the games.”
Players around the league began reacting as news of the investigation spread.
“It’s a damn shame but a sad reality that we have people in the world who continue to further such ignorance,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. “I would not want to play for him.”
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, whose team is playing the Clippers in a first-round playoff series, said he was “disappointed in the comments made.”
It’s “unfortunate,” he continued. “I believe there’s no place in society for those feelings, and it’s just sad.”
When asked if he wished the owners would do something, Jackson said, “This is the real world. And I’ll go out on a limb and say that the statements that were made, there’s other people in this world that feel that way. So let’s not be naive.”
I’ve wavered back and forth if I would actually sit out, if our owner came out and said the things that he said. I would really have to sit down with my teammates, talk to my family, because at the end of the day, our family and our teammates are way more important than that. … But there’s no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There’s no room for him.
– LeBron James on alleged Donald Sterling comments
Heat star LeBron James summed up his thoughts on the situation: “No room for Donald Sterling in our league.”
“As commissioner of our league, you have to make a stand and you have to be very aggressive with it,” James said. “I don’t know what it’s going to be, but you just can’t have that in our league.”
How difficult would it be to play in playoffs with this hanging over your head?
“I don’t know. I’ve wavered back and forth if I would actually sit out, if our owner came out and said the things that he said,” James answered. “I would really have to sit down with my teammates, talk to my family, because at the end of the day, our family and our teammates are way more important than that. And basketball is huge, obviously the playoffs have been unbelievable, and I hate the fact that something like this has to come when the playoffs have been unbelievable. And the game of basketball continues to grow.
“But there’s no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There’s no room for him.”
Michael Jordan, the only NBA majority owner who is African American, had no comment at this time, his business manager said.
Former Clipper Baron Davis took to Twitter to express his thoughts about Sterling.
That’s the way it is…He is honest about what he believes in..Been going on for a long time, Hats off 2 the Team.. 4 playin above it all.
- Baron Davis (@Baron_Davis) April 26, 2014
Last month, CBS reported that Rochelle Sterling, Sterling’s wife, filed a lawsuit against Stiviano, alleging she had a sexual affair with her husband. The suit, which states Sterling and Stiviano began their relationship after meeting at the Super Bowl in 2010, asks for a return of all cash, land cars and other items that under California law are the community property of the Sterlings.
A spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Jacky Johnson, said the organization planned to a protest outside Tuesday night’s NBA playoff game in Los Angeles.
Sterling, a real estate mogul, bought the Clippers in 1981. He’s been the longest-tenured owner in the NBA since Lakers owner Jerry Buss died last year.
He has been frequently criticized for his frugal operation of the Clippers, although in recent years he has spent heavily to add stars such as Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, who led the team back to the playoffs in his first season as coach.
Paul, also the NBPA president, issued a statement.
“On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively,” it read. “We have asked [Sacramento] Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand his responsibilities with the NBPA, to determine our response and our next steps. As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and a drive to the Finals.”
Johnson, for his part, called the comments “reprehensible and unacceptable.” He is a former NBA All-Star guard and chairman of a search committee to find a new director for the union.
Sterling has been involved in several lawsuits over the years, including ones with discrimination accusations.
In November 2009, Sterling agreed to pay $2.73 million to settle allegations by the government that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics and blacks and to families with children. The Justice Department sued Sterling in August 2006 for allegations of housing discrimination in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.
In March 2011, Sterling won a lawsuit against former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor when a jury rejected the Hall of Famer’s claim of age discrimination and harassment. Baylor, who was 76 at the time, had sought about $2 million after claiming he was forced out of the job he’d held for 22 years. The team said Baylor left on his own and a jury awarded him nothing.
“Myself and other people of color were subjected to this mentality for over 20 years,” Baylor told ESPN. “I both witnessed and experienced it. What he said speaks for itself.”
Sterling is a courtside fixture at home games. He rarely visits the team’s locker room at Staples Center, although he made an appearance in December 2012 after the Clippers had won their 11th straight game, when he led an awkward locker room cheer.
Information from ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard, ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, Michael Wallace and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi and The Associated Press was used in this report.
RENO, Nev. — John E. Williams III has been a San Francisco 49ers fan since John Brodie was throwing touchdown passes at Candlestick Park in the 1970s. So he was excited about the prospects of scoring a ticket to make the trip to Seattle in January to watch the rivals battle in the NFC Championship Game.
But the Las Vegas man says in a $50 million lawsuit against the NFL that his hopes were dashed by the league and others he accuses of engaging in “economic discrimination” with an illegal ticket policy limiting credit-card sales to selected pro-Seattle markets. His lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas says it was part of an effort to keep 49ers fans away and further promote the Seattle Seahawks‘ boisterous home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field.
“They’re always boasting up there about their 12th player and everything else,” Williams told The Associated Press on Friday. “But by allowing the NFL to decide who can or cannot attend the games, you make it an unfair game. Seattle fixed it.”
Williams, who works as a promoter in the entertainment industry, said that because the NFL relies heavily on public subsidies and money from taxpayers to build stadiums it should not be allowed to deny ticket sales to individuals on the basis they are “not from an area determined by the team — or the NFL — to be fan of that team.”
“The practice of withholding the sale of tickets from the public at large and allowing only credit card holders limited to certain areas is a violation of the Federal Consumer Fraud Act and/or common law,” according to the lawsuit filed April 15.
In the case of January’s game, the Seahawks limited ticket sales only to credit cards with addresses in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
As a result, he said, he suffered “economic discrimination and violation of public accommodation solely” because his credit card was not issued in the restrictive states or Canada — “which is not even part of the United States.”
“This selected process is contrary to the spirit of the NFL and contrary to public accommodation,” said Williams, who is seeking $10 million in punitive damages on top of $40 million in real damages.
Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications, said the league has no comment on the lawsuit.
Officials for California-based Ticketmaster, which is now part of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., and the Seahawks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Williams said he had made up his mind that if San Francisco beat the Carolina Panthers in a semifinal game, he was going to buy tickets to the NFC title game in Seattle for himself, his roommate, a girlfriend who lives in Canada and her daughter.
San Francisco beat Carolina 23-10, then lost at Seattle 23-17.
“I live in Las Vegas, but I’m originally from San Francisco. I’ve seen John Brodie back in the day, and Joe Montana. I really wanted to go up there to see the Niners,” Williams said. “I think the tickets should be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, not based on who they want in the crowd.”
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
Footage of the captain and crew being hauled to safety from the sinking ferry Sewol was released on Monday as South Korean investigators expanded their inquiries into the rescue operation.
In the video clips released by the South Korean coastguard, the captain, wearing only a sweater and underpants, is shown leaping on to a rescue boat from the sinking ferry, which is tilting at about 45 degrees.
Others, who appear to be crew members, slide down from the bridge to the coastguard boat holding ropes. The video also shows about half a dozen people, apparently passengers, wearing lifejackets in the water near the stern of the ship.
According to Kim Kyung-il, a coastguard official, the ship’s crew members did not tell rescuers that they were crew and those on the first rescue boat to arrive said the situation was so urgent that they could not check.
Victims’ relatives have claimed that the government did not do enough to protect or rescue their loved ones and South Korea’s prime minister on Sunday resigned over the handling of the disaster, blaming “deep-rooted evils” in society. Most of the dead and missing were secondary school students on a school trip.
The senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don told reporters on Monday that documents and recordings were seized from a coastguard office in Mokpo, and the same would be done at an emergency call centre that received a call from a student on the ship reporting the sinking. The emergency service centre official connected a coastguard official with the student, who local media reports said was later found dead.
Prosecutors have questioned the captain, third mate and helmsman, who were on the bridge when the ship began listing, as well as another captain of the ferry who was on holiday on the day of the accident.
Ahn said that while all 15 crew members responsible for the ship’s navigation had been arrested, they have not been formally charged. The seven surviving crew members who have not been arrested held non-marine jobs, such as chef or steward.
The arrested crew members are accused of negligence and of failing to help passengers in need. Captain Lee Joon-seok initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and took half an hour to issue an evacuation order, by which time the ship was tilting too severely for many people to get out. Lee told reporters after his arrest that he withheld the evacuation order because rescuers had yet to arrive and he feared for passengers’ safety in the cold water.
The number of dead from the 16 April sinking is 188, with 114 people believed missing. Only 174 people survived, including 22 of the 29 crew members.
Divers on Monday renewed their search for more than 100 bodies still trapped after weekend recovery efforts were hindered by bad weather, strong currents and floating debris. Divers recovered only one body on Sunday.
Ko Myung-seok, an official with the emergency taskforce, said the government was planning to salvage the ferry once search efforts ended but that details would not be available until officials had talked to families of the victims.
The ferry was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo, according to an executive of the company that loaded it. That far exceeds what the captain claimed in paperwork – 150 cars and 657 tons of other cargo, according to the coastguard – and is more than three times what an inspector who examined the vessel during a redesign last year said it could safely carry.
Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said the cause of the sinking could be due to excessive veering, improper stowage of cargo, modifications made to the ship and tidal influence. He said investigators would determine the cause by consulting with experts and using simulations.