[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, OKLA., WIS., N.C., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Mar 30 11:51:30 EST 2006
TEXAS----female may face death sentence
Longview Woman Charged In Child's Death
A Longview woman is charged with killing a 2-year old girl. Police
arrested 31 year old Shondreta Thomas for allegedly hitting and shaking
the child at her home on Rockwood Lane. The girl was airlifted to
children's medical center in Dallas, where she died from her injuries.
Officers say Thomas initially claimed the child had fallen in the bathtub.
Thomas is being held in the Gregg County Jail. She could face the death
penalty if she is convicted.
(source: KLTV News)
With a life on the line, Ronnie Earle does the right thing
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle again is 2nd-guessing a
conviction obtained by his office. That might seem a curious posture for a
Texas prosecutor. On that front, however, Earle continues to demonstrate
that the job of a prosecutor is not simply to stack up convictions, but to
ensure that justice is done.
Prosecutors, particularly in Texas, have been reluctant to second-guess
their work. That is understandable in many cases. But too many district
attorneys resist efforts to do DNA testing for cases in which new evidence
or facts are uncovered.
It's a tedious task, but advanced technology and methods that weren't
available in past years have helped many defendants prove their innocence
and police identify the true criminals.
Last week, Earle ordered DNA tests in the case involving death row inmate
Louis Perez. Perez was convicted in 1999 of a heinous triple murder in
Austin that involved a mother, her roommate and a child. It was a
high-profile crime in an upscale neighborhood. Few would blame Earle had
he refused to oblige the Perez family's request to authorize DNA testing
using newer technology and techniques.
Perez, a former small-time drug dealer, was not a sympathetic defendant. A
jury sentenced Perez to death for strangling and beating Michelle
Fulwiler, strangling her 9-year-old daughter Staci Mitchell and beating
Cinda Barz to death with a skillet from the house they shared.
The testing was ordered after family members told Earle's prosecutors that
another man, convicted serial killer Angel Maturino Resndiz, might have
confessed while in prison to the Barton Hills crime. That raised alarms
among prosecutors who saw possible similarities between the Perez case and
two others that involved mistaken convictions. We applaud them for taking
steps to be certain that the right person is convicted for the crime.
Perez is facing the ultimate punishment - death - and that is reason
enough to be certain who did the crime.
Earle's office has done this before, and those efforts have strengthened
public confidence in the Travis County justice system.
Nearly 6 years ago, the office voluntarily reviewed about 560 convictions,
mostly involving murder and rape.
Prosecutors also looked at convictions that involved a single witness.
Just a handful of all of those cases required further examination and DNA
testing. So far, the review has not changed or reversed any convictions,
but the final results still are pending for a few cases.
Earle undertook the review because of the discovery that his office had
convicted three people who spent years in prison for crimes they didn't
commit. Carlos Lavernia, a Cuban immigrant, was wrongly convicted of a
1983 rape on the basis of a single witness. DNA tests later cleared him.
Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa both were doing life sentences for
the rape and murder of a mother who worked in a local Pizza Hut store.
Under pressure by police, Ochoa implicated himself and identified Danziger
as the shooter. DNA tests later cleared the 2 and identified the real
Lessons learned from those cases have stuck with Earle's prosecutors. That
is good for defendants, victims, the public and justice.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Hidden Evidence?----Rodney Reed seeks new trial
After a 2-day evidentiary hearing in Bastrop last week, the question of
whether Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed will get a second chance to
prove he is innocent of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites rests in the
hands of Bastrop Co. District Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett. Reed's attorneys
insist that exculpatory evidence unavailable to Reed during his 1998 trial
- evidence they say was hidden from the defense by former Bastrop District
Attorney Charles Penick and his prosecutorial team - casts serious doubt
on Reed's guilt and strongly supports the defense theory that another man,
Stites' former fianc and then Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell, Jr.,
was the real killer.
Reed was convicted in May 1998 of killing Stites, a 20-year-old Giddings
resident, as she drove to work for an early morning shift at the Bastrop
HEB on April 23, 1996. Stites was strangled with a belt and her body was
dumped just north of town; the red pickup truck she was driving - which
belonged to Fennell - was found in the Bastrop High School parking lot.
DNA evidence on Stites body led investigators to Reed, but no other
physical evidence connects Reed to the crime, and Reed accounts for his
DNA by insisting that he'd been having an affair with Stites. Reed's
supporters say Fennell, now a Georgetown police officer, is a far more
likely suspect - he apparently knew of Reed and Stites' relationship and
was not happy about it. Fennell was initially a suspect, but police never
properly searched the apartment he shared with Stites, nor his pickup
Reed's appeal attorneys, Morris Moon of the Texas Defender Service and
former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Morris Overstreet, contended that
his trial attorneys were ineffective at least in part because DA Penick
withheld exculpatory evidence, especially concerning Fennell. In October,
the Court of Criminal Appeals sent Reed's case back to the Bastrop court
to hear testimony related to the allegedly withheld information -
including testimony from Martha Barnett, who said she saw Stites and
Fennell in a convenience store parking lot around 5am the morning Stites
was murdered, and from Dallas police officer Mary Blackwell, who said she
had heard Fennell bragging during a police training class that he'd
strangle his girlfriend as punishment for any infidelity.
Barnett told the court she knew Stites from the HEB, as she worked in the
same shopping center, and that the morning Stites was killed, she saw
Stites and a man, apparently arguing, standing next to a red pickup in the
parking lot of a nearby convenience store. Weeks later, she recognized a
newspaper photo of Fennell. Her mother suggested she tell former Lee Co.
Attorney Steven Keng, and in January 1998, Barnett asked Keng to pass her
story on to DA Penick. Keng testified that Penick wasn't interested. "His
response was to laugh and to tell me he didn't need any more witnesses,"
Keng testified, "that he didn't want to hear it, and [he] turned on his
heel and walked off."
Blackwell, a sergeant with Dallas' North Lake Community College police,
told the court that in 1995, during a police academy class, she'd
overheard Fennell "talking to another cadet, and he said that if he ever
found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him that he'd strangle her,"
and would avoid leaving fingerprints by using a leather belt. In 1998,
after Blackwell heard that Stites was in fact strangled with a belt, she
told her story to private investigator John Vasquez, who was working on
Reed's defense. But Vasquez passed the information on to Assistant
District Attorney Forrest Sanderson, he testified, and not to the Reed
defense - assuming that because the state was required to share mitigating
and exculpatory evidence with Reed's lawyers, the information would make
it to them. But that information was apparently never relayed. (Sanderson
testified that Vasquez never gave him the information.)
Responding for the state, Assistant Attorneys General Lisa Tanner (who
helped Penick prosecute Reed in 1998) and Tina Dettmer attacked the
defense evidence. Tanner tried to undermine Barnett's photo identification
of Fennell and suggested Barnett might have been motivated to lie in order
to get back at Fennell, who'd arrested her in 1997 on a drunk driving
charge. She also countered Blackwell's story with the testimony of AG
investigator Missy Wolfe - over strenuous hearsay objections from
Overstreet - who testified that she'd talked to each member of the 1995
police training class, but none recalled Fennell boasting about how he'd
kill his girlfriend.
Now-retired DA Penick testified himself that Keng hadn't come to him with
information about Barnett until 2002. "I thought he was kind of jesting. I
didn't take him seriously," Penick said, although he agreed that he had
told Keng that "I had enough evidence to get Rodney Reed and that I didn't
need any more." Penick's timeline is curious, since by 2002 the Barnett
information was already public (including in the Chronicle), and Penick
could not explain to Overstreet why, if he'd gotten the information four
years after the trial, he would tell Keng he wasn't interested because he
already had enough evidence. "I didn't say 'to prosecute,'" Penick
replied, clarifying nothing. "I said I had 'enough evidence against Rodney
Reed already.'" Penick insisted he'd done nothing wrong and as for Keng,
he said, "He's telling a big lie."
Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett - whose father, former Judge Harold Towslee,
presided over Reed's original trial (a circumstance that Reed's supporters
say is a conflict of interest) - will now weigh the conflicting testimony
and decide, probably by early summer, whether to recommend to the Court of
Criminal Appeals that Reed receive a new trial.
(source: Austin Chronicle)
Conclusion to ambush case results in mixed feelings
One of South Texas' more grueling prosecutions ended Wednesday with a
compromise that brought only limited relief to those most burdened by the
1999 crime, an ambush of five law enforcement officers in Atascosa County.
7 years of twists and delays had drained the case of some intensity, but
it still evoked fury and despair as Kenneth Vodochodsky pleaded guilty to
charges that he helped gun down the officers when they responded to a 911
call placed by his roommate.
The case had changed significantly since 2004. Then, the state's highest
criminal court overturned Vodochodsky's death sentence. It said there
wasn't enough proof that he participated in the Oct. 12, 1999, slaughter
that claimed three officers and wounded 2 others.
In the end, the capital murder charges were gone. So was the death
penalty. In their place was a plea bargain that offered a measure of
justice to the victims' families. For the defendant, the surrender offered
hope for eventual freedom.
"Nobody wins here," Mary Alice Monse, the widow of slain sheriff's Deputy
Thomas Monse Jr., told the courtroom. "We all leave with no satisfaction."
The plea deal required Vodochodsky to plead guilty to two counts of murder
and 2 counts of attempted capital murder. In exchange, he received 30
years in prison, a penalty that left open the possibility of parole before
A day earlier, the 25-year-old inmate said his plea was a strategic
decision. He insists he played no role in the massacre, which ended when
his roommate, Jeremiah Engleton, killed himself as officers closed in.
"I shouldn't even be locked up," Vodochodsky said by telephone from jail,
"because I'm not the one who committed this crime."
None of that defiance was evident in court. There, Vodochodsky's plea
unfolded in a series of murmurs.
Each time he mumbled "guilt" came a whispered "yesss" and a pumped fist
from Diana Ellis, the sister of slain sheriff's Deputy Mark Stephenson.
After pronouncing sentence, state District Judge Stella Saxon wished
Vodochodsky good luck. Then she opened up the floor to the relatives of
the slain officers - Monse, Stephenson and Texas State Trooper Terry
Mary Alice Monse talked about what her husband's death meant to her young
children. How they struggled to remember his laugh. How they celebrated
Father's Day in a cemetery. And how one son had declared at age 12 that
their family was "damaged."
Next, Ellis seethed on the witness stand. She told Vodochodsky that he
would get his full punishment after death.
After 20 minutes, the whole thing was over.
Outside the courtroom, Ren Pea, the district attorney for the 81st
Judicial Region, which includes Atascosa and Karnes counties, said he
thought investigators had strengthened the case since it was overturned.
For instance, they had found a witness who would explain why no one saw
Vodochodsky's car at the crime scene - he was on a motorcycle. They also
had chipped away at the alibi that put him in another town less than an
hour after the 911 call summoned the officers.
Even so, Pea acknowledged - as did defense attorney Alan Futrell - that
neither side knew if it could convince a jury.
"We don't know how the evidence would play out during the trial. ... And
we thought this was a just resolution to this case," Pea said.
After the hearing, Vodochodsky's mother went to a car and rested her head
in her hands. Her husband and daughter lingered outside, hoping to see
Vodochodsky when guards took him back to jail.
The family described Vodochodsky as trapped in a cycle of prosecutions. If
convicted, he would have to appeal again. If acquitted, the family felt
certain, authorities would find another way to charge him.
A plea seemed the surest path to freedom. With credit for time served,
Vodochodsky would at least be eligible for release in about 8 years. But
when he would actually get out was anyone's guess.
Time will answer that question, but what's less certain to Vodochodsky's
family is whether the plea will be worth its price.
As he waited to catch a glimpse of his shackled son, Anthony Vodochodsky
Jr. said, "I don't think any of us will ever know if this was the right
thing to do."
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Death penalty to be sought in Owasso triple homicide
In Tulsa, prosecutors will seek the death penalty for at least 1 of 3 men
charged in a triple homicide in Owasso that left a couple and a
10-year-old girl dead.
Tulsa County prosecutors say they'll ask for the death penalty for
Clarence Goode junior and are considering asking for the death penalty for
Goode, Johnson and Ronald Thompson are charged with first-degree murder in
the deaths of Mitch Thompson, Tara Burchett-Thompson and her 10-year-old
daughter Kayla Burchett.
Authorities have said Ronald Thompson was a cousin of Mitch Thompson.
Prosecutors have not requested the death penalty for Ronald Thompson.
(source: KTEN news)
Limited legislative session may hinder death-penalty vote -- Dems accuse
GOP of kowtowing to party leadership
Although Wisconsin abolished capital punishment 150 years ago, the state
Assembly is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would give Wisconsin
citizens a chance to vote on re-enacting the death penalty.
This referendum is non-binding, meaning it serves as a way to gauge public
support and does not require the state to carry out the decision.
Earlier this month, the state Senate approved the resolution, also known
as Senate Joint Resolution 5, in a 20-to-13 vote. It will be sent to the
state Assembly for consideration; however, with limited days of
legislative floor debate left, some state representatives are worried
there will not be adequate time to debate the issue.
State Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, said legislative session days are
numbered, making it difficult for the Assembly to discuss new bills with
She projects this issue will garner contentious debate.
"This is going to really have everybody going wild in the Capitol,"
State Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, concurred with Berceau and said time
constraints will make the state Assemblys decision difficult.
State Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue, called for the resolution, saying he
believes the death penalty is "a just punishment" and would cut down on
"In the long run it will be less costly for all of us," Lasee said. "I
think some people just arent fixable."
Lasee said his decision to call for a vote on SJR5 was spurred by the
murder of Teresa Halbach last October. Berceau countered this and said she
hopes people will look at the "larger issue of whether or not the state
should be able to kill people," and not just the brutality of 1 murder.
Additionally, she said Republicans may just be using the death-penalty
resolution for political reasons.
"If the majority of Republicans support it, the reason will be that
somebody in leadership has convinced them that its a good campaign issue,"
Pam Oliver, a UW-Madison sociology professor, said re-enacting the death
penalty would ensure discrimination against impoverished people and
minorities. She said wealthier people are more likely to escape punishment
for committing crimes.
Berceau added that the death penalty is another example of politicians
generating political issues instead of focusing on what their constituents
"We rarely deal with what the people in Wisconsin want," Berceau said.
"People in Wisconsin didnt contact us and say, 'Oh please, please, please
do a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.'"
(source: The Daily Cardinal)
Witness says N.C. prosecutors he made up testimony in death case
A key witness in a 1996 murder trial that led to criminal charges against
2 former Union County prosecutors now says the men were present when he
was promised favors in exchange for testimony that would help convict his
In a story published Wednesday, Johnell Porter told The Charlotte Observer
he made up testimony against John Gregory Hoffman.
Hoffman was convicted of killing Marshville jewelry store owner Danny Cook
and sentenced to death. He spent 7 1/2 years on death row before Porter's
deals with prosecutors were revealed. Hoffman was given a new trial, now
scheduled to begin in October.
The North Carolina State Bar has alleged former prosecutors Ken Honeycutt
and Scott Brewer knew of Porter's deal, but did not tell the trial judge
or Hoffman's defense team. A January memo from the bar accused the men of
committing felony obstruction of justice and subornation of perjury, which
means pressing another person to lie under oath.
Union County's district attorney, Michael Parker, has said he is reviewing
the bar's findings and will decide whether to charge Brewer and Honeycutt.
Porter told The Observer he lied on the stand by testifying that Hoffman
confessed to the robbery of the jewelry store and slaying of Cook. Porter
told the paper he wanted to retaliate against his cousin because he
believed Hoffman had turned on him after the 2 were indicted by federal
prosecutors on charges of robbing a Huntersville bank.
Porter also claims Hoffman stole about $18,000 from him, though in court
he testified the amount was closer to $6,000.
"Jonathan Hoffman never told me nothing," Porter said Monday. "I
improvised the story because he had snitched on me and robbed me. The
opportunity came for me to get him back."
Prosecutors said after the trial that Porter's testimony was key to
convicting Hoffman of Cook's murder.
The state bar has said Honeycutt agreed to reward Porter for his testimony
with immunity from state and federal prosecution, money and a reduction in
his federal sentence.
Honeycutt and Brewer have said the only promise they made to Porter was to
put in a good word for him when he was sentenced for a bank robbery
charge. They have denied any wrongdoing, saying a federal prosecutor
arranged the other deals with Porter's lawyer and didn't tell them.
But Porter told The Observer that Honeycutt and Brewer discussed the deals
with him in jail, an assertion backed by Porter's former attorney in an
2 lawyers' groups have urged Parker, a former chief assistant when
Honeycutt was district attorney for Union County, to recuse himself from
the decision about whether to charge his former boss.
Honeycutt retired in 2004.
(source: Associated Press)
My death row romance is finished, reveals Richey
KENNY Richey, the Scot on death row in the United States, has ended his
long-distance engagement to the woman who spearheaded his fight for
The 41-year-old inmate, who is facing execution for the murder of a
2-year-old, revealed last night that he has split from Karen Torley, of
Cambuslang, and turned back to his American ex-wife, who divorced Richey
20 years ago and has a son by him.
In a series of frank telephone calls from Mansfield Correctional
Institution in Ohio, he admitted that he and Ms Torley - who became
engaged 8 years ago - have maintained a public faade for the past 12
months, but in private have drifted apart during that time as he courted
Wendy Richey from behind bars. "I never realised I loved Wendy as much as
I did - I thought I hated her with a passion, because for 20 years she
kept my son from me. But we started talking after my son came to visit me
last year and I thought: 'My God, I love this woman'," he explained.
"I still love Karen but I'm not in love with her. I wish her luck in life
and I wish her the best, but I can't keep going on the way I am. I'm just
being torn apart.
"I'm grateful for everything she's done and for her love, but things
kicked off with my ex-wife and I'm playing both sides. It needs to stop."
Ms Torley, a mother of 4, has campaigned for Richey's release for more
than a decade after she first learned about him through a television
documentary. Her letter-writing crusades, website and other publicity
efforts, drew support from scores of MPs and MSPs and helped to keep up
pressure on US authorities as his case bounced around the judicial system.
They first spoke in 1996 and became engaged 2 years later, when he
proposed believing that one day he would be freed and they could celebrate
with a wedding.
But Richey and Ms Torley have never touched; on death row, relationships
and intimacies are played out by letter, 15-minute telephone calls and the
occasional meeting on opposite sides of a glass partition.
Despite his fiance's public declaration 3 weeks ago that she was looking
forward to visiting him this summer and planned to give him "a hug and a
big sloppy kiss" after prison chiefs agreed that the screen could be
removed, Richey said that he wants her to "let go".
"Our relationship has been over for a while now. She keeps it up so as far
as anyone else is concerned the relationship is still on. She says she
doesn't want to look stupid and wants to maintain it," he said. "She
writes all that stuff on the website but I've not written anything in over
a year. To be honest, I have encouraged it slightly."
He said he had also received advice from Max Clifford, the publicist, who
has been hired by Ms Torley.
"I told Max about this. He told me to keep it to ourselves," he said. "But
family is very important. Being able to have the opportunity to interact
with Sean and Wendy is something I'm extremely happy about. I thank God we
have been given that opportunity, I'm just sorry things went sour with
"She invested 12 years of her life - she got books out of it, she's
talking about a movie, doing a play. I don't talk to Karen any more. Last
time I tried to call her was Monday but she wouldn't accept the charges."
Richey, originally from Edinburgh, was sentenced to death in 1987 after
being convicted of murdering a little girl, Cynthia Collins, by setting
fire to her mother's apartment in Columbus Grove, Ohio. He has always
denied any involvement.
His conviction and sentence were ruled unsafe and thrown out last year by
the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, but that decision was later
overturned by the US Supreme Court, crushing hopes of an imminent release.
A new appeals court review is pending, but Richey admits that at times he
"Who knows if I'm going to win or not any more?" he said yesterday.
"There's a good chance I'll be executed. The US Supreme Court wants me
dead. The judges blew everybody away with that decision."
Richey moved to the US to live with his American father in 1982 and
married Wendy after meeting her in Minnesota 2 years later, while serving
in the US Marines. They divorced in 1986, shortly before the fire that
landed Richey in prison.
Their son, Sean - named after Richey's favourite actor, Sean Connery - was
just 4 months old at the time and, until last year, had not seen his
father since. Now aged 20 and a father himself, he is currently on a drug
rehabilitation course to wean himself off marijuana, Richey said.
"It felt good to see my son again. It was fantastic, it's unbelievable how
like me he is. The biggest thing is his attitude, his character, the way
he thinks like me, same personality, same attitude," Richey said, joking:
"And he's the spitting image, though I don't know if that's a good thing."
He added: "I felt I owed it to him and my family to try again. Wendy and I
divorced in April 1986, but as I keep reminding her, I never signed the
divorce papers. Now we are getting along smashing. We are more mature, we
know what we want.
"Wendy realises the guy I used to be and I wasn't very pleasant. She
realises now that I've changed a great deal. I'm a more controlled person
- I still have a lot of hate and anger and rage in me but I control it.
I'm more ready to accept things - setbacks especially, God knows I've had
plenty of them."
The campaign to keep him from the electric chair has been funded largely
by Ms Torley from her own money.
But she warned earlier this month that the campaign was in danger of
collapse due to lack of funds and Richey acknowledged yesterday that he
believes it is "dead in the water", though his Boston-based lawyer, Ken
Parsigian, continues to handle his legal case.
"I don't think Karen will carry on, she'll drop the campaign now. I won't
be surprised if she wants to bad-mouth me but I don't want to lower myself
and go on the attack," he said.
Richey has given up smoking after a cancer scare a few weeks ago, when
tests showed that he had a swollen prostate, though he has now been given
the all-clear. For a while, he said, he feared that he may be suffering
from prostate cancer like his American father, James Richey, 68, who is
currently in remission.
Speaking from his home in Washington state, Mr Richey Snr said yesterday
that he keeps in regular touch with his former daughter-in-law, who lives
in Minnesota, works as a civil servant and has kept Richey's surname for
over two decades.
"To me, Kenny's relationship with Wendy and Sean is something very
special. Maybe he will find some happiness out of all this," he said.
"This has gone on for quite a long time and Kenny finally did tell Karen
about it and Karen suggested that we keep it under wraps because Kenny
would lose support. So we kept it under wraps. But I think it's gone on
long enough, it's about time that the relationship was made public.
"I'm proud of him, I'm very pleased about it, it shows me that he has
become a lot more mature in his outlook on things and shouldering
"Don't get me wrong, if this had never happened and Karen had remained his
fiance I would have been pleased about that as well. Karen is a
hard-working girl who deserves a lot of credit for getting Kenny's name in
public and for working so hard at it.
"She deserves that credit. She did it. But at the same time this family
has worked very hard towards his freedom as well. We'll still be here for
>From Edinburgh to dead man walking in Ohio
24 December, 1982: Kenny Richey, aged 18, leaves Edinburgh to live with
his father in Ohio. Two years later, he moves to Brainerd, Minnesota, and
April 1986: His marriage to Wendy ends in divorce.
30 June, 1986: Fire engulfs apartment of Hope Collins, Richey's former
girlfriend, killing her two-year-old daughter, Cynthia.
10 July, 1986: Richey is charged with arson and aggravated murder.
8 January, 1987: Richey is found guilty and sentenced to death. Years of
appeals ensue, during which 13 dates for his execution are set.
1995: Karen Torley launches campaign for Richey's release, 3 years after
seeing a documentary on his case. Her campaign draws support from the Pope
and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
5 November, 1996: Richey and Ms Torley speak for the 1st time when he
calls her from prison. He proposes two years later and she adopts his
March 2004: 150 MPs sign a Commons motion backing Richey's claim of
2 August, 2004: Lawyers for the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, file court
papers in the US expressing doubts over Richey's conviction.
25 January, 2005: Appeal court throws out conviction, ordering that Richey
be retried or released within 90 days. Richey celebrates with a telephone
call to his fiance, but prosecutors appeal the decision.
20 April, 2005: Richey meets his son, Sean, for the 1st time since his
divorce in 1986. Communications resume with former wife Wendy.
28 November, 2005: The US Supreme Court orders the appeal judges to
re-examine their decision.
(source: The Scotsman)
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