[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, ILL., MISS./GA., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Feb 17 21:13:09 UTC 2007
No death decision made yet----DA says he needs all evidence to plan course
in capital case
District Attorney Carlos Valdez said Friday he wouldn't be rushed into
making a decision on seeking the death penalty for a couple charged with
capital murder in the death of a 4-year-old boy because he hasn't seen all
Hannah and Larry Overton, who are charged with the Oct. 3 death of Andrew
Burd, pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday in 214th District Judge
Jose Longoria's courtroom. Capital murder charges are punishable by an
automatic life in prison sentence or the death penalty.
At the request of John Gilmore, Hannah Overton's attorney, Longoria on
Thursday ordered prosecutors to inform the defendants by 5 p.m. Friday
whether his office would seek the death penalty. But Valdez said Friday
that he couldn't comply with the deadline.
"We have to take our time in deciding these important matters," Valdez
said. "We're talking about life or death."
Longoria could not be reached for comment Friday.
Hannah Overton, 29, is accused of feeding Andrew a mixture of water and
Cajun seasoning as punishment on Oct. 2, according to arrest affidavits.
After drinking the mixture, the boy vomited and drifted in and out of
consciousness. Hannah and Larry Overton, 30, waited nearly 3 hours before
taking Andrew to a medical clinic, where he died the next day, affidavits
stated. The couple was in the process of adopting Andrew.
"I don't want to push them to make a decision, but they've had since
October to talk about it," Gilmore said. "I want them to make the right
Larry Overton's attorney, Lisa Harris, could not be reached for comment
Valdez said he could not give a specific date for when a decision would be
The couple faces trial March 26 in Longoria's courtroom. Hannah Overton
was released from custody in October on a $250,000 bond and Larry Overton
was released in October on a $150,000 bond.
(source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
Impact of cocaine thefts from DPS lab disputed----DA downplays breach, but
others say trust, integrity of evidence at risk
Jesus Hinojosa was a DPS technician. Also charged are Roberto Reynoso and
Tommy Norris. The arrest of a Department of Public Safety crime lab
employee on drug charges could jeopardize criminal cases and the public's
confidence in the criminal justice system, lawyers and a lawmaker said
Jesus Hinojosa Jr., 30, a technician at the Jersey Village facility since
2002, was arrested after a DPS investigation revealed he allegedly had
been selling cocaine smuggled out of the lab for several years. Some 26
kilos or about 57 pounds of cocaine are missing.
Hinojosa, who resigned from the agency Thursday, remains in the Harris
County Jail. Two other men also remain jailed on drug charges in the case.
DPS officials refused to comment on the incident, and referred calls to
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.
Rosenthal said Friday the breach shouldn't affect many Harris County
cases, because the county doesn't use the lab often, and most of the
missing cocaine was scheduled to be destroyed.
"He was looking for high-grade cocaine, so he would steal it after it had
been analyzed," Rosenthal said.
But state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the Senate's
Criminal Justice Committee, disagrees with Rosenthal's assessment.
"I beg to differ," Whitmire said. "I think it jeopardizes cases and the
public's confidence in the criminal justice system. They have said that
before, and it didn't prove to be correct. We have had individuals serve
time in prison, where the evidence was incorrect."
Earlier problems in the Houston Police Department's crime lab, and in the
Dallas Police Department's crime lab, affected the public's confidence in
the criminal justice system, Whitmire noted.
Problems have plagued several divisions of the HPD forensic crime lab for
years, including lax protocols, unqualified analysts and inadequate
facilities to test DNA, serology and other evidence. The Dallas case
involved its narcotics lab.
3 years ago, DNA testing was suspended at the DPS forensic lab in McAllen
for several months, after auditors cited problems with test instruments.
DPS found no mistakes
The shutdown led to a review of evidence processed by the lab in nearly
300 cases. But DPS officials did not inform most law enforcement officials
or any of the defendants or their attorneys about the probe. The agency
says the review turned up no mistakes.
Troy McKinney, a past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers
Association, says the current incident raises questions about the quality
of the evidence coming out of the agency's crime lab.
"It suggests that there is very little integrity in the evidence coming
out of that lab," McKinney said. "Whether it's because he handled it, or
that he was able to get away with it for so long without anybody knowing."
The revelation about thefts shows that, even in an accredited facility, a
crime laboratory is only as good as the people working there, McKinney
"Accreditation gives them a label, but until such time that the checks and
balances are in place to ensure integrity, accreditation is not going to
do it all by itself," McKinney said. "You can call a pig a horse, but that
doesn't make it a horse."
Montgomery County District Attorney Michael A. McDougal has a different
reaction to the case.
"Whether he was dealing in drugs doesn't question his ability to test
drugs," McDougal said of the lab worker. "Obviously he was using his job
to get more drugs. So he would have to do a good job so that nobody would
catch on to him."
Phil Jordan, former director of the El Paso Intelligence Center, the
world's largest counter-narcotics agency, said he is not surprised by the
"The temptation is there because of the high quality of the cocaine and
the money to be made," he said. "It is not costing the distributor
anything, so you're talking about a 100 percent profit for a product
that's in demand."
Whitmire said he was told about the crime lab investigation by DPS
officials who assured him "this was an isolated incident."
The DPS operates 13 crime labs around the state. In addition to Houston
and its headquarters lab in Austin, the agency also has facilities in
Abilene, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Garland, Laredo, Lubbock,
McAllen, Midland, Tyler and Waco.
Although the capabilities of each lab vary, the DPS performs forensic work
in drug identification, toxicology, photography, digital evidence,
questioned documents, trace evidence, serology, DNA, firearms, toolmark
and latent prints, according to its Web site. The DPS also maintains
databases for fingerprint identification, ballistics and DNA.
All DPS labs receive and examine drug evidence, reporting on more than
50,000 narcotics cases each year.
Lab commission not funded
In 2005, Gov. Rick Perry signed into law the creation of the nine-member
Texas Forensic Science Commission, to investigate potential problems in
crime labs across the state. State officials have not funded the new
"I intend to go back to Austin and start asking questions," about full
funding for the commission, Whitmire said.
A 2003 law required crime labs that test DNA to be accredited. That law
gave the DPS the responsibility for monitoring accreditation of Texas
Hinojosa remains in the Harris County jail in lieu of $1 million bail on
charges of intent to deliver more than 400 grams of cocaine. Court records
indicate he has no criminal record.
Also facing drug charges in connection with the case are Roberto Reynoso,
35, and Tommy Norris, 33, who were charged with possession of more than
400 grams of cocaine with intent to deliver the illegal substance,
officials said. Reynoso's bail was set at $750,000, and Norris' bail is
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Innocence Project to review DNA for 354 inmates
Top 2: Illinois and Texas lead the nation in DNA exonerations with 26
Next in line: New York follows with 21.
Nationally: There have been 194 exonerations.
[source: Innocence Project ]
In Dallas, the Innocence Project of Texas will receive unprecedented
access to review the cases of 354 inmates requesting DNA testing under a
plan unveiled by new Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.
The upcoming review is the 1st of its kind in Texas and "virtually
unprecedented" nationwide, said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence
Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning
Smaller-scale efforts have been undertaken in Virginia, Florida and North
Carolina, experts said, but this is believed to be the 1st time a
prosecutor has called for an outside examination of every request for
appeal based on DNA evidence.
Decision a no-brainer
Watkins, who has seen 2 men exonerated by DNA since taking office Jan. 1,
describes his decision as a no-brainer.
"We had to make this move," Watkins said Friday. "We're going to do things
right in Dallas County and right some wrongs that have been done in the
DNA evidence has exonerated 12 Dallas County men since 2001, which is more
than all but two states, according to the Innocence Project.
A 13th man, James Giles, is expected to be exonerated within the next few
weeks, Watkins said.
34 Dallas County inmates have received DNA testing since being convicted.
Eleven saw their guilt confirmed and 6 are still going through the testing
process. In 5 cases, the DNA testing was inconclusive, according to the
district attorney's office.
Lab keeps evidence longer
Dallas County has been the site of an inordinate number of exonerations in
part because the laboratory prosecutors use holds onto biological evidence
for up to 25 years, said Jeff Blackburn, director of the Innocence Project
Other labs across the state often destroy samples after convictions, he
Innocence Project lawyers and staffers will work with law students at
Texas Wesleyan, Texas Tech, North Texas, University of Texas at Arlington
and Southern Methodist to identify the most likely candidates for
No tax money will be used to pay for testing, Watkins said.
(source: Associated Press)
Illinois Supreme Court upholds serial killer's death sentence
Serial killer Andrew Urdiales is heading back to death row because of a
ruling Friday by the Illinois Supreme Court.
The court also allowed a lawsuit against the parent company of a refinery
where two workers died in a fire, and ruled the state Corrections
Department wrongly charged indigent prisoners a copayment for health care.
Urdiales has confessed to killing 8 women in Illinois and California
between 1988 and 1996 and is serving a life sentence. He was originally
condemned to die for 2 of those murders, before then-Gov. George Ryan
commuted his sentence because of flaws in the state's death penalty
Friday's ruling involves the death of the eighth woman, Cassandra Corum of
Indiana, who was shot and stabbed to death in 1996.
Urdiales appealed his death sentence in that case on the grounds that,
among other things, the trial judge was wrong to reject his plea of guilty
but mentally ill. Urdiales had not yet been convicted of Corum's death at
the time Ryan commuted his death sentence in the other cases.
The Supreme Court, however, found that the judge did nothing wrong when he
concluded that Urdiales was not mentally ill. The court noted that defense
witnesses didn't agree on what illness Urdiales supposedly suffered and
that his crime involved careful planning.
Despite Friday's ruling, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has ordered the Corrections
Department not to conduct any executions, continuing the moratorium begun
The Supreme Court also allowed a case to proceed against Clark USA, owner
of Clark Refining and Marketing. Clark Refining owned an oil refinery in
Blue Island where a fire broke out in 1995, killing 2 workers.
Ordinarily, the refinery's parent company could not be held responsible
for the actions of its subsidiary. But the families of the dead workers
argue that Clark USA ordered budget cuts that undermined the refinery's
safety and that some executives at the parent company were involved in
overseeing those budget cuts.
The families want to try to show in court that Clark USA should be held
liable for the deaths.
The Supreme Court agreed they should have that chance, holding that
sometimes a parent company can be responsible for a subsidiary's actions.
It ruled that the case can go forward.
Clark did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The court also held that the state Corrections Department has violated the
law by charging indigent inmates a $2 copayment for routine health care.
The Corrections Department began charging in 2002 under a law that says
indigent prisoners are exempt from paying. The department adopted the
policy that inmates without money would not be charged immediately, but
the fee would be kept on the books and charged if the inmates ever earned
anything for their prison accounts.
But the court ruled that exempt means exempt. Copayments can't be kept on
the books indefinitely and charged if a prisoner eventually gets money.
2 justices dissented. They say the department's policy was a reasonable
way to interpret the law.
On the Net:http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/recent_supreme.asp
(source: Daily Herald News)
The odd parallels between Emmett Till and Mary Phagan cases
When I was researching the story that now appears at Crimemagazine.com
about the Emmett Till murder, I was struck by the odd ways his case
parallels the killing of Mary Phagan.
For anyone unfamiliar with either or both cases, a brief summary of the
facts is in order.
Emmett Till, 14, was an African American from Chicago visiting relatives
in the Mississippi hamlet of Money in August, 1955 when he bragged to a
group of acquaintances that he had enjoyed romantic success with white
women. A boy challenged him to go into Bryant's Grocery & Meat market,
where pretty, white 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant was working, and get a date
Emmett went into the store where, Carolyn Bryant would later claim, he
made advances to her. Another teenager rushed inside and hustled Emmett
out the door. As Emmett exited, he let out a wolf whistle.
A few days later, Carolyn's husband, Roy Bryant, and her brother-in-law J.
W. Milam, went late at night to the house at which Emmett was staying.
They demanded him and drove off with him despite the desperate pleas of
Bryant and Milam beat, tortured, and shot the teenager, then sank his body
into the Tallahatchie River, where it surfaced on August 31, 1955.
Although the evidence against them was strong, Bryant and Milam claimed to
be innocent. An all-white jury acquitted them.
Protected by the constitutional provision against double jeopardy, Bryant
and Milam later told the story of the murder they committed and got away
with to journalist William Bradford Huie who published their account in
Look magazine as "The Shocking Story of An Approved Killing in
Mary Phagan, 13, was found brutally beaten to death in the basement of the
National Pencil Company factory in Atlanta in 1913. Her clothes were in
disarray, suggesting that the murderer had at least attempted a sexual
assault. She had been a worker who had been laid off but had returned to
collect wages owed her. The factory's supervisor, Leo Frank, soon came
under suspicion. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.
While awaiting execution, facts surfaced casting doubt on his guilt as
well as on the fairness of his trial. The governor of Georgia, John
Slaton, commuted Franks sentence to life imprisonment.
On August 18, 1915, a mob that called itself the Knights of Mary Phagan
stormed the prison where Frank was held and took him out. He was escorted
to a wooded area and hanged by the lynch mob.
What do Emmett Till and Mary Phagan have in common besides being teenagers
who were victims of high-profile crimes? The first, and perhaps most
significant parallel, is the way the deaths of these previously unknown
youngsters triggered an outpouring of grief on the part of major segments
of the public.
As I wrote in my Crimemagazine.com article, "About 10,000 people showed up
at the morgue [where Mary Phagan's body was interred] and over 1,000
attended her funeral. Those grieving over this stranger were nicknamed
'Mary's People' while she became known as 'the little factory girl.'"
Why did so many people mourn Mary Phagan? Her murder appeared emblematic
of the dangers awaiting young women as the South's economy transitioned
from a rural to an urban one. In a country setting, young women were
closely watched by both male and female relatives. Mother, fathers,
brothers, aunts, and uncles guarded teen girls and young adult women
against threats to chastity and for good reason. An out-of-wedlock
pregnancy could mean an abortion, illegal at the time, dangerous for the
female having it, and morally problematic even in the absence of the first
2 problems. It could also mean the birth of a child who would not have the
emotional and financial advantages of an official legal father and would
suffer the stigma of "illegitimacy." Such a birth would also disgrace the
mother and her family.
Mary Phagan lived during a period in which farming was becoming less and
less viable as a means to earn a living. Former farmers and their families
moved to cities where women and children, as well as men, often worked in
Factory work tended to be segregated by gender. Naturally enough, men
tended to perform heavy work and women lighter tasks.
Men often supervised women and girls, as Leo Frank did. This put members
of both genders in a situation of some moral hazard. Good, decent men had
to reject the temptation to sexually exploit women with the attendant
hazards of pregnancies that could be disastrous for the women, the
possible children, and to some extent for society as a whole. Similarly,
impoverished girls and women had to refrain from trying to gain an unfair
advantage over other workers by offering sexual favors to their male
The brutal, apparently sexually motivated killing of Mary Phagan
symbolized the fear that working-class and poor people had for their
daughters, sisters, and mothers as well as for their wives if they were
male and themselves if they were female.
Emmett Till's slaying occasioned an extraordinary grief among what was
then known as the "Negro" community. Again quoting from myself in
Crimemagazine.com, "Emmett's body was shipped to Chicago for burial. The
mutilated body was displayed under glass at the Roberts Temple Church of
God. As Mamie Till related in an interview shown in The Murder of Emmett
Till [a PBS film], she wanted to 'let the people see what I've seen . . .
everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till.' About 50,000
African-Americans massed into the church to look at the dead child. Many
burst into tears; some fainted. The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper,
and Jet, a national black magazine, ran photographs of Emmett's disfigured
Roy Wilkins declared, "It would seem that the state of Mississippi has
decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children." Journalist
Rose Jourdain said in The Murder of Emmett Till, "I think black peoples
reaction was so visceral. Everybody knew we were under attack and that
attack was symbolized by the attack on a 14-year-old boy."
In death, the horribly disfigured face of Emmett Till became the potential
face of every black man and boy, any of whom could be cruelly murdered for
making any kind of sexual overture to a white woman or even having their
actions misinterpreted as sexual overtures. The entire community saw the
danger racism posed to its men and even its male children.
The odd parallels between the killing of Mary Phagan and that of Emmett
Till do not stop at the outpouring of grief they occasioned.
Both crimes resulted in gross miscarriages of justice. Anti-Semitism and a
rush to judgment led to the lynching of Leo Frank whom most students of
the case, including this one, believe to have been innocent. Racism freed
Emmett Till's murderers.
What's more, both tragedies served as catalysts for political and social
organizations and movements. The founding of the Anti-Defamation League,
an organization dedicated to fighting bigotry against Jewish people, was
in part inspired by the Frank case. On the negative side, the Knights of
Mary Phagan helped launch a resurrection in Ku Klux Klan membership and
activity. It is important to emphasize that this fact should not tarnish
the memory of Mary Phagan, who was indeed an innocent victim, and that the
Phagan family has never condoned the beliefs or actions of the KKK.
The brutal slaying of Emmett Till and subsequent acquittal of his
murderers helped galvanize the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. Rosa
Parks said she was thinking of Emmett Till when she refused to give up her
bus seat to a white passenger, thus sparking the famous Montgomery bus
boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Finally, the cases resemble each other in the impact they continue to
exert. Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp made a documentary called "The Untold
Story of Emmett Louis Till" that was released in 2005. Information
Beauchamp gathered led the U.S. Justice Department to re-open the Till
case in 2004 with a view toward possibly prosecuting accomplices of Milam
and Bryant who are still living.
To this day, people l visit the Marietta City Cemetery where Mary Phagan
lies buried and leave gifts of toys and model angels on her grave.
Decades after their young lives were cruelly cut short, Emmett Till and
Mary Phagan are still remembered. They are still mourned.
Anyone interested in the articles I wrote about these cases can visit
Crimemagazine.com. My article dealing with Mary Phagan is entitled "The
Lynching of Leo Frank" and is at
http://www.crimemagazine.com/05/leofrank,0314-5.htm. My story called "Cold
Case: The Murder of Emmett Till" is at
(source: Denise Noe, MensNewsDaily)
The state can't execute
Florida pays an executioner $150. On the street, that amount wouldn't buy
a very professional killing. It's no different when the state pays.
Testifying a week ago in Tampa before a special panel, the executioner who
botched the Dec. 13 lethal injection of Angel Nieves Diaz said, "I have no
medical training or qualifications." That would explain why needles that
were supposed to go into Diaz's veins instead went into his soft tissue.
The poison thus took far longer to be absorbed. The death that was
supposed to take about 15 minutes took twice that time. There were
chemical burns on both of Diaz's arms.
This is where people might ask, How long did it take for the topless-bar
manager Diaz murdered in 1979 to die? The question is understandable but
irrelevant. Like the other 37 states that allow capital punishment,
Florida can't subject any condemned inmate - no matter how heinous the
crime - to cruel and unusual punishment. Anything less than a quick,
clinical death violates that constitutional standard.
After the Diaz execution, Gov. Bush convened this panel to examine
Florida's method of lethal injection. Florida is not alone. Ten other
states are reviewing their lethal injection procedures because of
problems. This panel could recommend changes to the Legislature before the
March session. For now, all executions are on hold.
Florida already had to start offering lethal injection after a botched
electrocution in 1997. Using physicians might improve the lethal injection
system, but doctors' groups don't want their members participating. The
ideal - but politically unattractive, to some legislators - way out would
be to end capital punishment. After all, there are 374 inmates on death
row, and no one in Tallahassee seriously believes that all of them - or
even most of them - will be executed. Also, in the 13 years since Florida
has had a guaranteed sentence of life without parole, juries have been
less likely to recommend a death sentence.
The panel meets again Monday, trying to determine if a man who can't
testify felt pain. Maybe the members can keep a straight face.
(source: Editorial, Palm Beach Post)
Florida death work
Presuming to sanitize the grotesque, dehumanizing work of the executioner
is a politically driven exercise in futility.
Was Angel Diaz's grotesque execution, simply, good enough for government
The official fantasy that lethal injection is a clean, painless, "human"
method by which the state may end life was certainly exploded in December,
when Diaz hung on for more than 20 minutes, gasping like a fish, and
ultimately requiring a second dose of lethal chemicals, before he was
finally "put down."
In the political "post-mortum" that has unfolded since former Gov. Jeb
Bush suspended executions and appointed a special commission to find out
what went wrong, it has been learned that the official state executioner
was badly trained, and that the official state "medical professional" did
not even remain in the chamber for the duration of the death work. The
needles injected into Diaz went right through his veins and deposited a
foot-long chemical "blister" in the tissue of his arms.
"They did exactly the wrong thing," Columbia University anesthesiologist
Mark Heath said this week of the manner in which the three-drug "cocktail"
was administered to Diaz. Apparently, even veterinarians won't use the
state's "humane" process to put down animals.
We're not sure what's more astonishing about this past week's commission
proceedings: That the state carries out its most somber duty - the taking
of human life - in such haphazard and sloppy fashion? Or that this
fact-finding exercise is intended to arrive at a new, improved and
sanitized death ritual.
What will the commission recommend: That the official executioner be
better trained? That the official medical professional stay in the death
chamber until the "patient's" heart stops beating? That veterinarians be
enlisted to ensure a proper putting down?
The absurdity of these proceedings would be laughable if the consequences
were not so deadly serious. A central dilemma facing the state is that the
official executioner really ought to be the medical professional. But a
true medical professional, bound by the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm,"
would not perform a procedure intended, after all, to harm, not to cure.
There is no "humane" way to kill. Execution, whether delivered by
electricity, chemical or the rope, is a debasing act that dehumanizes the
state and, by extension, all of its citizens. The notion that, somehow, a
flawless, painless, "humane" procedure will lessen the debasement is as
grotesque as the clumsy performance that unfolded in Angel Diaz's death
(source: Editorial, Gainesville Sun)
Judge vows to stay on key cases----A longtime Polk jurist says a
prosecutor's bid for her to withdraw is 'legally insufficient.'
A circuit judge who told relatives of quadruple murder victims she would
jail them if they showed emotion during the trial denied the state's
motion requesting she remove herself from more than 2 dozen 1st-degree
murder cases in 3 counties.
Tenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Susan W. Roberts, assigned to all
1st-degree murder cases in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, said in
her order filed Friday that the state's motion to recuse her "is legally
Roberts did not return calls seeking comment Friday. She has been a
circuit judge since 1984.
In its motion Thursday, the State Attorney's Office said it fears the
state will not receive a fair hearing before Roberts in 1st-degree murder
" . . . The Court has a predisposition to avoid the possibility of
potential appellate issues which renders her incapable or unwilling to
look at legal issues with a fair and unbiased eye and therefore base her
rulings on the law," the state's motion said.
The state cited several examples of what it considers Roberts'
inappropriate handling of trials.
One was the case of Nelson Ivan Serrano, convicted of killing four in
October. Court transcripts show Roberts told the victims' family: "If I
see you making any noise or doing anything to indicate that you approve of
the verdict or disapprove of the verdict, I can put you in jail for
contempt of court and believe me that I will."
The state's motion said: "This type of behavior is prejudicial to the
State, totally unwarranted, rude and disrespectful to the families of the
victims of a quadruple murder."
In another case, Roberts indicated she thought the death penalty would be
inappropriate because of the defendant's age and it "might be a waste of
the State's resources."
The State Attorney's Office said Roberts showed "preoccupation with
appellate review," when she told counsel at a pretrial hearing that "I
don't want to get reversed."
Administrative Assistant State Attorney Chip Thullbery said the state
referred the matter to the Attorney General's Office, which will appeal
Roberts' order with the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Defense attorney David Carmichael, representing two people on first-degree
murder cases in the disqualification motion, said the state's motion is
"Typically, they need to cite very specific facts on a case-by-case
basis," Carmichael said. Carmichael said he doesn't see any basis for
removing Roberts from his clients' cases.
"I have never seen the state move along those lines," he said. "It
certainly smacks of sour grapes on their part to a certain degree."
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
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