Court Digest

Man charged with killing, dismembering transgender teen

A Pennsylvania man accused of killing and dismembering a transgender teenager he met through a dating app has been charged with murder and related counts.

DaShawn Watkins, 29, of Sharon, was arraigned earlier this month and is being held without bail at the Mercer County Jail. He was represented at the hearing by the county public defender’s office, according to court documents, but that office declined to comment on the case Tuesday or whether it was still representing Watkins, noting it doesn’t discuss pending cases.

Watkins is charged in the death of Pauly Likens, 14, of Sharon, a transgender girl who was last seen June 22 and was reported missing three days later by relatives. That same day, police recovered dismembered human remains in and around the waters of Shenango River Lake, and more remains were found in the area over the next week.

The Mercer County Coroner’s Office determined Likens — who would have turned 15 on Saturday — died from sharp force trauma to the head before being dismembered. The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

Watkins was charged with murder, aggravated assault, evidence tampering and abuse of corpse. Prosecutors said they also plan to seek hate crime charges, but those have not yet been filed.

Watkins told police he had arranged a meeting on June 22 with someone he communicated with through the dating app Grindr. Surveillance footage, social media records and cellphone records found that Likens appeared to be on the phone and waiting to meet someone near the lake’s canoe launch area that evening, county prosecutors said.

Authorities said the footage also captured Watkins making several trips out of his apartment in the early morning hours of June 23, carrying multiple bags and driving to his apartment in a vehicle that was seen near the lake.

Likens’ relatives said the teen was a prankster who aspired to be a park ranger.

“I just want to say what a beautiful, loving person she was and that the hate has got to stop!!” Likens’ mother, Jen McClure, told Pennlive.

Judge rules protesters can’t march through GOP National Convention security zone

MADISON, Wis . (AP) — A federal judge ruled Monday that protesters can’t march through a security zone at the Republican National Convention, handing a defeat to liberals who had pushed to have closer access to where delegates will be gathering next week in Milwaukee.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024 filed a lawsuit last month against the city of Milwaukee, alleging that the city’s plans for protesters violated their free speech rights. They had asked the judge to order that the city design a protest parade route that is within sight and hearing of the Fiserv Forum where thousands of Republicans will be gathering starting Monday to nominate Donald Trump for president.

U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig said in his order that protesters have a right to march in protest of the RNC, “but the First Amendment does not allow them to protest or parade in any way they choose.”

Ludwig said that Milwaukee city officials and the U.S. Secret Service have worked to balance protesters’ right to express themselves and “legitimate security and other governmental interests.”

“The vast majority of the resulting security plan is a reasonable and valid time, place, and manner regulation on speech,” the judge said in denying the protesters’ request for closer access to the convention site.

The judge sided with the ACLU on one issue, ruling that the city and the Commissioner of Public Works Jerrel Kruschke could not approve speaker and demonstration applications on the basis of an applicant’s criminal history.
Ludwig said the city “overstepped their authority in reserving their ability to deny protest permits based on” a past criminal conviction.

Both sides have until Wednesday if they wish to pursue other legal options.

Omar Flores, chairman of the March on the RNC Coalition, declined to comment on the ruling before the group holds a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Protesters have complained that the city is keeping them too far away from the convention site, which is inside a security perimeter where credentials are required to gain access. Protesters have wanted to march inside that security zone. However, the security plan establishes a parade route about five blocks from the arena, with a stage for speakers within the route.

Army vet charged with attacking two homeless men in recent months

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A U.S. Army veteran charged with fatally shooting a homeless man has also been accused of attacking another homeless person with a knife in downtown Memphis, court documents show.

Karl P. Loucks, 41, was charged June 25 with aggravated assault after police said he cut a man twice with a knife, Shelby County court records showed.

The man told police Loucks entered a portable restroom where he sleeps every night and started grabbing at him before Loucks cut him behind the left ear and on the right thumb, causing the man to bleed, a police affidavit said. The man, who was taken to a hospital, said he did not know Loucks.

Loucks was charged May 31 with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Shaun Rhea, leading police to begin investigating whether there was evidence that Loucks had attacked other homeless people.

Blake Ballin, Loucks’ lawyer, has said he was looking into whether Loucks was acting in self-defense during two confrontations with Rhea. Ballin declined comment on the assault charge on Monday.

Loucks is being held without bond. He is scheduled to appear before a judge Tuesday.

Loucks attacked Rhea in the early morning hours in downtown Memphis, police said in a separate affidavit. A security guard at a nearby hotel said he saw Loucks use pepper spray against Rhea while Loucks was armed with a knife, police said.

Loucks went into his apartment but returned and shot at Rhea with a rifle, according to police, citing the security guard’s statement. Rhea, who was unarmed, died at a hospital, police said.

Loucks was a health care specialist in the Army from September 2007 to August 2013, said Bryce S. Dubee, an Army public affairs spokesman. Loucks served in Afghanistan from March 2009 to March 2010 and left the Army with the rank of private first class.

Loucks was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army because he was disabled due to post-traumatic stress disorder, Ballin said.

The security guard told police that there had been several incidents where Loucks had attacked homeless people, the police affidavit said. Investigators were looking into whether Loucks has targeted homeless people in the past, Memphis police have said.

New York
NYU settles lawsuit filed by 3 Jewish students

NEW YORK (AP) — New York University has settled a lawsuit filed last November by three Jewish students who said they had been subjected to “pervasive acts of hatred, discrimination, harassment, and intimidation” since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

NYU and the plaintiffs’ attorneys announced the settlement Tuesday. It includes undisclosed monetary terms and a commitment from NYU to update its antisemitism language in its Guidance and Expectations for Student Conduct.

NYU officials also said they would dedicate additional academic resources to Judaic studies and the study of antisemitism and strengthen the university’s existing relationship with Tel Aviv University.

“We are committed to continuing our vigorous efforts to confront discrimination, including antisemitism, and the settlement in this litigation is yet another step in this direction,” NYU President Linda G. Mills said.

In the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, the students said antisemitism had been a problem at NYU for years and had worsened the after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel sparked an intensive Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The plaintiffs said their complaints about antisemitic threats and intimidation had been “ignored, slow-walked, or met with gaslighting by NYU administrators.”

Marc Kasowitz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that NYU “is to be commended for taking a leading position among American universities in combating antisemitism on campus.” He added, “Other universities should promptly follow their lead.”

New York
Prosecutors anticipate November retrial for Weinstein

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors told a judge Tuesday they’re anticipating a November retrial for Harvey Weinstein as they intend to bring new sexual assault charges against the disgraced media mogul.

Assistant District Attorney Nicole Blumberg said prosecutors have not yet brought their findings to a grand jury and said she could not provide the court a timeline for when their investigation will be complete.

“The people are still investigating in a trauma-informed matter,” she said. “That is an ongoing process.”

But Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala, with his client sitting next to him in a wheelchair, suggested the investigation was simply a delay tactic from prosecutors, saying something similar happened ahead of the initial rape trial.

“Once again we have the individual and we’re looking for a crime,” he said. “We’ve got the ‘1-800-Get-Harvey’ hotline.”

Blumberg responded that the office is actively pursuing claims of rape that occurred in Manhattan within the statute of limitations.

She said some potential survivors that were not ready to step forward during Weinstein’s first New York trial may have indicated they are now willing to testify.

“There’s certainly no delay tactics on our part,” Blumberg said. “We’re proceeding in the most expeditious manner.”

She said the prosecution’s plan is to proceed to trial in the fall.

When asked by Judge Curtis Farber what month she anticipated, Blumberg responded: “November would be a realistic timeframe.”

Aidala said his client simply wants to get the trial going as soon as possible, noting he’s in his fifth year of incarceration.

“He’s suffering tremendously,” Aidala said, adding that Weinstein suffers from macular degeneration, “fluid in his lungs” and diabetes that is “through the roof” because of the poor diet behind bars.

“He’s basically getting no treatment for any of it,” Aidala said. “He’s not a young man. He’s a sick man.”

“These tactics from prosecutors are just delay, delay, delay,” he added.

Judge Farber set the next pre-trial hearing for July 19.

Weinstein, 72, has maintained that any sexual activity was consensual. He’s currently in custody at the city’s Rikers Island jail complex but has suffered from medical problems throughout his time behind bars.

In April, New York’s highest court threw out Weinstein’s rape conviction after determining the trial judge unfairly allowed testimony against him based on allegations from other women that were not part of the case.

The ruling reopened a painful chapter in America’s reckoning with sexual misconduct by powerful figures. The #MeToo era began in 2017 with a flood of allegations against Weinstein.

Weinstein, who had been serving a 23-year sentence in New York, was also convicted in Los Angeles in 2022 of another rape and is still sentenced to 16 years in prison in California. But in an appeal filed last month in California’s Second District Court of Appeal, Weinstein’s lawyers argued he did not get a fair trial in Los Angeles.