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Christian group wrote legislation eerily similar to Ohio religious liberty bill

3 hours 47 min ago

Critics suspect hand of Project Blitz in draft passed by Ohio house which they fear could let students’ religious beliefs trump scienceThe draft law says a teacher ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work’ – language strikingly similar to Project Blitz’s model legislation. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPAAn Ohio state bill which could allow students’ religious beliefs to trump science-based facts is almost identical to model legislation backed by an evangelical, anti-gay Christian group.The Student Religious Liberties Act, which passed the Ohio house last week, instructs schools to neither “penalize or reward” students on the basis of their religious speech. It also stipulates schools must provide opportunities for religious expression “in the same manner and to the same extent” as secular speech. Critics argue the bill would provide protect students from bad grades based on religion.The bill’s backers deny it is connected to the group, called Project Blitz but the bill has nearly identical language to the model legislation backed by Project Blitz in their 2018-2019 “playbook”.While student religious liberties bills existed before Project Blitz, its inclusion in a playbook by groups whose goal is to inject religion into law shows the priority they place on the matter. By contrast, many mainstream civil rights groups have lined up against the bill.Project Blitz model legislation says: “A student may not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of his or her work.” The Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act says teachers “shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.”“This bill is under the guise of religious freedom for students, but it’s really designed to encourage students to pray and proselytize in public schools,” said Maggie Garrett, the vice-president of policy for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “It adds more confusion than clarity, and of course current law already protects the rights of students,” she said.The law’s predicted effects have divided critics and supporters. Opponents have said the bill will cause controversy-averse teachers and school administrators to hedge against correcting students who might cite religious beliefs in classwork.Backers argue school officials are intimidated by “well funded groups” who are “biased against Ohio students’ religious freedom”. The most likely impact, groups such as the Anti-Defamation League said, is potential lawsuits against school districts.Student religious liberty bills have spread across the US south and midwest for more than a decade with roots in a 1995 set of guidelines from the Clinton administration, according to a University of California, Davis law review article.In 2007, Texas reincarnated the guidelines in a form which “intentionally lacks” some of the caveats the Clinton administration included, such as a prohibition on having a “captive audience” in school, the article said.“This bill has been around since before the Project Blitz campaign, but the bill is part of the Project Blitz playbook,” said Garrett, the vice-president for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “We will be seeing more of these bills in the future, because we’re certainly seeing an increase in other Project Blitz bills.”In another example of their similarities, Project Blitz’s model legislation reads, “A student may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and other religious gatherings before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that a student is permitted to organize secular activities and groups.”Ohio’s bill said students could attend “religious gatherings, including but not limited to prayer groups, religious clubs, ‘see you at the pole’ gatherings, or other religious gatherings” and “may engage in religious expression before, during, and after school hours in the same manner and to the same extent that a student is permitted to engage in secular activities or expression before, during, and after school hours.”Even though backers deny the bill has been designed to promote Christian values, others disagree. “It is negligent and reckless of our colleagues to push an agenda this way and act as if it is not based on this one religious tenet,” said Emilia Strong Sykes, the Democratic Ohio house minority leader and a Christian. “It is anti-American,” she said.Long-term Republican control of Ohio state politics through gerrymandering – a process of drawing district lines to benefit one party – has turned Ohio into a proving ground for conservative legislation. Including 2019, Republicans have held all three levers of Ohio state government for 21 of the last 27 years, according to Ballotpedia.Ohio was the first of several states to pass a six-week ban on abortion last summer. The same legislators introduced a bill to ban abortion outright last week, including new criminal penalties for “abortion murder”. Courts stopped Ohio’s six-week ban from going into effect. Abortion is legal in all 50 US states.“My personal feeling, quite frankly, is this is disgraceful,” said Paul Beck, an Ohio State University political science professor and an expert on gerrymandering, about the Student Religious Liberties Act. “One of the products of gerrymandering and Republican domination we have in the Ohio general assembly is these are not necessarily reasonable people making our laws,” he said.“Here you have legislation that is not only not needed, but will – at minimum – cause confusion,” said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. The ACLU often sues on behalf of those who suffer religious discrimination, and opposes the bill.Project Blitz is organized by the Congressional Prayer Caucus, the National Legal Foundation and the WallBuilders ProFamily Legislators Conference. Other Blitz proposals include proclamations to establish, “Christian heritage week” and a “public policy resolution favoring sexual intercourse only between a married man and woman”.The privately run Congressional Prayer Caucus works to “preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promote prayer”, according to its website. WallBuilders is led by a widely criticized revisionist historian who claims the US was founded on Christian ideals. The not-for-profit National Legal Foundation aims to “create and implement” public policy “to support and facilitate God’s purpose for [America] … in such a way as to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ”.The Guardian contacted the Congressional Prayer Caucus, WallBuilders and the National Legal Foundation for comment. None responded.Representative Timothy Ginter, the bill’s sponsor and a pastor, said he had “no knowledge” of Project Blitz. He declined further requests for an interview.The Guardian contacted 11 co-sponsors of the legislation. None responded. The Guardian also contacted the legislator who originally introduced the legislation in 2016, former representative Bill Hayes. He did not respond to a request for comment.In a statement, Ginter argued the bill is necessary, “Because of increased pressure on our schools from groups who are biased against Ohio students’ religious freedoms, many school officials are confused, and frankly intimidated by the threat of litigation from these well-funded groups.” He also denied the bill is meant to promote Christianity. “Nowhere in the language of the bill is a specific religion mentioned,” Ginter said.The Republican-backed Ohio house passed the bill last week with a party-line vote. Only two Democrats voted in favor. The bill must be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate and the Republican governor, Mike DeWine, to become law. He did not respond to a Guardian request for comment.

Putin hands awards to widows of men killed in mysterious military test

4 hours 4 min ago

Russian President Vladimir Putin has handed top state awards to the widows of five scientists killed in an accident while testing what he called an advanced weapons system without equal in the world. The five men died on Aug. 8 in what their employer, state nuclear agency Rosatom, said was an accident during a rocket test on a sea platform off northern Russia, an incident which caused radiation levels in the surrounding area to briefly spike. Thomas DiNanno, a senior U.S. State Department official, said last month that Washington had determined that the explosion was the result of a nuclear reaction which occurred during the recovery of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile after a failed test.

A New Zealand man has been convicted of the harrowing murder of backpacker Grace Millane on their Tinder date, but it's still illegal to report his name

4 hours 19 min ago

A 27-year-old man was found guilty of murdering Millane in December 2018. A court order to suppress his name has been in place since last year.

Bailed Ghosn speaks to wife after Japan court permission

5 hours 46 min ago

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn spoke to his wife for the first time in eight months on Friday, his spokesman said, after a Tokyo court lifted a ban on contact between the pair. Ghosn is on bail in Tokyo as he awaits trial on four charges of financial misconduct related to his time as chairman of the Japanese car giant he is widely credited with saving from the brink of bankruptcy. Ghosn spoke to his wife Carole, now in New York, for an hour shortly after noon via videoconference, the spokesman for the family told AFP without clarifying details of their conversation.

Israel braces for bitter fight after Netanyahu indictment

6 hours 31 min ago

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment is expected to sharpen the battle lines in Israel’s already deadlocked political system and could test the loyalty of his right-wing allies, Israeli commentators said Friday. The serious corruption charges announced Thursday appear to have dashed already slim hopes for a unity government following September’s elections, paving the way for an unprecedented repeat vote in March, which will be the third in less than a year.

Pope’s cousin takes star turn in Thailand as papal whisperer

7 hours 24 min ago

She made him wait for her while she chatted with Thailand’s king and queen. Sister Ana Rosa Sivori has taken something of a star turn during her second cousin’s visit to Thailand, assuming an unprecedented role for a woman as papal whisperer and translator, who doesn’t seem fazed that her charge is Pope Francis. Not so Sivori, who treats Francis with the respect owed a pope but nevertheless displays the confidence and chutzpah of a no-nonsense nun who has spent more than a half-century ministering to Thailand’s faithful.

Electric Tesla Cybertruck Unveiled With Edgy, Futuristic Design

8 hours 33 min ago

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been teasing an electric pickup truck for so long that an entire genre of fan-inspired images developed on the Internet predicting what it might look like.  On Thursday ni...

JFK files: CIA spy in Cuba ‘befriended’ Castro, Che; played key role amid nuclear-war fears

9 hours 20 min ago

Fifty-six years after John F. Kennedy's murder, unsealed government files detail dangerous intrigues about Cuba. This CIA spy was deeply involved.

Saudi Arabia’s Oil Heartland Is Calm. That’s Bad News for Iran

10 hours 15 min ago

(Bloomberg) -- At a cultural gathering in the region of Qatif in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich east, a poet recited some of his work before taking questions. The audience of 80 or so people was engaged and smiling, while a man quietly served coffee and tea in espresso-sized paper cups.The scene of relaxed conviviality on a Monday evening in November might have been anywhere, save for the white thobes worn by the men, the women in mainly black abaya cloaks and the smell of cardamom in the coffee. But the event stood out for where and when it was, rather than what it was.Qatif is an area inhabited mainly by Shiites, who make up roughly 15 percent of the Saudi population and whose branch of Islam is most identified with Iran. The poet was a Sunni, the sect that dominates the kingdom.  The organizers said they had hosted Sunnis before, yet the atmosphere during a tense period for Saudi-Iranian relations showed how much Saudi Arabia has changed over the past three years. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the leader and heir, is trying to fashion a kingdom underpinned by national identity rather than the traditional Wahhabi religious conservatism that defined society for generations. He has sought to crush any dissent against that new narrative.Read More: Where Have All the Wahhabis Gone?As a proxy war rages with Iran, there’s been none of the usual tightening of security around Shiite areas in Eastern Province. Also absent are the verbal attacks by radical Sunni clerics that accompanied previous episodes of tension with Iran.Saudi Shiites interviewed on two days in Qatif, less than an hour’s drive from oil giant Aramco’s headquarters, said anti-Shiite language in religious classes in their area has been toned down, more effort is being made to include a few Shiites in scholarship and training programs and more jobs are open for them.A science teacher who now lives in the adjacent city of Al Khobar said Shiites would pay the price every time there was conflict with Iran. One woman said the difference now is they no longer felt like “the scapegoat.”  These people declined to be identified by name, something that’s common among Saudis of all backgrounds when talking about the new era.There was only one checkpoint outside the city and no sign of security personnel. In the past, there were at least four, manned by the Saudi military, on the way from the city of Dammam to Qatif.“One of the biggest problems for the Saudis has been that the Iranians have made inroads into the Sunni Arab world, and significant ones,” said Kamran Bukhari, founding director of the Center for Global Policy in Washington. “It’s a strategic move by Mohammed bin Salman to say if we alienate our Shiites, then they will go running into the arms of Iran.”Saudi Arabia has led an offensive against Yemeni guerrillas that it says are backed by Iran. The two regional rivals funded forces on either side of the Syrian civil war. Riyadh hasn’t extended the usual financial aid to Lebanon because of concern money would flow to the Iranian-backed militants of Hezbollah.During the 2011 Arab Spring, Saudi security forces were quick to put down an uprising in Shiite-dominated Bahrain in case it spread to Eastern Province. The two territories are connected by bridges and causeways. In the years since then, the Saudi region has been blighted by bouts of unrest, detentions and demonstrations.The Shiites, whose split with the Sunnis goes back to the period following the Prophet Mohammed’s death, have been marginalized in Saudi Arabia and excluded from top jobs in the government and military. Those interviewed earlier this month said that while they’re happy with the changes, they also worry that progress could be reversed at short notice.“The problem is, the remote control is not with us,” one Shiite man who ran his own investment company said over a fish lunch in Qatif. “They have turned down the volume, but they still have the remote control. We don’t know when they will use it.”  That sentiment seems prevalent. “Yes, there’s been an improvement, but it will take time to change the mindset of ordinary Saudis who have been bred on hatred of Shiites,” said a Shiite woman.Saudi Shiites say the atmosphere changed after a three-month campaign in the Shiite-majority town of Awwamiya in Eastern Province in 2017 that leveled dozens of homes and sent thousands fleeing. A year later, the government announced plans for a new downtown area with a cultural center and a gallery in what Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV said was deploying development to fight terrorism.The government, meanwhile, clipped the wings of the radical Sunni clerics who held sway over religious, social and legal policies and used the most derogatory language to describe Shiites, Jews and Christians. It also introduced a law against hate speech in August 2017 that gave the Department of Public Prosecution the power to charge offenders with spreading hate speech and threatening peace and security.The Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam considers Shiites heretics. Saudi Shiites frequently had to defend themselves against claims they might be a potential fifth column for Iran. “Their enmity to Islam and Muslims has long been known,” Sheikh Saleh al-Fowzan, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, the kingdom’s highest religious authority, was quoted by Al-Madina newspaper as saying in June 2013. The remark came after Hezbollah said it had joined the fight alongside the Syrian regime against mostly Sunni rebels.In early 2016, a prominent Shiite cleric was beheaded along with dozens of others charged with terrorism offences. He was blamed for inciting unrest in Eastern Province five years earlier. His execution prompted protests in Tehran against the Saudi embassy, which has remained shut since then because diplomatic ties were severed.  There are more recent cases. Human Rights Watch said a mass execution in April included 33 Saudi Shiite men, and that maltreatment under Prince Mohammed has continued.The relative peace now could be an unintended consequence of “Vision 2030,” the crown prince’s blueprint for his transformation of the kingdom, according to another Shiite businessman.The situation is “much better and the atmosphere is more relaxed, but that’s also because Prince Mohammed crushed the dissent and jailed many of the agitators,” Sunnis and Shiites alike, he said. “The religious establishment was one of the main tools against us. We definitely don’t feel under attack anymore.”Indeed, many Shiites in Qatif have bought into the prince’s focus on Saudi identity and the new social freedoms, such as allowing men and women to interact with fewer restrictions, the businessman said. “Our families and most Shiites here feel a religious connection to Iran,” said a Shiite woman. “But whenever there’s trouble, they know it’s only Saudi Arabia that can help us.”To contact the authors of this story: Rodney Jefferson in Edinburgh at r.jefferson@bloomberg.netDonna Abu-Nasr in Riyadh at dabunasr@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

Chinese donations flood in for Hong Kong protest victims

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 23:37

Chinese citizens are rushing to donate money to the families of two Hong Kong men attacked during the city’s ongoing political unrest. The South China Morning Post reported that Huang Xiaoming, one of China’s highest paid actors, was one of more than 100,000 to recently contribute to a fund for the family of Lee Chi-cheung, 57, who was set on fire, and for relatives of a cleaner who was killed by a brick during a street clash. Mr Lee was left fighting for his life after the horrific attack, which took place earlier in November during an altercation with masked protesters who had  vandalised a metro station. A graphic video of the assault shows a shocked Mr Lee being doused in flammable liquid and then set on fire, leaving him with second-degree burns to 28 percent of his body. The footage sparked widespread condemnation in China and Hong Kong and an interview this week with his devastated wife went viral on Chinese state TV, CGTN, when she revealed that he was still in a coma and needed skin grafts on his hands, chest, abdomen and face. The second victim, Mr Luo, 70, was hit on the head by a flying brick when residents in the suburb of Sheung Shui fought with protesters. The police are treating the case as murder. According to the Post, a fund set up by the Shanghai Charity Foundation and several media organisations raised more than $284,000 for the families. A second donation drive by the China Social Welfare Foundation and Global Times newspaper raised more than $210,000. As violence escalates in the unrest that has enveloped the global financial hub for close to six months, social media has become a virtual battleground. Many incidents are being recorded and live streamed, whipping up emotions on both sides of the political divide. Chinese state and social media, including the messaging app, WeChat, have focused heavily on isolated assaults by protesters on supporters of Beijing, giving a filtered version of the bigger picture and paying scant attention to documented incidents of alleged police brutality. Chinese social media commentary routinely uses words like “thugs” and “cockroaches” to describe the protesters and has celebrated hard-line Hong Kong police officers as heroes. In Hong Kong, where social media is uncensored, protesters regularly share information on Twitter, Telegram and Whatsapp, to reveal heavy-handed police tactics. Many have also condemned violent acts by members of the pro-democracy camp.

Would President Trump Ever Bring Back the Battleships?

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 23:30

The U.S. Navy will never again be a dreadnought fleet of big-gun battleships. But it is time to reexamine the role of armor in naval architecture. Even the most forward-leaning offensive operation needs a few tough linesmen who can take a beating and stay in the game. A future battleship would give the Navy— and by extension the president—warfighting options other than the total annihilation of the enemy.

Why Now Is a Good Time to Start Worrying About a U.S.-China Trade Deal

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 22:13

(Bloomberg) -- Terms of Trade is a daily newsletter that untangles a world embroiled in trade wars. Sign up here. Now is a good time to start worrying about that trade deal.No, nothing bad has happened yet. There have in fact been many signs of progress. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow described negotiations as coming down to “the short strokes,” China’s chief trade negotiator says he’s “cautiously optimistic,” both sides have lowered barriers on poultry imports and the U.S. extended exemptions for American companies doing business with Huawei.But that’s the problem. The outlines of a phase-one trade deal are appearing more solid by the day and if recent history is a guide, this is when things go wrong.The first example was back in May 2018, when Chinese Vice Premier Liu He traveled to Washington and seemed to strike a deal to avoid tariffs. That didn’t stick of course. President Donald Trump decided to go ahead with levies, leaving Beijing to fume about American flip-flops.A replay occurred in May this year. Trump again raised tariffs on Chinese goods as the two sides appeared to near a deal, but this time it was Washington that accused Beijing of going back on previously agreed to terms.Here we are again? Negotiators appear to be making progress on a deal, with it emerging this week that the sides are talking about how to determine the magnitude of tariff roll-back that a phase-one deal might include. But there are now fresh obstacles.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has sent Trump legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters, and the president is expected to sign the bill into law. Beijing, which has publicly pledged retaliation, will find it difficult not to follow through. Whether that combination is enough to derail a trade deal is an open question.Hong KongHong Kong in the past week has seen some of its most dramatic scenes yet as police confronted protesters who’d fortified themselves inside a university campus. They included burning barricades, flaming Molotov cocktails and violent clashes between police and protesters. The scenes also renewed worries that further escalation could prompted the mobilization of Chinese soldiers, concern that was further fanned when members of the People’s Liberation Army garrison in the city emerged to help clean up local streets.Share SaleThe turmoil that’s gripped Hong Kong for almost half a year didn’t stop Alibaba from moving forward with an enormous share sale this week. The Chinese e-commerce giant raised about $11 billion in Hong Kong’s largest listing since 2010. It could swell Alibaba’s cash pile to $44 billion, about twice as much as fellow Chinese tech titan Tencent has. Some of the places that money could go include investing to grow the company’s business in Southeast Asia or to bolster its efforts in technologies such as Artificial Intelligence.‘Foothills of a Cold War’Trade tensions, a shaky outlook for the world economy and the risk of a catastrophic conflict dominated discussions on the first day of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said the U.S. and China were in the “foothills of a Cold War,” and warned that the conflict could be worse than World War I if left to run unconstrained. Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates said he was “more passionate about the value of engagement than ever” and worried about those promoting a U.S.-China decoupling. He didn’t see how such bifurcation would be feasible in the technology sphere, where research is published across geographical boundaries. “AI is very hard to put back in the bottle,” Gates said. The New Economy Forum is being organized by Bloomberg Media Group, a division of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. Lending CostsChina’s central bank this week continued its efforts to lower the cost of lending. In addition to cutting its loan prime rate, the People’s Bank of China offered money to financial institutions at a lower cost through its medium lending facility and also its short-term open-market operations. And why not? A slew of data released this month have pointed to continued weakness in the economy. But it’s not as simple as that. The PBOC must balance its desire to stabilize the economy with the need to manage the country’s substantial pile of debt. Getting that balance wrong could portend dire consequences.What We’re ReadingAnd finally, a few other things that caught our eye:How Apple, Trump and the trade war collide. Chinese parents are testing their children’s DNA. Hong Kong protests spur some to shun public schools. How well has Apple’s new iPhone been selling in China? The deadly swine fever closes in on a top supplier of pork.To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: John Liu in Beijing at jliu42@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Malcolm Scott at mscott23@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

Military: 2 airmen killed in crash during Oklahoma training

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 19:34

Two airmen were killed Thursday in an accident involving two jets during the landing phase of a training exercise at a U.S. Air Force base in northwestern Oklahoma, a military official said. The crash occurred shortly after 9 a.m. at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northwest of Oklahoma City. Two airmen aboard one of the T-38 Talons were killed, Col. Corey Simmons, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing, said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

UPDATE 2-U.S. warships sail in disputed South China Sea, angering China

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 18:41

U.S. Navy warships twice sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea in the past few days, the U.S. military told Reuters on Thursday, at a time of heightened tension between the world's two largest economies. Earlier this week during high-level talks, China called on the U.S. military to stop flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and adding "new uncertainties" over democratic Taiwan, which is claimed by China as a wayward province. The U.S. Navy regularly angers China by conducting what it calls "freedom of navigation" operations by ships close to some of the islands China occupies, asserting freedom of access to international waterways.

UPDATE 5-Manila-bound Philippine Airlines flight makes emergency landing in Los Angeles

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 17:36

A Philippine Airlines flight bound for Manila suffered an apparent engine failure on Thursday shortly after takeoff from Los Angeles and made an emergency landing, authorities said. All 347 passengers and 18 crew aboard Flight 113, a Boeing Co 777 widebody, are safe, an airline spokeswoman said. Pilots of flight 113 declared an emergency and reported a possible engine failure, Los Angeles International Airport said.

Manila-bound Philippine Airlines flight makes emergency landing in Los Angeles

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 17:21

All 347 passengers and 18 crew aboard Flight 113, a Boeing Co 777 widebody, are safe, an airline spokeswoman said. Pilots of flight 113 declared an emergency and reported a possible engine failure, Los Angeles International Airport said. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said the plane returned and landed safely.

GM Recalls 2019-2020 Pickup Trucks Due to Fire Risk

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 17:15

General Motors is recalling more than half a million Chevrolet and GMC light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks because of concerns that seat belt pretensioners, when deployed to tighten belts amid a ...

Teen in California high school shooting rampage used 'ghost gun' made from parts

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 16:52

A 16-year-old boy who opened fire at his Southern California high school, killing two classmates and wounding three others before shooting himself in the head, used a "ghost gun" built from parts, the local sheriff said on Thursday. Nathaniel Tennosuke Berhow pulled the .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol from his backpack on Nov. 14, his birthday, and shot students at Saugus High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita seemingly at random before turning the gun on himself. The sheriff told KABC it was not yet clear if the teenage gunman put the weapon together himself.

Death penalty sought for man accused of killing prostitutes

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 16:05

Prosecutors in Florida announced Thursday that they will seek the death penalty against a man who they say preyed on prostitutes, causing panic in the Daytona Beach area over a series of killings more than a dozen years ago. Prosecutors charged Robert Hayes, 37, with three counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of three women in that area between 2005 and 2006. Laquetta Gunther, 45, was found dead in a gap between an auto parts store and a mostly empty utility building, the day after Christmas 2005.