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4th blast in Austin leads police to believe a ‘serial bomber’ is on the loose

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19 MAR 18 17:02 ET

(CNN) — Austin police just confirmed what residents have feared for weeks — a suspected serial bomber is attacking their city.

For the fourth time this month, a device exploded on Austin residents. What makes Sunday night’s blast especially terrifying is that the device was left on the side of a residential road and triggered by a tripwire, police said Monday.

Investigators have found similarities between that device and three previous bombs, which were stuffed inside packages and left on residents’ doorsteps, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said.

“We are clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber at this point,” he said.

Timeline of the bombings

The latest device — which was triggered by a tripwire — shows “a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill,” he said.

And unlike the victims of the previous blasts, the two men wounded in Sunday’s explosion are white, Austin police said. Both men are expected to recover.

Latest developments

  • The Travis Country neighborhood of Austin was on lockdown Monday, Manley said, as authorities investigate the pieces of evidence strewn across a wide area.
  • Manley asked anyone in the neighborhood with security camera footage to call police.
  • The Austin public school district says it couldn’t send buses to the affected neighborhood Monday because of police activity.
  • “As the bomb maker changes up design and geography, all residents of Austin and surrounding areas should avoid suspicious items,” the global think tank Stratfor Threat Lens said.

An indiscriminate wake-up call

Many minority residents in Austin have been on edge since the bombings started, as the first three bombings killed or wounded minorities.

Several residents under lockdown Monday said they were stunned the latest attack happened in their neighborhood.

Unlike the first three bombings, which happened in east Austin, the latest attack happened in a predominantly white part of town.

Eliza May said because the first three bombings happening on the east side of the city, in predominantly minority areas, she hadn’t been following the news closely.

May said that as a resident of the affluent Travis Country neighborhood, she assumed she had nothing to worry about.

“We feel safe. This isn’t something that you’d expect around here,” May said.

Now, “it’s obvious that you have to be alert.”

“This was a random bomb,” she said. “This could have been any one of us.”

Neighbor Shonda Mace said the bombing “is going to be (a) life-changing event for our neighborhood.”

“I’m scared about what’s going to happen next,” she said.

Tripwire could give clues

“The use of a tripwire is far less discriminating than leaving parcel bombs at residences and suggests that the latest victims were not specifically targeted,” Stratfor Threat Lens said.

“The device’s success, despite significantly different design, further suggests that the bomb maker behind these attacks is an accomplished one, and has likely to have received some training, perhaps as a military or police explosive ordnance disposal technician.”

Austin bombings: Live updates

‘Extra level of vigilance’ needed

The latest blast came less than a week after police said the three previous explosions — in a span of 10 days — were connected. Those blasts killed a man and a teenager, and wounded two others.

The victims in those three explosions were African-American or Hispanic. Police have not discovered a motive, but have not ruled out the possibility those bombings could be hate crimes.

Police are working under the belief that the explosions are related. Manley said they’ll get a better idea with a post-blast analysis and examination of the device components.

In the meantime, Manley told residents not to touch or go near anything that looks suspicious.

“We now need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device — whether it be a package or a bag, a backpack — anything that looks out of place,” Manley said Monday. “Do not approach items like that.”

Shortly before the fourth bombing, the reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for the three blasts increased to a total of $115,000, authorities said.

Officials have urged residents to call police with any tips they may have, even if the information seems to be “inconsequential.”

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Crime

Bo Dukes Sentenced To 25 Years In Prison For Covering Up Death of Tara Grinstead

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ABBEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A man convicted of helping hide the death of a missing Georgia teacher has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

News outlets reported that 34-year-old Bo Dukes was sentenced Friday morning in court in Abbeville.

Dukes was convicted Thursday night of lying to investigators about the 2005 death of Tara Grinstead. The high school history teacher’s body was burned to ash and bone fragments in a pecan orchard.

What happened to the woman wasn’t revealed until Dukes and another man were arrested in 2017.

Dukes was convicted of two counts of making a false statement, hindering the arrest of a criminal and concealing a death.

His co-defendant, Ryan Alexander Duke, is charged with murder in Grinstead’s death and is scheduled for trial April 1 in Irwin County.

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Crime

US Supreme Court Agrees To Decide Whether Lee Boyd Malvo Gets A New Sentence

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March 18 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether a gunman in the 2002 Beltway Sniper case should receive a new sentence because he was a teenager at the time.

The random shootings terrorized the Washington, D.C., area in September and October 2002 and killed 10 people. Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad were ultimately captured and convicted of the sniper killings. Muhammad was executed in 2009 and Malvo is serving six consecutive life sentences. At the time of the shootings, Malvo was 17.

The Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari Monday to hear the appeal next term.

At issue is a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that said juveniles cannot be given mandatory life-without-parole sentences unless they committed murder or were determined permanently incorrigible.

A Virginia court last year vacated Malvo’s sentences and asked a trial court to rule on whether his crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility or “the transient nature of youth.”

Malvo is now 34 years old.

A U.S. Court of Appeals panel called the Beltway shootings “the most heinous, random acts of premeditated violence conceivable, destroying lives and families and terrorizing the entire Washington D.C., metropolitan area for over six weeks, instilling mortal fear daily in the citizens of that community.”

The judges said, “Malvo was 17 years old when he committed the murders, and he now has the retroactive benefit of new constitutional rules that treat juveniles differently for sentencing.”

Malvo faces life without parole in Maryland, where he killed six people. That sentence was upheld in 2017 and is pending at the state Supreme Court. Muhammad, who was 25 years older than Malvo, smuggled him into the country illegally from Antigua.

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Crime

First Murder Trial in Tara Grinstead Case Begins

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ABBEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia man is standing trial on charges that he helped conceal the death of a high school teacher who disappeared more than 13 years ago.

Bo Dukes is charged with concealing a death, hindering the apprehension of a felon and lying to police after Tara Grinstead vanished from her home in rural Irwin County in October 2005. His trial began Monday in neighboring Wilcox County.

Prosecutors say Dukes’ friend, Ryan Duke, killed Grinstead and enlisted Dukes’ to help burn her body. Both men were arrested in 2017. Duke is charged with murder. His trial is scheduled to start April 1.

John McCullough testified Tuesday that he befriended Dukes during Army basic training in 2006. He said Dukes confessed to him a few weeks after they met.

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