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Mother found guilty of abuse in infant's death

A Buchanan County jury found a woman guilty of child abuse that resulted in the death of her infant son following a short deliberation Wednesday afternoon.

As she was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, Sydney Jones’ cries echoed through the rotunda of the Buchanan County Courthouse, moments after she was found guilty of drowning her son in December 2017.

A trial that was set to take place over the course of three days ended a day-and-a-half early when the defense lawyers for Jones did not bring any witnesses or submit any evidence.

During her closing statement, defense attorney Corryn Hall presented the jury with the idea that the drowning of Keith Lars III was an accident.

“What happened to Keith was a tragedy,” Hall said. “Finding justice for Keith also means finding justice for this mother.”

Hall attempted to sow doubt in the minds of the jury against the state’s lead testimony from Anthony Holmes. On Tuesday, the jury heard from Holmes, the man who was present the night the infant died at Jones’ home on Texas Avenue in the city’s South Side. Holmes said that Jones was acting tired, nearly falling asleep at the wheel the day the event took place.

Hall pointed to this testimony to try to create the idea that Jones was exhausted the night her son drowned and was in shock following the event.

Holmes also told the court Tuesday afternoon that on that night when he went to check on Jones as she was bathing her son, he said he found the mother holding the baby down, the water up to her forearms.

Prosecuting attorney Chad Gaddie reminded the jury of this detail during his closing arguments, saying that Holmes’ testimony proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Jones had drowned her son.

“The only testimony in this case was that Anthony Holmes walked in and when he walked in, she was holding the baby under the water,” Gaddie said.

Along with the testimony from Holmes, the jury also took into consideration the accounts of medical examiners and law enforcement officers who interacted with Jones throughout the investigation.

Dr. Altaf Hossain, who performed the autopsy on Lars, testified that the death was definitely caused by drowning but could not say definitively if the drowning was intentional or accidental. Hossain said Lars appeared to be a well-nourished, healthy baby with no outward signs of trauma, something the defense used to say that Jones was a good mother who would not intentionally harm her child.

The jury also heard from Detective Dustin Robinson, who said Jones was uncooperative during her initial interview the night of the drowning, lying about where her children where and when she had last seen Holmes.

Robinson said that during a second interview more than a week later, Jones requested to talk about the incident, but when the time came to speak with him, she asked for a Sprite and continued to repeat the phrase, “I am a child of God.”

Hall used this to show what she said were clear signs of shock in Jones, who was grieving the loss of her child.

“Her reality at that point was broken, and she was broken,” Hall said.

Before the jury left the courtroom to deliberate, Gaddie reminded them that he did not have to prove a motive for Jones, just that she did indeed drown her child.

“Sometimes people just do terrible things, and there’s not an explanation for it,” Gaddie said.

The jury left the courtroom shortly after noon to decide if Jones was guilty of the child abuse charge, for which she could serve 10 years to life in prison.

Jones will appear in court next at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, for her sentencing.

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Men still missing after 2 multi-agency searches

Two searches were conducted across Northwest Missouri on Wednesday afternoon in the search for two Wisconsin men who are presumed missing, but neither effort located the men.

Brothers Justin and Nicholas Diemel, ages 24 and 35, were last seen in Cameron, Missouri on Sunday.

According to Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett, seven of his deputies are participating in the multi-agency search after their help was requested Tuesday night. Puett is also part of the search.

The exact address listed on the warrant was not immediately available Wednesday, but Puett said it was the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department that obtained the warrant.

Clinton County Sheriff Larry Fish said there was another site being searched in Clinton County near Missouri Highway 116 and State Route PP. The site is an “open area” and doesn’t require a search warrant.

That location is close to a small dirt commuter lot, a few hundred yards away from two gas stations. According to a press release from the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, that lot is where the brothers’ rental car was found.

“My folks are out here to work an area and do a search,” Puett said Wednesday. “We’re at a location out here in Caldwell county and we’re gonna be out here and help them check an area.”

“We’ve had folks helping from the start but this is a more aggressive response today,” Puett said.

Puett said the Cameron Police Department is now handling all media requests. The Clinton County Sheriff’s Department had been publishing press releases on the case.

Cameron Police Chief Rick Basehor said the fact that several law enforcement agencies from across the region have pitched in to help shows how seriously police are taking the case.

“Like I say when you see all the law enforcement coming together to follow up on all of these leads, it’s being taken very seriously,” Basehor said. “I think in rural areas like this, all departments look toward that.”

“If we have some success they’ll probably be able to be more forthcoming with information,” Puett said.

According to an updated press release from the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday morning, the two men have not been located. Brothers Justin and Nicholas Diemel, ages 24 and 35, respectively, were last seen in Cameron, Missouri, on Sunday.

“Searches have been conducted and are underway in Clinton and Caldwell counties,” Clinton County Sheriff Larry Fish said in the release. “Multiple agencies are involved in the investigation, and multiple leads continue to be researched.

“Because this is an active investigation, we are unable to release further details at this time,” he said.

Police are asking anyone with any information to call their TIPS hotline at 816-632-8477.

According to FOX4KC, a family member of the brothers said they were in Missouri on business.

Chief Bashor said the next media release would come when significant news was available.

Mueller: No Russia exoneration for Trump, despite his claims

WASHINGTON — Robert Mueller, the taciturn lawman at the center of a polarizing American drama, bluntly dismissed President Donald Trump’s claims of “total exoneration” Wednesday in the federal probe of Russia’s 2016 election interference. In a long day of congressional testimony, Mueller warned that Moscow’s actions represented — and still represent — a great threat to American democracy.

Mueller’s back-to-back Capitol Hill appearances, his first since wrapping his two-year Russia probe, carried the prospect of a historic climax to a rare criminal investigation into a sitting American president. But his testimony was more likely to reinforce rather than reshape hardened public opinions on impeachment and the future of Trump’s presidency.

With his terse, one-word answers, and a sometimes stilted and halting manner, Mueller made clear his desire to avoid the partisan fray and the deep political divisions roiling Congress and the country.

He delivered neither crisp TV sound bites to fuel a Democratic impeachment push nor comfort to Republicans striving to undermine his investigation’s credibility. But his comments grew more animated by the afternoon, when he sounded the alarm on future Russian election interference. He said he feared a new normal of American campaigns accepting foreign help.

He condemned Trump’s praise of WikiLeaks, which released Democratic emails stolen by Russia. And he said of the interference by Russians and others: “They are doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

His report, he said, should live on after him and his team.

“We spent substantial time assuring the integrity of the report, understanding that it would be our living message to those who come after us,” Mueller said. “But it also is a signal, a flag to those of us who have some responsibility in this area to exercise those responsibilities swiftly and don’t let this problem continue to linger as it has over so many years.”

Trump, claiming vindication despite the renewal of serious allegations, focused on his own political fortunes rather than such broader issues.

“This was a devastating day for the Democrats,” he said. “The Democrats had nothing and now they have less than nothing.”

Mueller was reluctant to stray beyond his lengthy written report, but that didn’t stop Republicans and Democrats from laboring to extract new details.

Trump’s GOP allies tried to cast the former special counsel and his prosecutors as politically motivated. They referred repeatedly to what they consider the improper opening of the investigation.

Democrats, meanwhile, sought to emphasize the most incendiary findings of Mueller’s 448-page report and weaken Trump’s re-election prospects in ways Mueller’s book-length report did not. They hoped that even if his testimony did not inspire impeachment demands — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear she will not pursue impeachment, for now — Mueller could nonetheless unambiguously spell out questionable, norm-shattering actions by the president.

The prosecutor who endured nearly seven hours of hearings was a less forceful public presence than the man who steered the FBI through the Sept. 11 attacks and the 12 years after that. But Mueller, 74, was nonetheless skilled enough in the ways of Washington to avoid being goaded into leading questions he didn’t want to answer.

Mueller frequently gave single-word answers to questions, even when given opportunities to crystallize allegations of obstruction of justice against the president. He referred time and again to the wording in his report.

Was the president lying when he said he had no business ties to Russia? “I’m not going to go into the details of the report along those lines,” Mueller said. Did you develop any sort of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia? “Again,” Mueller said, “I pass on answering.”

But he was unflinching on the most-critical matters, showing flashes of personality and emotion.

In the opening minutes of the Judiciary Committee hearing, Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, asked about Trump’s multiple claims of vindication by the investigation.

“And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler asked.

“No,” Mueller replied.

When Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, asked, “Your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it?”

“It is not a witch hunt,” Mueller flatly replied.

He gave Democrats a flicker of hope when he told Rep. Ted Lieu of California that he did not charge Trump because of a Justice Department legal opinion that says sitting presidents cannot be indicted. That statement cheered Democrats who understood him to be suggesting he might have otherwise have recommended prosecution on the strength of the evidence.

But Mueller later walked back that exchange, saying: “We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.” His team, he said, never started the process of evaluating whether to charge Trump.

Though Mueller described Russian election interference as among the most serious challenges to democracy he had encountered in his decades-long career, Republicans focused on his conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Those are the facts of the Mueller report. Russia meddled in the 2016 election. The president did not conspire with Russians. Nothing we hear today will change those facts,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican.

Mueller, pressed as to why he hadn’t investigated a “dossier” of claims that the Republicans insist helped lead to the start of the probe, said that was not his charge. That was “outside my purview,” he said repeatedly.

Mueller mostly brushed aside Republican allegations of bias, but in a moment of apparent agitation, he said he didn’t think lawmakers had ever “reviewed a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us.”

And when he was pressed on the fact that multiple members of his team had made contributions to Democratic candidates, Mueller bristled at the implication his prosecutors were compromised.

“I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years, and in those 25 years I have not had occasion, once, to ask somebody about their political affiliation,” Mueller said, raising his hand for emphasis. “It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.”

Wednesday’s first hearing before the Judiciary Committee focused on whether Trump obstructed justice by attempting to seize control of Mueller’s investigation. The special counsel examined nearly a dozen episodes, including Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and his efforts to have Mueller himself removed, for potential obstruction.

The afternoon hearing before the House intelligence committee dove into ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

On that question, Mueller’s report documented a trail of contacts between Russians and Trump associates, including a Trump Tower meeting at which the president’s eldest son expected to receive dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Inside today's St. Joe Live

❯ Christmas in July

CAP to perform ‘Elf The Musical Jr.’ this weekend

❯ Rolling out the RED carpet

‘Red Rally’ to bring Chiefs’ cheer Downtown on Friday

❯ Staying in their lane

Big Brothers Big Sisters readies bowling fundraiser

❯ Plus, Much, Much More

2019 Chiefs training camp


Chiefs begin 10th edition

of training camp with

familiar face, upcoming star returning from

injury for Day 1 on

the campus of

Missouri Western.

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City hoping for more rental inspections

City Hall has been busy fielding calls related to an upcoming mandatory rental inspection program and new requirements for landlords in St. Joseph.

In March of this year, the City Council approved a program that will require all vacant rental units to be inspected by July of 2020. They also approved a requirement that anyone who owns a property that they rent out obtain a business license.

City reminds landlords to get inspections

After lower-than-expected sign-up numbers for the voluntary portion of a rental inspection program, the City of St. Joseph will be sending out thousands of reminders to property owners.

After receiving less of a response from property owners than they had hoped for, the Community Development department sent out more than 6,000 letters earlier this month.

Director of Planning and Community Development Clint Thompson said employees in his department have been receiving an extremely large number of phone calls related to the new requirements since then, and over 200 landlords have come to pay for a business license.

Prior to sending out the letters, only three landlords had taken advantage of the free inspections that are being offered by the city until the program becomes mandatory next year.

Thompson said those numbers have grown only slightly to around 10 inspections, with several other inspections being done by outside parties.

He said the inspections check for violations that already are against the code, and no new requirements have been added.

“Individuals who own property and rent property should be aware of the minimum building codes that exist, whether or not you’re renting a property to an individual or you’re living in that property yourself,” Thompson said. “The building codes are simply a guideline used to ensure public health and safety.”

Ed Whitham, who owns 10 rental units in St. Joseph, was one of the first landlords to sign up for a free inspections.

He said he was treated with respect and is in favor of property maintenance requirements, but has “mixed feelings” about the rental inspection program.

“I think the program is good, however, for the landlords like me who try to take care of things to provide clean homes and things that work, we’re still going to do that,” Whitham said. “For the landlords who don’t, there doesn’t seem to be much penalty for those who don’t take care of things.”

He said he would like to see the city enforce the code much more heavily in order to clean up the city.

Wickie Utley, who owns two units, was also one of the first to sign up and said that the program will improve the curb appeal of the city.

“I’m very much in favor of it. I also believe in saving money, so why not jump on the bandwagon while it’s free and get it done up front,” Utley said.

The inspections are only required on vacant units, but Utley asked her tenants for permission to have them inspected in order to take advantage of the free service.

Other landlords who have called the city have resisted the new requirements and consider the inspections and business license unfair, according to Thompson.

He said some property owners with properties listed as rentals have told the city that those units are actually just where family members live who are not paying rent. He said those units may be checked on in the future to see if they become rental units that would require a license and inspection.

The inspections are good for five years when done by a city inspector or a certified third party. Landlords can get certified to self-inspect, but are then required to perform inspections every two years.

If the same tenant is living in a unit when the next inspection date arrives, the inspection will not be required until the unit is vacant.

The city will charge $50 for inspections after July 1 of 2020.