Monday, June 8, 2009

Exonerated by DNA Evidence: What Happens Now?

Byron Halsey, a New Jersey man who spent more than 20 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA testing in the rape and murder of two Plainfield children, has filed a lawsuit against authorities.

Although Halsey had confessed to the brutal 1985 murders of his live-in girlfriend's 7-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old son, he maintains that the confession was coerced. According to the Star-Ledger:

While "still suffering the effects of alcohol," Halsey was taken to the Plainfield police station the day after the crime and "questioned aggressively and in an accusatory manner for the next 12 hours," according to his lawsuit. No evidence was found on his clothing, and Halsey made no admissions, but the following day he was interrogated for another 12 hours until he signed a detailed confession, the lawsuit states.


The case of Halsey, 48, brings the number of post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States to 238 since 1989.

Black men make up an overwhelming majority of those who have been freed through DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that worked on the Halsey case and provides research and legal help for prisoners seeking to have their cases overturned by DNA evidence.

This year alone, 12 innocent people who were convicted have been exonerated, according to the Innocence Project.

Last month, former Tennessee death row inmate Paul House had all charges dropped in his 1986 murder conviction after DNA tests on key evidence failed to match House.

In upstate New York, Steven Barnes served nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He was freed last month after a DNA examination of the murder victim found evidence from another person.

Once a wrongly convicted prisoner gets through the years of legal appeals and court appearances to unearth the evidence needed to be freed, he often finds getting compensated (if there is any just compensation for losing years of freedom) for the wrongful conviction difficult.

There is no federal standard for compensation, so the wrongly convicted find themselves at the mercy of a patchwork of state laws that determine whether they'll be compensated at all and if so how much.

Halsey is seeking unspecified damages in the suit after serving 22 years. He had faced the death penalty after his conviction in 1985.

After numerous appeals, DNA evidence from the case was released in 2006. It was discovered that DNA taken from the crime scene matched Halsey's neighbor and co-worker Clifton Hall. Hall is scheduled to stand trial for the murders in September.

Meanwhile, Halsey struggles to reintegrate into society. When arrested, he was 24 years old and held a steady factory job, according to the Star-Ledger. After his release, an attorney on his case said he struggled to find work and reconnect with family. He now has a job at Newark Airport and lives alone.

"He's done everything he can in his power to make the transition, but the littlest things are hard, [his attorney] said. "He is understandably angry.

The Terrible Price of Being Tagged a Reverse Racist

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich backpedaled from his reverse racist slur of Supreme Court designate Sonia Sotomayor as a racist. A defiant Rush Limbaugh didn’t. There’s a reason. For more than four decades the reverse racist tag has been the most potent weapon in the arsenal of ultra-conservatives and closet bigots to torpedo affirmative action, cower elected officials and judicial appointees into silence or tepid support of civil rights and poverty related issues and court decisions, and deflect attention from the continued political and economic dominance of well-to-do white males. Obama’s election did not change the racial power dynamic in America.

There is still only a handful of African-American, Latino or Asian CEOs who run Fortune 500 companies or who sit on their Boards of Directors. The overwhelming majority of top, middle and lower corporate managers are white males. There is only one African-American in the Senate. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund notes that the increase in the number of minorities on the federal bench has been frozen during the Bush years. Minorities still make up a small percentage of state and federal judges. The first Latina on the High Court won’t change that. Laws and public policy are still made, shaped, and enforced by white males.

Sotomayor and any minority perceived to be a threat to corporate and political white male dominance will be branded a reverse racist. This is not new.

The bogus term cropped up in the early 1960s during the first surge of black militancy. A CBS special on the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X, Mike Wallace, was labeled “the hate that hate produced.” The special played hard on the theme that the Black Muslims with their white man is a devil rhetoric and messianic religious flavored black separatism were the incarnate of racial bigotry. In the next few years, the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Chicano activists, and other militant groups were routinely reviled as reverse Klan, Nazis, and racist nightriders.

The term reverse discrimination seeped into the official lexicon in 1969 when conservatives took the first light swipe at alleged racial favoritism in government contracting programs that mandated hiring goals and timetables for minorities. The term didn’t fully resonate at that time. There was still the glow and goodwill from the 1960s civil rights movement. And then President Richard Nixon backed affirmative action programs that included minority hiring and contracting quotas in the trades. The mood abruptly changed in the late 1970s with the first full blown assault on affirmative action. The assault was fueled by the notion that white males were fast losing ground to hordes of unqualified, incompetent blacks, Latinos and women in business, the professions and the trades. Reverse discrimination or reverse racism now became a staple in the public vocabulary. In its Bakke case ruling in 1978 the Supreme Court virtually banned the use of quotas for minorities in hiring and education, under the guise of ending reverse discrimination.

Since then the faintest hint of a tilt toward minorities in a corporate hiring program, or a university hiring or scholarship program has drawn instant howls of reverse discrimination and piles of lawsuits. The chill on affirmative action programs partly worked. Republican and Democratic presidents Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton, vowed to end or modify affirmative action programs in government agencies. Much of the public now firmly believed that minorities were getting unfair advantage in business and the professions, and that this and they were racist.

Limbaugh and conservatives are banking that branding Sotomayor with the racist tag will punch the standard emotional hot buttons before, during and after her confirmation. The after effect is especially important since so much is at stake in how Sotomayor will vote and the opinions she’ll write on the likely stream of race tinged cases that the court will be called on to decide.

Pounding Sotomayor as a racist has already paid a small dividend. In private meetings with moderate Democrat and conservative Republican Senators, the judge slightly pulled back from the reference she made to herself as a wise Latina in a 2001 speech. She called it a poor choice of words. This won’t be the last mea culpa she’ll be required to make for her alleged racism before she’s confirmed. She’ll be under tremendous pressure to assure Senators that she’ll play it strictly by the moderate and conservative playbook on any and all decisions that even remotely touch on race and class issues on the bench.

This is the terrible price that a wise Latina or anyone else tagged as a reverse racist will have to pay. And will continue to pay.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on

Purple could be Favre’s next favorite color

Brett Favre is back.

Well, maybe not entirely, but he refuses to go away, despite how sick we are of seeing his name sprawled across headlines (like this one, sadly).

Unsatisfied with his work under center for the New York Jets last season, Favre continues to better himself physically, perhaps for yet another post-retirement return, this time with his former hated rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.
According to, Favre recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair his right throwing shoulder, something worth fixing should he be trying to once again play NFL quarterback, but not necessary for shooting backyard commercials for Wrangler jeans.

Favre was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991 before being traded to the Green Bay Packers. And after 16 years as the Green and Gold’s primary signal-caller, he and his resume — which includes a Super Bowl victory and three MVP trophies — were undoubtedly headed to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

But after retiring from the frozen tundra following the 2007 season, Favre felt the “itch” to play again and return to the game. Despite receiving waves of scrutiny from fans and media alike, Packers GM Ted Thompson refused to bring Favre back to Lambeauland ,handing over the franchise reins to former first-round draft pick Aaron Rogers, letting No. 4 continue his storybook career in the Big Apple.

After starting 8-3, Brett and the Jets lost four of their last five games to finish 2008 at a disappointing 9-7, good for third place in the AFC East. Favre ended the year with 3,472 yards and 22 touchdowns, but also threw for 22 interceptions (he holds the all-time records for all three categories), while battling a torn biceps tendon toward the end of the season.

Now his infamous itch has seemingly returned. Whether he chooses to scratch it or let it linger remains to be seen.

Charlie Rose Show: Reaction to President Obama's speech in Cairo

Reaction to President Obama's speech in Cairo with Mohamad Bazzi, Roger Cohen, David Ignatius and Robin Wright

Passaic, NJ - Video Captures New Jersey Police Officer Pound Man For No Apparent Reason

Passaic, NJ - Surveillance video shows a Passaic, New Jersey, police officer beating a 49-year-old man standing idly on a street corner.

The beating was captured on surveillance cameras outside Lawrence's Grill and Bar in Passaic, New Jersey.

Surveillance tape from Lawrence's Grill and Bar in Passaic on May 29 shows a police car pull up to Ronnie Holloway, who is standing still on the curb outside the restaurant. After a few moments Holloway zips up his sweatshirt -- because the female officer in the car instructed him to do so, Holloway said.

At that point, the other officer in the vehicle, Joseph R. Rios III, exits the car, grabs Holloway and slams him onto the hood of the police car. He then pummels Holloway with his fist and baton.

Holloway said he had exchanged no words with the officer before he pounced on him.

After the incident, police locked Holloway in a holding cell for the night and did not provide treatment for his injuries, according to Holloway's attorney, Nancy Lucianna. Those injuries included a torn cornea and extensive bruising to the left side of his body, she said.


Holloway is schizophrenic, according to his mother, Betty, with whom he has lived for more than 20 years. But Holloway's attorney says that is not the full extent of his mental disabilities and that her client was "mentally challenged on multiple levels."

At the time of the incident, Holloway told CNN, he was in the midst of a walk around the neighborhood. His attorney described such walks as his chief pastime.

The Passaic Police have filed three charges against Holloway: resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and wandering for the purpose of obtaining controlled dangerous substances.

Holloway's attorney maintains her client is innocent of all charges and adds that "nothing that Ronnie Holloway was doing would warrant" the pounding he received.

Betty Holloway said she cannot bear to watch the tape of her son's beating.

"I haven't looked at the tape because I don't want to see it," she said. "I don't want to see that man beating on him like that."

Holloway said the experience has left him with a range of scars spanning the literal and the figurative. "To think about it hurts. And the physical part, yes, he was really whooping me."

The Passaic Police Department and Rios did not respond to calls for

Carradine Photo Leaked To Thai Tabloid

A photo of David Carradine hanging from the closet in his hotel room has been released to the Thai media, and Carradine's family is fuming, understandably.

Robert's family is "profoundly disturbed" at the photo reportedly taken by the Thai forensics team which depicts "a naked body suspended from a bar in the closet, with his hands apparently bound together above his head."

The photo appeared on the cover of Thai Rath, a popular tabloid in the Asian country.


David's brother Keith has released the following statement on behalf of the entire family: "The family wants it understood that, per attorney Mark Geragos, any persons, publications or media outlets will be fully prosecuted for invasion of privacy and causing severe emotional distress if the photos are published."

Lakers hang on to beat Magic 101-96 in Game 2

LOS ANGELES - Lucky to have a second chance, the Los Angeles Lakers grabbed it. Kobe Bryant and Co. held on and are in control of the NBA finals _ just barely.

Orlando rookie Courtney Lee missed a potential winning layup as regulation ended, giving Los Angeles another shot it didn't waste. Pau Gasol scored seven points in overtime as the Lakers, so dominant in the series opener, survived with a 101-96 win over the Magic in Game 2 on Sunday night.

"There is a sense of relief because they played very well," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "There's no doubt they had every opportunity or chance to win."

If Orlando doesn't come back and win this series, Lee's miss may go down as one of the biggest gaffes in finals history. He had a chance to give the Magic its first finals win.

"We missed it. I don't know what else to say," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We executed well, Hedo (Turkoglu) made a great pass. I'm not trying to be a pain ... Hedo made a great pass and he just missed it."

Orlando may not get a better shot to beat the Lakers.

"We blew a lot of assignments tonight _ a lot of assignments _ and we still managed to get a win," Bryant said.

When it was finally over, Derek Fisher and the Lakers jogged to the locker room, smiling and high-fiving fans along the way.

Turkoglu trudged through the tunnel dejected, a towel hanging from his head.

Bryant scored 29 points, Gasol added 24 and 10 rebounds and Lamar Odom 19 points for the Lakers, who won Game 1 by 25 but needed 53 minutes to put away the Magic.

Rashard Lewis scored 34 _ 18 in the second quarter alone _ and Dwight Howard had 17 points and 16 rebounds for Orlando.

Game 3 is Tuesday night at Orlando's Amway Arena, which will be hosting a finals game for the first time since June 9, 1995.

With the score tied at 88-88 in regulation, Lee missed the first of two late-game shots when he drove the lane and missed a contested layup with 10.5 seconds remaining.

The Lakers called time with 9.1 seconds to play, and after Odom caught the inbounds pass, he quickly gave it to Bryant, who drove into a crowd. Bryant attempted an off-balance 12-footer, but his shot was blocked from behind by Turkoglu with 1.8 seconds left.

The horn sounded, the clock expired to zeros and Jack Nicholson and the star-studded Staples Center crowd braced for overtime.

But the officials huddled at the scorer's table and decided to put 0.6 seconds back on the clock because Turkoglu grabbed the ball and called timeout.

Turkoglu couldn't find anyone open on the inbounds and was forced to call another timeout. On the Magic's second attempt, Lee got free on a perfectly executed play and caught Turkoglu's long lob pass as he neared the left side of the basket. But with 7-foot Gasol closing in on him, Lee's shot caromed off the backboard and front of the rim.

Howard dunked in the miss as Lee put his hands behind his head in disbelief and began a long walk back to the bench as his teammates tried to console him.

So close. So far.

Fourteen years to the day after the Magic let Game 1 of the 1995 finals against Houston get away when Orlando's Nick Anderson missed four late free throws, Lee provided another excruciating moment for the franchise.

The Magic, who looked more relaxed than in the opener, will head home thinking about what might have been. They could be tied 1-1, and with the next three games scheduled in front of their frenzied fans, they could have denied Bryant and the Lakers a 15th title.

Now, in a season of comebacks, they'll need their biggest one.

Bryant, who scored 40 in the opener, finished with eight assists and seven turnovers.

Lewis transformed into Orlando's version of Bryant in the second quarter, scoring 18 of the Magic's 20 points to keep them close. The 6-foot-10 forward's size and exceptional range make him an impossible cover, and the Lakers had no answer to stop him.

With Howard unable to get open and Orlando's other shooters still searching for their touch, Lewis carried the scoring load. He made four consecutive 3-pointers to end the half and the Magic, despite shooting just 32 percent, were within 38-35 at the break.

If not for Lewis, Orlando would have been in big trouble because Howard was hopeless.

For a long stretch, Superman was more like The Invisible Man.

At times, it seemed as if there were six or seven Lakers on the floor as they swarmed Howard, who made just 1 of 4 shots and had four turnovers.

Before the game, Jackson predicted that Game 2 would follow a different script than the series' Hollywood premiere.

"This game is not going to be like the last game," said the nine-time NBA champion. "It probably won't resemble the last game at all except the players that are on the floor."

He was so right.

NBA Finals Game 2: Rihanna, Diddy,

Rihanna cheers for the Lakers and hugs “McLovin’” at Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Orlando Magic, at the Staples Center on Sunday.

Diddy,, and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine show their purple and yellow pride below.

Search for AF447: More bodies found as focus shifts to plane’s sensors

A French submarine is heading to the area to help locate the plane's black boxes, which may be at the bottom of the ocean.

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazilian naval vessels picked up 15 more corpses in the mid-Atlantic on Sunday, providing what military officials say is conclusive proof that a missing Air France Airbus crashed while on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris last Sunday night.

The 15 bodies were being taken along with two others fished from the sea on Saturday to Fernando de Noronha, the Brazilian archipelago where much of the search operation is based. They are expected to arrive there Tuesday before being transferred to the city of Recife, where medical and forensics teams are waiting to examine them.

In addition, “hundreds” of other belongings and personal items were located by Brazilian naval teams and are being looked after for delivery to the families, Lt. Col. Henry Munhoz said.Colonel Munhoz said the finds conclusively showed the Air France jet went down a week ago Sunday night, and they hope it will dampen speculation over what exactly happened to the plane.

Focus shifts to plane’s sensors

But, for many worldwide, curiosity has yet to abate, and the investigation is now focusing on whether external instruments on the Airbus A330 may have iced over, causing pilots to set the aircraft at a dangerous speed.

Reuters reports on a disagreement between Air France, which said Saturday it was accelerating the replacement of air-speed sensors on all its Airbus long-haul planes, and Airbus on this issue.

Air France said it had begun the switchover of speed sensors five weeks before the crash, but only after disagreeing with Airbus over the planemaker’s proposal to carry out tests before replacing them.

An Airbus spokesman declined to comment, and said it could only discuss the investigation with French air authorities.

The head of France’s air accident agency, BEA, said Saturday it was too soon to say if problems with the speed sensors, known as pitot tubes, were in any way responsible.

But, as The Monitor reported yesterday, experts warn against jumping to conclusions.

French submarine on its way
The jet’s data recorders – or “black boxes” – may hold key data, but they may be nearly four miles deep in the Atlantic.

A French submarine is due to arrive in the area Wednesday to help search for the boxes.

Five Brazilian ships and a French frigate are currently involved in the search operation, along with 12 Brazilian and two French planes.

Although weather conditions were described as “unfavorable for air missions,” the search was continuing Sunday, the military said in a statement. Most of the focus is on the area where the bodies were found, but reconnaissance planes are also flying over adjacent areas in the hope of finding more bodies or debris.

Photo's of Drive-by attack at party in Trenton

Photo's By Daryl Mikell Brooks Of Todays News NJ

STAFF WRITER Trenton Times
TRENTON -- A hail of bullets claimed the life of a 13-year-old girl yesterday evening after a drive-by shooting interrupted what was by all accounts a peaceful block party.

The slaying occurred on the corner of Rossell Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard shortly before 7 p.m., police said, marking the city's ninth homicide this year.

Neighbors had gathered at Ros sell Avenue for a campaign block party hosted by North Ward city council candidate Divine Allah when a car passed by "and sprayed the area with bullets," said Capt. Joe Juniak, adding that police could not confirm whether the shooting was related to the block party.

Police said the girl was shot in the back and rushed to Capital Health at Fuld, where she was pronounced dead shortly after.

As of last night, police said they had no suspect descriptions and did not know how many shooters were involved, but were searching for a green, four-door sedan, possibly a Ford Taurus, believed to be linked to the homicide.

Police were also investigating whether the shooting was connected to a similar incident on Saturday night, when a call came for a car with its windshield shot out at the same location, Juniak said.

At the scene, yellow police tape sealed off more than a half block of MLK Boulevard, where more than a dozen bullet casings were scat tered in the street.

"It was automatic gunfire, definitely automatic gunfire," Juniak said. "And now we've got a 13-year-old girl that's dead."

Members of the police department expressed anger and sorrow last night, and vowed to find the suspects responsible for the girl's death.

"We're not going to stand for these cowardly acts," said Police Director Irving Bradley Jr., who called the shooting "a real tragedy."

"No stone will be left unturned to find the people who did this," said police spokesman Sgt. Pedro Medina.

Neighbors and partygoers joined police in decrying the senseless violence, saying everyone, especially the dozens of children in attendance, were enjoying themselves at the party when shots rang out.

"It was a nice, peaceful cookout. Everybody was minding their own business. Next thing you know, pow, pow, pow," said Linda Terry, who was at the party when the shots were fired. "All I saw was the cement when I dropped to the ground."

"We just knew we were having a good time until they started shooting," said another woman. "Wasn't anybody fighting or anything. The kids were just having a good time. They were just having a beautiful time."

The party was held as a "Meet Your Candidate" function for Allah, the national youth minister for the New Black Panther Party and a city council candidate for 2010.

The event was supposed to run from 12 to 8 p.m., according to an event flier, which promised "a day of community, family, food, fun and EduTainment."

"My condolences go to the family," Allah said. "This is a very unfortunate situation."

For many neighbors, the homicide brought back memories of Ta jahnique Lee, the 8-year-old shot in the face three years ago when caught in the middle of gang crossfire.

"When I was growing up, you could just sit on the block," said one woman who identified herself only as Brandy.

Looking out at the squad cars, the yellow crime scene tape and the orange cones marking the loca tion of bullet casings, she sighed.

"How did anybody know the devil was going to be riding here today?" she asked.

Staff Writer Alex Zdan contributed to this story.

Obama promises 600,000 new jobs from stimulus spending

Only $37 billion of the $787 billion has been spent so far. Confusing provisions and the sheer size of the bill have created delays.

New York

President Obama is set to announce Monday plans to ramp up spending of the $787 billion in economic stimulus money this summer, promising to create or save 600,000 new jobs.

The president is frustrated that it’s taking so long to get the money into the American economy. The national unemployment rate hit 9.4 percent last week, a 25-year high. According to the government’s website, only $37 billion had been spent by May 22, and a good portion of that money went to Social Security recipients and tax relief.

An array of federal agencies from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of the Interior intend to accelerate spending on 10 major projects this summer, according to Reuters. Some of the expedited spending is for 200 waste and water systems in rural areas and some maintenance and construction projects at airports, highways, and the national parks.

But contractors and budget analysts familiar with government efforts to spend large sums of money say the delays are not surprising. Some states have their own competitive bidding rules, and “Buy America” provisions in the stimulus legislation are causing confusion.

In short, spending hundreds of billions of dollars quickly and responsibly is not easy.

“Starting something new and getting money out the door is not a fast process,” says Stan Collander, a managing director at Qorvis Communications and a federal budget expert.

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example, Congress passed legislation spending billions of dollars. One program was a Community Development Block Grant of $13.3 billion for Louisiana. This money was mainly for contractors, home construction, and bridges, according to D.J. Nordquist, a former Gulf Coast relief staffer. As of May 15, almost 30 percent of the money was still unspent.

“You can only get the bureaucracy to move so fast,” says Ms. Nordquist, formerly with the agency involved in the Gulf Coast redevelopment.

The sheer size of the spending package is perhaps the largest impediment, says Isabel Sawhill, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

In addition, many agencies in the new administration are still not fully staffed. “So the capacity of the federal government is somewhat reduced, and you have a real challenge on your hands,” says Ms. Sawhill, a member of the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration.

Confusion is also a factor. The Obama administration is trying to document all the new jobs and projects, leading to uncertainty about reporting requirements.

The “Buy America” provisions in the legislation are causing delays, as well. Contractors must obtain certification that most of a piece of permanently installed equipment was made in the US.

“When contractors are unable to obtain from the manufacturers that certification on a timely basis, it can lead to a delay in awarding a contract,” says Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

That’s certainly the case for Michael Welch, one of seven contractors that AGC brought together Friday to discuss the impact of the federal stimulus package.

Mr. Welch’s company, BRB Contractors of Topeka, Kan., won a contract and sought to buy a $2 million piece of equipment made in Austria. Only one US company made a similar item, and it cost 30 percent more.

“We’re having problems getting anyone up the line of command to make a decision if it’s OK for us to buy [the Austrian-made product],” he says.

Moreover, some of the equipment that must be certified as made in America is no longer even made domestically, says Don Laskey, president of Laskey-Clifton Corp. in Coos Bay, Ore.

For their part, states and communities have been slow to hand out contracts to complex jobs, given the paperwork involved, says Mr. Simonson of AGC.

“The more complex the documentation for the bid, the more time it takes to award a contract,” he says. “As summer goes by, we’ll see more bid letting, and some contractors will have a chance to respond to different projects.”

The funds that have been flowing through to states have mostly been “shovel-ready” projects, such as paving projects or some form of road construction.

Pike Industries in Walpole, N.H., for example, reported that it has hired or will hire 120 people as a result of the stimulus package. The company is working on eight paving projects in New England, says Christian Zimmermann, president of Pike Industries.

Last August, Pike was planning to lay off 150 people. “So, the stimulus spending is a swing of 250 employees for Pike, or about 25 percent of our workforce,” says Mr. Zimmermann. “The stimulus has been very good for us.”

Spending on such projects goes well beyond the main contractor. BRB Contractors won a $13 million wastewater contract in Overland, Kan. It was eventually awarded $8 million in stimulus funds. BRB’s Welch was able to save 40 jobs at his own firm and many more in the community, he estimates.

“First of all, we will be hiring local suppliers … who will have to retain or hire more employees as a result of our employment,” says Welch. “We will also purchase process equipment or other materials from all over the United States from 15 or 20 companies.”

US working to win release of journalists in NKorea

Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling were arrested March 17 on the China-North Korea border. The circumstances surrounding their arrest and trial have been shrouded in secrecy, as is typical of the regime.

The Obama administration is working "through all possible channels" to secure the release of two young women journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea, the White House said Monday.

The two were found guilty of a "grave crime" against North Korea and of illegally crossing into the reclusive nation's territory, according to North Korea's state-run news agency.

Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson on Monday called the sentencing part of "a high-stakes poker game" and said the time might be right for the United States to work out the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee with the country's leaders in Pyongyang.

"It is harsher than expected," Richardson said on NBC's "Today" show.

At the White House, deputy spokesman William Burton said in a statement: "The president is deeply concerned by the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities, and we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release."

Richardson, who was instrumental in negotiating the release of U.S. citizens from North Korea in an incident in the 1990s, said "the good thing is that there is no charge of espionage." He also said now that the legal process has been completed, he thinks negotiations for their "humanitarian release" can begin.

Richardson said officials of the Obama administration had been in contact with him for his thoughts on how to proceed.

"This is a high-stakes poker game," he said. " ... In previous instances where I was involved in negotiating, you could not get this started until the legal process had ended."

Richardson, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination last year said he thought there were some positive signs of prospects for Ling's and Lee's release.

He said that North Korea so far has not, at least publicly, tried to tie this incident to differences with Washington over its nuclear program and the recent series of missile tests that it has conducted. He also said he has not seen particularly bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang on the issue of the two women held there.

Richardson said he has talked to the families of the two journalists, but he also said talk of negotiations at this juncture is "premature" because a framework for such discussions would have to first be established.

"What we would try to seek," he said, "is some (kind of) political pardon, some sort of respite from political proceedings."