- Created on 24 May 2013
(CNN) -- Eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt, charged with a crime for having sex with a 14-year-old girl, rejected a deal Friday that would have required her to plead guilty to child abuse, according to Hunt's attorney.
Hunt was charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery after the parents of the 14-year-old went to authorities. Hunt's family says their relationship was consensual, but in Florida a person under the age of 16 is not legally able to give consent to sex.
If Hunt is convicted, she could go to prison for 15 years -- a reality that touched off a maelstrom of controversy across the country this past week. The case became widely known when Hunt's family began an online campaign in defense of their daughter.
The plea deal from the Indian River County prosecutor's office would have required Hunt to plead guilty to felony child abuse, spend two years "on community control," which usually involves strict supervision, followed by one year of probation. According to the plea deal document, during her probation, Hunt would have had to agree to stay away from the 14-year-old, and to provide her probation officer with immediate access to her Internet and telephone communication.
In a statement saying that Hunt was rejecting the plea deal, her attorney, Julia Graves, wrote:
"This is a situation of two teenagers who happen to be of the same sex involved in a relationship. If this case involved a boy and girl, there would be no media attention to this case.
"Our client is a model citizen. She has been placed in an environment of school with her classmates where they go to school together, have lunch together, and play on the same team and are allowed to have communication and contact without barriers. Then when something develops between the two as a result of this environment created by the state, it leads to criminal prosecution."
"If this incident occurred 108 days earlier when she was 17, we wouldn't even be here," the attorney wrote.
Earlier this week, Hunt cried in front of news crews.
"I'm scared of losing my life, the rest of my life," she said, "not being able to go to college or be around kids, be around my sisters and my family."
In response, Charles Sullivan Jr., the attorney for the 14-year-old girl's family said they had been hoping the case would be resolved by now.
Now the 14-year-old girl may have to take the witness stand if the case goes to court, Sullivan said.
"No parent wants their child to have to testify in court, but unfortunately the reality of our system is we have a system where a defendant has the right to have all the witnesses present. It's just the aspect of our law," Sullivan said. "It's a difficult process but it's a necessary process in our system of justice."
The case has been a lightning rod for controversy after Hunt's family went public on Facebook, describing their daughter's case and essentially accusing the victim's family of going after their daughter because she is gay.
The victim's family said that isn't true; they are only trying to protect their 14-year-old.
The American Civil Liberties Union has spoken out in defense of Hunt and an online petition by Change.org had attracted some 270,000 signatures by Friday afternoon. They say the punishment does not equal the crime.
Despite the online furor, a case like this isn't all that unusual, said David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a national professional group.
"Prosecutors get these kinds of cases all the time, and it's almost always parents who come to them saying that something like this has happened," said LaBahn, who worked as a trial attorney in California for 10 years and focused on prosecuting sex crimes for four years.
The amount of difference between the alleged perpetrator's age and the victim's age weighs heavily in whether a prosecutor moves forward on a case, he said.
"If you had an 18- and 17-year-old, there may be some investigation," he said.
"If the 17-year-old says it was consensual, that would probably be the end of it and you wouldn't have charges."
But in this case, 18 and 14 is a wide gap, he said. "According to law in Florida, this is a crime."
It doesn't matter -- and shouldn't matter -- what people in an online community who don't have the investigative details of a case believe, he said.
He drew a comparison to the Jodi Arias case currently under way in Arizona. Many people -- even those on the jury -- said they couldn't conceive how a petite woman who claimed she'd been the victim of domestic violence could repeatedly stab her boyfriend, as she admits doing.
"As a prosecutor you cannot be influenced by anything other than the facts," he said.
If the Hunt case goes to trial, the prosecutor is likely to try to put on witnesses who can show that the 14-year-old was damaged psychologically by engaging in sex at such a young age, and that she wouldn't have normally done such a thing.
In an interview with CNN affiliate WPEC, Jim and Laurie Smith insisted that the girls' gender has nothing to do with the case. They are concerned about ages.
"Our daughter was 14, and this girl was 18," said Jim Smith.
According to the Smiths, they twice warned Hunt to stop.
"I had another adult, who is a mother, she came to me and said, 'Ms. Smith, you need to know this. She said, 'We told Ms. Hunt to leave your daughter alone but they are in a relationship. And, she's 18.'"
Laurie Smith said she was shocked. Her daughter was just too young, she thought.
The 14-year-old began to act out, the Smiths told WPEC.
Then one weekend morning the Smiths went to their daughter's bedroom and discovered she was missing.
They panicked, thinking someone took their daughter or that she was hurt. "Her running away was the furthest thing from our mind," said Jim Smith. "We thought ... you hear about kids getting abducted from their homes."
But they later learned that Hunt had picked their daughter up, they told WPEC.
"We had no other alternative but to turn to the law, use it basically as a last resort," Jim Smith said.
Bloggers have called Laurie Smith a gay basher and accused her of being abusive to her daughter. Numerous news reports have asked whether the Smiths went after the teen because of her sexual orientation.
But Smith says her goal is to protect her 14-year-old, and she will not relent.
"I will be an advocate of what she needs," the mother told WPEC. "The stories that people are saying ... I love my daughter. ... I'm willing to do whatever to protect her."
"This whole story about you blaming Kate for making your daughter gay ... where did that come from?" a reporter asked the parents.
"I don't know. It didn't come from us. That's not how we feel," Jim Smith answered.
Still, Hunt's supporters say she is being prosecuted because she was in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex. A Facebook support page the Hunt family set up called "Free Kate" has gathered more than 47,000 names.
The online petition grew from 150,000 signatures Thursday to nearly 270,000 early Friday afternoon. The petition asks prosecutors to drop the case.
But not everyone who is posting online might have the facts of the case. A glance at postings on Facebook and Twitter show that some people are getting the ages of the girls wrong. Others have posted erroneously that Hunt is being prosecuted for numerous other charges.
Regardless, everyone seems upset about the effect a felony child abuse conviction would have on Hunt, if she agreed to the plea deal.
LaBahn told CNN that a felony child abuse conviction would mean that Hunt would have to disclose her felony conviction on employment applications and she could never serve on a jury. She would be prohibited from voting for a period of time, though each state has different time frames for that rule, the attorney said. She may not be able to secure student loans either, he said, and she might not be allowed to adopt or obtain a childcare license.
Graves, Hunt's attorney, had earlier asked that the charges be reduced to a misdemeanor.
"This is a life sentence for behavior that is all too common, whether male, female, gay, straight," Graves said at a Wednesday news conference.
"High school relationships may be fleeting," she said, "but felony convictions are forever."
CNN's Sara Ganim and Kim Segal contributed to this report.
- Created on 24 May 2013
When Atlanta resident Chaquita Loveless joined the Navy at age 19 in 1990, she wanted to see the world, she wanted to train for a profession, and she wanted to serve her country. It never crossed her mind that she would ever have trouble finding a job.
Imagine her chagrin when, 23 years later, with the service, the training and the world exploration behind her, the hardest thing she had to do was find fulfilling work outside the military.
With thousands of former military men and women, many of them African American, pouring into the work force, employers need to be prepared to reach out to them with support and employment. Just in 2012 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that more than 20,000 new African-American veterans are unemployed.
"I don't think employers have a good understanding of how well the skills we learn in the military can translate to work outside," she says. Having risen through the ranks in the service from E-One -- "the lowest of the low," she says with a smile -- to Senior Chief Petty Officer and then Chief Warrant Officer, job hunting out in the world was a "humbling experience."
Now, after going back to school to get her Bachelors in Business Administration, Loveless has found work she enjoys with a team of veterans at the Bobby Dodd Institute AT&T call center. "We've turned this center into the Number One international Call center for AT&T," she said proudly. "It's what we do."
"In the service," she continues, "We learn integrity, discipline, time management, and accountability. Our mantra is 'teamwork makes the dream work.'"
Service men and women also learn flexibility, she added, noting that through her key job in the Navy was information systems and satellite communications on board aircraft carriers like the U.S.S. Nimitz, she could also shift skills easily and has even driven a ship.
"I guess I just want to ask employers to give some thought to us this Memorial Day. Let us get our foot in the door," she says. "Let us show what we can do."
- Created on 23 May 2013
(StatePoint) With more women rising to top positions in business and government, the topic of women and their capacity for leadership has been all the buzz in the media lately.
From Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s message to women to “lean in,” to Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer’s seemingly family-unfriendly human resources policies, societal expectations of women in power are shifting.
In fact, some of today’s top female business and political leaders have found success in shedding the “nice” factor from their work persona.
“I don’t subscribe to the notion that women manage or should manage in a gentler, more nurturing fashion than men,” says Gianna Angelopoulos, Greece’s Ambassador at Large, who recently authored a political memoir, “My Greek Drama: Life, Love, and One Woman’s Olympic Effort to Bring Glory to Her Country.”
Angelopoulos, who is well known for winning the bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics for Athens, Greece and has been named one of the 50 most powerful women by Forbes magazine, is a contemporary example of a woman breaking the mold, as certain aspects of her leadership style may raise eyebrows where gender politics are concerned.
For example, with the 2004 Olympics less than a year away, as President of the Organizing Committee for the Athens Games she publicly made the decision to devote less time to her three children and more to her job. And she ruffled feathers when she banned miniskirts in the workplace and openly admitted she could be strong and businesslike, yet shrewd enough to flatter powerful men to get what she wanted.
The debate about whether women or men make better leaders has raged for years. Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, several studies and polls concluded men held the upper hand. Today, attitudes have shifted and newer studies have declared women the victors.
According to a 2013 survey of more than 600 board directors, published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, women are better at decision-making, translating into better performance for their companies.
Despite a clear shift in the way women conduct business, they still face uphill battles in corporate America. Women are paid 23 percent less than men on average, according to the American Association of University Women, and in 2012, women only held 14.3 percent of the Fortune 500 Executive Officer positions, according to the Catalyst Census.
While the jury is still out on why imbalances of power remain, decades after the women’s liberation movement, some are firm when they say it has nothing to do with fundamental differences between genders.
“Women are as talented as men and, quite often, stronger,” contends Angelopoulos. “I believe women can be most effective by using all their gifts: strength, intelligence, beauty, charm and female intuition.”
More information about Angelopoulos and her new memoir can be found at www.mygreekdrama.com.
From Margaret Thatcher to Hilary Clinton, some of the most successful modern female leaders have defied gender role expectations. And today’s ambitious women continue to take cues from those who paved the way.
- Created on 23 May 2013
(StatePoint) As families nationwide are packing their gear and heading out by car, plane and boat, recent data suggests that this summer travel season could be substantially busier than in years past.
According to a survey conducted by the Professional Association of Innkeepers International and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, nearly 60 percent of innkeepers received increased inquiries for early summer, versus a similar timeframe last year.
“Based on the data I’ve seen and what I’m hearing from my colleagues in the travel industry, I anticipate more people will be vacationing this season, arguably more than they have been over the past five years,” points out Emmy Award-winning journalist and travel expert Rudy Maxa. “So with all those travelers hitting the open road, how can you and your family navigate your way to a fun summer vacation that’s also affordable?”
To help, Maxa, who is a contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler, has teamed with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to unveil a series of top summer travel tips. Here are three key pieces of advice that he’s sharing:
Think Outside the (Computer) Box
Consider conducting travel research offline. The Internet has been a boon for travelers, but sometimes there is too much information out there, which can cause confusion.
There are innovative ways to take advantage of personal knowledge from actual humans. For a modest fee, consider hiring a travel writer who is familiar with the place you want to visit. These writers, available through services such as FortNighter.com, can help customize your vacation based upon your personal preferences.
Use Loyalty Miles and Points
Accumulate and use award miles and points the smart way. Explore the lesser-known world of resources, such as MileValue.com, which publish free, regular advice to help individuals accumulate hundreds of thousands of miles and points.
Also, take some time to understand your credit card rewards program. Oftentimes, there are ways to accumulate maximum miles and points through everyday purchases, versus actually traveling.
Car rental loyalty programs can also yield free rentals when needed most. For example, Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s loyalty program, Enterprise Plus, allows members to earn points that are redeemable at any time for free rental days on any available vehicle at participating locations throughout North America.
Watch Your Money
Don’t change money abroad. Use your ATM card but be sure you remember your PIN as a series of numbers, not letters. Many ATMs overseas don’t have keypads with letters. And, no, the number “1” is not where you find the letters “A, B, C.”
And, if your credit card charges foreign transaction fees of up to 3 percent on every purchase, explore other cards that may give you more purchasing power abroad.
More free travel tips from Maxa can be found at http://aboutus.enterprise.com/summertravel/.
No matter if you are answering the call of exotic islands or hitting the road closer to home, there are ways to turn your vacation into a grand getaway.
- Created on 23 May 2013
Even though Chelesa Fearce was homeless for most of her time in high school, the young dynamo will still manage to graduate with honors on Thursday as its star student and class valedictorian, reports WSBTV. And she's headed to Spelman College to pursue her undergraduate degree.
During Fearce’s high school years, her and her family e...