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British ex-soldier gets 18 years to life for parachute plot to kill wife, who survived plunge

“Are you trying to bump me off?” Victoria Cilliers joked in a text to her husband after finding a gas leak in their U.K. home one early morning in March 2015.

It turned out, he was.

Emile Cilliers, 38, of Amesbury, Wiltshire, was sentenced Friday to life in prison, with a chance of parole after 18 years, for the nearly successful plot prosecutors said he came up with when the gas leak failed to work -- tampering with his wife’s parachute before a skydiving jump. Wiltshire police officials said Cilliers, a sergeant in the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, was also found guilty of attempted murder and criminal damage with intent to endanger life for tampering with a gas fitting in a kitchen cupboard at the home the couple shared with their two children. 

The children were home with their mother when Victoria Cilliers discovered the leak, the BBC reported. She was going to the kitchen the morning of March 30, 2015, to get milk for one of the children when she smelled gas. 

The seasoned and skilled skydiving instructor suffered a broken pelvis, broken ribs, two broken vertebrae and internal injuries just six days later -- on Easter Sunday -- when both her main parachute and her reserve chute failed at 4,000 feet, the BBC reported. A seasoned and skilled skydiving instructor, she survived when she landed in the soft earth of a recently plowed field near Salisbury.

>> Read more trending news

Justice Nigel Sweeney described Emile Cilliers’ crimes as “wicked offending of extreme gravity” when sentencing him to prison during a hearing in Winchester Crown Court. 

“That your wife recovered at all was miraculous; she undoubtedly suffered severe physical harm and she must have suffered psychological harm in the terror of the fall and since,” Sweeney said, according to The Guardian. “She appears to have recovered from the physical harm but not, having seen her in the witness box at length, from the psychological harm.”

Victoria Cilliers said in interviews after her husband’s conviction that she still has a hard time seeing her husband as a killer, the newspaper reported. Though she intended to visit him in prison to confront him about what happened, she was not planning a divorce, she said.

Army officials said following Emile Cilliers’ sentencing that steps would be taken to have him discharged from service, the newspaper said. 

The BBC reported that testimony at trial indicated that Emile Cilliers was having affairs with two women, including his ex-wife, at the time of the alleged murder attempts. He was also having unprotected sex with prostitutes. 

Investigators testified that they also found that Cilliers was £22,000 in debt and was hoping to use a £120,000 payout from his wife’s life insurance policy to take care of his problem.   

Detective Inspector Paul Franklin, of the Wiltshire police, on Friday described Emile Cilliers as a “cold, callous, selfish man who cares only about money and his sexual conquests.”

“From the outset, Emile Cilliers showed no remorse for what he had done,” Franklin said in a statement. “He lied all the way through two trials, but in the end justice won out with the guilty verdicts and now a long prison sentence.”

Emile and Victoria Cilliers, an Army physiotherapist, had a troubled seven-year marriage during which Victoria Cilliers occasionally doubted her husband’s fidelity, the BBC reported. When she voiced suspicions, he would blame her doubts on her experience with the infidelity of her first husband, the news station said. 

Meanwhile, Emile Cilliers had affairs and blew through money, borrowing cash from his wife, from colleagues and from loan sharks, the BBC said. He grew distant from his wife, who was thrilled when he texted her over the Easter holiday to suggest a skydiving jump together. 

At the same time, he was texting his mistress, “Have I told you lately that I am massively in love with the most amazing woman in the world? I want my life with you to start now,” The Guardian reported

The couple went to Netheravon Airfield together on April 4, 2015, the day before Easter, for the jump, which was called off due to bad weather. The BBC reported that instead of returning his wife’s parachutes to the store where they rented them, Emile Cilliers stashed them in the couple’s locker at the airfield so Victoria could use it the following day.

Prosecutors said that the defendant did so because he had taken the parachutes into a restroom and twisted the lines of the main chute to prevent it from opening, the news station reported. He also removed parts from the reserve chute.

Victoria Cilliers testified at her husband’s trial that she returned, alone, to the airfield on Easter Sunday. Her excitement for the jump was gone, but her husband encouraged her to go through with it, she said. 

“I remember the pilot giving me a smile as I went out,” she said, according to The Guardian. “Usually that’s the part that I love; the cold rush, the smell. And it just did not hit me.”

Instead, what hit her was terror as her main parachute failed to open properly. A witness on the ground that day testified at Emile Cilliers’ trial that the reserve chute resembled a bag of laundry as Victoria Cilliers was thrown around “like a rag doll.”

“I could not figure how to slow it down,” Victoria Cilliers said. “It was just getting faster and faster and faster. The speed was unreal. The last thing I remember is trying to get some kind of control, then everything went black.”

The fact that both chutes failed was such a rare occurrence that the British Parachute Association launched an inquiry. The investigation found that in about 2.3 million sport parachute jumps in the U.K. over the previous 10 years, there had never been an instance of both the main and reserve parachutes failing. 

See the British Parachute Association’s report here. 

In addition, the parachutes Victoria Cilliers used the day of her fall functioned properly when used just a day or two prior to the incident. 

The police also became involved in the investigation, during which detectives obtained texts and emails that showed details of his multiple affairs, The Guardian reported. They also learned about his financial problems. 

While investigating the gas leak at the couple’s home, police officials found spots of blood next to the gas fitting that was tampered with, the newspaper reported. 

Emile Cilliers was arrested on April 28, about two weeks after his wife’s fall. 

Florida man killed, 2 others injured in argument over dog, deputies say

A 22-year-old Fort Meade, Florida, man was killed and two others were injured Monday evening in a shooting during an argument about a dog, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said.

>> 2 killed, 2 hospitalized in family fight over stray dog

Deputies were called shortly before 6:45 p.m. to a home on Third Street Southwest near South Charleston Avenue and West Broadway Street after a shooting was reported, Sheriff's Office spokesman Brian Bruchey said.

Teconsa Tyree McDonald was killed and Calvin Johnson, 30, and Edwin Burgess, 18, were injured in the shooting at the home of 48-year-old Charles Peddycoart, Bruchey said.

>> On WFTV.com: Dognapped: Woman investigates, rescues her dog after it was stolen

"The preliminary information – which could change as the investigation progresses – suggests that McDonald, Johnson and Burgess were looking for their dog and knocked on Peddycoart's front door," he said. "After opening the door, an argument ensued, and Peddycoart shot all three men in the area of the front porch."

Detectives said they're interviewing Peddycoart.

>> Read more trending news 

Johnson, McDonald and Burgess were roommates, investigators said.

"McDonald died on scene, and the injured men were transported to an area hospital for surgery, with gunshot wounds to the torso," Bruchey said. "Their conditions are unknown at this time."

The shooting remains under investigation.

No other details were given.

Woman found dead in freezer following husband’s suicide, police say

Arkansas police officers attempting to notify a woman of her husband’s suicide earlier this month found her body stuffed into a freezer at their home. 

Lori Jean Bruick, 55, of West Fork, died of blunt force trauma, according to a news release from the West Fork Police Department. Her obituary puts the day she died as June 7.

West Fork police officers learned of Lawrence “Larry” Bruick’s apparent suicide June 10 from Logan County sheriff’s deputies, who reported that the 56-year-old took his life about 100 miles away from home near Mount Magazine, police officials said. Officers began trying to contact Lori Bruick at the couple’s home that day to deliver the news.

The officers were unable to make contact with Lori Bruick the following day, either. 

“Officers could see items in the home that led them to believe that Mrs. Bruick was still at home,” the West Fork police’s news release said

The officers forced entry into the home, at which time they found men’s clothing that appeared to have blood on them, the news release said. They also found letters that indicated Larry Bruick was contemplating suicide. 

Evidence of a struggle was found in the couple’s garage, the news release said. Lori Bruick’s body was found in a chest freezer inside the garage, officials said. 

Police officials said investigators do not know what caused the fight that precipitated the slaying. Larry Bruick, whose obituary indicated that he died the day before he was found, was the sole suspect in the homicide, officials said. 

>> Read more trending news

The couple is survived by two grown children, four grandchildren and a host of other relatives, according to Lori Bruick’s obituary. A joint funeral was held Monday morning, and Lori Bruick is scheduled to be buried Tuesday in her native Texarkana. 

It was not clear if Larry Bruick would be buried alongside her. 

A statement said to be from the family was posted on the Arkansas High School Class of ’81 alumni Facebook page

“The Bruick family has suffered a tragedy and that resulted in loss of life for Larry and Lori Bruick. Many details remain unclear and likely will for some time,” the statement said. “We thank you for and covet your prayers, messages of support, and actions of kindness. As we move forward, we ask that you respect the family's privacy concerning the details of this tragedy as we move through the grieving process.”

One former classmate called the pair a “match made in heaven.”

“Now they get to dance with angels,” Chuck Phillips wrote. “Prayers for the family.”

A memorial video on the funeral home’s website shows photos of the couple with their family in happier times. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations in Lori Bruick’s name to the Washington Regional Medical Center’s patient benevolence fund. 

According to a LinkedIn profile in her name, Lori Bruick was a respiratory therapist there. 

The family asked for donations in Larry Bruick’s name to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Police: Texas deputy repeatedly sexually assaulted 4-year-old, threatened mother with deportation

A Bexar County Sheriff's Department deputy was arrested on a felony charge of super aggravated sexual assault Sunday after a 4-year-old girl’s mother was blackmailed to stay silent about the abuse, according to police. The victim’s mother is an undocumented immigrant and was threatened with deportation if she spoke out.

>> Read more trending news 

KENS reported that department officials arrested detention Deputy Jose Nunez, 47, after the victim told her mother about the abuse Saturday night in San Antonio, Texas.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said at a news conference Sunday that the mother went to a local fire station and Nunez was arrested. 

"The details of the case are quite frankly heartbreaking, disturbing, disgusting and infuriating all at the same time," Salazar said, adding that Nunez had physical contact with the victim and there was "at least some indication of minor injury."

"We have reason to believe that this goes back at least several months, possibly a couple of  several years," Salazar said.

Nunez, a 10-year veteran of the department, is on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Former ‘Jeopardy!’ champ pleads guilty to sneaking into college email accounts

A former assistant professor at a Michigan college who won seven episodes of “Jeopardy!” in 2012 pleaded guilty to sneaking into the email accounts of other professors, students and administrators, The Daily Telegram reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Stephanie Jass, 48, who taught history at Adrian College, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of unauthorized computer access. She faces up to five years in prison and is expected to be sentenced July 20, the newspaper reported.

At the time she was a contestant on “Jeopardy!,” Jass’ seven victories were tied for the best winning streak on the popular game show. That record has since been broken, the Telegram reported.

Police said that during a four-day period in the spring of 2017, Jass logged into other people’s email accounts without permission after the college reset passwords and gave teachers, students and administrators the same temporary passwords, the Telegram reported. Another professor discovered that Jass was accessing other accounts and reported it to school officials, the newspaper reported.

Jass admitted accessing the emails of school administrators, faculty members, students and even her stepson to school officials in May 2017, The Jackson Citizen Patriot reported.

Jass was "terminated with cause" in January, the Citizen Patriot reported.

Police: 13-year-old girl dead in ‘brutal’ killing, grandmother’s body also believed found

Police in Alabama have charged two men with the slaying of a 13-year-old girl and anticipate charges in the death of the girl’s grandmother, whose remains may have been found Friday near a rural cemetery. 

Yoni Martinez Aguilar, 26, and Israel Gonzalez Palomino, 34, have been charged with capital murder in the death of Mariah Feit Lopez. WAFF in Huntsville reported that the teen and her grandmother, Oralia Mendoza, had been missing from the city since the weekend of June 2.

Mendoza was reported missing June 6 by worried relatives, the news station reported. 

Lopez, whose body was found the following day in a wooded area in nearby Owens Cross Roads, was identified last week through dental records, Madison County Sheriff’s Office officials said in a news release

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Donny Shaw described Lopez’s cause of death as “heinous” but declined to say how she was killed, WAFF reported

“It’s a very brutal means of death and whenever the public learns of it, it’s going to be shocking and it’s going to be upsetting a lot of people,” Shaw told the news station. “We want to deliver that information so that we don’t harm the upcoming cases and trials that will be had.”

Investigators believe that the teen was killed where her body was found.

Bethel Lemley, the owner of the property where Lopez was found, said her son-in-law spotted the girl’s body in some weeds near her driveway.

“My daughter said, ‘Mama, you can see her foot and see her leg,’” Lemley told WAFF. “I couldn’t see it, but they did.”

The homeowner said she could not understand who would commit such a crime. 

“Who could have done such a cruel thing?” Lemley said. “Kill somebody and throw them off like a dog; like an animal.”

The homicide case began as a death investigation when Lopez’s body was found. At that time, detectives were asking the public for help identifying the person found. 

The teen was described as wearing red pajama pants with gingerbread men on them, as well as a pink undershirt and black tank top. A news release indicated that she also had a cerebral shunt. 

>> Read more trending news

Gina Long, a substitute teacher who taught Lopez at Challenger Middle School, in Huntsville, described the girl as quiet and sweet in an interview with WAFF

“She got along well with everyone in the class,” Long said. “Everyone liked her.” 

She said her heart broke when she learned that the 13-year-old was the victim found dead in the county earlier this month. 

“She didn’t deserve anything that could have happened,” Long said

A Huntsville City Schools spokesman told WAFF that school administrators and officials were saddened to learn of Lopez’s death.

“We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the family and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers,” Keith Ward said

The case was first described as a homicide investigation a week after the discovery of the body, when the honor roll student was positively identified. Mendoza, who was Lopez’s legal guardian, was still missing and believed to be in danger, Sheriff’s Office officials said.

The case moved quickly at that point, with Aguilar and Palomino being developed as suspects overnight. Both men, who were acquaintances of Mendoza and her granddaughter, were subsequently taken into custody at the home they shared.

Palomino was initially arrested for possession of methamphetamine, WAFF reported. Both men were interviewed separately, at which time detectives developed enough probable cause to arrest them in Lopez’s killing. 

Leads in the investigation led detectives to Moon Cemetery, where the second body was found, according to a news release issued Friday. The cemetery is about 2½ miles from the wooded area where Lopez’s body was found. 

“There is reason to believe that the remains are those of Oralia Mendoza, the missing guardian/grandmother of Mariah Lopez,” the release said. “However, positive identification will have to be made by the Department of Forensic Sciences.”

The news release did not indicate if either of the men led investigators to the body’s location. 

Shaw told WAFF that all indications were that the body was that of Mendoza.

“It’s a sad update, but it’s moving closer as to when we can make a positive identification (and) we can give this family some closure as to what happened, how it happened and what exactly occurred in this case,” Shaw said

The spokesman credited the community with moving the investigation forward.

“For a murder where there were no indications, no witnesses, nothing to lean on when we began with it, the Hispanic community, the partners, the media, we’ve been able to do a phenomenal thing in just a little over seven days by coming to the arrests of two individuals,” Shaw said

Palomino and Aguilar are both being held without bond in the Madison County jail. Aguilar is also being held for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Florida mom arrested after 3-year-old left in car overnight, deputies say; child hospitalized

A 3-year-old girl was in critical condition Sunday afternoon after being left in a vehicle overnight near Sanford, Florida, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said.

>> 10 ways to prevent a hot car death

Deputies said they were called to the Vista Haven Apartments on Petunia Terrace around 11:12 a.m. Sunday after reports of a missing child left in a vehicle that was possibly stolen.

>> Protect your kids from the heat

The toddler was found overheated and in and out of consciousness inside the vehicle at the apartment complex and was taken to a local hospital in critical but stable condition, deputies said.

>> On WFTV.com: Boy, woman charged in armed home invasion that sent naked Florida man scurrying to roof

Deputies said they arrested 33-year-old Sanford resident Casey Keller and charged her with child neglect with great bodily harm.

>> Read more trending news 

Keller allegedly traveled to a liquor store late Saturday night with three children and returned to the apartment complex around 11:15 p.m., investigators said.

According to a press release, Keller took two older children into an apartment but did not bring in the 3-year-old.

>> On WFTV.com: Man arrested in connection with woman's shooting death at motel near Orlando airport

Deputies said Keller called 911 Sunday morning to report the child was missing.

Investigators said they have found no evidence the vehicle was stolen.

Walmart shooting: Armed civilian took down shooter in Washington state, police say

An armed civilian took down a shooter after at least two people were shot Sunday night at a Washington state Walmart, police said.

>> Watch the news report here

Tumwater police said the civilian, described by officers as a good Samaritan, shot and killed the suspect at the scene. 

>> Visit KIRO7.com for complete coverage of the Walmart shooting

The shooting happened just after 5:30 p.m. PDT at the Walmart Supercenter in Tumwater, about 65 miles south of Seattle.

“I heard two bangs. It sounded like gunshots to me,” witness Robert Berwick said. "I looked down the aisle and saw a person running.” 

That’s when Berwick ran, too. There was chaos in the parking lot, and he said the shooting suspect tried to carjack another man. That’s when the suspect was shot.

>> On KIRO7.com: 2 shot in Washington state Walmart parking lot; suspect killed

“I thanked him for saving my life,” Berwick said of the attempted carjacking victim who shot the suspect. “He didn’t look like he had any regrets. I hope he doesn’t have any.”

Another witness to the shooting, Megan Chadwick, said her husband saw the civilian take down the shooter.

"He said he watched him (the shooter) take his last breath," Chadwick said. "There were three civilians going after him (the shooter) to shoot him and two of them had their guns up – and then the third guy shot him through the window of the car."

>> Read more trending news 

Chadwick said her husband was armed, as well.

She was inside the Walmart during the shooting with her multiple children.

"I looked over and saw hundreds of people running out. ... Just a flood of people and everyone was screaming and frantic. ... When we got about to the door, I heard someone say, 'Gun. Shooter.' And I knew something was serious," Chadwick said.

Parents charged with child abuse after 10-month-old baby girl dies

Two parents in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, are being charged after their 10-month-old daughter died, investigators say.

>> Watch the news report here

Timothy Tatum and Ashley Lee will be in court Monday facing charges of felony child abuse with serious bodily injury based on preliminary autopsy results, investigators said.

>> Read more trending news 

Police said the child died May 24. Authorities said Tatum and Lee were arrested when drugs, including opioids and cocaine, were found in their home on Knights Bridge Road.

More details about what caused the baby's death were not immediately available.

Read more here.

Kidnapping phone scam targeting parents could cost victims thousands, police warn

Police are warning of a kidnapping scam targeting parents in Washington state.

On Friday, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department shared information about a kidnapping scam where suspects attempt to steal thousands of dollars by terrifying parents with false information. 

>> Fake kidnappers target mom after daughter posts about vacation

Police said the scam victimized a Spanaway family Wednesday. 

Employees at an Albertsons grocery store in Spanaway saw a mother trying to purchase thousands of dollars in gift cards and heard her speaking on the phone with "kidnappers," police said. 

Deputies responded, contacting the mother and letting her know the alleged kidnapping was likely a scam. Together, they called her son but didn't get an answer. They searched for her son for hours and eventually found him safe at his workplace, officials said. 

Police said the mother was convinced the scam was real because the suspects called from her son's phone number. They also coordinated a joint call with her son that convinced her he was with the suspects. 

"The mother asked the 'kidnappers' to prove that they had her son by asking him what movie she and her son were going to watch that night," police said. "The suspects briefly patched the mother and son onto a conference call so they could hear each other's voices, and the suspects were able to get an answer to her verifying question."

>> Read more trending news 

The suspects called the son, claiming to be with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, and told him he missed jury duty and they had a warrant out for his arrest, which they could eliminate if he purchased $5,000 in prepaid gift cards and gave them card codes.

The mother in the Spanaway scam did not end up buying gift cards, but her son lost more than $5,400 that he used buying gift cards to stop what he believed was a warrant for his arrest.

A reminder from the Pierce County Sheriff's Department:

"Please remember the Sheriff’s Department NEVER collects money from the public for arrest warrants, traffic infractions, or missed jury duty. If someone threatens your arrest or the arrest of your family member and demands payment – especially with gift cards! – it is a SCAM.

>> Read the Facebook post here

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