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Prosecution paints picture surrounding shooting in Charles City homicide case
 Steve Bohnel  / 

CHARLES CITY | The state of Iowa continued to present its case on Thursday against Antoine Williams, the 36-year-old Chicago native accused of shooting a Mason City man in Charles City this past June.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister and Floyd County Attorney Rachel Ginbey called several witnesses to testify Thursday, ranging from law enforcement officials to the state medical examiner to Williams' neighbors at the Casa Apartments in Charles City.

According to police, Williams shot 36-year-old Nathaniel Fleming, last known address Mason City, multiple times, causing his death. He has been accused of first-degree murder.

The youngest to testify Thursday was Williams' seven-year-old daughter. She stated she looked outside her bedroom window the night of the shooting and saw a body near a dumpster in a parking lot near the Casa Apartments. She didn't, however, know who it was, but did see a red SUV drive off shortly after the fatal shooting.

That red SUV, a Chevy Equinox, was recovered by Waterloo police on July 3, multiple witnesses testified Thursday. Police claim that Williams fled in that vehicle and eventually ended up in Chicago, where he was taken into custody July 5.

Much of Thursday's testimony was dedicated to how multiple police forces worked together to evaluate the crime scene and eventually find Williams in Chicago. Scott Reger, a special agent in the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations, told the jury he arrived at the crime scene at about 11:30 p.m. the night of the shooting, and interviewed several witnesses who heard what they thought were fireworks.

One of those witnesses was Tracy Hagen, who lived on the first floor of the Casa Apartments and said she knew Williams before the shooting. Hagen stated she was just entering the apartment complex with her family when she heard about six or seven pops.

"We assumed it was fireworks, since it was close to the Fourth of July," Hagen testified.

Another witness who heard the shooting was Chris Geweke-Vierkant, who was living in Highland Terrace Apartments, a nearby apartment complex. Geweke-Vierkant testified that he passed Williams in the Casa Apartment parking lot minutes before the shooting occurred.

He then saw two bright flashes and heard two bangs, which he thought were fireworks. He added that he knew Williams before the shooting, but only had short conversations while bumping into him on the street.

Testimony concerning the shooting Thursday focused on the periods before and after Fleming was shot, but not the incident itself. Dennis Klein, the state medical examiner, did detail the effects of the shooting on Fleming's body to jurors, and stated the cause of death was a homicide.

Klein, who performed the autopsy on Fleming, testified he could not conclude how many times Fleming was shot, because of various entrance and exit wounds on his body. He did, however, add it was either between four and six, and "most likely" five. 

There was extensive injuries to Fleming's neck, Klein testified. These were also shown to jurors through multiple autopsy photographs.

"I'm not a thoracic surgeon, nor am I a vascular surgeon, but I think it would have been a very difficult task to save his life," Klein testified.

Klein added that at the time of his death, Fleming had a blood alcohol level of about .242. No other drugs were found in his system, he said.

The last person who testified Thursday was Michael Roehrkasse, who originally led the investigation of the shooting with the state's Division of Criminal Investigations. He now works with the McHenry County Sheriff's office in Illinois.

Roehrkasse said that he collected evidence and took photos at the crime scene on June 30, which were shown to jurors. He added that he acted on a search warrant on Williams' apartment, which was "very bare." 

No weapons, ammo or other significant pieces of evidence were found there, Roehrkasse said.

Testimony concluded at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Trump to halt subsidies to health insurers

WASHINGTON — In a brash move likely to roil insurance markets, President Donald Trump will "immediately" halt payments to insurers under the Obama-era health care law he has been trying to unravel for months.

The Health and Human Services department made the announcement in a statement late Thursday night. "We will discontinue these payments immediately," said acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan and Medicare administrator Seema Verma.

In a separate statement, the White House said the government cannot legally continue to pay the so-called cost-sharing subsidies because they lack a formal authorization by Congress.

However, the administration had been making the payments from month to month, even as Trump threatened to cut them off to force Democrats to negotiate over health care. The subsidies help lower copays and deductibles for people with modest incomes.

Halting the payments would trigger a spike in premiums for next year, unless Trump reverses course or Congress authorizes the money. The next payments are due around Oct. 20.

The top two Democrats in Congress sharply denounced the Trump plan in a joint statement.

"It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America," said House and Senate Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi of California and Chuck Schumer of New York. "Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it."

The president's action is likely to trigger a lawsuit from state attorneys general, who contend the subsidies to insurers are fully authorized by federal law, and say the president's position is reckless.

"We are prepared to sue," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. "We've taken the Trump Administration to court before and won."

Word of Trump's plan came on a day when the president had also signed an executive order directing government agencies to design insurance plans that would offer lower premiums outside the requirements of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Frustrated over setbacks in Congress, Trump is wielding his executive powers to bring the "repeal and replace" debate to a head. He appears to be following through on his vow to punish Democrats and insurers after the failure of GOP health care legislation.

On Twitter, Trump has termed the payments to insurers a "bailout," but it's unclear if the president will get Democrats to negotiate by stopping payment.

Experts have warned that cutting off the money would lead to a double-digit spike in premiums, on top of increases insurers already planned for next year. That would deliver another blow to markets around the country already fragile from insurers exiting and costs rising. Insurers, hospitals, doctors' groups, state officials and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have urged the administration to keep paying.

Leading GOP lawmakers have also called for continuing the payments to insurers, at least temporarily, so constituents maintain access to health insurance.

The so-called "cost-sharing" subsidies defray copays and deductibles for people with low-to-modest incomes, and can reduce a deductible of $3,500 to a few hundred dollars. Assistance is available to consumers buying individual policies; people with employer coverage are unaffected by the dispute.

Nearly 3 in 5 customers qualify for help, an estimated 6 million people or more. The annual cost to the government is currently about $7 billion.

But the subsidies have been under a legal cloud because of a dispute over whether the Obama health care law properly approved them. Adding to the confusion, other parts of the Affordable Care Act clearly direct the government to reimburse the carriers.

For example, the ACA requires insurers to help low-income consumers with their copays and deductibles.

And the law also specifies that the government shall reimburse insurers for the cost-sharing assistance that they provide.

But there's disagreement over whether the law properly provided a congressional "appropriation," similar to an instruction to pay. The Constitution says the government shall not spend money unless Congress appropriates it.

House Republicans trying to thwart the ACA sued the Obama administration in federal court in Washington, arguing that the law lacked specific language appropriating the cost-sharing subsidies.

A district court judge agreed with House Republicans, and the case has been on hold before the U.S. appeals court in Washington. Up to this point the Trump administration continued making the monthly payments, as the Obama administration had done.

While the legal issue seems arcane, the impact on consumers would be real.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums for a standard "silver" plan will increase by about 20 percent without the subsidies. Insurers can recover the cost-sharing money by raising premiums, since those are also subsidized by the ACA, and there's no legal question about their appropriation.

Consumers who receive tax credits under the ACA to pay their premiums would be shielded from those premium increases.

But millions of others buy individual health care policies without any financial assistance from the government and could face prohibitive increases. Taxpayers would end up spending more to subsidize premiums.

Earlier Thursday, Trump had directed government agencies to design a legal framework for groups of employers to band together and offer health insurance plans across state lines, a longstanding goal for the president.

Fed agencies grades slip in 'plain writing'

The federal government got lower grades this year in how clearly it communicates with the public on selected writing samples, according to a new study released Thursday.

The study, the sixth annual, by the Center for Plain Language, a Virginia-based non-profit, rates 21 federal agencies on plain writing. And in its "2017 Federal Plain Language Report Card," it said the overall grade was a B. That's about half a grade lower than the previous year. In numeric terms, the center said, the grade fell by 11 percentage points.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who helps publicize the report card, said on a conference call the new grades are disappointing. "I will say as a former college teacher, I wouldn’t be happy with that. I’m not sure the American public should be, either," he said.

The center rated agencies on Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQ, pages, as well as data infographics.

The Social Security Administration rated the highest with an A+ for its FAQ and a B for its data infographic. The Department of the Treasury got a D+ for its FAQ and a C- for its infographic. The treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development were the only agencies that got grades as low as a D+. The center said it hadn't given out anything lower than a C for the past two years.

Loebsack did point out the U.S. Agriculture Department got A grades in both categories.

The center did change the way it graded the agencies for this year's report. In 2016, graders rated public forms and instruction, not Frequently Asked Question pages. Data infographics weren't rated at all last year.

Chip Crane, who is on the center's executive board of the center, acknowledged the change in methods but said he would have thought that an FAQ would receive a higher grade than a set of instructions.

Asked on the conference call whether this was a reflection on the Trump administration, officials instead theorized the lower grades may be the result of changing from one administration to another.

"Maybe it hasn't been as much on the front burner for some agencies because of all the other transition; you know, all the cabinets have a new secretary. Some have had a couple of different ones already," Crane said.

The study stemmed from a 2010 law, which was authored in the House by former Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa. The law is aimed at pushing federal agencies to communicate more clearly with constituents.

The center says it got involved because the law did not have a mechanism to review or enforce compliance. The group says it does not get government funding for its work, and the grading and preparation of the report is done by volunteers.