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News Wrap: Two men freed, 30 years after murder conviction

September 3, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  Confirmation came today that a second American journalist has indeed been murdered by Islamic State militants in Syria. A video posted yesterday showed the beheading of Steven Sotloff.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Overnight, our government determined that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  From President Obama on down, American leaders voiced outrage today. The president spoke in Estonia, insisting the killers will not cow the United States.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Steven Sotloff was a freelancer who had worked for “TIME” and “Foreign Policy” magazines. He vanished last year in Syria and had not been seen since. Then, two weeks ago, he appeared briefly in the video of James Foley’s beheading, also at the hands of a hooded jihadist who speaks with a British accent.

PHILIP HAMMOND, Foreign Secretary, United Kingdom:  Our preliminary analysis is that this video is genuine, that it is Mr. Sotloff, and that it appears to be the same person with an apparently British voice that appeared in the last video.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Hammond said London is considering every possible option to protect a British hostage who was threatened in yesterday’s video.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN:  We’re united.

And in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, today, Vice President Joe Biden vowed to pursue the killers to the gates of hell. Meanwhile, the Israeli government confirmed Sotloff was also an Israeli citizen. And a former Islamic State captive who had befriended Sotloff told an Israeli newspaper that the journalist managed to hide his Judaism from the militants.

Filmmaker Matthew VanDyke knew both Sotloff and Foley. He says they considered it vital to tell the story of Syria’s civil war, despite the obvious danger.

MATTHEW VANDYKE, Friend of Steven Sotloff and James Foley:  They were both journalists that were careful. They took precautions. And, unfortunately, even if you do everything right, sometimes, in Syria, things go wrong.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The State Department has said a few Americans are still being held by Islamic State fighters in Syria, including a 26-year-old woman who’d been doing aid work.

Late this afternoon, the Sotloff family issued a statement through a spokesman outside their home in Pinecrest, Florida.

BARAK BARFI, Sotloff Family Spokesperson:  Steve often said his job was to hold people’s hands, to build rapport before delving into the story. He never rushed or was pressured. He was appreciated by all who met him for sincerity and kindness. Steve had a gentle soul that this world will be without.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We will have an extended discussion on what to do about the Islamic State later in the program.

Nearly 400 more people have died in the last week in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organization reported today that the overall toll is now more than 1,900. American Nancy Writebol contracted Ebola in Liberia, but recovered in Atlanta after receiving an experimental drug. She appeared today at her missionary group’s headquarters near Charlotte, North Carolina, and she reflected on her ordeal.

NANCY WRITEBOL:  There were some very, very dark days, and those dark days are not just what I experienced. I know it’s what our brothers and sisters who have Ebola in isolation units experience. I watched as people were by themselves not able to have a family member near them, not able to feel the touch of another person near them because they’re isolated.

The question is usually asked, what do you think saved you?  Was it the ZMapp drug?  Was it the supportive care?  Was it the Liberian and our U.S. health, our U.S. medical people?  Was it those doctors and nurses that helped to save you?  Or was it your faith?  And my answer to that question is all of the above.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In another development, U.N. officials warned that a Nigerian doctor may have spread Ebola to dozens of people after he became infected. At one point, friends from his church laid hands on him as part of a healing ceremony.

In Pakistan, anti-government protest leaders opened new negotiations with opposition lawmakers in a bid to end weeks of unrest. Thousands of demonstrators had marched on the capital, Islamabad. They demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif be removed for alleged vote fraud in last year’s elections. Violent clashes over the weekend left three protesters dead and more than 500 injured. Since then, the crowds have thinned.

The longest-serving man on North Carolina’s death row walked out of prison today, after a judge overturned his conviction. Henry McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown were found guilty of raping and murdering a young girl in 1983. But DNA tests now suggest another man may have committed the crime. Today, McCollum, now 50 years old, hugged his parents outside the gates of Central Prison in Raleigh.

HENRY MCCOLLUM, Former Inmate:  It’s wonderful. I’m not — I just thank God. I just thank God that I’m out of this place.

QUESTION:  Is there any anger in your heart right now?

HENRY MCCOLLUM:  Oh, no, no. Ain’t no anger — ain’t no anger in my heart. I forgive those people and stuff, right?  But, you know, I don’t like what they have done to me and my brother, because they took 30 years away from me for no reason.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  McCollum’s younger brother Leon Brown was also released today. He’d been serving a life sentence for the crimes.

A Michigan man was sentenced to at least 17 years in prison today for killing an unarmed woman on his porch. Theodore Wafer was convicted of second-degree murder last month. He testified he awoke November 2 to hear Renisha McBride pounding on his door before dawn. She’d been drinking heavily and had crashed her car. Wafer claimed self-defense, but prosecutors argued the shooting was unjustified regardless.

In economic news, thousands of laid-off casino workers have begun filing for unemployment benefits in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At least 300 lined up by the time the doors opened today. The mass filing will run for three days. Four of Atlantic city’s 12 casinos have closed this year, including two over the weekend that left 5,000 people out of work.

August was a better-than-expected month for auto sales in the U.S., largely due to increased demand for trucks and crossover SUVs. Chrysler had its best August in 12 years, and, along with Nissan, posted a double-digit gain. Ford’s rose a fraction of a percent. But General Motors sales were off more than 1 percent.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 10 points to close at 17,078; the Nasdaq fell 25 points to close at 4,572; and the S&P 500 slipped one point to finish at 2,000.