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FDA expediting use of a blood plasma coronavirus treatment as New York rolls out new clinical trials


The FDA said in a news release that it is “facilitating access” for patients with life threatening infections to blood plasma taken from a person who recovered after once testing positive for the virus.

It’s a treatment the state of New York is pursuing in clinical trials, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

The process, known as plasma-derived therapy or “convalescent plasma,” involves doctors testing the plasma of people who recovered for antibodies to the virus and then injecting that plasma, or a derivative of it, into the sick person.

The move is a “big step” forward, said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chief of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who has advocated for the plasma treatment.

“It has a high likelihood of working but we won’t know whether it works until its done” and enough patients have been treated, he said. “We do know based on history it has a good chance.”

Rolling out trials

The move comes as the US recorded its deadliest day since the outbreak began. More than 150 deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, were reported in the US on Tuesday, according to a tally by CNN. At least 700 people in the US have died and more than 53,000 have tested positive for the virus.

Cuomo said his state is also pursuing testing people’s blood for antibodies and immunity to coronavirus.

“That would be very important for us to know because then healthcare workers that could go back to work, there are workers that could return back to the private sector.”

The New York State Department of Health is also rolling out clinical test trials for anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic Azithromycin. The patients who are hospitalized with moderate or severe coronavirus will be eligible to receive the treatment.

“Those are the patients that we think can have the greatest impact so we want to focus on them,” according to a New York health official.

A second New York University trial is exploring if Hydroxychloroquine can be used as a preventative measure to preemptively treat people who don’t have the virus but are in contact with those who do, according to an email seen by CNN that was sent by a member of the NY Health Department’s Institutional Review Board.

Logistics are the biggest issue

The New York health official said for the plasma treatment they will be recruiting patients from New Rochelle, which had the first cluster of cases in the state and now has a critical mass of people who have recovered.

Plasma treatments will take time to get off the ground.

Physicians will need to identify patients who now test negative for the disease, extract their plasma and have it tested for antibodies for Covid-19 before it can be deployed to ill patients. If there are enough antibodies in plasma it can kill the disease, some doctors say.

The FDA is limiting the plasma treatment to the most seriously ill patients.

The New York health official acknowledged finding a good candidate and providing plasma could take days, but the official said they are expediting this process to just a few days.

“The biggest issue is the logistics. You’ve got to find the people, you’ve got to test them, identify the right donors, donate plasma and get it to the people who need it. That involves logistics but it’s all doable we’re not talking about rocket science,” said Casadevall. He says he’s been overwhelmed with people who want to donate their plasma and doctors around the world who want to understand the potential treatment.

Casadevall has set up a website where he hopes to post more information in the next few days.

Plasma treatments have been used since 1900s

He anticipates doctors could know in as soon as one month whether the plasma treatment is working if they get enough volunteers to donate their plasma.

How we've overcome past pandemics

Plasma treatments have been used since the 1900s to treat infectious diseases like influenza and more recently Ebola. China has used this treatment in its Covid-19 positive patients and says it is working although US doctors have not yet seen the underlying data.

Casadevall said it’s largely safe but there are always risks, including whether someone passes along a pathogen that wasn’t identified earlier.

He said the treatment might not work if the patients are too critical. In 2009, he said, there was a trial to treat influenza using plasma but some of the patients were already too sick for the antibodies to work. He said their dire situation had less to do with the virus and more to do with inflammation.

In New York, he said, the treatment will be given to people who are already very ill, but he hopes it will get to the point where doctors can prescribe it to patients who are diagnosed much earlier.



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Robert Durst murder case among Los Angeles jury trials suspended because of coronavirus concerns



Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson Josh Rubenstein confirmed the contents of the memo.

“Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, there will be a suspension of all jury trials, both those currently in progress, as well as those pending commencement, through March 30th. This notification applies to jury trials only,” the memo reads.

The hiatus would include the murder trial of multi-millionaire Robert Durst, pending a final approval from the judge presiding over the his case.
In a statement, Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile said that he does not have the authority to close the courts in the event of a pandemic but can make adjustments to lessen the flow of people in the courthouse.

Officials will re-examine the suspension decision before March 30, according to a police memo obtained by CNN.

Durst is accused of killing his best friend to stop her from incriminating him in the 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathleen McCormack Durst. The 76-year-old defendant was the subject of the HBO mini-series “The Jinx.”

He was arrested and charged in March 2015 in the death of Susan Berman, who was found dead in her Beverly Hills home two days before Christmas in 2000.

He has pleaded not guilty.



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Senate impeachment trials: 15 things to know about how they work



1. The rules were first written for the Senate trial of Andrew Johnson

Those 1868 rules, which seem baroque today, were updated by the Senate for modern use after Watergate, even though President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than wait for Congress to impeach him. The most recent updates were completed in 1986, according to the Senate historian’s website. They were used for Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999, but the basics still stem from what was written to guide senators through Johnson’s impeachment during Reconstruction.

2. The sessions are choreographed in a very specific way

In Rule II, for instance, there is a script for how the House tells the Senate that someone has been impeached:

“The Presiding Officer of the Senate shall direct the Sergeant at Arms to make proclamation who shall, after making proclamation, repeat the following words, viz: ‘All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against ___________;'”

You can see the sergeant-at-arms during the Clinton trial say those words at 10:08 in this video on C-SPAN. The current sergeant-at-arms is Michael Stenger, and you’re going to be seeing a lot more of him.
Rule III requires the Senate convene at 1 p.m. the next day — “Sunday Excepted” — to begin consideration of the articles. That is, “unless otherwise ordered by the Senate.”

3. Senators take an oath to “do impartial justice”

At least two Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have said they aren’t impartial jurors in this process. McConnell is coordinating with the White House about a trial strategy and Graham has also given input. “I’m not an impartial juror,” McConnell told reporters the day before the House impeachment vote. “This is a political process. There is not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision.”

It’s awkward, then, that McConnell and every other senator, according to Article 1 of the Constitution, shall “be on oath or affirmation” when they try impeachments.

The oath, which senators must take before trying an impeachment case, is spelled out in Rule XXV and specifically mentions impartiality:

“I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of (the person on trial), now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws; So help me God.”

Is there a difference between being “an impartial juror,” which McConnell says he’s not, and doing “impartial justice according to the Constitution,” which he will presumably swear to do?

4. Any of the rules can be changed

That phrase “unless otherwise ordered by the Senate” appears eight different times in the rules. It basically means that these rules exist until a simple majority of senators vote to change them. Say they don’t want to meet at 1 p.m. the day after the formal notification — they just agree not to. That’s why McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are engaging in negotiations about how a trial will proceed.

Here are some other items up for discussion:

  • Rule XI says the Senate picks a committee to take testimony and issue orders on the Senate’s behalf. Unless otherwise ordered.
  • Normal Senate procedure governs the special impeachment committee. Unless otherwise ordered.
  • The trial convenes each day at high noon. Unless otherwise ordered.
  • Opening statements are delivered by one person and closing statements can be made by two people. Unless otherwise ordered.
  • And so on.

5. John Roberts’ power is limited

The Constitution says the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — that’s John Roberts — presides and the Senate’s impeachment rules give him the power to rule on rules of evidence and other matters. But he can be overruled if a senator disagrees with him and asks for the full body to vote. He can also ask the Senate to vote on things in the first place, according to Rule VII. Here’s more on his role.

6. It takes a majority to call a witness

Trump has envisioned calling witnesses like Hunter Biden, Adam Schiff and the whistleblower. But he’d need a majority to do it. The rules specify that it would be the Senate and not the presiding officer who calls witnesses. That means Republicans like Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who have said the identity of the whistleblower should be protected, would have to vote that the whistleblower be called to testify. It means moderates like Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins might be needed to vote to call Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. It also means Democrats might be able to scrape together enough Republican votes to call Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or Vice President Mike Pence to testify under oath.

7. There are restrictions on who the TV cameras can focus on

The Supreme Court doesn’t allow TV cameras, so Roberts will be in for something new as he takes his presiding role. But there are specific rules on who the cameras can focus on. Specifically, according to the 1986 rules, the cameras can focus on any person speaking. That suggests there will be no cutaway shots of people who aren’t speaking, so this is not going to be a made-for-TV affair.
Side note: Senate proceedings weren’t even televised until 1986. There had been talk that the Nixon Senate trial would have been televised, but he resigned before that could happen.

8. If senators want to ask witnesses a question, it must be put in writing.

Rule XVI makes clear this won’t be a freewheeling debate. Objections are made directly to the presiding officer — Roberts — and may have to be put in writing. You can see what that looks like in C-SPAN video here. Senators can be called as witnesses — an interesting wrinkle given that they are also jurors, and that McConnell has been deeply involved with White House strategy. But according to Rule XIX, if a senator wants to ask a witness a question, they have to put it in writing and give it to Roberts. That will have the effect of seriously tamping down the normal Senate showboating.

9. A lot of the discussion might be behind closed doors

Senators gave a lot of speeches during the Clinton trial, but when they decided how to vote, they did their deliberating in closed session — meaning behind closed doors and with TV cameras turned off. A number of Democrats ultimately voted to impeach Clinton. And a number of Republicans voted to acquit him. Neither of the impeachment articles against him got even a simple majority, much less the 2/3 of the chamber needed to remove Clinton from office. In a podcast published by Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, former longtime Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin said there was a movement, ultimately abandoned, to make the Clinton deliberations public.

10. If there are witnesses, they may be deposed in private or on video

The rules give a Senate committee the ability to call witnesses unless the Senate says otherwise. But the mode of those witness testimonies can change. Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, for instance, was deposed on video tape on February 1, 1999, and portions of that testimony were played during the Senate trial.

11. The accusers get the first and last word

While the custom in the court of law is that the defense gets the last word, according to Rule XXII, the “argument shall be opened and closed by the House of Representatives.” That suggests the House impeachment managers get the first word when they open arguments and the last closing arguments. Here’s more on what impeachment managers do.

The President is represented by his own attorneys. It doesn’t put a limit on how many he gets, but only one person can ask a witness questions. Only one person can offer his opening arguments. And only two people can offer closing arguments, according to the rules.

12. It only takes 34 senators to acquit

There are currently 54 Republicans, which means 20 would have to side with all Democrats and two independents to convict Trump and remove him from office. The bar for acquittal is, ahem, low. But there’s certainly precedent for bringing an impeachment case doomed to fail in the Senate. Republicans did it to Clinton. Less than a majority (45) voted to convict him on the perjury charge and exactly half (50) voted to convict him on obstruction of justice. Needless to say he was acquitted, as Trump is almost sure to be.

13. A senator could respond “present” and help Trump stay in office

In discussing elements of the process with Frumin, the former parliamentarian, he noted it takes 34 senators to acquit or 67 to convict only if all 100 senators are taking part in the vote. The actual threshold to convict is 2/3 of senators present. If a number of senators missed the vote, the numbers needed for conviction or acquittal would change. However, it’s also true that a senator could respond “present,” rather than voting to acquit or convict, which would have the effect of shielding the President from conviction without actually declaring him “not guilty.”

14. There is no filibuster

Unlike in normal Senate procedure, a simple majority of senators can vote to end the trial and move to a final vote.

15. Senators stand and vote from their seats

The actual voting is a dramatic event. According to Rule XXIII, all 100 senators go to their seats and stand and vote. But, being senators, they don’t always do it exactly the right way. The late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, then a Republican, for instance, wouldn’t say “not guilty” for Clinton. He insisted on saying, “Not proved, therefore not guilty,” which confused Senate clerks for a moment. It turned out Specter borrowed his move from Scottish law.



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Mississippi judge grants Curtis Flowers bail after six trials end in mistrial or overturned convictions



A black man, Flowers is accused of capital murder in the killing of four people inside a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi.

Judge Joseph Loper set Flowers’ bail at $250,000. Defense attorneys had requested a bail of no more than $25,000, while prosecutors requested bond be denied.

If Flowers can post the money, he will have to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet while he waits to learn if he will be tried a seventh time.

Prosecutors allege that Flowers stole a .380-caliber pistol from his uncle’s car and shot Beth Tardy, owner of a local furniture store, and three store employees execution-style on July 16, 1996.

Flowers, 49, once worked for Tardy, and according to prosecutors, killed her because she fired him after docking his pay for damaging a pair of batteries. He killed the other three victims to eliminate any witnesses, prosecutors said. Tardy and two other victims were white; one was black.

The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Flowers’ first three convictions, two of which resulted in death sentences, and his next two trials ended in hung juries.

Flowers has been on death row for years following guilty verdicts in his sixth trial, but in June the US Supreme Court said Flowers deserved a new trial because District Attorney Bob Evans, who tried all six cases against Flowers, engaged in unconstitutional racial discrimination by striking African American jurors from the panel.
In reading the high court’s 7-2 decision, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said prosecutors did not treat white and black prospective jurors equally.

“Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process,” Kavanaugh said, citing the words inscribed on the Supreme Court building’s facade.

In November, four black Attala County residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Evans, who took office in 1992, saying “he and his assistants have employed a policy, custom, or use of discriminatorily striking black jurors with peremptory challenges.”

In the suit, which also includes the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the MacArthur Justice Center, the plaintiffs allege Evans’ office was 6.7 more likely to remove a black juror than a white one, and that discrepancy was “even more pronounced” when the defendant was black.

Monday’s arguments

Defense attorney Rob McDuff repeatedly cited prosecutorial misconduct in his Monday arguments and further accused Evans’ office of a “pattern of favors” in securing testimony against Flowers. Among them is an instance in which a man — with “a criminal record a mile long” — was accused of aggravated assault against a police officer, he said. The man was granted bail, McDuff said.

“This really was a deal with the devil that the district attorney made, and it is the supreme irony that a district attorney agreed to bail in that case with that man’s record, but is here opposing the bail application of Curtis Flowers,” the defense attorney said.

In addition, McDuff said, key state witnesses have recanted their sworn statements in interviews with producers of a podcast. He said Flowers never had a criminal record and has compiled an exemplary record while in prison, and there is evidence pointing to more likely suspects.

McDuff played a portion of the podcast in court, during which the key witness tells the interviewer of his testimony that Flowers admitted to the murders in prison: “He ain’t never tell me that. That was a lie. … Everything was all make-believe on my part.”

Assistant District Attorney Adam Hopper told Loper the prosecution believes it still has a strong case. The witness statements were recanted to the media, not to prosecutors, he said, and there is other evidence implicating Flowers.

Included is a witness who saw Flowers near the car from which the gun was stolen, a witness who saw Flowers arguing with someone near the furniture store and gunshot residue on Flowers’ hands. Hooper said investigators who searched Flowers’ residence found an empty shoebox for sneakers that matched shoeprints found at the crime scene. Also, two of the people the defense claims could be suspects had no motive for the killing, he said.

Hopper requested that bail be denied.

Loper expressed frustration with the prosecution, saying he was troubled that in the four months that the case has been back before the court, the state has taken “absolutely no action” to further its prosecution of Flowers. It also has declined to respond to motions requesting bail, Evan’s disqualification and the indictment’s dismissal, he said.

The judge warned the prosecutor’s office Monday that if it continued to ignore court orders in the case, “the state of Mississippi will reap the whirlwind.”

CNN’s Ariane de Vogue, Veronica Stracqualursi and Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.



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