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Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Nashville's Brandon Schnitker leads Carterville's Austin Knight in the 1600 meter run in the Mississippi Division SIRR Conference boys track meet last season at Pinckneyville. Knight overtook Schnitker to win the race.

Murder trial begins for man accused in 2016 shooting death of Carbondale musician Tim Beaty

MURPHYSBORO — The murder trial of a Cape Girardeau man charged in the 2016 shooting death of Carbondale musician Tim Beaty started Monday in Jackson County, but the day ended without a full pool of 12 jurors and alternatives being selected.


Travis Tyler, 23, appeared in court Monday in a gray suit along with his defense attorneys from St. Louis, T.J. Matthes and T.J. Hunsaker, of the Rosenblum, Schwarz and Fry Law Firm. The court did select nine individuals who could be part of the jury, but the questioning of potential jurors will continue Tuesday morning.

It is expected that opening arguments will take place in the afternoon.

Tyler is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm. The charges stem from a March 27, 2016, shooting, which took place during a house party at 402 W. Walnut St. Beaty, 41, was home in his apartment next door when he was killed by a stray bullet.

A man, Nehemiah Greenlee, was also injured in the incident. Authorities say when they arrived, people were leaving the scene and they learned of an altercation inside the residence where shots were fired. The event then moved outside, where more shots were fired, police have said.

Before potential jurors were questioned Tuesday, the defense team filed a motion concerning the allowance of evidence that would be admissible during trial.

The evidence in question was a photo used in a Snapchat story with Tyler in the photo with two of his relatives at Southeast Missouri State — where Tyler was a student. The photo has the word gang in the caption and the defense wanted the word redacted from the jury. 

“All that serves to do is paint him (Tyler) in a bad light,” Matthes said, adding it causes prejudice against his client.

Assistant State’s Attorney Casey Bloodworth argued the photo speaks to the defendant’s loyalties to individuals in the St. Louis and Cape Girardeau areas.

“Loyalty is a central theme to why the defendant did what he did,” Bloodworth said.

Additionally, another photo the state says it plans to use as evidence shows the defendant holding a bottle of vodka to his mouth on the date of the incident while wearing the same clothes he was described as wearing at Hangar 9 and by the injured victim in the case.

The defense argued the photo with the alcohol has no volume because the defendant will already be identified, and it is also used to be prejudicial toward the jury.

Another piece of evidence discussed is a message between Tyler and Dwayne Dunn, 23, of St. Louis, who was sentenced in May 2017 to 30 months of probation for his involvement in the shooting. The message in question from Tyler to Dunn allegedly talks about smoking pot after Dunn’s arrest. The state says it will argue this message could speak to the defendant’s state of mind during of the incident. The defense argued that smoking pot has nothing to do with this case, even if it was just hours after the incident, and doesn’t talk about Tyler’s state of mind during the incident.

This case originally had two defendants scheduled to go to trial, until John Ingram, 23, of Cape Girardeau, on Friday pleaded guilty to aggravated discharge of a firearm from this incident. He is expected to testify in this case.

Court is back in session at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. Judge Ralph Bloodworth III — no relation to Casey Bloodworth — said this case could extend into the following week. 

Toys R Us
With planned Toys R Us closure, another big retailer leaves Marion

MARION — Mayor Anthony Rinella says it hurts a community when businesses such as Toys R Us — which announced Wednesday it is going out of business — close.

But, he also said a big part of the decline is competition with online sales, which, in the long term, he said could be far more destructive to cities like Marion.

According to the Associated Press, Marion’s Toys R Us is one of the 735 stores across the country, including the Babies R Us brand, that are slated to close as the company exits the U.S. market.

Leaving the store in Marion, one is also met with the massive yellow sign announcing that Sears will also be closing soon, and, a short drive away, the shell of what was Gander Mountain sits empty next to Interstate 57.

The increase in online sales with retailers like Amazon are often cited when stores like Toys R Us announce their bankruptcy and liquidation — they must compete with low prices and convenience offered by online vendors. Take for example the recently released "Star Wars Battlefront II" video game. Toys R Us has a sticker price of about $60 while Amazon has the same edition of the game listed for about $34.

“It’s hurting municipalities,” Rinella said of online sales.

He says every time someone buys online, they are taking the one percent sales tax away from the city. He said annually Marion collects about $774 million in sales tax.

“The federal government needs to step up and require states … (to) impose a tax for online sales and that money be distributed to the municipalities,” Rinella said.

“The state’s getting theirs — they are getting their 5.5 percent. Why can’t the municipalities get their one (percent)?” he said.

Marion’s Toys R Us was doing modest business Wednesday afternoon — certainly more than might be expected for a store whose primary clientele would not have been out of school yet. Shelves were picked over and families were shopping.

“Mommy, I want that one,” 2-year-old Amelia Zertuche told her mother, looking at big pink boxes of play sets.

Maddy Turner, Zertuche’s mother, said they live in Harrisburg but came to Marion for a dentist appointment — they were seeing if there were any closeout sales going on at Toys R Us. There weren’t that she saw.

Turner said she is sad to hear that Toys R Us will soon be a thing of the past — she said it was a part of her childhood that her daughter won’t get.

“Heck yeah, we were always excited to go to Toys R Us,” she said.

“Nothing’s going to be the same,” said Dustin Gunning, Zertuche’s father.

They both said online shopping is a very big reality, but added that it takes the fun out of toy shopping.

According to a news release on the Toys R Us website from March 15, the company was “engaged in discussions with certain interested parties for a transaction that could combine up to 200 of the top performing U.S. stores with its Canadian operations.” However, ahead of this potential transaction “the company is seeking court approval to begin inventory liquidation for it’s U.S. stores. “

Rinella said in the 1980s, Marion made a commitment to expand west toward the interstate. He said this has been a good move for the city, which has seen consistent growth. However, this plan has largely relied on big box retailers — stores that build their own proprietary architecture typically away from other stores.

However, when a store closes, it leaves a big dark spot. The properties can be a tough sell for other businesses — smaller stores might have a hard time occupying and affording what was previously supported by a multimillion-dollar retailer.

Rinella recognized this as a problem.

“Is it something in the future we may have to look at, yes. But again, where do you go?” he said.

He said policies adopted by some cities that require architecture standards are reasonable, but had little comment beyond that. He said, however, that Marion had no plans of slowing down its growth, praising the local developers who have had such success bringing in business in the past.

“They know how to play the game and we do as a city what we can to help them attract business to Marion,” Rinella said.

Representatives from Toys R Us could not be reached by deadline for this report. It was unclear what the timeline for closure was for the store, nor was it clear how many jobs will be lost in Marion as a result of the closure.


Security of state voter rolls a concern as primaries begin

SPRINGFIELD — With the Illinois primary here, state election officials are beefing up cyber defenses and scanning for possible intrusions into voting systems and voter registration rolls.

They have good reason to be on guard: Two years ago, Illinois was the lone state known to have its state election system breached in a hacking effort that ultimately targeted 21 states. Hackers believe to be connected to Russia penetrated the state's voter rolls, viewing data on some 76,000 Illinois voters, although there is no indication any information was changed.

Since then, Illinois election officials have added firewalls, installed software designed to prevent intrusions and shifted staffing to focus on the threats. The state has been receiving regular cyber scans from the federal government to identify potential weak spots and has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. That assessment is scheduled but will not happen before Tuesday's second-in the-nation primary.

"It's not something where you ever feel completely safe," Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections. "It's something where you feel like you're doing your best to protect against what could happen in a cyberattack."

Federal intelligence agencies determined that the attempted hacking of state elections systems in 2016 primarily targeted voter registration systems, not actual voting machines or vote tallying.

Gaining access to electronic voter rolls can do as much damage, giving hackers the ability to change names, addresses or polling places. Confusion, long lines and delays in reporting election results would follow, all of which undermines confidence in elections.

Cybersecurity experts say it's crucial for states to shore up vulnerabilities in those systems now, with this year's midterm elections underway and the 2020 presidential election on the horizon.

J. Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Computer Security and Society, said many of the same weaknesses present in 2016 remain.

"I think it's only a matter of time before we suffer a devastating attack on our election systems unless our federal and state governments act quickly," he said.

The federal Help America Vote Act, passed two years after the messy presidential recount in Florida, requires states to have a centralized statewide voter registration list, but states vary in how they implement it.

Most collect voter data at the state level and then provide it to local election officials, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Illinois and five other states do the opposite, collecting voter registration data at the local level and sending it to the state elections office. A few others have a hybrid system.

The chief concern surrounding voter registration systems and the growing use of electronic poll books to check in voters at polling places is how they interact with other internet-connected systems.

Electronic poll books allow polling place workers to verify a person's registration and related information electronically, rather than having to rely on large paper files.

A downside is that the e-poll books might use a network to connect to a voter registration system, providing a potential opening for hackers.

In other cases, the voter data is transferred from a computer and placed on a device not connected to the internet. That computer is the potential weak link. Security experts said it must be secured and not subject to tampering.

Experts with The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School said network-connected election systems are vulnerable to attacks and urged officials to take several steps to shore up security, including making sure the underlying server is not connected to the internet and that all changes are logged. Experts say a key component is that election systems can recover quickly in the event of an attack or even an equipment failure, limiting public disruption.

Larry Norden, an expert in elections technology with The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said the network connections make voter registration systems more vulnerable to hacking than voting machines, which are not directly connected to the internet.

In many states, the department of motor vehicles or some other state agency provides information to the voter registration system as a way to keep the records current. Some states allow voters to register and edit their information on a state website that is connected to the voter database.

All of those provide possible access points that can open the door to hackers.

"Just understanding where the risks are is critical," Norden said.