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Crime-and-courts
breaking
UPDATE: Magic Valley woman pleads guilty to tampering with evidence in Colorado

Krystal Kenney Lee

CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo. — A Magic Valley woman said Feb. 8 that she helped thwart an investigation into the disappearance of a Colorado woman who authorities believe was killed by her fiance, but her motive and the nature of her relationship with the suspected killer remains a mystery. She also agreed to testify against him at his murder trial.

Krystal Jean Kenney, 32, of Hansen, made the admission in court as she pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence connected to the death of Kelsey Berreth, who was last seen on Nov. 22.

Berreth’s fiance, Patrick Frazee, is charged with murder and solicitation of murder in the 29-year-old woman’s death.

In a statement in court, Kenney said she learned that Frazee had killed someone around the time Berreth was last seen.

“I moved the victim’s cellphone with the intent to impair the phone’s availability in the investigation. I had no right or authority to move the victim’s cellphone,” she said.

According to Kenney’s statement, she moved the phone between Nov. 24 and 25.

She faces up to three years in prison but prosecutors said Kenney will not be sentenced until all trials related to Berreth’s disappearance are completed. Judge Scott Sells indicated that could take months or years.

She will remain free in the meantime and must attend periodic court hearings. Her agreement with prosecutors also prevents her from speaking with media.

Police have not found Berreth’s body but have said evidence suggests she was killed at her home in Woodland Park, a mountain town near Colorado Springs.

Kenney, also known as Krystal Lee, was the 2008 Rodeo Queen of the Magic Valley and worked as a pre-op nurse at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.

St. Luke’s spokeswoman Michelle Bartlome confirmed in January that law enforcement had contacted the hospital. Bartlome, however, said she “wasn’t in a position to disclose” which agency made contact. She confirmed Monday that Kenney is no longer a St. Luke’s employee.

Berreth, who worked as a flight instructor, was last seen on surveillance footage at a grocery store near her home on Nov. 22, which was Thanksgiving Day. It shows Berreth entering the store toting a baby carrier holding her 1-year-old daughter.

Frazee told police he and Berreth met later that day to exchange their daughter; the couple did not live together.

Police said several text messages were sent from Berreth’s phone in the days following Thanksgiving, including a message sent to her employer asking for a week off of work.

Location data suggested that by Nov. 25 the phone was near Gooding, nearly 800 miles from Berreth’s house and about 40 miles from where Kenney lived.

Police didn’t start searching for Berreth until Dec. 2, when her mother became concerned after several days without hearing from her daughter. Berreth’s mother called police from her home in Idaho to request that someone check on her daughter.

The Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office and the Twin Falls Police Department confirmed in a Dec. 22 statement that the agencies were contacted by the FBI on Dec. 15. The two agencies, in a joint special investigation unit, assisted the FBI in obtaining the search warrants, served multiple search warrants and “processed some items of evidence” related to Berreth’s disappearance, the statements said.

Since Frazee’s arrest in late December, authorities have released little information about what led to the charges against him. Key court documents have been sealed.

Frazee has not entered a plea in the charges of murder and solicitation of murder. He is due back in court on Feb. 19. The state public defender’s office, which is representing him, has said its attorneys will not comment on ongoing cases.

Prosecutors said Frazee sought to find someone to kill Berreth between September and November.

Authorities said in December that additional charges could follow Frazee’s arrest but there was no public activity until this week when prosecutors charged Kenney. They have not disclosed the nature of the relationship between Kenney and Frazee.


DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Nikki Mathews, a seventh-grade English teacher, talks about being a LifeChanger of the Year nominee during a 'Kimberly Girl Talk' meeting Tuesday at Kimberly Middle School.


Education
'Girl Talk' leader at Kimberly Middle School helps students develop leadership skills and confidence

KIMBERLY — Kimberly Middle School sixth-grader Mariah Matsen used markers and crayons Feb. 5 to decorate a gift bag to give to at-risk teenagers.

The 12-year-old was working on a service project after school through the “Girl Talk” weekly program.

When Mariah joined Girl Talk this fall, she expected it would address topics like “middle school and gossip,” she said, but she discovered it’s more than that. “It’s more about community service.”

Her favorite Girl Talk activities this school year have been watching the movie “Tangled” and putting together bags for cancer patients.

Nikki Matthews, a seventh-grade English/language arts teacher at Kimberly Middle School, is being recognized for leading the club.

Matthews was recently nominated for the 2018-2019 national LifeChanger of the Year award. She’s the only nominee from Idaho.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Genevieve Dutt, 11, decorates a bag that she'll then fill with items for the Safe House during a 'Kimberly Girl Talk' meeting Tuesday at Kimberly Middle School in Kimberly. The Safe House is a state licensed group home for children.

The awards — sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation — recognize outstanding kindergarten through 12th grade educators “who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership,” the awards program said in a statement Jan. 29.

The program receives hundreds of nominations each school year from across the country. Of 832 nominees this year, it will give awards to 17 educators.

Matthews — who has been teaching at Kimberly Middle School for 19 years — was nominated by her friend, Lysa Beltz.

“I have known Nikki for nearly seven years, and in that time, I have grown to not only love her, but hold her in very high regard and respect,” Beltz wrote in the nomination.

“Nikki is an outstanding example of what a great person does and lives by example. I think she’s a LifeChanger because of her commitment, determination, and focus on growing her kids into adults who are the future of Idaho.”

For six years, Matthews has led the Girl Talk program at Kimberly Middle School. It’s a local chapter of a worldwide organization, which focuses on middle and high school leadership development. It was created by a Georgia teen and there are now 485 chapters.

Matthews heard about Girl Talk and decided to start a Kimberly chapter. It focuses on community service, leadership skills and building self-confidence.

The Kimberly club meets each Tuesday and about 20-25 girls show up.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Nikki Mathews, a seventh-grade English teacher, (back center) is seen working during a 'Kimberly Girl Talk' meeting Tuesday at Kimberly Middle School. Mathews is a LifeChanger of the Year nominee.

Most of the participants are sixth-graders, Matthews said. Seventh and eighth-graders tend to be busier because they can play school sports, she said.

Girl Talk activities this school year have covered topics such as “frenemies,” the importance of not gossiping, not to compare oneself with others and cyberbullying.

“Once a month, we try to do a community service project,” Matthews said.

Girl Talk members will soon do a service project for first responders and a random acts of kindness project this month.

Matthews also spearheaded an initiative called “We Rise By Lifting Others.” It’s a schoolwide theme this year at Kimberly Middle School.

Students colored paper feathers in their advisory class and Girl Talk put them together to form wings, which are now displayed just inside the school’s front entrance. It’s a popular place for students to take photos together.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Nikki Mathews, a seventh-grade English teacher, (not shown) points out different feathers while talking about being a LifeChanger of the Year nominee Tuesday at Kimberly Middle School.

Kimberly High School senior Emma Wirtz, 18, is among a few high school girls who are Girl Talk leaders. Wirtz wasn’t involved with Girl Talk when she was in middle school, but had Matthews as a sixth-grade teacher and knew she was running the program.

“When I got to high school, I realized I wanted to impact my community,” Wirtz said.

Wirtz said Matthews is extremely nice and a teacher she has always remembered. As for Girl Talk, Wirtz hopes the takeaways for participating middle schoolers are: “be kind to everyone” and to be themselves, she said.

After school on Tuesday, Matthews turned off blaring music in her classroom once teens got settled and finished eating goldfish crackers out of paper bowls. Matthews told middle schoolers about their project that day: decorating and putting together gift bags for youth living at The Safe House.

It’s the third year Girl Talk has helped The Safe House, a group home for at risk children — ages 11-17 — who are in crisis.

“We do the service project to give them some extra things to help them,” Wirtz told Girl Talk members.

Teens decorated 20 paper gift bags — using crayons, markers, washi tape and cutouts with inspirational quotes — and filled them with their choice of 20 items such as pocket packs of tissues, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, and Clif Bars.

Matthews and the high school leaders will later deliver the bags to The Safe House. For the youth living at the house, Matthews told Girl Talk members, “the main thing is to encourage them.”


Govt-and-politics
Marsy's Law headed to Senate floor with mixed reactions from Magic Valley

BOISE — A proposed constitutional amendment to address the rights of crime victims in Idaho is headed to the Senate floor.

Senate Joint Resolution 101, more commonly known as “Marsy’s Law,” passed through the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday morning after two hours of impassioned and at times tearful testimony from supporters and critics of the proposal.

This is the third year the Legislature has considered amending the Idaho Constitution through Marsy’s Law, a campaign that originated in California to strengthen rights for crime victims. Similar amendments have been adopted by states including North Dakota and Illinois, but have thus far failed to clear the Idaho Legislature.

If passed by two-thirds of the Legislature and approved by voters, the resolution would amend the state’s 1994 Victim Rights Amendment by including the right to “reasonable and timely notification” of all open court proceedings, the right to be heard at certain open proceedings, require notification in cases when convicted offenders abscond or escape from probation or parole, and the right to “confer” — rather than simply “communicate” — with prosecutors. The resolution would also “provide standing” for victims to “assert their rights.”

The resolution is unlikely to significantly change practices in Twin Falls County, where most of the services included in Marsy’s Law are already provided, according to county officials.

Supporters of the resolution say it would set a higher constitutional baseline for victim’s rights in Idaho and make rights that already exist in statute and in the state’s constitution more enforceable. But some critics of Marsy’s Law say they would rather see the state devote resources to local victim support efforts and address some of the challenges victims face in taking advantage of the rights they already have.

“From a victim service perspective, it doesn’t change in any positive way anything that is actually happening for victims, in our view,” Donna Graybill, executive director of Voices Against Violence in Twin Falls, told the Times-News. “All it would do is possibly divert resources to system-based advocacy instead of keeping resources in community-based advocacy.

“I think the biggest challenge isn’t so much that they’re not being notified about court proceedings,” Graybill continued. “I think the biggest challenge is being engaged in those proceedings in a positive way that has their best interest in mind.”

The resolution has the support of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Idaho Sheriff’s Association, Professional Firefighters of Idaho, Idaho State Association of County Coroners, and victim witness coordinators from around the state.

Twin Falls Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs told the Times-News he and other prosecutors had some concerns about versions of the resolution in previous years, but that those concerns were addressed in more recent versions.

“I think any time we do something that gives victims some extra resources and some extra access it’s a good thing,” Loebs said. “They tailored this so it doesn’t interfere with the needs of prosecuting people in a just and effective way.”

Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, both of which expressed concerns about due process for defendants at the hearing Friday. Kathy Griesmeyer, policy director for the ACLU of Idaho, argued that the resolution could exacerbate some of the ongoing challenges within the Idaho criminal justice system, including excessive workloads for public defenders and crowding in the state’s jails and prisons.

Rather than implementing Marsy’s Law, Griesmeyer said, the ACLU would like to see the state implement of the recommendations included in a 2015 Boise State University study that assessed the needs of crime victims in Idaho. Those recommendations included helping victims access the services available by addressing barriers such as transportation and child care, increasing funding for victim services, and creating a state-level crime victim ombudsman.

The resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Todd Lakey of Nampa, said he didn’t see addressing these concerns and the implementation of Marsy’s Law as mutually exclusive.

“I think it’s important to remember that this is the floor,” Lakey said of the proposed amendment. “This is not the ceiling. We add to that, and we should add to that, by statute.”

If passed, the amendment likely wouldn’t change much about the way Twin Falls County treats victims, Loebs said, as many of the practices included in Marsy’s Law are already in place in Twin Falls and other large counties. Its impact is more likely to be felt in smaller counties that may not currently provide the same level of victim services.

Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum expressed some concern about the funding of Marsy’s Law if passed, including the financial strain it could potentially place on those smaller counties. The estimated statewide cost of an earlier version of the proposal was roughly $550,000. Lakey said he believed the actual cost would be lower, however, as notification is optional for victims in the current version.

The resolution passed on an 8-1 vote, with the only vote against coming from Sen. Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens. Vick said he would prefer to see the state address victims’ rights through statute rather than in a constitutional amendment. The two Magic Valley legislators on the committee, Stennett and Sen. Kelly Anthon of Burley, voted in favor of sending the resolution to the Senate floor, although Stennett said she felt “a lot of trepidation” toward the resolution itself.

“This has always been a very difficult one for me, because I’m still on the fence,” Stennett said, noting that changing an amendment once it’s in place is significantly more difficult than making changes to statute. “The hurdle’s always been for me that when you put it in statute, you can make the changes, you can see if it’s improving, and if it’s not you can tweak it. It’s much harder to undo it out of the Constitution and amendment process.”

Stennett added that she would like to see the state properly fund and enforce the victims’ rights that are already in place.

“The underlying thing that always comes back to me is, are we enforcing and allowing for the things we’re already providing for in law or in statute?... And we’re not,” Stennett said. “If we add this extra step, I hope we have the courage to enforce all of it and not abandon the victims.”


If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.


News
breaking
Burley woman killed in 2-vehicle crash

BURLEY — A Burley woman was killed Feb. 7 in a two car collision east of Burley.

Katherine Blauer, 62, was pronounced dead at the scene, Cassia County Undersheriff George Warrell said.

The crash was at 3:47 p.m. at 515 E. Idaho Highway 81.

Witnesses told police a 16-year-old male driving a red 2011 Ford Fusion eastbound crossed the center line and crashed head-on into Blauer’s 2006 blue Chrysler Sebring.

Medic One, West Cassia Quick Response Unit, Burley Fire Department and Mini-Cassia Search and Rescue Extrication were called to assist with the crash.

The teenager and Blauer had to be removed from their vehicles, Warrell said.

The teen was taken by air ambulance to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello.

His condition is unknown, Warrell said.

The road remained closed for two hours while officials completed the investigation.


Washington
AP
Acting AG overseeing Mueller probe says he's not interfered

WASHINGTON — Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. They confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

“We’re all trying to figure out: Who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted, “Mr. Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference.”

Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller probe as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated — he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up — Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there’d been no change in its “overall management.”

“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.”

Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller’s probe into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general.

“I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show,” said Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who accused his Democratic colleagues of “character assassination.”

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee chairman who a day earlier had threatened to subpoena Whitaker to ensure his appearance, left no doubt about his party’s focus.

“You decided that your private interest in overseeing this particular investigation, and perhaps others from which you should have been recused, was more important than the integrity of the department,” said Nadler, of New York. “The question that this committee must now ask is: Why?”

Whitaker toggled between defending his role in the special counsel’s investigation and echoing the president’s talking points, conceding for instance that while foreign interference in U.S. elections was a problem, so too was voter fraud — a key issue for Republicans, but one that Democrats say is overstated. He said he had no reason to doubt Mueller’s honesty or to believe that he was conflicted in his leadership of the investigation.

But he also declined to say if he still agreed with sharply critical comments about the Mueller probe that he made as a television commentator before arriving at the Justice Department in the fall of 2017 as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And he passed up a chance to break from the president’s characterization of the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” saying simply, “I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment about an ongoing investigation.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Barr have all maintained that they do not believe the investigation to be a witch hunt.

Whitaker also denied a news report that Trump had lashed out at him after the guilty plea of Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer. But he did not answer directly about whether he had discussed that investigation, run by prosecutors in New York, with Trump, insisting only that the president had never instructed him to take particular actions.

He said his comment at an unrelated news conference last week that the Mueller investigation was close to wrapping up — a remark that generated significant attention and speculation — reflected only “my position as acting attorney general.” He said Mueller would finish on his own schedule.

Democrats also inquired about Whitaker’s past business dealings. Nadler and three other House committee chairmen released documents that they said show Whitaker failed to return thousands of dollars that were supposed to be distributed to victims of a company’s alleged fraud. Whitaker has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the invention promotion company, which was accused of misleading consumers.