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Teen who killed elderly Waterloo woman in 1993 granted work release

WATERLOO – Ruthann Veal, who killed an elderly Waterloo woman when she was a teenage runaway from Mason City in 1993, has been granted work release.

The move came Tuesday following an interview with a three-member panel of the Iowa Board of Parole, said Andrew Boettger, the board’s vice chairman.

“This grant was in comport with the Department of Corrections who recommended that level of transitional release for Ms. Veal at this time,” Boettger wrote in an email.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the transition would take place or where Veal would be serving work release.

Veal has been in prison since 1995, housed at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville.

Veal was only 14 years old when she repeatedly stabbed 66-year-old Catherine Haynes, a retired University of Northern Iowa librarian, in her own home in June 1993 and took her car and credit cards and went shopping. She was detained days later in Cedar Rapids.

A jury found Veal guilty of first-degree murder in adult court, and she was sentenced to the only punishment for the crime under state law — life in prison without parole. She was the youngest female in the adult correctional system when she entered.

She served more than two decades in prison before changes in federal law began reshaping her sentence and that of other youths serving life terms.

In 2012, in the cases of Miller vs. Alabama and Jackson vs. Hobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sentencing minors to life without parole amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Then-Gov. Terry Branstad addressed the high court’s ruling by commuting the sentences of Veal and others in her situation in Iowa to allow for parole board hearings after they served 60 years behind bars, but a subsequent Iowa Supreme Court ruling concluded the governor’s commutation still amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

During a 2013 hearing in Black Hawk County District Court, Veal was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Autumn's arrival -- Fall photos by BRANDON POLLOCK

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Residents host 'National Night Out' event at Gates Park

WATERLOO — Cam Campbell listened to her father’s stories about growing up in the Gates Park neighborhood. After playing outside, he could stop by someone’s house for sandwiches and water. He could find a Band-Aid if he got hurt.

It’s a sense of community Campbell wants for her son and other children.

Her vision led her to help plan an event with the Gates Neighborhood Association at Gates Park on Tuesday evening to celebrate National Night Out, part of a yearly community building campaign across the country that aims to foster camaraderie between residents and police officers. The Waterloo City Council officially recognized this year’s event at Monday’s meeting.

“I’m hoping that the event could help our neighbors learn who each other are and to strengthen our neighborhood, and to really be a village for our kids in the neighborhood,” Campbell said Tuesday, looking on at the kids playing basketball at a nearby court.

National Night Out on Oct. 6, 2020

She wants parents to feel safe sending their kids to the park to play. She hopes neighbors will look out for kids and hold them accountable if they cause trouble.

“They could go to their friend’s house if they scraped their knee, or if they were outside misbehaving, that somebody would hold them accountable and redirect them,” she said of her dad’s youth. “So I’m hoping we can get our neighborhood to that.”

Lt. Kye Richter of the Waterloo Police Department spent time with residents at Tuesday’s event, talking with 57-year-old Jay Jordan about the evolution of the neighborhood and business development in the area.

Building relationships in the community allows officers to better understand and respond to issues in neighborhoods, Richter said. He said it is important for police to drive with their windows down and walk around neighborhoods.

“As long as we do our job professionally, with respect, with fairness, and also with empathy, I think we can definitely bridge a lot of gaps, bridge a lot of hurdles, build that trust,” Richter said. “Trust is key when it comes to investigating crimes.”

Jordan said he respects the role of police officers, and believes time will allow residents and police to build a stronger relationship.

“We’re all humans; we’re not robots,” Richter said. “I think if we just show people we have emotions; they have emotions ... we have empathy for each other, we gain that respect.”

Jordan said he hopes residents will use local parks to get to know one another.

“If you don’t get out and meet your neighbors and get to know your neighbors, then it’s not a neighborhood — it’s anybody for themselves,” Jordan said.

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COVID-19 contact tracing back under local control

WATERLOO — The Black Hawk County Health Department is resuming contact tracing and disease investigation efforts for COVID-19.

The announcement came from Nafissa Cisse-Egbuonye, health department director, at Tuesday’s county Board of Supervisors meeting. The department turned over contact tracing to the Iowa Department of Public Health in late April due to the high number of COVID-19 cases and staffing struggles. Since then, the Black Hawk County Board of Health approved a full-time epidemiologist and a number of temporary contact tracers for the local department.

Egbuonye said Tuesday the department is “almost finished” setting up infrastructure needed to trace COVID-19 exposure.

Keeping the efforts local gives Egbuonye the ability to keep more comprehensive data than provided by the state. It’s one reason she wanted to bring tracing efforts back under local control.

Contact tracers identify people who had close contact with infected individuals. The practice is used for other communicable diseases, like measles or the flu. Tracers reach out to exposed people to encourage them to get tested.

“This is done by quickly identifying and informing people that they may be infected and are contagious, so they may prevent the spread,” Egbuonye previously said.

Another benefit of local tracing is the ability to hire tracers who speak languages used in the county, such as Burmese, French or Marshallese. This allows them to reach all communities to gain information.

Egbuonye said the health department is preparing for a potential COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months.

“We haven’t gotten any update about the vaccine, but we are in planning mode with our health care systems for the vaccine,” she said Tuesday.

Harris, Pence set to debate

Mike Pence and Kamala Harris will take the stage Wednesday night under extraordinary circumstances that will elevate the oft-forgotten vice presidential debate to the highest-stakes running mate matchup in years.

With President Donald Trump fresh out of the hospital but still battling the coronavirus, both Pence and Harris will have to reassure voters that they can step into the presidency if either of the septuagenarians who top the tickets become incapacitated.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says he and Trump “shouldn’t have a debate” as long as the president remains positive for the coronavirus.

Biden said Tuesday he’s “looking forward to being able to debate him” on Oct. 15 but said “we’re going to have to follow very strict guidelines.” He says he doesn’t know Trump’s status since the president returned to the White House after being hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for three days after a COVID-19 diagnosis.

A week after Trump and Biden squared off in a combative and chaotic debate, Pence and Harris will meet at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City under dramatically different circumstances. Not only have the safety precautions become stricter since at least 10 people who live or work at the White House have become infected, but the tone is expected to be more civil as well.

The debate will be divided into nine discussion categories, each lasting about 10 minutes.

Although the Trump campaign opposed it, Harris’s staff won an argument to have a plexiglass shield separating her and Pence, who has tested negative for the virus that sent Trump to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for three days. The candidates will be a little more than 12 feet apart, and the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, will also be at that distance, the Commission on Presidential Debates said Monday.

Anyone who refuses to wear a mask will be “escorted out,” the commission said. The first family and some of Trump’s guests refused to wear masks at last week’s debate.

“This VP debate will get a lot more attention than they usually do,” said Charlie Black, a veteran Republican strategist. “So it’s an opportunity for both candidates. I actually expect a good debate. Pence does a good job of presenting the president’s case, his accomplishments and his ideas in a calm, measured manner. Harris has proved to be a good debater.”

The candidates are also less likely to sling the ad hominem attacks that highlighted the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland between Trump and Biden. Harris will have to restrain the punches she used in her own presidential run.

She has re-upped some of her lines since joining the Biden ticket, including calling Trump a “predator.” But with the president just a day or so out of the hospital, she is expected to shelve those attacks. That doesn’t mean she’ll hold back on criticizing the administration for what Democrats say is a gross mismanagement of the pandemic, especially given that Pence leads the White House coronavirus task force.

“It’s the perfect microcosm for the failure of the Trump administration on coronavirus,” Democratic strategist Joel Payne said. “They became their own super spreader. They didn’t follow best practices. Harris can really effectively use this last week as exhibit A of why Trump and Pence are dangerous and shouldn’t be leading this country out of the crisis. It’s the perfect closing argument for prosecutor Harris.”

Payne cautioned Harris to use her rhetorical skills honed as district attorney in San Francisco and as California’s attorney general to balance being critical without making light of the 74-year-old president’s health concerns.

Pence, by contrast, is likely to continue the Trump campaign’s attacks of painting Biden and Harris as Trojan horses for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and warning about a turn toward socialism. He is also expected to make the case that Trump is a better steward of the economy, the one issue where Trump still narrowly polls ahead of Biden.

“Kamala Harris is the most liberal member of the entire U.S. Senate and she serves to push Joe Biden even further to the left,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman said.

Harris has been practicing at Howard University in Washington, her alma mater. Former Democratic primary rival Pete Buttigieg, like Pence from Indiana, has been playing the vice president in mock sessions and is in Salt Lake City to help Harris.

When Biden chose Harris as his running mate, Democrats were eager to watch her debate Pence. She helped make a national name for herself with her incisive questioning of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General William Barr during their confirmation hearings and is expected to play a leading role in the hearings next week to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.

Yet in the weeks before the debate, Harris allies have sought to tamp down anticipation of her performance, pointing out the unique challenges of a vice presidential debate.

Even Harris herself has downplayed expectations.

“He’s a good debater. So, I’m so concerned, like I can only disappoint,” she said at a fundraiser last month.