Fukushima nuclear disaster

On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan causes massive devastation, and the ensuing tsunami decimates the Tōhoku region of northeastern Honshu. On top of the already-horrific destruction and loss of life, the natural disaster also gives rise to a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The Fukushima disaster is considered the second-worst nuclear disaster in history, forcing the relocation of over 100,000 people.

READ MORE: Fukushima Timeline: How an Earthquake Triggered Japan’s 2011 Nuclear Disaster

During the emergency, each of the three operational nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant shut down successfully, but the backup power and cooling systems failed. As a result, residual heat caused fuel rods in all three reactors to partially melt down. As crews searched the rubble for survivors and the nation reeled from the earthquake and ensuing tsunami, the nuclear disaster unfolded over the course of several days. Reactors 1 and 3 exploded on March 12 and 14, respectively, prompting the government to evacuate everyone within a 20km radius. Another explosion in the building housing Reactor 2 on March 15 released even more radiation, and thousands of people left their homes as workers used helicopters, water cannons and seawater pumps to try to cool the overheating facility.

The full extent of the fallout became apparent over the ensuing months, with the government eventually evacuating all residents within a 30km radius of the plant. No deaths were initially attributed to the incident, although this was of little comfort to the 154,000 who were evacuated or the loved ones of the more than 18,000 people who lost their lives as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. Some have suggested that such a large evacuation was not necessary, as radiation levels appear to have dropped below what was expected in the immediate wake of the accident. 

Though many were able to return to their homes, a 371-square-kilometer “difficult-to-return zone” remains evacuated as of 2021, and the true toll may not be known for decades. In 2018, the government announced that former plant worker who had served during the meltdown was the first death officially attributed to radiation from the disaster, which today is considered second only to Chernobyl in the ranking of infamous nuclear incidents.

READ MORE: History’s Worst Nuclear Disasters

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Apple founder Steve Jobs dies

On October 5, 2011, Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Inc., which revolutionized the computer, music and mobile communications industries with such devices as the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad, dies at age 56 of complications from pancreatic cancer.

Born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco, California, to unmarried graduate students Joanne Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian immigrant, Jobs was adopted as a baby by Paul Jobs, a Silicon Valley machinist, and his wife Clara. After graduating from high school in Cupertino, California, in 1972, Jobs attended Reed College, a liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, for a single semester before dropping out. He later worked briefly for pioneering video game maker Atari in California, traveled to India and studied Zen Buddhism.

In 1976, Jobs and his computer engineer friend Stephen Wozniak founded Apple Computer in Jobs’ parents’ garage in Los Altos, California. As Bloomberg News would later note about Jobs: “He had no formal technical training and no real business experience. What he had instead was an appreciation of technology’s elegance and a notion that computers could be more than a hobbyist’s toy or a corporation’s workhorse. These machines could be indispensable tools.” In 1977, Jobs and Wozniak launched the Apple II, which became the first popular personal computer. In 1980, Apple went public and Jobs, then in his mid-20s, became a multimillionaire. Four years later, Apple debuted the Macintosh, one of the first personal computers to feature a graphical user interface, which allowed people to navigate by pointing and clicking a mouse rather than typing commands.

In 1985, Jobs left the company following a power struggle with Apple’s board of directors. That same year, he established NeXT, a business that developed high-performance computers. The machines proved too pricey to gain a wide consumer audience; however, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web using a NeXT workstation. In 1986, Jobs acquired a small computer-graphics studio founded by filmmaker George Lucas and rechristened it Pixar Animation Studios. In 1995, Pixar released its first film, “Toy Story,” the first-ever feature-length, computer-animated movie. It became a huge box-office success and was followed by such award-winning hits as “Finding Nemo” (2003) and “The Incredibles” (2004). In 2006, Walt Disney Company purchased Pixar for more than $7 billion, making Jobs the largest Disney shareholder.

In late 1996, Apple, which had floundered without Jobs, announced it would buy NeXT and hire Jobs as an advisor. The following year, he became Apple’s interim CEO (the “interim” was dropped in 2000), and under his leadership a nearly bankrupt Apple was transformed into one of the planet’s most valuable corporations. A charismatic, demanding perfectionist, Jobs was said to possess the ability to intuit what customers wanted before they knew it themselves. In his trademark jeans and black mock turtleneck, the tech titan turned product launches into highly anticipated events, and Apple introduced a series of innovative digital devices, including the iPod portable music player in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad tablet computer in 2010, that became part of everyday modern life. (In early 2007, Jobs announced that Cupertino-based Apple was dropping “Computer” from its official moniker to reflect the fact the company’s focus had shifted from computers-only to mobile electronic devices).

Despite a series of medical issues, including surgery in 2004 to remove a pancreatic tumor and a 2009 liver transplant, Jobs continued to lead Apple until August 24, 2011, when he stepped down as the company’s chief executive. Six weeks later, he passed away at his Palo Alto, California, home. At the time of his death, Jobs, a father of four, had a net worth estimated at more than $7 billion. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs “was the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.”

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Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport is bombed by Chechen terrorists


Year
2011
Month Day
January 24

On January 24, 2011, a bomb explodes in the international arrivals hall of Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport, killing 35 people and injuring 173 others. The Caucasus Emirate, a militant jihadist group based in Chechnya, claimed responsibility, adding to a string of terrorist attacks stemming from the conflict in Russia’s Caucasian territories.

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, the North Caucasian region of Chechnya experienced decades of unrest. While Russia officially re-established control over the region in 2009, an increasingly jihadist insurgency continued fighting government forces. Bombings by Chechen separatists and jihadists were common throughout Russia in the 2000s—Chechen terrorists had also destroyed two aircraft after smuggling bombs through security at Domodedovo in 2004. The Caucasus Emirate was founded by Duka Umarov, the former president of the breakaway Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who declared his state a Salafist emirate in 2007. The emirate claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian train in 2009 and a bombing that killed 40 on the Moscow metro in 2010.

The 2011 attack occurred around 4:30pm. An improvised explosive device filled with wire and shrapnel exploded in the international arrivals section of the airport. Among the dead was 29-year-old Anna Yablonskaya, a Ukrainian playwright who was on her way to receive an award. Russian authorities believed that foreign nationals were the primary target, and suspected Chechen radicals, but were unable to identify the culprits or even discern if the attack was a suicide bombing for some time. Eventually, they identified the bomber as a 20-year-old Chechen, Magomed Yevloyev. Umarov claimed responsibility on behalf of the Caucasian Emirate the following day, railing against Russia and other “satanic” foreign powers.

Four men, including Yevloyev’s 15-year-old brother, were eventually arrested in connection with the bombing. Three received life in prison, while Akhmed Yevloyev received a 10-year sentence. Though the insurgency in the Caucasus continues, the Domodedovo attack is the last major attack in Russia for which the Emirate claims responsibility. Though Umarov remains at large, his forces are now heavily depleted, not only due to casualties and battle fatigue but also due to a number of his fighters leaving to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The bombing demonstrated not only the continued problem posed by Chechnya to the Russian state but also the complex web of identities and allegiances that make the Caucasus a hotbed of sectarian conflict and a source of manpower for extremist ideologies.

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U.S. declares an end to the War in Iraq

In a ceremony held in Baghdad on December 15, 2011, the war that began in 2003 with the American-led invasion of Iraq officially comes to an end. Though today was the official end date of the Iraq War, violence continued and in fact worsened over the subsequent years. The withdrawal of American troops had been a priority of President Barack Obama, but by the time he left office the United States would again be conducting military operations in Iraq.

Five days after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush announced the “War on Terror,” an umbrella term for a series of preemptive military strikes meant to reduce the threat terrorism posed to the American homeland. The first such strike was the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, which began a war that continues to this day.

Throughout 2002, the Bush Administration argued that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was allied with terrorists and developing “weapons of mass destruction.” By all accounts, Hussein was responsible for many atrocities, but there was scant evidence that he was developing nuclear or chemical weapons. Behind closed doors, intelligence officials warned the case for war was based on conjecture—a British inquiry later revealed that one report’s description of Iraqi chemical weapons had actually come from the Michael Bay-directed action movie The Rock. The governments of the U.S. and the U.K., however, were resolute in their public assertions that Hussein posed a threat to their homelands, and went ahead with the invasion.

The invasion was an immediate success insofar as the coalition had toppled Hussein’s government and occupied most of Iraq by mid-April. What followed, however, was eight years of insurgency and sectarian violence. American expectations that Iraqis would “greet them as liberators” and quickly form a stable, pluralistic democracy proved wildly unrealistic. Though the coalition did install a new government, which took office in 2006, it never came close to pacifying the country. Guerilla attacks, suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices continued to take the lives of soldiers and civilians, and militias on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide carried out ethnic cleansings.

The American public remained skeptical of the war, and many were horrified at reports of atrocities carried out by the military and CIA. Leaked photos proved that Americans had committed human rights abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, and in 2007 American military contractors killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. Opposition to the war became an important talking point in Obama’s bid for the presidency.

On New Year’s Day 2009, shortly before Obama took office, the U.S. handed control of the Green Zone—the Baghdad district that served as coalition headquarters—to the Iraqi government. Congress formally ended its authorization for the war in November, and the last combat troops left the following month. Even by the lowest estimates, the Iraq War claimed over 100,000 lives; other estimates suggest that the number is several times greater, with over 205,000 civilian deaths alone.

Over the next three years, ongoing sectarian violence blossomed into a full-out civil war. Many of the militias formed during the Iraq War merged or partnered with extremist groups in neighboring Syria, itself experiencing a bloody civil war. By 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which absorbed many of these groups, controlled much of Syria and Iraq. The shocking rise of ISIL led Obama to launch fresh military actions in the region beginning in June of 2014. Though ISIL has now been driven out of Iraq and appears to be very much diminished, American troops are still on active duty in Iraq, 16 years after the initial invasion and eight years after the official end of the Iraq War.

READ MORE: The War on Terror: A Timeline

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Dr. Conrad Murray receives four-year sentence in Michael Jackson’s death

Year
2011
Month Day
November 29

On November 29, 2011, Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of singer Michael Jackson, is sentenced in a Los Angeles County courtroom to four years behind bars. The iconic pop star died at age 50 at his California home after suffering cardiac arrest while under the influence of propofol, a surgical anesthetic given to him by Murray as a sleep aid.

Jackson, who was born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana, rose to fame performing as a boy with his older brothers in a music group called the Jackson 5. With his 1982 solo album “Thriller,” Jackson achieved international superstardom. However, by the 1990s, he became known for increasingly eccentric and reclusive behavior, and his physical appearance was radically altered through multiple plastic surgeries. In 2005, amidst intense media coverage, Jackson was tried and acquitted on child molestation charges.

In March 2009, after a lengthy time away from the public spotlight, Jackson announced he would perform a series of comeback concerts in London starting in July. That spring, Murray, a cardiologist raised in Trinidad, was hired at a monthly salary of $150,000 to serve as Jackson’s personal physician while the singer rehearsed for his upcoming shows. Late in the morning on June 25, Jackson was found unconscious in bed in his mansion in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles by Murray, who tried unsuccessfully to revive him. The legendary entertainer was pronounced dead at 2:26 that afternoon at nearby Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

READ MORE: The Final Days of Michael Jackson

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled the performer’s death a homicide after lethal levels of the powerful sedative propofol, as well other drugs, were found in his system. In February 2010, Murray, who had given Jackson propofol as a sleep aid almost every night for two months prior to his death, was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He pleaded not guilty. During his trial, which began in September 2011, Murray was portrayed by the prosecution as an incompetent, greedy opportunist who recklessly gave Jackson propofol in an unmonitored setting (the drug typically is administered only in a hospital) and kept no records, among other serious medical errors. Prosecutors said Murray set aside sound medical judgment by relenting when Jackson, one of the world’s most famous men, regularly begged him for propofol in order to sleep. Additionally, Murray was accused of belatedly calling 911 after discovering Jackson had stopped breathing, and with lying to paramedics and emergency-room doctors. The defense argued that Jackson, who was plagued by insomnia, self-administered the fatal dose of the drug.

On November 7, after deliberating for less than two days, a Los Angeles County jury found Murray guilty. Three weeks later, on November 29, the trial judge sentenced the 58-year-old to a four-year jail term, the maximum punishment allowed under law. The judge, in announcing his decision, criticized Murray for his lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility for his role in Jackson’s death, and said the doctor became involved in “a cycle of horrible medicine” in his dealings with the pop star.

Murray was released on parole on October 28, 2013. 

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NASA’s final space shuttle mission comes to an end

Year
2011
Month Day
July 21

On July 21, 2011, NASA’s space shuttle program completes its final, and 135th, mission, when the shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the program’s 30-year history, its five orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour—carried more than 350 people into space and flew more than 500 million miles, and shuttle crews conducted important research, serviced the Hubble Space Telescope and helped in the construction of the International Space Station, among other activities. NASA retired the shuttles to focus on a deep-space exploration program that could one day send astronauts to asteroids and Mars.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies

In January 1972, two-and-a-half years after America put the first man on the moon in July 1969, President Richard Nixon publicly announced that NASA would develop a space transportation system featuring a space vehicle capable of shuttling “repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back.” Nine years later, on April 12, 1981, at Kennedy Space Center, the first shuttle, Columbia, lifted off on its inaugural mission. Over the course of the next 54 hours, the two astronauts aboard NASA’s first reusable spacecraft successfully tested all its systems and orbited the Earth 37 times before landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

In 1983, a second shuttle, Challenger, was put into service. It flew nine missions before breaking apart shortly after the launch of its 10th mission, on January 28, 1986. All seven crew members were killed, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who had won a national contest to be the first U.S. civilian to fly aboard the space shuttle. In the aftermath of the disaster, the shuttle program was grounded until 1988.

The program’s third shuttle, Discovery, made its first flight in 1984. Atlantis entered the fleet in 1985, and was followed by Endeavour in 1992. The shuttle program experienced its second major disaster on February 1, 2003, when just minutes before Columbia was scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center and conclude its 28th mission, it broke apart while re-entering the atmosphere over Texas. All seven astronauts on board perished.

Afterward, the shuttle fleet was grounded until July 2005, when Discovery was launched on the program’s 114th mission. By the time Discovery completed its 39th and final mission (the most of any shuttle) in March 2011, it had flown 148 million miles, made 5,830 orbits of Earth and spent 365 days in space. Endeavour completed its 25th and final mission in June 2011. That mission was commanded by Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

On July 8, 2011, Atlantis was launched on its 33rd mission. With four crew members aboard, Atlantis flew thousands of pounds of supplies and extra parts to the International Space Station; it was the 37th shuttle flight to make the trip. Thirteen days later, on July 21, Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center at 5:57 a.m., after a journey of more than 5 million miles, during which it orbited the Earth 200 times. Upon landing, the flight’s commander, Capt. Christopher J. Ferguson, said, “Mission complete, Houston. After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history, and it’s come to a final stop.” During its 26 years in service, Atlantis flew almost 126 million miles, circled Earth 4,848 times and spent 307 days in space. The estimated price tag for the entire space shuttle program, from development to retirement, was $209 billion.

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Man who served 25 years for murder exonerated by DNA

Year
2011
Month Day
October 04

On October 4, 2011, Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison for his wife’s murder, is released after DNA evidence implicates another man in the crime. The prosecutor in the case later was accused of withholding evidence indicating that Morton was innocent.

On the afternoon of August 13, 1986, a neighbor found 31-year-old Christine Morton beaten to death in her bed in the Williamson County, Texas, home (near Austin) she shared with Michael, a grocery store manager, and their 3-year-old son. Six weeks later, Morton, who had no criminal record or history of violence, was arrested for Christine’s murder. At trial, the prosecution contended Morton had slain his wife of seven years after she refused to have sex with him on the night of August 12, his 32nd birthday. Morton maintained he had nothing to do with his wife’s death and said an intruder must have killed her after he left for work early on the morning of August 13. No witnesses or physical evidence linked Morton to the crime; nevertheless, he was convicted on February 17, 1987, and sentenced to life behind bars.

In 2005, Morton’s defense team asked the state to test DNA on a variety of items, including a blood-stained bandanna found by police the day after the murder at an abandoned construction site close to the Morton home. The Williamson County district attorney successfully blocked all requests for testing until 2010, when a Texas appeals court ordered that testing on the bandana take place. In the summer of 2011, the test results revealed the bandana contained Christine Morton’s blood and hair, along with the DNA of another man, Mark Alan Norwood, a felon with a long criminal record who worked in the Austin area as a carpet layer at the time of the murder.

Michael Morton was released from prison on October 4, 2011, and officially exonerated in December of that year. A month after Morton was freed, Norwood, 57, was arrested for Christine Morton’s killing. In March 2013, he was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. Based on DNA evidence, Norwood also was indicted for killing a second woman, Debra Baker, whose 1988 murder in Austin had remained unsolved. Like Morton, Baker was bludgeoned to death in her bed. She lived just blocks from Norwood at the time of her murder.

In October 2012, after a nearly yearlong investigation, the State Bar of Texas filed a disciplinary petition against Ken Anderson, the prosecutor in the Morton case (who became a Texas district judge in 2002), alleging he withheld various pieces of evidence from Morton’s attorneys, including a transcript of an August 1986 taped interview between the case’s lead investigator and Morton’s mother-in-law, in which she stated that Morton’s 3-year-old son had told her in detail about witnessing his mother’s murder and said his father was not home at the time. In a November 2013 deal to settle the charges against him, Anderson agreed to serve 10 days in jail, perform 500 hours of community service, give up his law license and pay a $500 fine.

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Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi is killed

Year
2011
Month Day
October 20

On October 20, 2011, Muammar al-Qaddafi, the longest-serving leader in Africa and the Arab world, is captured and killed by rebel forces near his hometown of Sirte. The eccentric 69-year-old dictator, who came to power in a 1969 coup, headed a government that was accused of numerous human rights violations against its own people and was linked to terrorist attacks, including the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Qaddafi, who was born into a Bedouin family in June 1942, attended the Royal Military Academy in Benghazi as a young man and briefly received additional military training in Great Britain. On September 1, 1969, he led a bloodless coup that overthrew Libya’s pro-Western monarch, King Idris, who was out of the country at the time. Qaddafi  emerged as the head of the new revolutionary government, which soon forced the closing of American and British military bases in Libya, took control of much of the nation’s oil industry, and tortured and killed political dissenters. It also made unsuccessful attempts to merge Libya with other Arab nations. Qaddafi began funding terrorist and guerilla groups around the globe, including the Irish Republican Army and the Red Army Faction in West Germany. Additionally, in the mid-1970s, Qaddafi, whose followers referred to him by such titles as “Brother Leader” and “Guide of the Revolution,” published his political philosophy, which combined socialist and Islamic theories. Known as the Green Book, the manifesto became required reading in Libyan schools.

During the 1980s, tensions increased between Qaddafi and the West. Libya was linked the April 1986 bombing of a West Berlin, Germany, nightclub frequented by American military personnel. Two people, including a U.S. soldier, were killed in the attack, while some 155 others were wounded. The United States swiftly retaliated by bombing targets in Libya, including Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, the nation”s capital. President Ronald Reagan called Qaddafi “the mad dog of the Middle East.”

On December 22, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, traveling from London to New York, was blown up over Lockerbie, killing 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. The U.S. and Britain indicted two Libyans in the attack, but Qaddafi initially refused to turn over the suspects. He also declined to surrender a group of Libyans suspected in the 1989 bombing of a French passenger jet over Niger that killed 170 people. Subsequently, in 1992, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Libya. These sanctions were removed in 2003, after the country formally accepted responsibility for the bombings (but admitted no guilt) and agreed to pay a $2.7 billion settlement to the victims’ families. (Qaddafi’s government had turned over the Lockerbie suspects in 1999; one was eventually acquitted and the other convicted.) Also in 2003, Qaddafi agreed to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction. Diplomatic relations with the West were restored by the following year.

Qaddafi remained a deeply controversial figure, who traveled with a contingent of female bodyguards, wore colorful robes and hats or military uniforms covered with medals, and on trips abroad set up a Bedouin-style tent to receive guests.

After more than 40 years in power, Qaddafi saw his regime begin to unravel in February 2011, when anti-government protests broke out in Libya following the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia earlier that year. Qaddafi vowed to crush the revolt and ordered a violent crackdown against the demonstrators. However, by August, rebel forces, with assistance from NATO, had gained control of Tripoli and established a transitional government. Qaddafi went into hiding, but on October 20, 2011, he was captured and shot by rebel forces.

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Kim Jong Il, leader of North Korea, dies


Updated:
Original:
Year
2011
Month Day
December 17

On December 17, 2011, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s enigmatic, reclusive dictator, dies of a heart attack while reportedly traveling on a train in his country. Kim, who assumed leadership of North Korea upon the death of his father in 1994, ruled the Communist nation with an iron fist, and his isolated, repressive regime was accused of numerous human rights violations.

Little is known about Kim’s early life, although it is believed he was born in 1941 at a Soviet military base near Khabarovsk, Russia, where his father was stationed. However, when Kim became leader of North Korea, the government propaganda machine, which presented numerous myths about him as fact, claimed he was born on February 16, 1942, atop Korea’s sacred Mount Paektu, as a new star and double rainbow appeared overhead. (Among the many other questionable claims reported by the state media about the man known as the “Dear Leader” and “Supreme Leader” to his followers was that he made 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf, composed numerous operas, invented an invisible cell phone and could control the weather.)

In 1948, Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), became head of the newly established Communist nation of North Korea (officially named the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). The younger Kim graduated from the country’s Kim Il Sung University in 1964, and went on to rise through the Korean Workers’ Party, the ruling political party, while also developing a reputation as a playboy who enjoyed fine food and expensive liquor. Additionally, Kim, a film fanatic, amassed a vast collection of foreign movies, and in 1978 ordered the kidnapping of a famous South Korean actress and her director husband in order to boost North Korea’s movie industry.

Soon after Kim succeeded his father, North Korea experienced a series of severe famines that killed an estimated 2 million people by the late 1990s. As ordinary citizens suffered economic hardships, Kim directed a substantial portion of the nation’s budget to maintaining a large military and to the development of nuclear weapons (which North Korea tested in 2006 and 2009). Additionally, under Kim’s totalitarian regime, the media was controlled by the state, and average North Koreans had minimal personal liberties and couldn’t leave the country (the few foreigners who were allowed in were closely monitored). Those who opposed the government were sent to harsh prison camps. As with his father (now referred to by North Koreans as the “eternal president”), a cult of personality built up around Kim. The two men were portrayed as deities and images of them appeared on all public buildings.

The relationship between North Korea and the United States, along with much of the West, was strained due to Kim’s secretive nuclear weapons program. In 2002, President George Bush called out North Korea as part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iran and Iraq. However, in 2008, the Bush administration took North Korea off the U.S. list of terrorism-supporting nations after it agreed to allow some inspections of its nuclear sites.

After Kim died on December 17, 2011, his embalmed body was put on permanent public display in Kumsusan Memorial Palace in the nation’s capital, Pyongyang. (The body of Kim Il Sung has been on display there since he died.) Kim was succeeded as leader of North Korea by the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong Un, then in his 20s and largely unknown to the world.

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“West Memphis Three” released from prison after 18 years

Year
2011
Month Day
August 19

On August 19, 2011, three men, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, who were convicted as teenagers in 1994 of the murders of three boys in Arkansas, are released from prison in a special legal deal allowing them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had sufficient evidence to convict them. Echols, 36, had been on death row, while Baldwin, 34, and Misskelley, 36, were serving life sentences. Collectively known as the “West Memphis Three,” the men had always maintained their innocence, and questions about the evidence used to convict them had persisted for years. Their case attracted widespread attention and the support of a number of celebrities.

In May 1993, the bodies of three 8-year-old boys, Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and Michael Moore, were found naked and hog-tied in a drainage ditch in a wooded section of West Memphis, Arkansas. Investigators initially had few solid leads; however, because the bodies appeared to have been mutilated, rumors circulated about a possible connection to satanic cult activities. A tip eventually led investigators to focus on the teenage Echols, a high school dropout who grew up poor, was interested in witchcraft and regularly wore black clothing. Then, Misskelley, an acquaintance of Echols, confessed to the murders following a lengthy interrogation by authorities, and implicated Echols and Baldwin. Described as having a below-average IQ, Misskelley provided information about the crime that conflicted in key ways from details known to the police, and he soon recanted his confession. Nevertheless, in February 1994, he was convicted of first- and second-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years.

In a separate trial in March 1994, Echols and Baldwin were convicted of capital murder. During the trial, Misskelley refused to testify against the two, and prosecutors had no eyewitnesses or physical evidence linking Echols and Baldwin to the crime. Instead, the prosecution presented evidence that Echols, the alleged ringleader, read books about witchcraft as well as novels by Stephen King and Anne Rice, and said he was motivated to murder the boys as part of an occult ritual.

The case gained national attention with the release of the 1996 documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” which cast doubt on the men’s guilt. A movement grew to free the West Memphis Three, and celebrities including Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines and film director Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) spoke out in support of the three men and helped fund a legal team to fight the convictions. In 2007, lawyers for the West Memphis Three said new forensic tests showed there was no DNA evidence to link the men to the crime.

In the fall of 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a hearing for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley to determine if they deserved new trials. However, before the hearing took place, the trio’s lawyers and prosecutors in Arkansas reached a deal allowing the men to enter an Alford plea and go free. With this little-used legal tool, a defendant is allowed to maintain his or her innocence but plead guilty because it is considered in his or her best interest to do so.

In a statement following his release from custody on August 19, 2011, Echols said, in part, of the plea deal: “I have now spent half my life on death row. It is a torturous environment that no human being should have to endure, and it needed to end. I am innocent, as are Jason and Jessie, but I made this decision because I did not want to spend another day of my life behind those bars.”

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