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Ronald Roldan confessed to killing Bethany Decker earlier this year, but her mom believes there’s more to the story



Ronald Roldan confessed to killing Bethany Decker earlier this year, but her mom believes there’s more to the story

In November 2020, Ronald Roldan had almost finished a prison sentence for a nearly fatal assault on a girlfriend when a warrant for his arrest was issued in the death of Bethany Decker.

Although authorities in Virginia had long suspected Roldan in the death of Decker, 21 — who was pregnant with her second child when she vanished on Jan. 29, 2011 —  her body hadn’t been found, and Roldan was never charged. Then, this year, he confessed to the killing.

The admission, which came in a roughly four-hour interview in January with a prosecutor and the lead detective, was a key part of a plea agreement Roldan had made with authorities two months before: In exchange for his account of Decker’s death, he was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and be sentenced to 12½ years.

Tune in to Dateline tonight for “Bethany Vanished.”

Decker’s mother supported the deal, believing the interview would reveal the truth about what happened to her daughter.

But in recent interviews, authorities told NBC’s “Dateline” that they believe Roldan lied when he confessed that Decker’s death was accidental. Video of Roldan’s interview, first reported by “Dateline,” shows the lead detective challenging Roldan, telling him that his account didn’t add up and that it appeared he tried to cover up the killing by posing as Decker on Facebook and elsewhere and sending messages after she vanished.

“It’s disappointing to not get the truth,” Loudoun County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Bush told “Dateline.” “What I got from him was I got an admission that he did it.” 

Roldan — who at times talked so quietly that authorities repeatedly told him to speak up — said he didn’t remember anything about the messages. He stood by his account of Decker’s death and apologized to her relatives.

“What happened was an accident,” he said. “I’m sorry. I feel bad.” 

Decker’s mother, Kim Nelson, also doubted Roldan’s account and told “Dateline” she didn’t believe her daughter’s death was accidental.

“It was very hard to hear the disregard for human life,” she said of the confession.

Panic after a physical fight

In the video, Roldan said he and Decker — a waitress enrolled at George Mason University whom her mother recalled as an inquisitive, adventurous and natural parent — got into an argument about whether she’d work that January day at Carrabba’s, the restaurant where they met and both worked.

At the time, Roldan said, he and Decker were in the living room of the apartment they shared in Ashburn, Virginia, roughly 30 miles northwest of Washington.

Roldan said he lightly shoved Decker. She tripped over her feet, he said, hitting her head on a windowsill as she tumbled to the ground. She wasn’t bleeding, Roldan said, but he felt no breath when he placed two fingers beneath her nose.

Roldan told officials he couldn’t recall how long he spent trying to figure out whether Decker was dead. He said he provided no lifesaving measures and didn’t call authorities, who he feared “would not believe what I had to say.”

In a state of panic, Roldan said, he grabbed a Christmas tree removal bag from the kitchen and shoved Decker’s body into it. That afternoon, he dumped the bag in the apartment building’s trash compactor, he told officials in the interview. 

In the video, Bush, the detective, said investigators found no marks or scrapings on the windowsill to corroborate Decker’s account.

“I’ve never seen a single case where someone hits their head on the corner of a windowsill and ends up dead within a couple of minutes,” he said. Bush added that Roldan’s own description of the push — “I didn’t put all my power into it” — made the account seem even less plausible. 

“I think it’s more likely that you choked her out, and that’s the reason why she died,” Bush said in the interview. “Did you ever put your hands on her throat?”

“No,” Roldan responded.

When Bush asked whether there was anything he wanted to change about his account, Roldan declined.

The prosecutor in the case, Loudoun County Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Shaniqua Clark Nelson, also doubted parts of Roldan’s account. But some of it seemed true, she told “Dateline.” She believed that there had most likely been an argument — but that it wasn’t about whether Decker had planned to work that day. 

Just before her death, Decker had gone to Hawaii with her husband, a National Guardsman who was the father of her son, in an effort to repair their relationship and get her away from Roldan, who’d become increasingly controlling, threatening and abusive, Kim Nelson said. 

She said the family had reached out to domestic abuse hotlines for Decker and had tried to develop a plan for her to escape the relationship. (In the video, Roldan denied that he was abusive to Decker.) 

Roldan didn’t know Decker was on a trip with her husband, Nelson said; he learned about it upon her return, and she disappeared shortly after. (Roldan said during the interview that Hawaii wasn’t the source of the argument and that he felt no hostility or resentment over the trip.)

Bush, the detective, also believed parts of Roldan’s account. He told “Dateline” that Roldan’s description of how he disposed of Decker’s body was far more specific and matter-of-fact than his recollection of the killing. 

A forensic search of the dumpster revealed no evidence, however, Bush said. And although authorities believe they know the possible location of her remains in a nearby landfill, Bush said, they “are just not retrievable.”

Who sent the Facebook messages?

Bush also pointed to messages that he said Roldan sent to Decker’s family and friends as evidence that the killing was more sinister than Roldan portrayed.

The messages, many of which were sent on Facebook in the weeks after Decker’s disappearance, all had what Bush described as the “same tone” — “Bethany screwed up, Bethany lied and that Ronald was the best thing that ever happened to Bethany,” Bush told “Dateline.” “Bethany was going to take some time alone and be away and that she couldn’t tell anybody where she was.”

Briefly, Decker’s family found the messages somewhat comforting, her mother said, noting that she thought they’d been her daughter’s way of reaching out. But that comfort turned to anxiety because the messages didn’t sound like they were from Decker, she said.

Another point of concern was Decker’s car: It was parked crookedly in her building’s lot, with a flat tire and covered in dust, Nelson said. When the family realized that no one had actually seen Decker since late January, they reported her missing. That was three days after the messages began — on Feb. 16, 2011.

Authorities had long been suspicious of the messages, Bush said, but investigators had never been able to prove Roldan sent them. In earlier interviews with authorities, he denied having had anything to do with Decker’s disappearance, and there wasn’t enough evidence to link him to what authorities had come to believe was a homicide, Bush said.

Law enforcement had also interviewed Decker’s husband and considered him a person of interest, Bush said. Although his name appeared in media reports, he had a solid alibi, and the case languished, even after Roldan pleaded guilty in 2016 to felony assault in the shooting of another woman, Vickey Willoughby. 

As he’d done with Decker, Roldan moved in with Willoughby after they worked together at a Virginia restaurant. 

In 2016, Roldan choked Willoughby so badly that he broke a vertebra in her neck, said Bush, who sat in on a law enforcement interview with her. She shot him in self-defense, striking him twice, but he grabbed the gun and shot her in the face, hitting her right eye, Bush said.

Willoughby survived but lost her eye, he said. 

In 2020, after the detective who had been handling Decker’s case was promoted, Bush took it over and noticed something. When the messages were sent from Decker’s Facebook account beginning Feb. 16, they came from a device that used the same IP address as the device that was checking Roldan’s email account and Facebook page.

“It was an aha moment,” Bush said, describing the records as a direct link between Roldan and Decker’s disappearance.

“At that point, he’s either got to be hiding her disappearance because he knows where she is or [he’s] hiding the fact that he killed her because he’s trying to cover his tracks,” Bush said.

That evidence was further strengthened when investigators found web browser data showing that the messages came from Roldan’s laptop, said Clark Nelson, the prosecutor. 

In the confession video, Roldan told authorities that no one else would have used his laptop to send messages as Decker and that he hadn’t shared her password with anyone. 

As Clark Nelson showed him what was sent to Decker’s husband and others, Roldan said: “You can show me every single message that was sent. I really don’t remember.”

A chance to get to the truth

Just before Roldan’s sentence for assaulting Willoughby was up, authorities in Loudoun County issued an arrest warrant accusing him of abduction in Decker’s killing. He was transferred to the county jail and indicted later on a second-degree murder charge.

As authorities prepared for trial, they talked with Decker’s family about the possibility of taking a different path — of skipping what Kim Nelson described as the “big burden” of a lengthy, uncertain court case and getting something that Decker’s family had longed for since she vanished: the truth.

The family agreed, and authorities eventually reached a deal with Roldan’s lawyers, Clark Nelson said. Roldan would serve 12 ½ years in prison and submit to a “debrief” — a post-conviction interview in which he would lay out what happened and Decker’s family could provide her with questions for him.

Many of the questions revolved around whether Decker suffered and what happened to her body, the prosecutor said.

But there was a catch. Authorities would have to accept the account Roldan put forward, Bush said. They’d be allowed to challenge it, he said, but they wouldn’t be allowed to verify it as a condition of the agreement. 

Lawyers for Roldan didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

Even though there were doubts about Roldan’s claims — and even though his sentence was far lower than the 40-year term he could have faced at trial — Clark Nelson said the outcome was positive. 

Decker’s husband was exonerated in a way that he hadn’t previously been — prosecutors provided a letter to the court clearing him — and her family got answers about what Roldan did with her body, the prosecutor said.

Roldan will be deported to his native Bolivia when his term ends.

“Sometimes, justice isn’t black and white,” Clark Nelson said. “It’s not an easy formula. But it really is a compilation of weighing everything that you have and figuring out the right path to bring as much closure and understanding to the ultimate conclusion.”

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy



Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

LAHORE, Pakistan — A court in Pakistan granted bail to a Christian falsely charged with blasphemy, but he and his family have separated and gone into hiding amid threats to their lives, sources said.

Haroon Shahzad (right) with attorney Aneeqa Maria. | The Voice Society/Morning Star News

Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.

Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 were not made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.

Shahzad told Morning Star News by telephone from an undisclosed location that the false accusation has changed his family’s lives forever.

“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News. “My eldest daughter had just started her second year in college, but it’s been more than four months now that she hasn’t been able to return to her institution. My other children are also unable to resume their education as my family is compelled to change their location after 15-20 days as a security precaution.”

Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said, the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.

“All of this is due to the fact that the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village.”

Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and they are unable to return to their village in the foreseeable future, he said.

“We are not together,” he told Morning Star News. “They are living at a relative’s house while I’m taking refuge elsewhere. I don’t know when this agonizing situation will come to an end.”

The Christian said the complainant, said to be a member of Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also allegedly connected with banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had obtained valuable government land and allotted it for construction of a church building, and Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all of them after a four-year legal battle.

“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families of the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down due to this case.”

Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.

“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice] but I had no idea that it would be used to target me and my family,” he said. “In fact, when I came to know that Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”

The village elders were already influenced by Ladhar and refused to listen to him, Shahzad said.

“I was left with no option but to flee the village when I heard that Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.

Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying he should not be punished for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way constituted blasphemy.

Similar to other cases

Shahzad’s attorney, Maria, told Morning Star News that events in Shahzad’s case were similar to other blasphemy cases filed against Christians.

“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.

She said that the case filed against Shahzad was gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.

Maria added that Shahzad and his family have continued to suffer even though there was no evidence of blasphemy.

“The social stigma attached with a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.

The judge who granted bail noted that Shahzad was charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A, which is a non-cognizable offense, and Section 298, which is bailable. The judge also noted that police had not submitted the forensic report of Shahzad’s cell phone and said evidence was required to prove that the social media was blasphemous, according to Maria.

Bail was set at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US $350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to further investigate, she said.

Shahzad, a paint contractor, on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Cor. 10:18-21 regarding food sacrificed to idols, as Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of likening Muslims to pagans and disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice.

Though Shahzad made no comment in the post, inflammatory or otherwise, the situation became tense after Friday prayers when announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling people to gather for a protest, family sources previously told Morning Star News.

Fearing violence as mobs grew in the village, most Christian families fled their homes, leaving everything behind.

In a bid to restore order, the police registered a case against Shahzad under Sections 295-A and 298. Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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Individual + Team Stats: Hornets vs. Timberwolves



CHARLOTTE HORNETS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on X: Facebook – All Hornets X – …

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What went wrong with ‘the Metaverse’? An insider’s postmortem



What went wrong with 'the Metaverse'? An insider's postmortem

It’s now two years since Facebook changed its name to Meta, ushering in a brief but blazing enthusiasm over “the Metaverse”, a concept from science fiction that suddenly seemed to be the next inevitable leap in technology. For most people in tech, however, the term has since lost its luster, seemingly supplanted by any product with “artificial intelligence” attached to its description. 

But the true story of the Metaverse’s rise and fall in public awareness is much more complicated and interesting than simply being the short life cycle of a buzzword — it also reflects a collective failure of both imagination and understanding.  


The forgotten novel

Ironically, many tech reporters discounted or even ignored the profound influence of Snow Crash on actual working technologists. The founders of Roblox and Epic (creator of Fortnite) among many other developers were directly inspired by the novel. Despite that, Neal Stephenson’s classic cyberpunk tale has often been depicted as if it were an obscure dystopian tome which merely coined the term. As opposed to what it actually did: describe the concept with a biblical specificity that thousands of developers have referenced in their virtual world projects — many of which have already become extremely popular.


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Snow Crash.

You can see this lack of clarity in many of the mass tech headlines attempting to describe the Metaverse in the wake of Facebook’s name change: 

In a widely shared “obituary” to the Metaverse, Business Insider’s Ed Zitron even compounded the confusion still further by inexplicably misattributing the concept to TRON, the original Disney movie from the 80s.

Had the media referenced Snow Crash far more accurately when the buzz began, they’d come away with a much better understanding of why so many technologists are excited by the Metaverse concept — and realize its early incarnation is already gaining strong user traction.  

Because in the book, the Metaverse is a vast, immersive virtual world that’s simultaneously accessible by millions of people through highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools that are integrated with the offline world through its virtual economy and external technology. In other words, it’s more or less like Roblox and Fortnite — platforms with many tens of millions of active users. 

But then again, the tech media can’t be fully blamed for following Mark Zuckerberg’s lead.

Rather than create a vision for its Metaverse iterating on already successful platforms — Roblox’s 2020 IPO filing even describes itself as the metaverse — Meta’s executive leadership cobbled together a mishmash of disparate products. Most of which, such as remotely working in VR headsets, remain far from proven. According to an internal Blind survey, a majority of Zuckerberg’s own employees say he has not adequately explained what he means by the Metaverse even to them.

Grievous of all, Zuckerberg and his CTO Andrew Bosworth promoted a conception of the Metaverse in which the Quest headset was central. To do so, they had to overlook compelling evidence — raised by senior Microsoft researcher danah boyd at the time of the company acquiring Oculus in 2014 — that females have a high propensity to get nauseous using VR.

Meta Quest 3 comes out on October 10 for $500.
Meta Quest 3.

Contacted in late 2022 while writing Making a Metaverse That Matters, danah told me no one at Oculus or Meta followed up with her about the research questions she raised. Over the years, I have asked several senior Meta staffers (past and present) about this and have yet to receive an adequate reply. Unsurprisingly, Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset has an estimated install base of only about 20 million units, significantly smaller than the customer count of leading video game consoles. A product that tends to make half the population puke is not exactly destined for the mass market — let alone a reliable base for building the Metaverse. 

Ironically, Neal Stephenson himself has frequently insisted that virtual reality is absolutely not a prerequisite for the Metaverse, since flat screens display immersive virtual worlds just fine. But here again, the tech media instead ratified Meta’s flawed VR-centric vision by constantly illustrating articles about the Metaverse with photos of people happily donning headsets to access it — inadvertently setting up a straw man destined to soon go ablaze.

Duct-taped to yet another buzzword

Further sealing the Metaverse hype wave’s fate, it crested around the same time that Web3 and crypto were still enjoying their own euphoria period. This inevitably spawned the “cryptoverse” with platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox. When the crypto crash came, it was easy to assume the Metaverse was also part of that fall.

But the cryptoverse platforms failed in the same way that other crypto schemes have gone awry: By offering a virtual world as a speculative opportunity, it primarily attracted crypto speculators, not virtual world enthusiasts. By October of 2022, Decentraland was only tracking 7,000 daily active users, game industry analyst Lars Doucet informed me

“Everybody who is still playing is basically just playing poker,” as Lars put it. “This seems to be a kind of recurring trend in dead-end crypto projects. Kind of an eerie rhyme with left-behind American cities where drugs come in and anyone who is left is strung out at a slot machine parlor or liquor store.”

All this occurred as the rise of generative AI birthed another, shinier buzzword — one that people not well-versed in immersive virtual worlds could better understand.

But as “the Metaverse” receded as a hype totem, a hilarious thing happened: Actual metaverse platforms continued growing. Roblox now counts over 300 million monthly active users, making its population nearly the size of the entire United States; Fortnite had its best usage day in 6 years. Meta continues plodding along but seems to finally be learning from its mistakes — for instance, launching a mobile version of its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds.  

Roblox leads the rise of user-generated content.

Into this mix, a new wave of metaverse platforms is preparing to launch, refreshingly led by seasoned, successful game developers: Raph Koster with Playable Worlds, Jenova Chen with his early, successful forays into metaverse experiences, and Everywhere, a metaverse platform lead developed by a veteran of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

At some point, everyone in tech who co-signed the “death” of the Metaverse may notice this sustained growth. By then however, the term may no longer require much usage, just as the term “information superhighway” fell away as broadband Internet went mainstream.  

Wagner James Au is author of Making a Metaverse That Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For 

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