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Of the 3.8 billion men in the world, she is poised to marry Omaha serial killer Nikko Jenkins

Nikko Jenkins is on the verge of marriage, via Nebraska’s death row.

The Omaha serial killer, who has long stained his head with informal tributes to Satan and a serpent god, recently added a new makeshift tattoo: Dawn.

The Dawn in question — Lubbock, Texas, resident Dawn Arguello — wishes he wouldn’t have done it. But she isn’t denying that she has feelings for the man who murdered Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Juan Uribe-Pena, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger within three weeks of his release from a Nebraska prison in 2013.

Initially, Arguello declined to comment and told a reporter to never call again. Before she hung up, a reporter asked her about the engagement: “Is it true?” Without directly answering, she vouched for Jenkins, calling the serial killer an “enigma” and talking about his intelligence, wit, humor and how he was, in her eyes, mistreated in prison.

Then, in a series of phone calls as bizarre as the Jenkins’ case, Arguello unwittingly confirmed her and Jenkins’ engagement.

Jenkins’ devotion to the 46-year-old woman is written across his face in the new tattoo that appears in his latest Corrections photo. Her devotion to him is written in her voice — in her nondenial denials and in a strange call that Arguello had her boss make to a reporter who was inquiring as to why she was planning to marry a serial killer.

Nebraska Corrections spokeswoman Laura Strimple declined to comment on Jenkins specifically, citing inmate privacy laws.

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“Marriage is a constitutional right,” Strimple said. “As long as all legal requirements and NDCS policies are met, inmates will be permitted to marry, unless the warden finds that the marriage or marriage ceremony presents a threat to the safety, security and good order of the institution.”

A federal judge ruled in May that two convicted Nebraska murderers could marry. However, that case is different — state officials argue that a marriage between two inmates could threaten the security and good order of the institution.

Death row inmates have weekly visitation hours in which they are permitted to hold hands or share a quick embrace or kiss. (Conjugal visits are not allowed.) Arguello indicated she has visited Jenkins, who is 33.

This is the point in the story, as in any bizarre Jenkins story, where you, the reader, have the option to do several things: stick with this strange tale, click on something else or go to your favorite social media site to proclaim that this story should never have been written.

“Every news outlet in Nebraska is calling Dawn,” said Tina Church, an Indiana woman who runs a nonprofit agency that advocates for death row inmates and their families.

The World-Herald apparently is the only one that Arguello didn’t hang up on, Church said. That phone call with Arguello was followed by a phone call from Church, a private investigator who says she has mentored Arguello on how to advocate for inmates. The phone conversation between Church and the reporter was then interrupted by an inadvertent conference call in which the reporter could hear Arguello asking Church what she was telling the reporter about the “marriage thing.”

Among the gems from the series of phone calls: Arguello and Church claimed that the rumor of death row romance was started by a New York City journalist who was rebuffed by Jenkins. As Church put it: a Brooklyn woman from Buzzfeed had fallen in love with Jenkins, wrote him several letters and asked if she could send him a letter smeared with blood.

That turned off Jenkins, who has spent portions of his prison sentence slicing his penis and sending pornographic drawings to female reporters. He broke off contact with the purported Buzzfeed journalist. Jilted, she then made up the Jenkins-Arguello marriage plans to get back at him.

That was Arguello and Church’s version.

A reporter told Arguello that all of that doesn’t explain why Jenkins inked Arguello’s name onto his face.

“I was very (ticked) off that he did that,” Arguello said. “He doesn’t need to be self-mutilating like that.”

Asked if he did it because he plans to marry her, Arguello said: “I’m not commenting on that. He’s never going to say anything; I’m never going to say anything.

“If you believe the media, he’s the most hated man in Nebraska besides Charles Starkweather.”

Helped by members of his family, Jenkins executed four Omahans in a brutal 10-day stretch in August 2013. In the first killings, his sister, Erica Jenkins, and a cousin, Christine Bordeaux, lured Cajiga-Ruiz and Uribe-Pena on the pretense of performing sex acts in an Omaha park. Nikko emerged from the shadows and shot both men in the head with a shotgun. A few days later, he killed Bradford after he, Erica Jenkins and Bradford went to a northeast Omaha neighborhood on the pretense of committing a robbery. A couple of days after that, he ripped Andrea Kruger, a mother of three, from her SUV and killed her in the intersection of 168th and Fort Streets.

The killings set off a debate about whether the Corrections Department should have better treated Jenkins, noting that he had spent more than half of his original 12-year prison sentence in solitary confinement.

Jenkins had contended that he was schizophrenic, claiming he heard voices from a serpent god telling him to kill. Mental health professionals were split on whether he was truly severely mentally ill or was faking it.

Citing all of that, Arguello repeatedly told a reporter that the real story is how Jenkins was treated.

“He’s not what the media has made him out to be,” she said. “He’s an enigma. He has feelings. He’s very sensitive. He’s very intelligent and, yes, he’s very manipulating.”

Arguello refused to talk about how she and Jenkins met. Church — a quick-talking 65-year-old woman who calls herself the devilish version of “Dead Man Walking” death row advocate Sister Helen Prejean — said Arguello has volunteered for about two years for Church’s nonprofit inmate advocacy group.

Church said Arguello would correspond with death row inmates as part of her volunteer work for the organization.

“Dawn isn’t a death row groupie,” Church said. Asked what a death row groupie is, Church let out a husky laugh: “Oh, honey.”

She then described a couple of women she has worked with who started out as pen pals with death row inmates and ended up married to them.

Arguello has a brief criminal history of her own. Court records indicate that she was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2005, felony child abuse in 2005 and felony credit card abuse in 1998. She served probation terms for the felonies. Her Facebook page is topped with a landscape photo of the Texas prison that has housed death row for the past 20 years. It also indicates she follows such groups as Prison Pen Pals, Inmate Lives Matter, Sirens Pen Pal and Nebraska Conservatives Concerned with the Death Penalty.

Church first told the reporter that Arguello had no romantic interest in Jenkins. She said Arguello has corresponded with him as Jenkins seeks help with his post-conviction appeals.

Then another phone rang in the background. “That’s Dawn,” Church said. She set her phone down and answered the other call on speakerphone.

A reporter heard Arguello tell her boss: “Thank God you didn’t say anything about the marriage thing.”

Then Arguello made an apparent reference to Jenkins.

“He told me, ‘I don’t want anyone in our business when you’re at the courthouse getting our paperwork,’ ” Arguello told Church.

Asked about those comments, Church contended that Arguello was referring to another woman’s marriage proposal to Jenkins. She eventually relented a bit.

“Would I be lying if I said Dawn didn’t have feelings for (Nikko)? Yes,” Church said. “I think she cares very much about him.”

The 12 men on Nebraska’s death row and their crimes

The 12 men on Nebraska’s death row and their crimes

U.S. reaches partial deal with China, cancels Sunday tariffs

Donald Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday that the U.S. has canceled plans to impose new tariffs on $160 billion worth of Chinese imports Sunday as part of a modest interim agreement that de-escalates a 17-month trade war between the world's two biggest economies.

The United States is also reducing existing import taxes on about $112 billion in Chinese goods from 15% to 7.5%.

Trump told reporters at the White House that Chinese farm purchases would hit $50 billion. China would not confirm the $50 billion figure, and details of the agreement were not released as of late Friday. U.S. farm exports to China have never topped $26 billion a year.

The office of Trump's trade representative said China had consented to "structural reforms'' that would improve intellectual property protection and curb the practice of forcing foreign companies to hand over technology as the price of admission to the Chinese market. But it offered no details, and business groups said more needed to be done to combat Beijing's aggressive trade practices.

"This deal should go a long way in reversing the downward spiral in bilateral trade relations and increasing certainty for U.S. businesses," said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade negotiator who is now vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute. But, she said, "It's unclear on how far the Phase 1 agreement goes in addressing the key structural issues that brought the U.S. to the negotiating table 17 months ago.''

Chinese officials said at a briefing in Beijing on Friday that if Washington reduces the tariffs, China will lower its trade penalties on American goods and also scrap plans for new tariffs on Sunday.

Trump's top advisers have argued that this deal, plus the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement that awaits a vote in Congress, would add close to half a percentage point to U.S. economic growth next year, raising expectations from about 2% to 2.5%. Economists outside the White House are less optimistic. The effects "would be negligible," tweeted Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. Still, the consensus view is the trade deals reached this week clear away some of the darkest clouds that were hanging over the U.S. and global economies.

The deal announced Friday leaves unresolved some of the thorniest issues. But Trump tweeted that work on a follow-up would begin "immediately, rather than waiting until after the 2020 Election.'' He previously had said work on Phase 2 would wait until after the election next November.

Observers have been eager for the Phase 1 agreement since Trump announced it on Oct. 11.

Financial markets were up and down Friday as investors attempted to assess the contours of the Phase 1 deal. Stocks swung between gains and losses, while Treasuries surged as neither side delivered enough details to calm investors. The administration accuses China of cheating in its drive to develop advanced technologies such as driverless cars and artificial intelligence. The administration alleges, and independent analysts generally agree, that China steals technology, forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets, unfairly subsidizes its own firms and throws up bureaucratic hurdles for foreign rivals.

Beijing rejects the accusations and contends that Washington is simply trying to suppress a rising competitor in international trade.

Since July 2018, the Trump administration has imposed a series of trade sanctions on China.

Friday's announcement means that the U.S. will continue to levy 25% import taxes on $250 billion in Chinese goods and will halve the tariffs on another $112 billion to 7.5%. It will drop plans to target an additional $160 billion. That step would have extended the tariffs to just about everything China sells the United States and would have hit consumer items such as toys and smartphones that have so far largely been spared.

Beijing has retaliated by taxing $120 billion in U.S. exports, including soybeans and other farm products.

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said "the agreement represents progress'' but "the United States must still comprehensively address China's rampant innovation mercantilist practices.''

Mary Lovely, a trade economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said it is unlikely that Friday's deal delivers enough benefits for the U.S. to outweigh the costs of the trade fight so far.

U.S. farmers lost billions of dollars in income, companies paid billions in tariffs and in many cases shifted their supply chains, and consumers saw some prices increase. "Many of us are highly skeptical that the agreement will be enough to outweigh these other costs," Lovely said. "The U.S. didn't move the needle very much."

Still, the agreement should help smooth some of the uncertainty surrounding global trade, Lovely said. "We have a cease-fire, we have some roll back, that is very significant," she said. "We were kind of on a brink here, and we saw the negotiators pull us back."

This report includes material from the Washington Post and Bloomberg.

Will Nebraska continue to welcome refugees? It's in the governor's hands

LINCOLN — After fleeing the harsh and violent rule of Afghanistan’s Taliban, 16-year-old Faheem Rashidi still worried about what life would be like as a refugee in the United States.

We don’t know anyone, the boy thought as the plane carrying his family crossed the ocean, and we don’t speak the language.

But those fears melted away as soon as he and his family set down in Lincoln. There, they were greeted by a half dozen strangers carrying flowers and saying “Welcome Rashidi family.”

“It was amazing,” Rashidi said in recalling that day two decades ago.

The boy went on to become a refugee success story.

He quickly learned English. He eventually returned to his native country to serve as an interpreter for the U.S. military. He graduated from pharmacy school. And he recently opened his own pharmacy in his adopted home city of Lincoln.

But whether Nebraska and the rest of the country will continue to hold out a welcome mat for refugees has been thrown into limbo by a recent Trump administration executive order that gives states and localities the authority to stop the resettlement of new refugees.

Under the directive released in September, both states and cities have to give written consent before any refugees can be resettled within their jurisdictions. Now governors and local leaders across the country have until Christmas to declare their intentions for accepting future refugees.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has yet to say whether Nebraska will welcome refugees. A spokesman said he is still looking at the Trump directive.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert has said she will declare that Omaha will remain open to new refugees, and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird has made the same pledge. Those two cities typically host more than 95 percent of new refugees in Nebraska. But unless Ricketts ultimately signs off, those cities’ declarations will be moot.

Recently, representatives of the three charitable agencies that resettle refugees in Nebraska and other advocates for refugees — including Rashidi — met with Ricketts in his office to make the case for Nebraska continuing to welcome refugees.

Their message was that refugees quickly assimilate and contribute to the fabric of Nebraska communities. They also fill jobs that the state often has difficulty filling, including in the meatpacking industry in places like Omaha, Grand Island, Schuyler, Crete and South Sioux City.

Stacy Martin, president of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, said the agencies talked to the governor about “the numerous ways in which refugees have enriched the state and provided an economic engine for communities.”

Nebraska indeed has long been known as a welcoming place for refugees. As recently as 2017, the state accepted more refugees per capita than any in the nation.

But since then has come a three-year effort by the Trump administration to dramatically reduce both legal immigration and refugee resettlement.

When Trump took office in 2017, he slashed the 110,000 refugees the nation was set to receive that year by more than half. And he has continued to ratchet down the numbers.

Refugees for the federal fiscal year that ended two months ago were capped at 30,000. For the 2020 fiscal year, Trump reduced the annual cap further to 18,000. That level is unprecedented in recent history, the lowest in federal refugee data that goes back to 1975.

The changes have had a dramatic impact on refugee resettlements in Nebraska, which dropped by more than two-thirds from 1,441 in 2016 to 445 in 2019. With the new cap, numbers are expected to drop even further in 2020.

Nebraska still ranks high in refugee resettlement, in 2019 coming in fifth per capita. Iowa ranked just ahead of Nebraska at fourth.

Trump’s 18,000-refugee cap for 2020 was also accompanied by the executive order requiring state and local consent.

“Close cooperation with state and local governments ensures that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force,” the order says in part.

Three faith-based agencies have challenged the order in federal court, saying it violates U.S. laws that give the federal government sole discretion over refugee settlement. That case is pending.

In the meantime, governors and local leaders across the country are beginning to weigh in.

According to published reports from around the country, more than a dozen governors have indicated they would accept refugees, with none at this point publicly shutting the door to their states. Consenting governors have come from both political parties.

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, sent her consent letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday. Her letter came a day after Iowa evangelical Christian leaders urged her to keep the state’s doors open to refugees.

They pointed out that many refugees are Christians or other religious minorities who face persecution for their faith, while others are persecuted for their political views or ethnicity.

The evangelical leaders also said all refugees face a thorough vetting abroad before they are cleared to come to the United States. Since the congressional act setting up the nation’s formal refugee admissions process was established in 1980, no refugee has taken a life in an act of terrorism.

“We can be secure and compassionate in welcoming refugees,” said the letter signed by more than 100 Evangelical Christians in the state.

Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, asked Trump to increase refugee resettlements in his state back where they had been before the recent reductions. He said refugees in Utah integrate, become productive employees, responsible citizens and contributors to schools, churches and other institutions.

“We have the capacity and public will to resettle at least as many refugees as in the past,” he wrote to Trump.

North Dakota’s GOP governor approved refugees in the state but then left it up to counties to decide whether they would consent to receiving them. For a time it appeared one county was prepared to become the first locality in the country to reject refugees.

But after a crowded and emotional public hearing on Monday, the local board in Burleigh County voted 3-2 to accept roughly the same number of refugees it had taken in the previous year. It’s unclear whether the federal regulations allow for such a locally imposed cap.

Nebraska’s two biggest cities are already on board. Stothert has publicly pledged support and is currently working on a consent letter. Lincoln’s Baird said in a statement that her city “will continue to honor our long tradition of welcoming refugees into the fabric of our community.”

Amanda Kohler, director of the Refugee Empowerment Center in Omaha, said the state’s resettlement agencies have had conference calls with mayors from across the state. All have been supportive of refugees.

Some have inquired about how to get more refugees, citing the shortage of workers in their communities. Kohler said it’s recognized that refugees are grateful for their new opportunities and motivated to become self-sufficient and live the American dream.

“We receive phone calls from employers nearly every day,” Kohler said.

Martin, of Lutheran Family Services, said the Nebraska resettlement agencies have used the president’s order as a chance to educate Nebraska leaders about the resettlement process and how it helps America “live out our ideals.”

“We are not deterred by the challenge of the changes in policies,” Martin said. “The needs persist.”

Representatives of the Refugee Empowerment Center, Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska, the agency serving Lincoln, met with Ricketts on Friday Dec. 6. Also in the meeting were the leaders of two businesses who have hired refugees and Rashidi, who took the opportunity to tell his personal story.

Faheem Rashidi

He said his family struggled in Afghanistan in the early 1990s after his father died. Under Taliban rule, his mother was not allowed to work, and his five sisters were prohibited from going to school.

“For my mother, it was take care of her kids or die,” Rashidi said. “The decision was very clear to go somewhere safer.”

They fled Afghanistan for neighboring Pakistan and lived for years in refugee camps before being granted the chance to come to America two decades ago.

Rashidi earned a college degree at Creighton University before embarking on four tours as a military interpreter for the United States in the long-running Afghanistan war.

After he finished his last tour in 2011, he earned a pharmacy degree in Massachusetts. He’s now married with four children and just two months ago left his job with a chain pharmacy to launch his own in southeast Lincoln. He said he’s working 11-hour days to help get his new business off the ground.

Rashidi told Ricketts of the important role the resettlement agencies play in helping refugee families adapt and become self-sufficient.

He also told Ricketts how he was in awe the first time he saw the Nebraska State Capitol as a new refugee.

“And now I am sitting across from the governor talking to you,” he recalled telling Ricketts. “It was great to have the opportunity to share my story with the governor.”

Nebraska's 10 most recent governors

Beagles sniff out ham sandwiches and other culinary contraband

DULLES, Va. — Phillip has a preference for small handbags. Larger bags may yield bigger loads of contraband, but he doesn't care. For him, it all pays the same. A single Snausage, or maybe a Pup-Peroni dog treat.

Wearing his dark blue vest that says, "Protecting American Agriculture" above the U.S. Department of Homeland Security logo, he turns alert. The subject is, at first, oblivious. She has her roller bag, her shoulder bag, she ambles toward the exit.

Phillip's partner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection K-9 Officer Valerie Woo, moves in, makes the collar. From that shoulder bag comes a ham sandwich secured in plastic wrap that Woo says was a snack on the 1:10 p.m. Air China flight arriving in Dulles from Beijing.

It is the first of three ham sandwiches Phillip and fellow canine team member Beazley find from that flight alone. Phillip also sniffs out two apples and two oranges.

Prohibited items include meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, seeds, soil and products made from animal or plantmaterials, the details predicated on a traveler's embarkation point. But it is the pork that is most troubling right now.

African swine fever is estimated to have killed a quarter of the world's pork population since last August, including half of China's swine herd, the world's biggest. Since then, the disease has spread to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea and the Philippines. It has been reported in Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries; in September, it was found near Saint-Léger in Belgium.

African swine fever has invaded more than 40 countries to date. There is no cure, no vaccine, and while the virus is not dangerous for humans, American pork producers and the U.S. Agriculture Department are terrified that it will reach North American soil.

This is themost challenging time of year, says Steve Sapp, public affairs officer of the Mid-Atlantic region for CBP. International travelers pour in from abroad bearing foodstuffs as gifts, as holiday fare. Grandma's famous siu mai dumplings, the crispy rice cakes with pork floss the family enjoyed while vacationing in Vietnam. Food is central to the holidays, and experts say human travel is the most likely vector for the disease.

DavidNg, a supervisory agriculture specialist for CBP, estimates officers seize 100 to 400 pounds of contraband at Dulles each day, "99% of it food."

Phillip and Beazley have found mango weevil, pink hibiscus mealybug and citrus canker. They are trained to identify five things: apples, mango, citrus, beef and pork. But right now, the bulk of their olfactory attentions are paid to that last one. The USDA is in the process of ramping up their canine presence, adding 60 beagle teams for a total of 179 to expand screenings of incoming international flights, commercial ports, seaports and cargo planes.

Why beagles? They are friendly, nonthreatening, smart and have great noses. Also - and Woo says this may be the most important - they are exceedingly food-motivated. There are larger breeds patrolling for U.S. currency and firearms, different dogs that sniff out narcotics, still others looking for bombs. Teams at the airport tend to be beagles or beagle mixes, animals plucked from shelters and rescues around the country to get a second chance.

"We could look at 100 dogs and not come back with any," said Kathleen Warfield, training specialist at the National Detector Dog Training Center in Georgia. "And once they go through initial testing, the percentage of those dogs that make it is maybe 70%. We want searching to be their main priority."

The dogs start slowly with a progressive training, all positive reinforcement with treats and a clicker, moving from boxes either empty or containing illicit food items to more complicated luggage with its zippers and multiple compartments. They train for 10 weeks, dog and human partner, learning each other, practicing, smelling smells.

"When a beagle walks into a room, they are checking everything," Warfield says. "They can walk by and smell a whole line of bags or a moving carousel. The dogs savemillions of dollars in law enforcement."

The African swine fever virus can live for months on infected meat or cold cuts, on tainted feed, on animal feed additives. Say it arrived stateside via ham sandwich: That sandwich could be tossed in a dumpster or by the side of the road and one of the country's 5 million wild hogs could snarf it, contracting the virus. That virus could then travel via soft tick to domesticated hogs.

The virus has a mortality rate of nearly 100% for domesticated pigs, leaving slaughter as the only option for disease control. A vaccine to curtail the virus has been hindered by a budgetary squeeze that discontinued funding for research at Plum Island Animal Disease Center in 2003. Research into African swine fever was halted when the USDA transferred responsibility of the Plum Island facility to the Department of Homeland Security. The facility modified its priorities, focusing on foot-and-mouth disease and disbanding the swine fever team. Research efforts didn't resume until 2010, leaving a vaccine still a long way off.

"The one thing you have to recognize now is ASF is on the borders of western Europe, an endemic disease in half the world," said Daniel Rock, who was the lead researcher for the Plum Island ASF team and who is now in the Department of Pathobiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois. "The threat for all pig-producing regions has increased exponentially and will remain that way for the indefinite future — a very serious, if not grave, matter."

He explains that warthogs, wild boar and bush pigs are natural hosts for the virus, often spread efficiently, but nonfatally, between wild animals via soft ticks. It is when the virus infects domesticated pigs that things become dire.

An infection on American soil would likely halt all U.S. pork exports, according to the USDA, a sector that totaled $6.39 billion in sales in 2018.