Nation briefs 05/05/03

Monday, May 5, 2003

Judge awards $1 to student in prayer case

HOUSTON -- A federal judge has awarded $1 in damages to a former high-school student who secured a restraining order allowing her to pray over a public address system before her school's 1999 home football games.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake ruled last week that former honors student Marian Ward was entitled to the nominal damage amount and attorney's fees.

Ward filed a civil lawsuit in 1999 against the school district in Santa Fe, claiming it violated her constitutional rights by instituting a school policy that would have kept her from praying over a public address system before the games.

School district attorney Philip Fraissinet said the policy was an attempt by the district to comply with a previous ruling in a separate case that pregame prayers were unconstitutional.

Lake ruled the case filed by Ward was moot. However, her case landed back in his court last year when Lake was asked to rule on what, if any, damages should be awarded.

Three-strikes law proposed for corporations

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Borrowing from a popular punishment for repeat criminal offenders, California consumer activists are trying to create a three-strikes-and-you're-out law for corporations.

"If this is good enough for individual felons in California, it's certainly appropriate for the Enrons of the world," says Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

The foundation and several other consumer groups, as well as organizations representing environmentalists, labor unions, seniors and trial lawyers, are backing a bill that would bar a corporation from doing business in California if it's convicted of three felonies in a 10-year period.

The bill was approved last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote in the Appropriations Committee, the last stop before reaching the full Senate.

The measure, by state Sen. Gloria Romero, takes its name from the state's three-strikes law, which provides sentences of 25 years to life in prison for people with two prior violent or serious felonies who are convicted of a third felony.

Ex-kingpin accused of being back in business

MIAMI -- One of the biggest Colombian druglords ever brought to the United States to face justice goes on trial today under security so tight that the anonymous jurors will be driven back and forth to court in vans with tinted windows to protect their identities.

Fabio Ochoa Sanchez is accused of getting back into the cocaine business in the late 1990s after serving time for his role as one of the bosses of the defunct Medellin cartel, one of the most powerful and feared drug networks of the 1980s.

He is the most prominent drug defendant brought to the United States since Colombia resumed extraditions in 1997, after stopping them for most of the 1990s during a campaign of bombings and assassinations by the cartels.

Ochoa, who turns 46 this month, could get life in prison if convicted. He has been in a Miami jail since his extradition in September 2001.

Jury selection is set to begin today in federal court.

Head-on crash on highway in Minnesota kills four

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. -- A car crossed a highway divider and crashed head-on into two minivans traveling side by side, killing five people and injuring two others, authorities said.

The driver of the car and three people in one of the minivans were pronounced dead at the scene southeast of St. Paul. A fourth person from the van died later.

The crash Saturday night was so violent that the car's engine was thrown back into the median, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Kevin Smith. He said authorities had not yet determined the cause.

Police identified the four victims in the van as Mark and Nancy Tackabury, both 44, of Welch, their daughter, 14, whose name was not released, and Dorothy Ann Jones, 70.

The driver of the car was Bruce Lee Vue, 20, of St. Paul.

-- From wire reports

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