Nation briefs 3/16/06

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Former mechanic gets death sentence

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A former mechanic convicted of raping and murdering 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, whose abduction was caught on a car wash security camera, was sentenced to death Wednesday for her murder. The jury that convicted Joseph P. Smith in November had recommended by a vote of 10-2 that he be executed. Smith, 39, showed no emotion Wednesday as state Circuit Judge Andrew Owens read the official sentences -- death for the murder count and life in prison for kidnapping and sexual battery. Last month, Smith had tearfully apologized during a hearing.

New fossil complicates feather evolution picture

NEW YORK -- A beautifully preserved fossil from southern Germany raises questions about how feathers evolved from dinosaurs to birds, two paleontologists argue in a study published today. The 150 million-year-old fossil is a juvenile carnivorous dinosaur about 2 1/2 feet long that scientists named Juravenator, for the Jura mountains where it was found. The fossil's well-preserved bone structure clearly puts it among feathered kin on the dinosaur family tree. Because all of its close relatives are feathered, paleontologists would expect Juravenator to follow suit. But a small patch of skin on the creature's tail shows no sign of feathers. And the skin also doesn't have the follicles that are typical of feathered dinosaurs.

Dubai details sale plans of U.S. port operations

WASHINGTON -- A Dubai-owned company announced Wednesday it would sell all its U.S. port operations within four to six months to an unrelated American buyer, completing a multimillion-dollar deal forced by congressional concerns over terrorism security. Lawmakers who criticized the Bush administration for approving DP World's earlier plans to operate in the United States said they were satisfied by the new details.

-- From wire reports

World Traade Center negotiations break down

NEW YORK -- Talks between the developer of the World Trade Center and state officials broke down after a Tuesday deadline passed to renegotiate how he should rebuild at ground zero. Kenneth Ringler, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the trade center site, said Larry Silverstein's development company is not negotiating in good faith. He said Silverstein came in with an unacceptable offer a half-hour before the midnight deadline. "It was useless to go on at this point and time," Ringler said. "Whenever we put anything on the table, Larry Silverstein wants more." Silverstein spokesman Bud Perrone said the developer's team was disappointed the Port Authority suspended talks. He said Silverstein was willing to return to negotiate. "This temporary setback can and must be overcome," Perrone said.

NY files fraud lawsuit against H&R Block

NEW YORK -- New York state filed a $250 million fraud suit Wednesday against H&R Block Inc., the nation's largest tax preparing service, charging the company fraudulently steered customers into a losing retirement account plan.

The news unnerved investors, who sent H&R Block shares down $1.30, or almost 6 percent, to $20.70 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court, says Block advised clients to buy an "unsuitable, fraudulently marketed, poorly performing, fee-ridden 'retirement vehicle' called the Express IRA," an account that actually shrinks over time.

The court papers, filed by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, say the money in the retirement account decreases because the only investment option offered is a money market account with an interest rate so low that it does not cover the fees -- "fees that H&R Block fails to adequately disclose."

-- From wire reports

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