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Nation digest 08/19/03

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Judge bans cameras at Peterson hearing

MODESTO, Calif. -- A judge has banned cameras from the court hearing in which prosecutors will lay out their case against Scott Peterson, saying he didn't want the case to become even more of a televised spectacle.

The decision Monday was a victory for prosecutors, who argued that letting the media broadcast the evidence against the fertilizer salesman accused of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, would only escalate the frenzy surrounding the case.

Preliminary hearings are like minitrials, with testimony from witnesses. At the end, a judge decides whether the case goes to trial.

Peterson, 30, has pleaded innocent to two murder counts accusing him of killing his wife and unborn son.

Poll: Majority favors law against gay marriage

WASHINGTON -- More than half of Americans favor a law barring gay marriage and specifying wedlock be between a man and a woman, an Associated Press poll found.

The poll, conducted for the AP by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa., found 52 percent favor a law banning gay marriages, while 41 percent oppose it.

About four in 10 -- 41 percent -- support allowing civil unions, roughly the same level found in an AP poll three years ago. But 53 percent now say they oppose civil unions, up from 46 percent in the earlier survey.

The increase came largely from people who previously were undecided, the polls suggested.

Woman, 78, survives four days in ditch

KINGSTON, N.Y. -- A 78-year-old diabetic woman fell into a ditch near a shopping mall and survived for four days through hail and lightning before she was rescued.

Remarkably, doctors said, Ruth Merritt suffered only a few bumps and bruises and a sprained ankle.

Merritt was reported missing by friends Tuesday after failing to return to her assisted living home in Poughkeepsie from the Hudson Valley Mall, about 50 miles south of Albany.

Merritt told NBC's "Today" show Monday that God "talked to me during the thunderstorm." She recalled the ditch "was kind of deep. I guess that's why they didn't find me right away."

At 3 p.m. Saturday, a mall security guard, Joe Williams, spotted Merritt lying in the 15-foot-deep ditch.

Judge rules no jury consultant in sniper case

MANASSAS, Va. -- Defense lawyers for sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad were blocked Monday from hiring a jury consultant to help screen potential jurors.

Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. also denied the defense's request for extra peremptory challenges when a jury pool is created.

"The court is confident of the extensive experience of lawyers at both tables," Millette said. "Jury selection is certainly a skill that attorneys develop."

Muhammad's lawyers had asked to hire consultant Jeffrey Frederick at taxpayer expense to help with jury selection in Muhammad's murder trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 14 in Virginia Beach.

Muhammad, 42, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, are charged in a three-week shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area last October that killed 10 people.

Malvo is scheduled to stand trial in Nov. 10.

-- From wire reports

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