Nation briefs 1/5/04

Monday, January 5, 2004

Fed: Conditions ripe to keep interest rates low

WASHINGTON -- With inflation tame and the fragile job market healing, the Federal Reserve has room to hold a main short-term interest rate near rock-bottom levels for some time, a Fed policy-maker said Sunday. The federal funds rate, the Fed's main lever for influencing economic activity, now stands at 1 percent, a 45-year low. The funds rate is the interest banks charge each other for overnight loans. Although many economists agree that the Fed will hold the funds rate steady Jan. 27 and 28, its first meeting of the year, they differ on the future course of interest rate policy.

New Jersey second state to OK stem cell research

WEST ORANGE, N.J. -- New Jersey became the second state to allow stem cell research on Sunday as Gov. James E. McGreevey signed a law he said will "move the frontiers of science forward." Stem cell research, which has been strongly opposed by anti-abortion groups and the Roman Catholic church because it involves the use of fetal and embryonic tissue, is also permitted in California and bills are pending in Illinois and New York. McGreevey was joined Sunday by Christopher Reeve, the actor who was paralyzed by a 1995 fall from a horse and has become an advocate for increased funding for medical research.

Lionel Tate agrees to plea to second-degree murder

MIAMI -- A teenager whose life sentence for beating a 6-year-old playmate to death was thrown out signed documents Sunday pleading guilty to second-degree murder in a deal that could get him out of prison as early as this month. Lionel Tate, 16, signed the papers at a maximum security juvenile prison in Okeechobee, where he is being held for the 1999 death of Tiffany Eunick. Tate was 12 when he punched, kicked and stomped the 48-pound girl to death. His first-degree murder conviction and life sentence were overturned last month, and prosecutors offered the same plea deal Tate and his mother declined before trial. In the deal, Tate would be sentenced to three years in prison -- most of which he has already served -- plus one year of house arrest and 10 years probation.

Jackson could charge jury selection unconstitutional

LOS ANGELES -- When the law speaks of defendants being entitled to a jury of their peers, it's obvious no one contemplated Michael Jackson's place in the justice system. The millionaire pop music star, who is charged with committing lewd acts on a child, is in a class of his own. But should his lawyer decide to challenge Santa Barbara County's jury-selection process as skewed against him, it would be possible to do so on one issue: whether it systematically excludes racial minorities. That issue already has been a subject of legal challenges in Santa Barbara County.

Dioceses implementing abuse prevention plan

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says an upcoming report on whether dioceses are implementing a mandatory discipline plan for sexually abusive priests will show "the bishops have kept our word" to punish offenders and protect children. The audit found that dioceses "are either in full compliance or in the process of working toward compliance," Bishop Wilton Gregory said in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." But he also said some of the 195 dioceses did not participate in the review.

Missing skier found alive after four days in snow

SEATTLE -- A skier missing for four days and four freezing nights in the central Cascade Mountains was found alive but hypothermic Sunday after rescuers spotted his fresh tracks by helicopter. Scores of people had been looking for Dan Witkowski, 25, of Ellensburg, since he was reported missing Thursday. Witkowski had failed to meet up with friends Wednesday and his car was found parked at the Alpental ski area in Snoqualmie Pass, off Interstate 90. About a foot of snow fell in the area Saturday, but searchers found intermittent ski and boot tracks in the new snow Sunday.

-- From wire reports

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