Nation briefs 1/19/03

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Latest Ohio shooting determined to be hoaxCOLUMBUS, Ohio -- Authorities said a man made up a story that his minivan was struck by a bullet Wednesday in an area where 24 highway shootings are under investigation. The man admitted to authorities he shot his own van and told investigators the gunfire occurred while he was driving, the task force investigating the shootings said in a release. Charges are pending against the man. "Valuable time, resources and manpower were wasted because of this foolish action," investigators said in a statement.

Rovers inspect holes on opposite sides of Mars

LOS ANGELES -- The Opportunity rover used its robotic arm to inspect a freshly dug hole on Mars, while its twin, Spirit, rolled into a shallow depression halfway around the Red Planet, NASA said Wednesday. Opportunity examined the 4-inch-deep trench it scooped out with one of its six wheels, measuring the composition of the clumpy soil and photographing it with a microscopic imager. The trench is intriguing because it is not uniform, with the bottom appearing different from the walls, project manager Richard Cook said. Spirit rolled into a shallow depression, nicknamed Laguna Hollow, after completing a 63-foot drive. The dust-filled depression is probably an impact crater.

Laura Bush calls gay weddings 'shocking issue'

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Laura Bush says gay marriages are "a very, very shocking issue" for some people, a subject that should be debated by Americans rather than settled by a Massachusetts court or the mayor of San Francisco. Asked how she feels about the issue personally, Mrs. Bush replies: "Let's just leave it at that." Mrs. Bush also endorsed sexual abstinence programs for teens, which are slated to get double their current funding under the president's latest budget proposal. Abstinence should be extensively discussed alongside contraception, she said. "We know it works. It's 100 percent fail-safe." Mrs. Bush discussed her views as she flew across the country at the start of a three-day trip to raise re-election cash for her husband's campaign and to talk about education.

Court upholds removal of Ten Commandments

LINCOLN, Neb. -- A federal appeals court upheld a ruling Wednesday that a Ten Commandments monument must be removed from a city park in Plattsmouth. The American Center for Law and Justice, a group that focuses on family and religious issues, had asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review an earlier ruling by a federal judge. Gene Kapp, spokesman for the group, declined to comment on the ruling, saying his organization was still studying it. U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln had rejected the city's argument that the monument is protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. The 5-foot-tall granite monument monument lists the Ten Commandments and is emblazoned with two Stars of David, which are symbols of the Jewish faith.

Man taken off death row, retried found not guilty

WINDSOR, N.C. -- A prisoner taken off death row after a judge ruled prosecutors withheld key evidence in his murder trial was found not guilty Wednesday in a second trial. Alan Gell, 28, has spent a decade behind bars in the 1995 murder of retired truck driver Allen Ray Jenkins, who was shot twice during a robbery. After the verdict, Gell hugged his attorneys and his mother wept in the courtroom. He was immediately allowed to go free. When asked what he was going to do, he responded: "Go home, where I should have been years ago." The case has led to calls for North Carolina to impose a moratorium on executions, and the verdict likely will fuel the debate.

Utah Capitol reopened after threat, evacuation

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Capitol was evacuated for about three hours Wednesday morning and armed police searched the building because a "credible" bomb threat was made, the Utah Highway Patrol said. The building was reopened after a room-by-room search using four bomb-sniffing dogs turned up nothing suspicious, authorities said. The telephone bomb threat was received at about 7:30 a.m., said patrol Sgt. Wade Breur. Officials decided it was "credible" after reviewing a recording of the call, spokeswoman Kat Dayton said. The caller, "a very agitated male," warned that there would be "a lot of damage done and lives lost," Breur said. The man had no specific grievance, he added.

Panel questions how USDA handled mad cow

WASHINGTON -- A House committee is challenging the Agriculture Department's view that the nation's first cow sick with deadly mad cow disease was lame. Contrary to the department, three eyewitnesses at the Washington state plant where the Holstein was slaughtered on Dec. 9 say the cow appeared healthy, lawmakers on the House Government Reform Committee said in a letter Tuesday to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. The issue is significant because Agriculture Department officials that monitor meat plants target "downer" cattle -- animals that are sick, injured or that exhibit symptoms of disease -- for testing of mad cow, a brain-wasting illness. Critics have argued that the agency needs to also test healthy animals as a safeguard against the illness, which can incubate for four or five years.

-- From wire reports

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