Nation briefs 6/3/04

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Peterson defense attacks murder case as flimsy

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Scott Peterson's attorney said Wednesday that prosecutors have a flimsy circumstantial case against his client -- and he can show Peterson didn't kill his pregnant wife because the fetus she carried was born alive. That assertion highlighted the two-hour opening statement of defense attorney Mark Geragos, who told jurors the boy whom the couple intended to name Conner didn't die in the womb, as prosecutors allege.

Post-disaster appointing of House defeated

WASHINGTON -- Determined to remain elected representatives, House lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed governors to name replacements if half the 435-member chamber died in a terrorist attack or other disaster. Opponents said the House should never abandon direct election. Lawmakers supporting the amendment said that without the succession plan, the House would expose itself to a lengthy period of powerlessness should hundreds of members die at the same time.

Men convicted of theft for taking etched rocks

RENO, Nev. -- Two men who removed 1,000-year-old Indian rock carvings from a national forest and used some of the stones as lawn ornaments were convicted Wednesday of theft of government property. They were acquitted of violating archaeological protection law. John Ligon of Reno and Carrol Mizell of Van Nuys, Calif., insisted they did not know they were breaking the law, in part because no signs marked the site near Reno.

Two stolen propane trucks found in Laredo

LAREDO, Texas -- Two propane-delivery trucks were found Wednesday after being stolen from a gas company over the weekend, a theft that raised fears of what could happen if terrorists got hold of the explosive fuel. The trucks were found on a highway just outside of Laredo, San Antonio police spokeswoman Sandy Gutierrez said. She did not know whether the trucks were still carrying the fuel.

Jury gets case in trial of Saudi grad student

BOISE, Idaho -- Jurors are considering a question that goes to the heart of the nation's civil liberties: When a Saudi student lent his Internet skills to Web sites that allegedly promoted terrorism, was he breaking the law or exercising his right to freedom of speech? Deliberations resumed Wednesday in the case of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen. Jurors had met briefly Tuesday after hearing closing arguments.

Judge: Abortion ban infringes right to choose

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ruling that it places an undue burden on a woman's right to choose, a federal judge declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Act unconstitutional in a case that applies to clinics and doctors that perform about half of abortions nationwide. The ruling Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton came in one of three lawsuits challenging the federal law, which bans certain kinds of abortions.

Wildfire forces evacuation of 60 families in Florida

A 3,000-acre wildfire forced the evacuation Wednesday of about 60 families in northern Florida after growing rapidly during the night, and a huge blaze in a New Mexico forest jumped containment lines. Residents were evacuated as a precaution from the Hidden Oaks area near Hampton, about 50 miles southwest of Jacksonville, said Annaleasa Winter, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Forestry.-- From wire reports

Philadelphia airs ads to attract gay travelers

PHILADELPHIA -- A new TV ad campaign featuring a same-sex couple in colonial costume invites gay tourists to come to the City of Brotherly Love, and a gay media group said it's the first time a television commercial for a U.S. tourist destination has targeted homosexuals. The 30-second spot, which was scheduled to air for the first time Wednesday night in Philadelphia and will be seen around the country, ends with the tag line: "Come to Philadelphia. Get your history straight and your nightlife gay."

FBI investigating leak of information to Iran

WASHINGTON -- Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi and his supporters denied Wednesday that he gave Iranian officials classified information indicating the United States had cracked Iran's secret communications codes. Members of Congress sought more details about Chalabi's alleged actions. Chalabi, a longtime favorite of some in the Pentagon, is at the center of a controversy over whether he leaked the closely guarded information about methods used by the United States to spy on Iran.

Bush consults lawyer in CIA leak case

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has consulted an outside lawyer in case he needs to retain counsel in the grand jury investigation of who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative last year, the White House said Wednesday. There was no indication that was a target of the leak investigation, but the president has decided that "in the event that he needs his advice," he would retain him," said White House deputy Claire Buchan.

Senator cites civilian contractors in Iraq abuse

WASHINGTON -- Four former state prison officials hired by the Justice Department to help set up Iraq's prison system have backgrounds that should have precluded them from the private contracting jobs, a senator said Wednesday. Each had lawsuits or other problems linked to their tenures in state government, Sen. Charles Schumer said. He called for the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate the "slipshod" hiring process that allowed them to work as private contractors.

Concerns raised about college-savings plans

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers and regulators are examining the fees charged by popular college-savings plans, and an investigation of big brokerage firms' sales of the plans has widened. An investor advocate told a House panel Wednesday that states may have incentives to sponsor so-called "529" plans with high fees and that political factors can play a role in pushing up charges.

-- From wire reports

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