Nation briefs 01/13/03

New Jersey teen unlikely to be charged in killing

NEWARK, N.J. -- The teenager who allegedly admitted striking a 7-year-old cousin whose body was found in a plastic container is unlikely to face a homicide charge, a law enforcement source says.

Wesley Murphy, 16, whose mother, Sherry, was entrusted to care for Faheem Williams and his two brothers, is charged with assault and child endangerment. He admitted striking Faheem in the stomach while wrestling last September, and told investigators the boy fell unconscious, two sources told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Authorities believe that blow killed Faheem; an autopsy determined the cause of death was starvation and blunt force trauma to the stomach.

Wesley is not likely to be charged either with murder or manslaughter in his cousin's death, the law enforcement source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sherry Murphy had been responsible for caring for Faheem; his twin brother, Raheem; and the boys' 4-year-old brother, Tyrone Hill, since the boys' mother, Melinda Williams, went to jail in March 2002. Raheem and Tyrone were found starving in a locked basement room.

Search party finds band of stranded climbers

TIMBERLINE LODGE, Ore. -- Rescuers on snowy, wind-whipped Mount Hood have reached a party of five climbers who got lost in whiteout conditions and stranded overnight, authorities said.

The five climbers left on their expedition early Saturday morning, and were expected to return that evening. But they lost their way due to whiteout conditions, Walker said, and found themselves near steep cliffs instead, where they stopped and dug a snow cave.

Search and rescue teams were in contact with the five via cell phone, Walker said. The climbers also had a mountain locator unit, which allowed rescuers to hone in on their location.

Fire breaks out, burns for four hours at refinery

GARYVILLE, La. -- Fire broke out at a Marathon Oil Corp. refinery in southern Louisiana early Sunday and burned for over four hours in the plant's crude oil unit. There were no injuries.

A malfunctioning electric transformer caught fire about 4:30 a.m., said company spokeswoman Gretchen Plewak. It damaged an area Plewak described as the mainstay of the plant.

The refinery will remain shut down until a damage assessment is completed and officials decide what can be safely operated, Plewak said.

Los Angeles officials agree to inmate reforms

LOS ANGELES -- County officials have agreed to a series of sweeping reforms aimed at better identifying and treating thousands of mentally ill inmates in the nation's largest jail system, heading off a possible federal civil rights lawsuit.

The agreement, finalized last month, followed years of alleged abuses in Los Angeles County jails, including the use of excessive force and the improper use of restraints that led to the deaths of at least two mentally ill inmates.

Under the terms of the agreement, the county agreed to new standards governing almost every stage of care for the estimated 2,500 mentally ill inmates, from intake screening and diagnosis to drug treatment, suicide prevention and medical record-keeping.

The reforms stem from a scathing 1997 report by the Justice Department that concluded the county was violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill inmates.

-- From wire reports