Thursday, January 30, 2014

Published:

Federal prosecutors will seek death penalty against Boston Marathon bombing suspect

BOSTON (AP) -- Federal prosecutors Thursday announced they will seek the death penalty against 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing, accusing him of betraying his adopted country by ruthlessly carrying out a terrorist attack calculated to cause maximum carnage.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to press for Tsarnaev's execution was widely expected. The twin blasts last April killed three people and wounded more than 260, and over half the 30 federal charges against Tsarnaev -- including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill -- carry a possible death sentence.

"The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision," Holder said in a statement of just two terse and dispassionate sentences that instantly raised the stakes in one of the most wrenching criminal cases Boston has ever seen.

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.

In a notice of intent filed in court, federal prosecutors in Boston listed factors they contend justify a sentence of death against Tsarnaev, who moved to the U.S. from Russia about a decade ago.

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Italian court reinstates Amanda Knox's murder conviction; long extradition fight is likely

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) -- More than two years after Amanda Knox returned to the U.S. apparently home free, an Italian court Thursday reinstated her murder conviction in the stabbing of her roommate and increased her sentence to 28½ years in prison, raising the specter of a long extradition fight.

Knox, 26, received word in her hometown of Seattle. The former American exchange student said she was "frightened and saddened by the unjust verdict" and blamed "overzealous and intransigent prosecution," ''narrow-minded investigation" and coercive interrogation techniques.

"This has gotten out of hand," Knox said in a statement. "Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."

Lawyers for Knox and her 29-year-old ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was also found guilty, vowed to appeal to Italy's highest court, a process that will take at least a year and drag out a seesaw legal battle that has fascinated court-watchers on both sides of the Atlantic and led to lurid tabloid headlines about "Foxy Knoxy" and her sex life.

It was the third trial for Knox and Sollecito, whose first two trials in the 2007 slaying of British exchange student Meredith Kercher produced flip-flop verdicts of guilty, then innocent.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. AMANDA KNOX'S CONVICTION UPHELD

From her mother's home in Seattle, the U.S. student says she's "saddened and frightened" by the Italian court's decision.

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Immigration overhaul: Republican lawmakers wrestle with each other over possible changes

CAMBRIDGE, Md. (AP) -- House Republicans wrestled inconclusively with the outlines of immigration legislation Thursday night, sharply divided over the contentious issue itself and the political wisdom of acting on it in an election year.

At a three-day retreat on the frozen banks of the Choptank River on Maryland's Eastern Shore, GOP leaders circulated an outline that would guide the drafting of any House Republican legislation on the subject -- a document that Speaker John Boehner told the rank and file was as far as the party was willing to go.

It includes a proposed pathway to legal status for millions of adults who live in the U.S. unlawfully -- after they pay back taxes and fines -- but not the special route to citizenship that President Barack Obama and many Democrats favor.

Many younger Americans brought to the country illegally by their parents would be eligible for citizenship.

"For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degrees, we will do just that," the statement said.

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US expresses concern over growing delays in mission to rid Syria of chemical weapons

BEIRUT (AP) -- The United States accused the Syrian government Thursday of using stalling tactics to delay efforts to remove and destroy chemical agents, an indication that the international community's patience is wearing thin over the slow pace of the operation.

The comments, delivered by the U.S. representative to the international chemical weapons watchdog, marked some of the strongest public criticism of Syria's commitment to relinquish its chemical stockpile.

Syria agreed to surrender its arsenal after a deadly chemical attack in August on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus raised the threat of punitive U.S. missile strikes. President Barack Obama has touted the agreement as a victory and a major policy achievement for his administration on Syria's intractable civil war.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is leading the mission to eliminate Syria's 1,300-metric ton stockpile by a June 30 deadline.

Under the OPCW's tight timeline, the most toxic chemicals in Syria's arsenal were to have been removed from the country by Dec. 31, but that deadline was missed due to poor security amid Syria's raging civil war as well as other factors. So far, just two small consignments of chemicals have been shipped out.

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Video shows dramatic rescue in Syria of baby buried in rubble

Fourteen-month-old Ghina Khalil is recovering with her family in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo after being buried in rubble.

The stunning rescue, caught on video, -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lckNgtlLQ6Ihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lckNgtlLQ6I -- corresponds to Associated Press reporting of events.

The footage shows a group of men frantically digging in the dusty rubble of her home after an alleged airstrike on Jan. 22.

Amid cries of "God is greatest," the toddler's curly-haired head can be seen emerging from the dust, as the men scoop away handfuls of crumbled concrete with their bare hands. With her arms freed, the girl reaches up to wipe her eyes in a sign of life.

According to the activist who filmed the video, uploaded to the internet by the Nour Media Centre, the girl was completely buried for at least three minutes and her mother was killed in the attack. A video taken later showed Khalil in new clothes, with no visible injuries.

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Government report shows solid economic growth at end of 2013, brightens outlook for 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Consumers will spend more. Government will cut less. Businesses will invest more. And more companies will hire.

Add it all up, and you can see why expectations are rising that 2014 will be the best year for the U.S. economy since the recession ended 4½ years ago. That's why the Federal Reserve is pressing ahead with a plan to scale back its economic stimulus.

The optimists got a boost Thursday from a government report that showed consumers fueled solid economic growth in the final quarter of 2013. The report lifted hopes that the economy will be able to withstand turmoil in emerging economies, a pullback in the Fed's stimulus and mounting risks to the U.S. stock market over the next 12 months.

Americans struggling with long-term unemployment and stagnant pay might not get relief anytime soon. And areas such as manufacturing, construction and home sales remain far from full health. Still, the outlook for the economy as a whole brightened after the government said growth reached a 3.2 percent annual rate last quarter on the strength of the strongest consumer spending in three years.

"The economy showed real signs of momentum at the end of 2013," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "We are better positioned for decent growth for 2014 than we were a year ago."

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Caught off guard: After paralyzing snow, Atlanta mayor and Ga. gov play delicate blame game

When the snow started falling Tuesday and cars lined up on the highways, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed were at an awards luncheon, smiling and back-slapping each other as the Republican governor introduced the Democratic mayor, who was named a local magazine's "Georgian of the Year."

Just 40 minutes earlier, the mayor declared via Twitter: "Atlanta, we are ready for the snow."

Within hours, the metropolitan area was in gridlock with tens of thousands of people, including some children on school buses, stranded on icy, wreck-strewn roads. Two days later, the ice was thawing, the children were home and abandoned vehicles were being reclaimed, yet Deal and Reed have scrambled to explain how it all happened after the National Weather Service -- despite the governor's claims to the contrary -- clearly warned of a dangerous scenario.

Both men have played the blame game delicately, perhaps knowing political futures are sometimes made or squashed by storm preparations and response, and that the city that has a long and painful past of being ill-prepared for nasty winter weather.

Reed, who recently began his second term, holds ambition for a statewide run, possibly for governor. Deal is running for re-election this year, and Democrats believe he is vulnerable.

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Justin Bieber vs. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: Canada's favorite bad boys?

TORONTO (AP) -- Pop star Justin Bieber is giving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a brief respite as Canada's favorite bad boy and butt of all jokes.

Ford has admitted smoking crack while in a drunken stupor and is being sued for supposedly orchestrating the jailhouse beating of his sister's ex-boyfriend. The 19-year-old teen idol is facing the equivalent of a misdemeanor assault charge.

"It's a change from the Rob Ford show," said 14-year-old Jon Bullock, who braved glacial temperatures to catch a glimpse of the star as he turned himself in at a Toronto police station Wednesday evening to face charges over an altercation with a limousine driver in late December.

The incident, which comes on the heels of Bieber's Miami arrest while apparently drag racing and driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs, is the latest to sully the image of the singer who has been drawing more attention for his brushes with the law than for his music.

For now at least, Bieber has eclipsed Ford as fodder for late-night comedy talk-shows on both sides of the border.

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Ahead of Super Bowl, police target NYC sex ring that advertised on TV, took credit cards

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York law enforcement authorities cracked down Thursday on a prostitution ring that they said advertised on public access cable TV, took credit cards and used text messages to market "party packs" of cocaine and sex to clients.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the gang had been under surveillance for 11 months, but authorities decided to act now in the hope of disrupting any parties that might have been in the works for the upcoming Super Bowl weekend.

More than half of the 18 suspects charged in the case were under arrest Thursday, including a Long Island woman who authorities said went by the code-name "Beige" and was the primary ringleader. The rest were being sought.

At a midday news conference, Schneiderman held up a credit card reader that he said had been used by the gang, and said investigators had so far identified $3 million worth of charges processed in connection with sex and drug sales.

"Keep in mind that most johns pay cash," Schneiderman said. "So that's a staggering number for an enterprise like this."