National Briefs

Wednesday June 12, 2002

Supreme Court blocks 

Texas execution  


HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A convicted murderer whose lawyers say is mentally retarded won a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, 3 1/2 hours before he was scheduled to be executed. 

Last month, the nation’s highest court halted two other executions after lawyers made similar claims. The court has been reviewing a Virginia case that challenges the constitutionality of executing the mentally retarded; a decision is expected at any time. 

Willie Modden, 54, was sentenced to die for stabbing to death a convenience store employee, 27-year-old Deborah Davenport, during a robbery. 

Modden’s first conviction was overturned because jurors were not allowed to consider his claims of mental retardation when they decided his sentence. 

He was tried again in 1992, convicted and condemned. At that trial, jurors were told his IQ was 64; an IQ of 70 is considered the threshold for retardation. 


NYPD rejects proposal  

for armed citizen patrols  


NEW YORK – The police commissioner says New York doesn’t need armed bands of citizens to protect its neighborhoods, flatly rejecting a proposal by a Jewish group to begin patrols next week. 

“The department will not tolerate anyone brandishing weapons under the guise of protecting others,” Commissioner Ray Kelly said Monday. “Anyone attempting to patrol the streets armed with weapons will be arrested.” 

On Sunday, Rabbi Yakove Lloyd, president of the right-wing Jewish Defense Group, proposed armed patrols, citing comments a suspected terrorist made on CBS’ ”60 Minutes” about targeting certain Jewish neighborhoods. 

“Any move in this direction is counterproductive,” Kelly said. “The tenor of this is wrong. We don’t need this.” 

Lloyd said the patrols would go ahead. 

“What the police commissioner does not understand is that no matter what he says ... those who have the legal right to carry firearms can carry firearms,” he said. 


Government seizure upheld  

in fight over Islamic charity assets  


CHICAGO – A federal judge on Tuesday upheld the government’s seizure of money and records from an Islamic charity federal officials say is suspected of ties to terrorism. 

Attorneys for the charity, Global Relief Foundation, had argued that the order that froze its bank accounts was unconstitutional. 

But U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen wrote in a 48-page opinion that the government had “established probable cause to believe that Global Relief and its executive director were agents of a foreign power.” 

Global Relief attorney Roger Simmons said he would appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Global Relief, based in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, was raided by Treasury Department agents on Dec. 14 and its assets were frozen as part of the government’s post-Sept. 11 terrorism investigation. 

In preparation for his ruling, Andersen viewed secret evidence provided by the government but not shown to Global Relief attorneys. 

“We have reviewed materials furnished by the FBI to us and have concluded that they are relevant to the ongoing investigation and that their disclosure to Global Relief, while the investigation is pending, could undermine this investigation and others of national significance,” he said. 


Wildfire slows near Denver  


DENVER – Shifting wind and cooler temperatures slowed the advance of a wildfire bearing down on Denver on Tuesday, but yellow smoke still blanketed the area and officials asked 13,000 people to leave their homes south of the city. 

It was still too dangerous to allow firefighters in the path of the 77,000-acre blaze that started in the Pike National Forest, officials said. 

“There is such a tremendous amount of heat that you can’t put firefighters on the ground in front of it,” said fire information officer Tony Diffenbaugh. 

The change of wind direction had turned the fire back onto itself late Monday, but officials feared the wind would return on Tuesday, with gusts to 30 mph, and intensify the blaze again, said Diffenbaugh. 

Investigators were looking for the owner of a pickup truck seen leaving the area where the blaze was started by an illegal campfire Saturday about 60 miles south of Denver. Campfires had been banned in the area because of the drought. 

It was one of at least eight fires in Colorado, including a 10,000-acre blaze that destroyed 24 homes and sent residents fleeing in Glenwood Springs, near Storm King Mountain in western Colorado. 

In Glenwood Springs, most of the 3,000 residents forced to leave their homes were allowed to return Monday night. That fire was started Saturday by a long-smoldering underground coal fire. 


Gay-rights advocates infiltrate  

Southern Baptist meeting  


ST. LOUIS – The head of the Southern Baptists condemned homosexuality from the podium Tuesday as gay rights protesters shouting slog and marched through the convention hall and into the arms of police. 

Twelve protesters were arrested inside the hall, and 38 more were taken into custody outside, where riot police stood near the main doorway. 

The dozen protesters who infiltrated the annual meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination were charged with ethnic intimidation and trespassing. 

“Stop killing us! Stop the spiritual violence!” one man shouted as police dragged him behind the curtains at America’s Center. A woman from the group Soulforce, which claims Southern Baptist teachings lead to violence against gays, shouted: “God loves his gay children!” 

“You need Jesus!” shouted back the Rev. Robert Smith, a pastor from Cedar Bluff, Ala. Others hissed as protesters were led away. 


Spacewalking astronauts bolt down  

work platform for robot arm  


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Two spacewalking astronauts wired up and bolted down a work platform Tuesday that will allow the international space station’s 58-foot robot arm to roam across the orbiting outpost. 

Franklin Chang-Diaz and Philippe Perrin, visiting from space shuttle Endeavour, connected eight power, data and video cables. Then, working 240 miles above Earth, they drove four bolts to secure the platform and installed a TV camera. 

Earlier this spring, 44 feet of track and a rail car were installed on the international space station for use in the later stages of construction. Tuesday’s work involved the bolting of a $254 million platform on the rail car. 

The platform will enable the robot arm and pieces of the space station to ride from one end of the space station to the other. A series of tests must be conducted over the next few weeks before the robot arm is commanded to climb onto the platform for a ride. 


Police: Investigation in case of missing Utah girl being refocused  


SALT LAKE CITY – The city’s police chief said Tuesday detectives are refocusing their investigation into the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart on those who know the 14-year-old girl, and vowed to the unidentified suspect: “We are going to get you.” 

“If you’ve got Elizabeth, you’d better release her now,” Chief Rick Dinse told reporters on the seventh day of the investigation. 

Despite checking out hundreds of tips, police have not been able to focus on any particular suspect, he said. 

“We believe that it is possible that we have already talked to, or will soon talk to, the suspect that is responsible for this crime,” he said. “My caution to this suspect, if he is listening, is, ’We are going to get you.”’ 

Investigators spent several hours in the Smart home early Tuesday, searching for clues to the girl’s June 5 disappearance. 

Investigators are now focusing on someone who had access to the neighborhood or the house, although not necessarily a family member, Dinse said. 

“We don’t have an identified suspect, but we do have some analysis of what this suspect is like,” he said. “While we have not located Elizabeth or identified a clear suspect, we have made progress.” 

Police said they have ruled out the possibility that the girl staged her own abduction and was a runaway. 

So far, police have received 6,000 leads, of which 600 were worthy of followup.