- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

CALIFORNIA

Spacecraft hurtlestoward Saturn

PASADENA — The Cassini spacecraft threaded a gap between two of Saturn’s dazzling rings last night and began firing its engine to enter orbit around the giant planet, more than 900 million miles from Earth.

A signal indicating the start of the 96-minute burn arrived at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at 10:36 p.m. EDT. The craft risked flying past Saturn if the engine failed to slow it properly. A spare engine was at the ready.

Officials in mission control cheered and exchanged high-fives after the maneuver began. “The spacecraft is just really looking solid,” Cassini program manager Robert Mitchell said.

The $3.3 billion mission was designed to give scientists at least a four-year tour of Saturn and some of its 31 known moons. Cassini is set to make 76 orbits and repeated flybys of the moons.

NEW YORK

Infamous child killerreleased from prison

PINE CITY — Infamous child killer Joel Steinberg was released from prison yesterday after nearly 17 years behind bars for the 1987 beating death of his 6-year-old adopted daughter.

The former lawyer, now 63, served two-thirds of the maximum 25-year manslaughter sentence. He has continued to deny responsibility for the girl’s death.

Steinberg left the upstate prison with $104 in earnings from his inmate account and was picked up in a limousine by defense lawyer Darnay Hoffmann.

Mr. Hoffmann has said he offered Steinberg a free apartment and a $250-a-week job with a local cable-television show. Steinberg will have to make regular visits to a parole officer through October 2012. Now disbarred, he worked in prison as a paralegal.

ARIZONA

Man accused of raping girl, 9

PHOENIX — An ice cream vendor was arrested Tuesday on charges that he raped and impregnated a 9-year-old girl in his ice cream truck.

Adrian Gonzalez, 24, was booked on two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and two counts of kidnapping, said Sgt. Randy Force, a Phoenix police spokesman.

Sgt. Force said the rapes occurred in April and May after Mr. Gonzalez befriended the girl and got her mother’s consent to take the child along on his ice cream route. The girl kept quiet because Mr. Gonzalez threatened to kill her siblings and her mother if she told anyone, the policeman said.

Last week, she told a friend, who got a home-pregnancy test that showed the girl was pregnant. The results were confirmed by police investigators.

FLORIDA

One dead, one injured in fireworks accident

MELBOURNE — One man was killed and another was burned over 90 percent of his body when fireworks they were shooting from their car ignited inside the vehicle, police said.

The first officers reporting to the scene said some fireworks were still shooting from the Toyota Corolla when they arrived. The car was destroyed.

The man in the passenger seat escaped the flaming vehicle a few blocks before it crashed into a light pole. The driver, who died Tuesday, was unable to get out of the car until after the crash.

Artavis Walker, 23, died at the hospital, while 27-year-old Antonio Robinson was listed in critical condition.

IDAHO

Silver vein to keep mine open

MULLAN — The operators of the Lucky Friday Mine say a huge vein of silver and high precious metal prices could keep the mine open through at least 2011.

Three years ago, the mine was losing nearly $1 on every ounce of silver mined. Hecla Mining Co. is expected to reach the vein holding 28 million ounces of silver by the end of the year.

MISSISSIPPI

Court orders state to fix death row

JACKSON — A federal appeals court ruled that conditions on Mississippi’s death row are so bad it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, with inmates stuck in filthy, hot cells and given inadequate mental health care.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ordered the state Department of Corrections to make changes, including repairing toilets, adding screen windows and fans and improving mental health care.

The appeals panel upheld an earlier ruling by U.S. Magistrate Jerry Davis in favor of death row inmate Willie Russell and other prisoners who sued over the conditions at the state penitentiary at Parchman.

MISSOURI

Thief steals barbecue champ’s grill

KANSAS CITY — Barbecue champ Paul Kirk is flaming mad over the theft of his custom-made $18,000 grill.

Mr. Kirk’s 15-foot grill and the $8,000 van that pulled it were stolen over the weekend, along with food intended for a catering job — at least 10 pounds of brisket, a few chickens and a tall stack of ribs.

The cooker and the van were recovered Tuesday at an apartment complex in Merriam, Kan. Roeland Park, Kan., Police Chief Rex Taylor said police had no suspects and are investigating the crime as an auto theft.

Mr. Kirk is a seven-time barbecue champion who teaches barbecue classes, caters events and is known nationally as the “Baron of Barbecue” to readers of his half-dozen barbecuing books.

PENNSYLVANIA

Woman charged in custody plot

POTTSTOWN — A woman who apparently thought her sister was an unfit mother accused her of poisoning an infant in an attempt to gain custody of the child, police said Tuesday.

Kelly Heffner, 29, was baby-sitting her 2-month-old nephew last week when she told police that one of the child’s bottles smelled like toothache medicine. She accused the baby’s mother of drugging the baby’s formula, according to police.

The child was taken to a hospital emergency room, where police said he was found to be healthy.

Police said Miss Heffner, of Birdsboro, eventually confessed to rubbing the medicine on the lip of the baby’s bottle herself.

Miss Heffner was charged with making false reports to police and fabricating evidence.

TENNESSEE

Cows help cops nab slayings suspect

COLUMBIA — The credit for the bust is going to the bovines. A tip on the whereabouts of Parker Ray Elliott, suspected of fatally shooting his ex-wife and daughter and wounding his son, had led authorities Monday to search near a Maury County farm.

“I saw four or five cows by a barn,” said state parks employee Shane Petty, who was tracking Mr. Elliott with his bloodhound. “I knew those cows should have been looking at me, since I had just come into the area, but they were looking over into the woods, so I knew that’s where he was.”

Officers soon captured Mr. Elliott in those woods. A manhunt for Mr. Elliott had been under way since the shootings June 24 at his ex-wife’s home in the Culleoka community.

TEXAS

Death row inmate given reprieve

HUNTSVILLE — A man convicted of murder when he was 17 won a reprieve from the state Supreme Court about four hours before his scheduled execution Tuesday evening.

Lawyers for death row inmate Mauro Barraza, 32, had argued his death should be delayed because the nation’s high court is expected to review the issue of executing teenage killers later this year.

Barraza was convicted of the June 1989 beating death of an elderly woman during a break-in. He had turned 17 the previous month.

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