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ARKANSAS

School shooter faces drug charge

LITTLE ROCK — Jonesboro school shooter Mitchell Johnson, already facing sentencing on a federal weapons charge, was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor drug possession, police said yesterday.

Johnson, 23, was arrested Saturday night at a convenience store where he worked as a clerk, Bentonville Police Lt. Jon Simpson said. Officers went to the store after receiving a call that someone lost a credit card there and the card had been used at the store by someone else, Lt. Simpson said. Authorities found a bag containing marijuana in Johnson’s pocket, but he was not charged with using the stolen credit card, Lt. Simpson said.

A federal jury convicted Johnson last week of possessing a gun while being a user of or addicted to a controlled substance stemming from a New Year’s Day 2007 arrest.

In 1998, Johnson, then 13, and Andrew Golden, then 11, were convicted in juvenile court of shooting at classmates and teachers at Jonesboro Westside Middle School in northeastern Arkansas, killing an English teacher and four students.

OHIO

Ex-police officer begins trial in strangling

CANTON — A former police officer went on trial yesterday on charges he strangled a woman who was pregnant with his child, dumped her body, then lied to investigators as crews of thousands searched for her body.

The 2½-year-old son of the victim, Jessie Davis, gave investigators some of their first clues after his mother disappeared, saying: “Mommy’s in the rug.”

Bobby Cutts Jr. was feeling the pressure of his crumbling marriage to another woman, financial debt and supporting several children, Stark County assistant prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett said in her opening statement at Mr. Cutts’ trial.

Mr. Cutts’ attorney, Fernando Mack, told jurors that prosecutors did not have any evidence that Mr. Cutts killed Miss Davis.

CALIFORNIA

Skiers found safe after winter storm

SAN FRANCISCO — Two skiers who disappeared near Lake Tahoe during a winter storm were rescued yesterday morning after they burrowed into snow caves and huddled together for warmth, authorities said.

The two men, described as expert skiers, were spotted by the crew of a Placer County Sheriff’s Department helicopter about seven miles from the Alpine Meadows ski resort, just west of Lake Tahoe.

Patrick Frost, 35, and Christopher Gerwig, 32, both of San Francisco, were picked up near Hell Hole Reservoir, department spokeswoman Kelly Hernandez said. They were taken to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, where spokeswoman Janice Davis said they had suffered “really minor, minor” frostbite.

The storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow around Lake Tahoe and as much as 3 feet in the mountains during the weekend, said Mark Deutschendorf, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Reno, Nev.

In Southern California, a 53-year-old hiker, Ellen Coleman of Riverside, was found yesterday on Mount San Jacinto, a day after she was reported missing during the winter storm. A sheriff’s spokesman did not know her condition.

FLORIDA

Astronauts arrive for shuttle launch

CAPE CANAVERAL — Seven astronauts returned to NASA’s launch site yesterday to take a new shot at flying Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station.

Liftoff is set for Thursday afternoon, with NASA wrapping up a last repair Sunday night involving a radiator hose. The mission was waylaid in December by a different problem: erratic fuel gauges.

Atlantis will carry the European Space Agency’s science lab, Columbus, to the orbiting outpost. That will be the second science lab; the United States operates one there already. The largest lab of all, Japan’s Kibo, or Hope, will be carried up in sections beginning next month.

Atlantis’ mission, fraught for weeks with mechanical problems, now faces only weather concerns, NASA officials said.

As the countdown clocks began ticking late yesterday afternoon, forecasters put the odds of acceptable conditions at just 40 percent because of a cold front and rain expected on launch day. Friday’s outlook was much better: 80 percent.

GEORGIA

Judge replaced in courthouse shooting

ATLANTA — A judge from a suburban county has been appointed to preside over the murder trial of Brian Nichols, the man accused in a courthouse shooting.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge James Bodiford was assigned by an administrative judge to oversee the case, Fulton County Superior Court spokesman Don Plummer said. The appointment order was dated Friday and released yesterday.

Judge Bodiford replaces Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller, who stepped down from the case last week. In his resignation letter, Judge Fuller cited a magazine article in which he was quoted as saying of the defendant, “Everyone in the world knows he did it.”

Judge Fuller insisted he didn’t recall making the comment about Mr. Nichols, who is accused of killing four persons in a 2005 spree that began at the Fulton County Courthouse. But Judge Fuller said the damage had been done.

KANSAS

Son safe; husband arrested in deaths

KANSAS CITY — A man sought by police after his wife and her infant daughter were found fatally shot was arrested yesterday at a Texas motel, where the couple’s 3-year-old son was found safe, police said.

The man, Andrew Anthony Guerrero, 23, was being held in jail in Denton, Texas, said Officer Jim Bryan.

Police found his wife, Nicolette Lyons-Reed, 23, and her 8-month-old daughter, Leah Lyons-Reed, fatally shot in their home Sunday and issued an Amber Alert for the boy, Seth, who was missing from the house.

“The boy was in good condition,” said Officer Bryan, who said the child was put into the custody of Child Protective Services.

Mr. Guerrero was charged late Sunday in Kansas with one count of aggravated interference with parental custody, said Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerry Gorman, who said he would meet with police before determining any additional charges.

LOUISIANA

Mardi Gras rebounds despite violence

NEW ORLEANS — Bourbon Street tourists Bill and Sherry Jordan were undaunted by news that gunfire had marred this year’s Mardi Gras celebration.

“We’re not afraid,” Mrs. Jordan, from the north Louisiana town of Downsville, said yesterday morning as she took in the French Quarter sights.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the often raucous end to the pre-Lenten carnival season. Characterized by family-friendly parades uptown and in the suburbs — and by heavy drinking and lots of near-nudity in the French Quarter — the celebration is highlighted by 12 days of parades and parties.

It appears to have bounced back strongly since Hurricane Katrina flooded more than 80 percent of the city in 2005.

Marring the celebration this year have been sporadic reports of violence. On Wednesday, a stray bullet shattered a hotel window and struck and wounded a tour guide standing inside.

Friday night, police said, a man was wounded by gunfire near a parade route that skirts the crime-plagued Central City neighborhood; Saturday night, shortly after the Endymion parade had passed, five persons were hit by gunfire downtown. Early yesterday, at least one man was shot on Bourbon Street.

MISSISSIPPI

Bill proposes ban on obese diners

JACKSON — A state lawmaker proposes to ban restaurants from serving food to obese customers.

But please, don’t be offended: He said he never expected his plan to become law.

“I was trying to shed a little light on the No. 1 problem in Mississippi,” said Rep. John Read, Gautier Republican, who acknowledges that at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, he probably would have a tough time under his own bill.

More than 30 percent of adults in Mississippi are considered obese, according to a 2007 study by the Trust for America’s Health, a research group that focuses on disease prevention.

The state House Public Health Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Holland, Plantersville Democrat, said he would “shred” the bill.

“It is too oppressive for government to require a restaurant owner to police another human being from their own indiscretions,” Mr. Holland said yesterday.

The bill had no specifics about how obesity would be defined, or how restaurants were supposed to determine whether a customer was obese.

MISSOURI

Smoke forces emergency landing

KANSAS CITY — A United Airlines flight made an emergency landing in Kansas City yesterday after smoke was reported in the cabin.

Flight 871, which was headed from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, landed safely at about 10:20 a.m., said Joe McBride, a spokesman for Kansas City International Airport.

The flight was diverted because of smoke in the cabin, said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy. She said no injuries were reported.

Maintenance crews were inspecting the aircraft, a Boeing 767, to determine the cause of the smoke, she said.

“It’s too early to speculate on exactly what happened,” Miss McCarthy said.

The 215 passengers were to be put onto other flights, she said.

NEW YORK

Rove debuts today as Fox contributor

NEW YORK — Karl Rove, the strategist behind President Bush’s ascendancy to the White House, will join Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel as a contributor starting with Super Tuesday, the network said.

Mr. Rove was chief strategist for Mr. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and joined him in the White House in several capacities, including deputy chief of staff. He left the White House in August.

Mr. Rove has been contributing opinion pieces to the Wall Street Journal, which also belongs to Mr. Murdoch’s NewsCorp, and will debut on the television network with live coverage today of the biggest day of the presidential primary election season, Fox said yesterday.

NORTH CAROLINA

Remains identified as missing hiker

BREVARD — A body found in western North Carolina is a missing hiker thought to be a victim of a man who pleaded guilty in a Georgia slaying, a sheriff said yesterday.

The skeletal remains found Saturday by a hunter in Macon County were identified as those of John Bryant, who disappeared in October with his wife, Irene, while they were hiking in the Pisgah National Forest, Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney said.

Mrs. Bryant’s body was found near a hiking trail in November.

Sheriff Mahoney has said he thinks the person responsible for their deaths is Gary Michael Hilton, 61, who pleaded guilty last week to murdering a hiker in Georgia. After that plea, Hilton was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

He was accused of bludgeoning Meredith Emerson, 24, after he was seen with her on a trail in the mountains of northern Georgia. Hilton told Georgia investigators that he abducted the woman in a plan to steal cash from her bank accounts, Dawson County District Attorney Lee Darragh said.

PENNSYLVANIA

Dismembered body ID’d as woman

SWIFTWATER — A severed head and other dismembered remains found stuffed in trash bags and scattered along Pocono Mountain highways have been identified as those of a missing woman, state police said yesterday.

Deanna Maria Null, 36, was reported missing by her family after authorities circulated a description of the victim. She was identified using dental records.

No arrests have been made.

The remains were found scattered along Interstates 380 and 80 in northeastern Pennsylvania, state police said. The first bag was found Jan. 29 by a worker salting roads.

Miss Null’s family called state police on Thursday to report her missing.

“They had seen media coverage on it and knew they had not talked to her in a few weeks. It wasn’t uncommon for her to be missing,” state police Lt. Robert Bartal said.

Miss Null lived in the Scranton and Williamsport areas but was “relatively transient,” he said. The last time she was seen alive was in mid-January.

TEXAS

Green groups back takeover of land

AUSTIN — Environmentalists said yesterday that they support a federal takeover of about 9,200 acres of rugged West Texas state land up for sale.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has proposed selling the Christmas Mountains to private parties as long as they guaranteed public access.

A board is scheduled to meet today to consider two private bids for the land near Terlingua, which has a mile-long border with Big Bend National Park.

The National Park Service has proposed that the land be donated to Big Bend National Park and managed as a backcountry area.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club urged the board to accept the park service plan.

The federal plan “represents the best opportunity to conserve this land and make it accessible to the public to enjoy and preserve,” said Ken Kramer, state Sierra Club director.

The Virginia-based Conservation Fund gave the land to Texas in 1991 after buying it with a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

WASHINGTON

County to cull its voter rolls

TACOMA — Pierce County is slated to strike 230 names from its voter rolls this week after a probe that centered on registrations submitted by employees of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a national advocacy group for low-income people.

Prosecutors suspect ACORN workers weren’t scheming to permit illegal voting, but rather falsified names when they fell short of quotas.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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