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American Scene

- - Saturday, July 4, 2009

Elderly sisters found dead

SAN ANTONIO — Eighty-two-year-old identical twin sisters were found dead in their San Antonio home after the city sweltered through days of 100-degree heat.

The bodies of Florence and Emma Jernigan were found Thursday in the home where they had lived all their lives. Police say the single window air conditioner in the home was off.

Authorities said no one had heard from the women for several days. A neighbor called police after noticing an odor. The cause of death was pending, but was believed to be heat-related.

The city set or tied heat records four times in the last week of June, topping out at 104 degrees on June 29.

Neighbors said the women never married and lived frugally on a fixed income. They said the two would ignore friends' pleas to turn on the air conditioner or a fan.

Churches aid job seekers

BEVERLY, Mass. — As the unemployment rate climbs, some job seekers are looking for help at church.

Church-related unemployment support groups have formed all over the country as the jobless rate climbed to 9.5 percent in June, the worst in 26 years.

The groups offer practical guidance such as resume reviews and networking tips. But members say the groups are also about refining their faith during a difficult time.

Hospitality industry worker Debbie Trainor, who is a member of a support group in Beverly, Mass., says she sees God as a partner when preparing for a job interview.

University of Richmond professor Doug Hicks says faith communities can have real relevance to the unemployed. He says being jobless affects a person's sense of meaning and contribution, things that can have a spiritual dimension.

Pentagon funds biofuel research

LOGAN, Utah — Researchers at Utah State University and around the country are trying to identify strains of algae that could someday provide fuel for the U.S. military.

The Pentagon-funded project, which is about 6 months old, is aimed at fast-tracking research to eventually produce algae-based biofuel that costs less than $3 per gallon, can be produced at a rate of 50 million gallons per year and meets strict military standards.

The work builds on previous research that showed algae can produce fatty oils. The biggest challenge is producing it on a large enough scale and at a cheap enough price.

For the project, the Defense Department awarded $35 million in contracts to two defense contractors that have, in turn, signed research contracts with several universities and private firms.

Murder suspect defends killings

WICHITA, Kan. — A man charged in the slaying of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has been advocating through mailings from his jail cell that such killings are justifiable.

Scott Roeder sent anti-abortion activist Linda Wolfe of Oregon a pamphlet that lauds Paul Hill, the convicted murderer of an abortion doctor, as an "American hero," and includes examples of Hill's writings about how it is justifiable to kill abortion doctors.

The Rev. Donald Spitz, whose anti-abortion group Army of God celebrates Hill's teachings, says he provided Mr. Roeder with seven of the pamphlets upon his request.

Mr. Roeder is charged with first-degree murder in the May 31 fatal shooting of Dr. Tiller. He is jailed in Sedgwick County jail and was unavailable for comment. The public defender's office representing Mr. Roeder did not respond to a message seeking comment.

'Tree arsonist' baffles police

GALVESTON, Texas — Galveston officials are investigating the torching of 30 palm trees in the last two months.

"What we've got on our hands, a serial tree arsonist, I've never seen before," said Fire Marshal Gilbert Robinson. "I've talked to colleagues of mine, and that's the first they've heard of setting palm trees on fire."

Fire Marshal Robinson said the calls reporting burning trees have recently increased in frequency.

Tree service company owner Greg West is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to charges.

"We just got hit by a hurricane, and the only thing that lived were the palm trees," Mr. West told the Galveston County Daily News.

From wire dispatches and staff reports