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American Scene

- - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CALIFORNIA

State: Prison receiver not needed

SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration told a federal judge Monday that a court receivership over the state's prisons is no longer needed.

Paul Mello, an attorney for the state, said the receiver has accomplished his purpose of improving medical conditions for inmates. But he also criticized a proposal to spend billions for new prison-health centers.

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson created the receivership in 2006 to take control of health care in the state's 33 adult prisons after finding conditions violated inmates' constitutional rights. Inmates were dying of neglect or malpractice at the rate of about one each week, the court found.

Mr. Mello argued that receiver J. Clark Kelso has made "dramatic improvements," but overstepped federal law by seeking $8 billion from the state to build medical and mental health centers for 10,000 inmates.

FLORIDA

Space station safe from orbiting junk

CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA said the International Space Station is safe from an orbiting piece of satellite junk and does not need to move out of the way.

Mission Control assured commander Mike Fincke on Monday evening that the debris would remain at a safe distance from the space station. Earlier in the day, experts warned that the piece of junk might come within a half-mile of the outpost, and that the station might need to steer away.

Space Shuttle Discovery is closing in on the space station for a linkup Tuesday.

The piece of junk being tracked is about four inches long and comes from a Russian satellite that broke up in 1981.

Last Thursday, the three space station residents briefly took refuge in their emergency getaway capsule because of another piece of space junk that came too close.

GEORGIA

Civil rights icon out of hospital

ATLANTA — Civil rights icon the Rev. Joseph Lowery was released from a hospital Monday following a dizzy spell a day earlier as he greeted parishioners at the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Mr. Lowery, 88, was the keynote speaker Sunday to mark Ebenezer's 123rd anniversary. It's called "America's Freedom Church," and Martin Luther King preached there from 1960 until his death in 1968.

"I just got overheated," Mr. Lowery told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home. "The doctor did tell me to slow down, though. I'm going to slow down, but it's hard. Nobody respects my retirement, and I don't insist. You have to be grateful folks still want you around."

HAWAII

State's high court nixes Superferry

HONOLULU — Hawaii's Supreme Court has ruled that a state law allowing a high-speed ferry to operate while an environmental study is being conducted is unconstitutional.

The court on Monday sent the case back to Circuit Court, leaving the fate of the Hawaii Superferry's service in question.

The Legislature passed a law in November 2007 allowing the Superferry to operate between Oahu and Maui while the state conducted an environmental-impact assessment for the service.

The Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition had argued that the law was unconstitutional because it was targeted to benefit just one entity, the Superferry.

INDIANA

Church arsonist gets 40 years

RICHMOND — A man in and out of youth homes, jail and prison since he was a teenager has been sentenced to the maximum 40 years in prison for setting the fire that destroyed the only Catholic church in New Castle.

William Abbott, 34, said at the sentencing hearing Monday that he didn't purposely target St. Anne Catholic Church.

Abbott pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge of arson.

Abbott said he didn't plan the fire and bears no hatred toward religions. He has devil-horn tattoos on either side of his head, but they were covered by his hair at the hearing.

MINNESOTA

California urged to keep '70s radical

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent a letter Monday to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asking him to prevent former 1970s radical and longtime fugitive Sara Jane Olson from returning to Minnesota to serve her parole.

Mr. Pawlenty urged Mr. Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican, to consider the requests of the St. Paul Police Federation, the Los Angeles Police Protective League and the Los Angeles City Council to keep Olson in California after her release from prison Tuesday.

Olson, once known as Kathleen Soliah, has been serving time in California for her role in the attempted pipe-bombings of Los Angeles police officers and in a fatal bank robbery near Sacramento in the 1970s. She was arrested in 1999 after eluding law enforcement for more than two decades, during which she married and raised a family in St. Paul, acted in community theater productions and did charity work.

The police organizations, both of which have also made written requests to Mr. Schwarzenegger, hadopposed letting Olson spend her parole in Minnesota as she wishes. The groups say she should serve her sentence in the state where she committed the crimes.

TEXAS

Man pleads guilty to mail threats

AMARILLO — Federal prosecutors said a New Mexico man has pleaded guilty to mailing threatening letters containing suspicious powder to dozens of banks and federal offices across the country.

Prosecutors in Amarillo said Albuquerque resident Richard Leon Goyette pleaded guilty Monday to one count of issuing threats and false information and one count of making threats and hoaxes. Other counts against him were dropped.

Prosecutors said Goyette, 47, mailed letters from Amarillo to 52 offices and banks in 11 states and the District in October.

No one was injured and the powder was found to be calcium carbonate, a component of chalk.

Goyette faces up to 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

From wire dispatches and staff reports