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American Scene

- - Monday, December 6, 2010

ALABAMA

Police: Dad buried children in 2 states

MOBILE | A father whose missing children are thought to be dead told investigators he buried one of his young children in Mississippi in March, then buried the other in Alabama in June, police said.

The father, John DeBlase, 27, was being held Monday on $206,000 bond. He is charged with child abuse and corpse abuse.

The children's stepmother, Heather Leavell-Keaton, was jailed in Kentucky on child abuse charges. She will soon be extradited back to Alabama.

Mobile police say Mr. DeBlase has admitted burying his two children — Natalie, 5, and Chase, 3 &8212; but claims Ms. Leavell-Keaton killed them. She is pointing the finger at him.

Mobile Police Officer Chris Levy said the children were last seen this summer.

CALIFORNIA

Aphrodite's transfer ends dispute with Italy

LOS ANGELES | The love goddess Aphrodite is going home to Italy after the new year, stronger and more stable than she has been in 2,500 years.

The statue, being returned to Sicily as part of Italy's decade-old campaign to retrieve antiquities it says were illegally brought to California, will be the last of 40 artifacts the J. Paul Getty Museum agreed to turn over.

Sebastiano Missineo, the minister of culture from Sicily, visited the Getty Villa in Malibu on Monday and viewed the statue.

The statue will be on display at the Getty Villa for one more week, acting Getty director David Bomford said at a tea for Mr. Missineo on Monday.

The Getty has built a seismic wave isolator for Aphrodite that will protect her in the earthquake-prone Sicilian region, he said.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

'I, Robot' fans take school science prize

A pair of high school students inspired by the science fiction movie "I, Robot" and another who studied star formation took home $100,000 grand prizes Monday in a competition honoring the nation's top math and science students.

The Siemens Competition announced the winners of its college scholarships during a ceremony at George Washington University.

Benjamin Clark, 15, of Lancaster, Pa., won the top individual prize for his research on binary stars, which, unlike the sun, have companions. He plans to major in physics or astrophysics.

Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez of Portland, Ore., won the team prize for their work on speech-recognition technology. They developed a computer algorithm that can detect a speaker's emotion better than current technology and will split the $100,000 team prize.

Akash, 16, and Matthew, 17, watched "I, Robot," while taking a break from trying to come up with a project idea. The movie featured a robot that could detect when its user was stressed, and they decided to try to improve on the existing technology.

FLORIDA

Transient charged in town's 1st slaying

CELEBRATION | A homeless man was charged Monday with beating and strangling a man in what was the first homicide in Celebration, Disney's master-planned Central Florida community.

Osceola County sheriff's spokeswoman Twis H. Lizasuain said detectives arrested David-Israel Murillo, 28, and charged him with first-degree murder in the death of Matteo Giovanditto, 58, who was slain in his home over Thanksgiving weekend.

She said Mr. Murillo and Mr. Giovanditto had known each other for about a year but would not give specifics about their relationship.

Ms. Lizasuain said Mr. Murillo was identified as a person of interest because his photo was found on Mr. Giovanditto's computer and his fingerprints were found in the man's condo. He was brought in for questioning Saturday after investigators found out he tried to sell coins owned by the victim.

MARYLAND

PG executive fires several agency heads

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker has fired the heads of several county agencies, including the police and fire chiefs.

Mr. Baker took the oath of office shortly before noon Monday and announced an overhaul of county government less than an hour later. Police Chief Roberto Hylton and Fire Chief Eugene Jones were relieved of their duties.

Mark Magaw, the police department's deputy chief for strategic management, will replace Chief Hylton on an interim basis.

Marc Bashoor will serve as interim fire chief. He retired from the department in 2005 as deputy chief of operations after 23 years as a county firefighter.

Mr. Baker also replaced the county's directors of finance, environmental resources, management and budget and housing and community development.

He had promised major changes in the wake of the corruption charges against his predecessor, Jack Johnson.

MINNESOTA

Discover sued over credit card charges

ST. PAUL | Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is suing Discover over allegations that the credit card company charged customers for unauthorized account protection programs such as credit score tracking and identity theft protection.

Ms. Swanson filed a lawsuit Monday in Hennepin County District Court against Discover Bank, DFS Services and parent company Discover Financial Services. Discover is one of the nation's largest credit card companies.

The lawsuit alleges that customers were charged for programs such as wallet protection and payment protection after getting what they thought were courtesy calls from Discover. Ms. Swanson said Discover failed to get informed consent for the charges.

Discover spokesman Matthew Towson declined to comment on Ms. Swanson's lawsuit, but he said the protection products give many Discover customers peace of mind.

NEW YORK

Germany doubles aid to Holocaust survivors

NEW YORK | The German government has agreed to double the money it provides to a New York-based organization for the at-home care of victims of the Holocaust around the world.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany announced Monday that the money will grow to $146 million worldwide for 2011.

The decision was disclosed privately a week after the announcement of the indictments of 17 people in a massive Holocaust fraud. It's a boost for the Claims Conference, some of whose employees were charged in the purported $42 million scheme.

This is the first Holocaust restitution decision Germany has made since the fraud prosecution became public.

PENNSYLVANIA

Unruly dog forces pilot to land

PITTSBURGH | A dog accompanying a New Jersey woman on a US Airways flight to Phoenix became agitated and bit a passenger and a flight attendant Monday, forcing the pilot to make an unexpected stop in Pittsburgh.

The 12-pound Manchester terrier named Mandy was riding in an approved carrier on Flight 522 from Newark, N.J., airline and local authorities said. The dog's owner was one of 122 passengers and five crew members aboard.

The dog bit a passenger who had tried to calm it and then broke out of its cage, officials said. The animal then ran up the plane's aisle and bit a flight attendant who tried to grab it.

The bites were not severe, but the pilot landed the plane as a precaution, US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said.

The flight resumed without the woman, 89, and her dog, and landed in Phoenix hours later. The woman spoke with authorities in Pittsburgh before boarding a different flight to Phoenix with her dog.

From wire dispatches and staff reports