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American Scene

- - Thursday, May 6, 2010

CALIFORNIA

Ban sought on metal bats

SACRAMENTO — A California legislative committee has advanced a bill seeking a two-year moratorium on the use of metal bats in high school baseball.

The legislation by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a Democrat, would allow a safety review of the equipment.

It was introduced after Gunnar Sandberg, a 16-year-old pitcher for Marin Catholic High School, was struck in the head by a line drive hit off an aluminum bat.

The March incident left the teenager with a traumatic brain injury. Mr. Huffman said the teen was released Wednesday from the hospital.

Supporters say metal alloy and aluminum bats make the baseball travel faster and lead to more serious injuries. Opponents counter that wooden bats also are dangerous.

The bill was passed by the state Senate Education Committee.

CONNECTICUT

ACLU: Stop graduations at church

HARTFORD — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop two Connecticut high schools from holding their graduation ceremonies at a megachurch.

The state ACLU chapter and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit Wednesday. They allege that it's an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion for the Enfield school district to allow the ceremonies at the First Cathedral church in Bloomfield.

An attorney for the school district, Vincent McCarthy of the American Center for Law and Justice, said most of the lawsuit's allegations are false and church leaders are willing to cover up the building's few overtly religious symbols.

Enfield's school board voted last month to continue holding graduations at the church.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Rare oryx born at zoo

The National Zoo says a scimitar-horned oryx has been born at its conservation center in Front Royal, Va. - the zoo's first such birth in 13 years.

Oryx are extinct in the wild. They are known for their curved horns that can be several feet long.

The female calf announced Wednesday was born April 9. She is the offspring of 3-year-old mother Jena and 13-year-old Dr. Bob.

The zoo is renewing efforts to breed the oryx, a type of desert antelope. There are now 16 of them at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal and one at the zoo in Washington.

The zoo is working with the Sahara Conservation Fund to help reintroduce the oryx to their native home on the Saharan range.

LOUISIANA

Klan leader pleads guilty in killing

COVINGTON — A Louisiana man has pleaded guilty to killing an Oklahoma woman during a Ku Klux Klan initiation.

Raymond Foster of Bogalusa was immediately sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for second-degree murder by state District Judge Peter Garcia.

Cynthia Lynch, a Klan recruit from Tulsa, Okla., was fatally shot in November 2008 during initiation rites in rural Tammany Parish, about 50 miles north of New Orleans.

On Monday, a former member of the group testified Miss Lynch angrily cursed Foster and yelled "I want out" before he fatally shot her.

MAINE

Women subdue stabbing suspect

BANGOR — Five female students, including one who'd recently completed a self-defense class, jumped to the aid of a fellow student, grabbing her knife-wielding attacker and holding him until police officers arrived at Husson University, officials said Wednesday.

The student with newly acquired skills lunged for the hand holding a knife, while fellow students grabbed the man's other limbs and wrestled him to the ground, police said.

Officers responding to the report of a domestic fight at 7:40 a.m. arrived to find Horst Wolk, 45, of Bangor subdued on the pavement. A campus officer cuffed him, and city police hauled him away.

Mr. Wolk has been charged with attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault and violating a protection order, said Bangor Police Sgt. Paul Edwards. He remained jailed Wednesday on $25,000 bail.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Convictions appealed in tax-evasion case

BOSTON — Three men convicted of helping a New Hampshire couple escape capture on tax-evasion charges have taken their case to a federal appeals court.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday in appeals brought by supporters of Ed and Elaine Brown of Plainfield, N.H.

After being charged, the Browns refused to turn themselves in and remained holed up for months in an armed standoff at their home. They were arrested in October 2007 by U.S. marshals posing as supporters.

Jason Gerhard of Brookhaven, N.Y.; Daniel Riley of Cohoes, N.Y.; and Cirino Gonzalez of Alice, Texas, are appealing their convictions for conspiring to prevent marshals from arresting the Browns.

Lawyers for the men argued they were charged excessively by prosecutors. The court did not immediately rule.

MICHIGAN

Release of militia members appealed

DETROIT — Federal prosecutors are appealing a judge's order to release nine jailed members of a Michigan militia accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Prosecutors filed a one-page notice of intent to appeal Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts will decide whether to keep the militia members in jail or send them home pending the outcome of the appeal.

The nine are charged with conspiring to wage war against the government.

Judge Roberts on Monday ordered the suspects released until trial but suspended her decision until prosecutors could decide whether to appeal her ruling.

NEW JERSEY

Man pleads guilty to sex charges

NEWARK — A Canadian man pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges stemming from an international pedophile ring that investigators traced from computer records in New Jersey to Thailand.

John Wrenshall entered his plea in a Newark federal courtroom to conspiring to engage in sex tourism and conspiring to produce child pornography, and one count of distributing the materials.

Wrenshall, 63, admitted, in response to a prosecutor's questions, to detailed graphic abuse of boys as young as 4 years old.

Wrenshall, a thin, bespectacled, balding man with grayish-white hair, wore a bright yellow prison jumpsuit and told the judge that he had two graduate degrees.

He then acknowledged conspiring to engage in sex tourism and soliciting clients in the U.S. and elsewhere to visit his home, where he arranged for them to have sex with prepubescent boys from 4 to 12.

OHIO

DNA vindicates man in 1981 rape

CLEVELAND — An Ohio man tasted freedom for the first time in nearly 30 years Tuesday after a judge vacated his conviction because DNA evidence showed he did not rape an 11-year-old girl.

"It finally happened, I've been waiting," Raymond Towler, 52, said as he hugged sobbing family members in the courtroom.

He walked from the courthouse, arms around his family members, amid the smell of freshly cut grass, blooming trees and a brisk wind off Lake Erie. He was headed to an "everything on it" pizza party.

Asked how he would adjust, Mr. Towler responded: "Just take a deep breath and just enjoy life right now."

Mr. Towler had been serving a life sentence for the rape of a girl in a Cleveland park in 1981. Prosecutors received the test results Monday and immediately asked the court to free him.

OKLAHOMA

Lawmakers fail to override veto

OKLAHOMA CITY — A group of Oklahoma state senators have failed to override their governor's veto of a bill that would exempt firearms and ammunition produced and kept in the state from federal regulations.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 28-16 on Wednesday with 36 votes needed to override Gov. Brad Henry's veto of the "Oklahoma Firearms Freedom Act." There was no debate.

Republican state Sen. Randy Brogdon, who is running for governor, vowed to try again to override the veto.

The bill says firearms, gun accessories or ammunition made in Oklahoma would not be subject to interstate commerce laws and federal regulations if they remain in the state.

Mr. Henry, a Democrat, warned the bill would give criminals easy access to a wide array of weapons.

PENNSYLVANIA

Tasered fan apologizes to Phillies

PHILADELPHIA — A lawyer representing a teenager Tasered by police after running onto the field at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park said the teen and his family apologize to the Phillies and the community.

Attorney Steven O'Meara said in a statement Wednesday that Steven Consalvi, 17, "knows that he committed a foolish act and is truly sorry for his actions."

Mr. O'Meara said the family wants to apologize to the fans, the team, the Philadelphia Police Department and ballpark security workers.

He said the family hopes that people understand "teenagers do impulsive things."

At a game against the Cardinals on Monday, police used a stun gun to subdue the teen after he jumped onto the field and ran around in circles in the outfield.

TEXAS

Truck explodes at refinery

SAN ANTONIO — An 18-wheeler being loaded with fuel at a San Antonio refinery exploded Wednesday, setting off a chain reaction of smaller explosions and sending a towering plume of thick black smoke over the city's southeast side. One person was critically burned, and the driver of the exploding truck remained missing.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said officials were trying to determine whether they could reach a shut-off valve at the AGE Refining Inc. facility to cut off the flow of fuel to the large tanks in the loading area. Several were heavily damaged in the blasts.

"It's a very dangerous situation," said Chief Hood, who noted they also were trying to determine what kind of fuels are burning. "We will be out here quite a while."

Several employees were treated at the scene and everyone except the driver of the truck that exploded was accounted for, Chief Hood said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports