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American Scene

- - Sunday, November 14, 2010

CALIFORNIA

L.A. weighs allowing pot shops to reopen

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles City Council has ordered the city attorney to draft a measure that would allow 140 medical marijuana dispensaries to reopen in the city.

The council approved the move Friday and will vote next week on an amendment to scale back the long-debated medical marijuana ordinance that passed earlier this year.

The ordinance allowed 180 dispensaries that had registered with the city before a 2007 moratorium to stay open. However, 140 of them were disqualified because they had management changes over the past three years.

Under the proposed amendment, dispensaries could reopen if they have at least one primary owner or manager from the initial registration.

If approved, the city clerk will review all registrations to determine those that qualify under the new amendment.

CONNECTICUT

Better Business Bureau comes under scrutiny

HARTFORD — Connecticut's attorney general is pushing the Better Business Bureau to stop what he calls a pay-to-play system that rates BBB members better than nonmembers.

Richard Blumenthal's office says he sent a letter Friday to the BBB's national office in Virginia outlining his concerns. The rating methods are also the focus of an unrelated Connecticut lawsuit and an ABC News investigation that aired Friday.

Mr. Blumenthal, a U.S. senator-elect, says the BBB should stop linking ratings to membership or fully disclose its rating methods to consumers.

BBB spokeswoman Alison Southwick said Friday her organization disagrees with the characterization of the rating system and how its methods are disclosed, but is working with Mr. Blumenthal on the concerns.

MASSACHUSETTS

Cigarette maker: Woman ignored doctor warnings

BOSTON — A lawsuit accusing Lorillard Tobacco Co. of trying to entice black children to smoke has gone to trial in Boston.

The son of a Boston woman who died of lung cancer in 2002 is suing the maker of Newport cigarettes, claiming the company lured his mother to begin smoking at age 13 by giving away free samples at the housing project where she lived.

But an attorney for North Carolina-based Lorillard said in opening statements Friday there is no evidence that the company gave away cigarettes to children at the Orchard Park housing project in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.

The company's attorney also argued that it was Marie Evans' choice to start smoking and to continue smoking, despite warnings from her doctors, for 40 years.

MICHIGAN

$129 million ticket bought at porn shop

LANSING — It's "Team Victory" all right.

A $129 million Powerball lottery ticket sold at an urban porn shop is being split by members of a group primarily from southeast Michigan.

The group calls itself "Team Victory." A representative wasn't saying Friday whether the winning ticket was bought inside Uptown Book Store or at an outside, walk-up lottery ticket window frequented by many in the depressed Highland Park neighborhood.

Mike Greer of Farmington Hills also wouldn't describe the group members or how they know each other.

Mr. Greer picked up the check Friday. He says he didn't buy the ticket himself or know how it was purchased. He also says that doesn't matter to the group members.

The ticket was bought just outside Detroit for the Nov. 6 drawing.

NORTH CAROLINA

Police think they found body of missing girl

HICKORY — Grim police trying to solve the disappearance of a 10-year-old North Carolina girl confirmed Friday what they've long suspected: The freckle-faced child with a prosthetic leg and bone cancer is dead.

But the mystery of how Zahra Baker perished deepened as authorities gave a terse briefing, revealing that one of her bones was found five miles away from other remains they think belonged to the girl.

"I've been dreading this moment from early on in the investigation," said Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins, who explained that investigators matched the bone with the child's DNA. "We have recovered enough physical evidence to think we have found Zahra."

Police said earlier this month they found the bone in some brush alongside Zahra's prosthetic leg in an area in Caldwell County, where she lived with her father and stepmother until mid-September.

Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, is in jail, charged with trying to throw off investigators with a bogus ransom note. Zahra's father, Adam Baker, has been arrested on charges unrelated to her disappearance and is free on bail.

PENNSYLVANIA

Game warden killed while probing poaching

GETTYSBURG — A felon caught poaching deer and a state game warden who had him partly handcuffed engaged in a "ferocious exchange of gunfire" that killed the officer and wounded the suspect, who was arrested 11 hours later, authorities said.

David L. Grove, a 31-year-old wildlife conservation officer from Fairfield, was fatally shot Thursday night in a rural area near Eisenhower National Historic Site outside Gettysburg, police said. The suspect, Christopher Lynn Johnson, 27, told police he fled with the handcuffs locked on his left wrist and shot them off himself, according to a police affidavit. He was arrested at a hunting camp Friday morning.

Mr. Grove witnessed what he suspected was illegal night hunting with a spotlight and had pulled over Mr. Johnson's truck at about 10:30 p.m., police said. He had called in the license plate before "a ferocious exchange of gunfire" occurred, state police Commissioner Col. Frank Pawlowski said. Mr. Johnson and a passenger then fled, authorities said.

Police said Mr. Johnson had an apparent gunshot wound to the hip when he was caught, and he was treated at a hospital in York. Authorities recovered a dead buck near the crime scene.

Mr. Grove was shot four times, and the fatal wound was to his neck, Adams County Coroner Pat Felix said. He was the first Pennsylvania game warden killed in the line of duty in 95 years.

TENNESSEE

Palin e-mail hacker gets year in custody

KNOXVILLE — A former University of Tennessee college student who was convicted of hacking into Sarah Palin's e-mail during the 2008 presidential campaign has been sentenced to a year and a day with the judge recommending the term be served in a halfway house, not prison.

Federal Judge Thomas W. Phillips also said David Kernell, who was a 20-year-old economics major when he deduced the answers to security questions and read e-mails in Mrs. Palin's private account, should get mental health treatment.

Kernell apologized in court Friday to Mrs. Palin and her family.

The judge rejected a recommendation from prosecutors who argued for 18 months in prison. It will be up to the Bureau of Prisons to decide whether Kernell is allowed to go to a halfway house.

TEXAS

Lawyer: Overhaul death-penalty laws

HOUSTON — A leading anti-death penalty lawyer says the execution of a Texas man whose plea for DNA testing was ignored shows procedures and laws covering capital punishment need to be changed.

Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck said Friday in Houston that the execution of convicted murderer Claude Jones 10 years ago took place only because then-Gov. George W. Bush wasn't aware Jones' attorney had asked for DNA testing on a piece of hair used to convict him.

Mr. Bush's office has declined to comment on the case.

The hair was the only piece of physical evidence tying Jones to the 1989 killing. Recent tests have shown it wasn't Jones' hair.

Mr. Scheck acknowledges that the hair doesn't prove Jones was innocent. But he says the findings mean the evidence was insufficient under Texas law to convict Jones.

VIRGINIA

Farm Bureau: Thanksgiving costs stable

RICHMOND — Turkey and the trimmings won't cost much more this year than last, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.

The bureau says it should cost $43.39 to serve a 16-pound turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, cranberries and peas for 10 adults. The price also includes a tray of carrots and celery, as well as pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

Virginia officials say its survey of grocery stores indicates all that food will cost on average 1 cent more this year than it did last year, when the cost of Thanksgiving dinner fell for the first time in three years.

In comparison, the American Farm Bureau said the average national cost of Thanksgiving dinner this year is $43.47, a 56-cent price increase from last year. The survey was first conducted in 1986 and is intended to be an informal gauge of price trends around the nation.

From wire dispatches and staff reports