- - Monday, October 18, 2010

CANADA

Top commander pleads guilty to murders

BELLEVILLE, Ontario | A Canadian commander who flew Queen Elizabeth II pleaded guilty Monday to the murders of two women, the sexual assaults of two others and dozens of breaking and entering charges.

Col. Russell Williams was the commander of Canada’s largest air force base until he was charged earlier this year.

He pleaded guilty Monday to two first-degree murder charges, two sexual assaults and 82 breaking and entering charges in a Belleville court. He faces an automatic sentence of life in prison with no possibility for parole for at least 25 years.

The case shocked the country, hurt soldiers’ morale and prompted fears that the commander of Canada’s most high-profile military base and the man who once flew the country’s prime ministers could have been a serial killer.

Williams waived his right to a preliminary hearing in August and was ordered to stand trial and return to court. The 47-year-old was charged with the first-degree murder of Jessica Lloyd, 27, whose body was found in February, and Marie Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal under his command who was found dead in her home in November. Both women were asphyxiated.

Williams was charged with forcible confinement, breaking and entering, and sexual assault after two other women were attacked during separate home invasions in the Tweed, Ontario, area in September 2009.

CUBA

Diplomats meet about jailed American

HAVANA | Washington’s top diplomat for the Americas had a rare face-to-face meeting with Cuba’s foreign minister to discuss the fate of an American jailed in Cuba for nearly 11 months on suspicion of spying, two State Department officials told the Associated Press.

Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Sept. 24 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, the officials said. The meeting is thought to be among the highest-level diplomatic encounters between the two Cold War enemies since President Obama took office in 2008.

“The purpose of the meeting was to convey to the Cuban government that the U.S. seeks the release of Alan P. Gross,” said one senior official. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the previously undisclosed meeting.

Mr. Gross, a 60-year-old native of Potomac, Md., was working for a firm contracted by USAID when he was arrested Dec. 3 and sent to Cuba’s high-security Villa Marista prison. He has not been charged, but President Raul Castro and other senior Cuban leaders have accused him of spying.

Cuba allowed Mr. Gross’ wife, Judy, to visit him for the first time in August. U.S. diplomats insist Mr. Gross was not doing anything wrong and have said his continued detention makes it difficult to improve relations.

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