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American Scene

CALIFORNIA

Choreographer says Jackson looked ill

LOS ANGELES | A choreographer who worked with Michael Jackson on his ill-fated concert tour told a judge Tuesday he clashed with Jackson's doctor and others over the superstar's health six days before Jackson died.

Choreographer Kenny Ortega testified that he was summoned to Jackson's home a day after letting the superstar skip rehearsal because he seemed sick and out of shape.

"It was scary," Mr. Ortega said. "I said, 'Michael, is this the best place for you to be or do you want to go home and be with your family?' He said, 'Would you be OK with that?' I said, 'OK,' and he left."

The next day, Dr. Conrad Murray and others suggested Jackson should not have been sent home and told the choreographer he was not the singer's doctor, Mr. Ortega testified.

The testimony came during a preliminary hearing to determine whether Dr. Murray, the singer's personal physician, will be tried on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. He is alleged to have given Jackson a lethal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol and other sedatives in the bedroom of the performer's rented mansion.

ILLINOIS

Many defibrillators in wrong patients

CHICAGO | One in five heart defibrillators may be implanted for questionable reasons without solid evidence that the devices will help, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis released in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Implanted defibrillators shock the heart back into a normal rhythm when it starts beating irregularly. They can prevent sudden death in people with advanced heart failure, but researchers haven't found a benefit for other patients.

Guidelines don't recommend them for people newly diagnosed with heart failure, those who have had recent heart attacks or bypass surgery or those so sick that they have very limited life expectancies.

However, the new study, which examined nearly four years of national data, found 22 percent of the implant surgeries were in patients who fit one of those categories.

LOUISIANA

Another bird flock killed en masse

NEW ORLEANS | It isn't easy being a blackbird in the South.

First, New Year's Eve fireworks were blamed in Arkansas for confusing thousands of blackbirds and sending them crashing into homes, cars and each other. Then 300 miles to the south, in Louisiana, power lines likely killed about 450 birds, littering a highway near Baton Rouge.

It's almost certainly a coincidence that the events happened within days of each other, said Louisiana's state wildlife veterinarian, Jim LaCour, on Tuesday. "I haven't found anything to link the two at this point," he said.

The birds in Louisiana died sometime late Sunday or early Monday in the rural Pointe Coupee Parish community of Labarre. The birds — a mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, grackles and starlings — may have hit a power line or vehicles in the dark, Mr. LaCour said. Two dozen had head, neck, beak or back injuries.

MASSACHUSETTS

Gun-show sponsor blamed for death

SPRINGFIELD | "Reckless and illegal actions" by a former police chief led to the accidental death of an 8-year-old boy who shot himself in the face with an Uzi submachine gun at a gun show, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

But a defense attorney said others, including the boy's father, made the fatal decisions.

Former Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury, whose company co-sponsored the event, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and furnishing a weapon to a minor in connection with the 2008 death of Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn.

"As a direct result of that reckless and illegal behavior, Christopher died," District Attorney William Bennett said in his opening statement to the jury in Hampden Superior Court.

NEVADA

O.J. accomplice avoids more jail

LAS VEGAS | A one-time golfing buddy of O.J. Simpson's whose conviction in their 2007 armed robbery and kidnapping case was overturned in October took a plea deal Tuesday to be freed from prison and avoid a retrial.

Clarence "C.J." Stewart, 56, stood in shackles before a Nevada judge and pleaded an equivalent of no contest to felony robbery and conspiracy. The plea didn't admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors could prove their case at trial.

"Mr. Stewart will be released after he pleads … with the understanding and agreement that he will begin house arrest," his attorney, Brent Bryson, told the judge.

With Stewart's release, Simpson will be the only person convicted in the robbery to remain in prison. Simpson, 63, is more than two years into a nine- to 33-year sentence at Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada.

NEW YORK

Dental chain suddenly closes

BUFFALO | A New York-based dental chain unexpectedly shut down operations nationwide because of cash-flow problems, leaving patients without access to their records and offices unreachable by phone or computer.

Patients reported going to about 40 Allcare Dental & Dentures offices for scheduled appointments beginning Monday only to find the doors closed in states including New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and New Hampshire.

Gabe Williams of Dayton, Ohio, said he paid more than $3,000 in advance for dental work but was locked out Monday when he arrived for an appointment the company had rescheduled from Dec. 30. Hundreds of employees, meanwhile, wondered whether they would get paid for hours already worked.

"Nobody has any answers to anything. Everybody's lost their job, so nobody can help you with anything," said Tara Mongold, who worked at the company's call center in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence for more than three years.

Allcare executives did not respond to phone messages, and the company's primary website was down.

OHIO

Convert's lawyer denies misconduct

COLUMBUS | A Florida attorney says a misconduct complaint filed against him over his representation of a Muslim girl from Ohio who converted to Christianity and ran away is a frivolous motion by a disgruntled opposing lawyer.

Orlando, Fla., attorney John Stemberger represented Rifqa Bary after she ran away from Ohio to Florida in 2009 saying she feared being killed by her family. Islam prescribes death as the penalty for apostasy.

Mr. Stemberger said Tuesday that Muslims in the U.S. have become a protected class that institutions are bending over backward to accommodate. He said that as the facts come to light, the complaint by Columbus lawyer Omar Tarazi, who represented the teenage girl's parents, will be dismissed.

The complaint filed by the Florida bar on behalf of Mr. Tarazi accuses Mr. Stemberger of appearing on TV as an attorney for the girl after he stopped representing her.

WISCONSIN

Catholic archdiocese to go bankrupt

MILWAUKEE | The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee has directed its attorneys to file for bankruptcy protection, saying pending sexual-abuse lawsuits have left it with debts it can't pay.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki said Tuesday the archdiocese was undergoing Chapter 11 reorganization so that it would be able to continue its mission as a church while compensating victims of sexual abuse.

"In my installation homily on January 4, 2010, I spoke of the devastation of sin and its effect on us personally and as a community," Archbishop Listecki said in a statement. "We see the result of that sin today. This action is occurring because priest-perpetrators sexually abused minors, going against everything the church and the priesthood represent."

Seven other U.S. Catholic dioceses have sought bankruptcy protection from sex-abuse claims since the clergy abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in Boston. Those dioceses are in Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Spokane, Wash.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Wilmington, Del.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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