- - Thursday, March 3, 2011

ALABAMA

Suspicious powder in faculty letter

FLORENCE | A threatening letter with a suspicious white powder was sent to a faculty member at the University of North Alabama, prompting authorities to shut down a building on the campus, officials said.

The school said in a statement that a threatening letter addressed to a faculty member was received Thursday afternoon on the fifth floor of Stevens Hall. Spokesman Josh Woods said a white powder was inside the letter.

Three university staff members were decontaminated, and police and a Colbert County hazardous materials team were working to identify the material.

All classes in the building were canceled for the rest of the day.

CALIFORNIA

4 presidents unite for salute to service

LOS ANGELES | Four former U.S. presidents are joining forces for a TV special saluting public service and volunteerism.

NBC said Thursday that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush will gather for the hourlong “All Together Now: A Celebration of Service,” which will air March 28.

The gala, to be held at the Kennedy Center the week before the special airs, also will spotlight the legacy of George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Clinton, who has worked with Mr. Bush to raise money for tsunami and hurricane victims, is the honorary co-chairman of the event, which will include music and celebrities.

President Obama, scheduled to be abroad when the gala is held, will narrate a short film on the history and value of service in the country, NBC said.

FLORIDA

Children’s bodies found in luggage

DELRAY BEACH | Police say they think they have identified the bodies of two children found dead in a South Florida canal.

Authorities in Delray Beach haven’t released the presumed identities and said no arrests had been made.

A police spokeswoman said the children are thought to be siblings who were victims of a domestic situation, but she declined to elaborate.

It’s not known how long the bodies were in the canal, and autopsy reports haven’t been released.

The body of a girl, thought to be 6 to 10, was found in a duffel bag Wednesday morning. The boy’s body was discovered later that day folded into a suitcase.

MINNESOTA

State weighs costs of confining offenders

MINNEAPOLIS | Locking up sex offenders beyond their prison sentences seemed like a good idea to many states back when they had the money to get tough on predators.

But as lawmakers across the country struggle to balance state budgets, a Minnesota inmate’s request to go free has reopened the debate about the costs and legal wisdom of civil commitment programs for sex offenders.

On Friday, a special three-judge panel opens a hearing to determine whether to set loose a man with a shocking record of sexual assaults going back to 1969. John Rydberg, 68, may become the first person permanently freed from the state’s civil commitment program for sex offenders since it started in 1994.

NEW JERSEY

2 admit plan to join terrorists

NEWARK | Two New Jersey men pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that they tried to join an al Qaeda-affiliated group overseas.

Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, known as Omar, entered into a packaged plea deal in a Newark federal courtroom.

Each pleaded guilty to an information count alleging conspiracy within the United States to murder individuals outside the U.S. by trying to join al-Shabab, a designated terrorist organization.

The two were arrested in June at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport as they prepared to board separate planes to Egypt. From there, the men admitted Thursday, they planned to travel to Somalia to seek terror training from al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists. The men had no contact with Somali terrorists but hoped they would be accepted by a terrorist group, according to officials and court documents.

Alessa, 21, of North Bergen, was born in the United States and is the son of Palestinian immigrants. Almonte, 24, of Elmwood Park, is a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic. Both are Muslim.

NEW YORK

Killer of willing victim convicted

NEW YORK | A New York City man who said he helped a debt-ridden motivational speaker kill himself has been convicted of murder.

Jurors delivered their verdict Thursday in Kenneth Minor’s trial. The case raised questions about the legal limits of assisted suicide in the unusual context of a stabbing involving total strangers.

Self-help author and business coach Jeffrey Locker was found dead in his car in July 2009.

Prosecutors and Minor say Locker offered to pay to be killed in an apparent robbery so his family could collect millions of dollars in life insurance. Locker’s family has declined to comment.

Prosecutors say Minor murdered Locker by stabbing him. Minor says he just held a knife while Locker lunged into it.

OHIO

Police say DUI suspect took swig

ELYRIA | Police in northern Ohio say a man who was asked during a traffic stop whether he had been drinking took a swig from an open can of beer and told the officer, “Yes.”

Reports say Elyria police pulled over Stephen Supers, 25, early Wednesday because the officer observed him speeding.

Mr. Supers took a drink in front of the officer and failed a series of field sobriety tests, the police report says.

He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday on charges including driving under the influence, driving under suspension and possession of marijuana.

A message was left at his home phone number in Elyria on Thursday. Court records do not list his attorney.

TEXAS

Airlines raise fares to offset fuel costs

DALLAS | Airfares at major U.S. airlines are climbing again, continuing a dizzying pace of nearly weekly increases on penny-pinching vacationers and expense-account corporate fliers.

The airlines are raising fares to cover higher jet fuel prices, and the strategy seems to be working. US Airways said Thursday that if the trend toward higher revenue continues, it will be able to cover foreseeable increases in fuel costs.

Jet fuel prices are more than $3 a gallon, the second-highest reading in March behind only 2008, when oil prices surged to record levels and U.S. airlines lost billions of dollars.

Delta Air Lines touched off the latest fare increase by adding up to $20 to the price of domestic round-trip flights for tickets bought on short notice. American Airlines chose a more modest increase of $10 per round trip but applied it to virtually all tickets for travel within the 48 contiguous states.

By midday Thursday, Delta, United, Continental and US Airways had all settled on matching American’s $10 increase.

None of the low-cost airlines including Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran had raised prices, said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com. If they continue to hold out, he said, Delta and the other big airlines could be forced to scale back their increases on some routes. Low-cost airlines have blocked some previous fare hikes by refusing to match them.

VIRGINIA

Hair puts inmates in high security

RICHMOND | Several Rastafarians and other inmates have been moved to a high-security prison as officials try to persuade them to cut their hair, which many refuse to do because it goes against their religious beliefs.

Many inmates spent more than a decade in isolation for refusing to cut their hair and then were all moved to the same prison in November. Their refusal violates the state’s grooming policy for prisoners. Some of those recently moved are still working through a program meant to persuade them to cut their hair. Nine chose to go back into segregation, corrections department spokesman Larry Traylor said Thursday.

Corrections officials said the program would give the inmates more privileges and a chance to socialize. In letters to the Associated Press, several inmates criticized the policy as little more than segregation by another name.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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