- Associated Press - Monday, April 16, 2012

LOS ANGELES — The trial is winding down for a former NASA-affiliated computer specialist who says he was fired because of his belief in intelligent design.

Closing arguments began Monday in David Coppedge’s wrongful-termination case against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Mr. Coppedge worked as a team leader on the Cassini mission exploring Saturn. He claims he was discriminated against because he engaged his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and handed out DVDs on the idea while at work.

Intelligent design is the belief that a higher power had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

Mr. Coppedge was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory denies the allegations.

MISSISSIPPI

Governor signs new limits on abortion

JACKSON — Mississippi’s already strict abortion laws have become even tighter with Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing of a bill that will place new regulations on the state’s only abortion clinic.

Effective July 1, the new law requires that anyone performing abortions in an abortion clinic must be an obstetrician-gynecologist who has admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Republican governor signed the bill Monday.

Such privileges aren’t easy for doctors to obtain, particularly for those who live out of state or because some religious-affiliated hospitals may refuse to provide the privileges to physicians who perform elective abortions.

Diane Derzis, who runs the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said the requirements threaten the clinic’s existence. She said the clinic will try to comply with the new regulations but she will file a lawsuit if it can’t.

GEORGIA

State to require drug tests for welfare benefits

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed legislation that would require thousands of people applying for welfare to pass a drug test before they could receive benefits.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed the law over the opposition of Democrats.

Backers say it will ensure that welfare benefits are used for their intended purpose and not to subsidize drug use and criminal activity. Democrats said the measure places an unfair burden on the poor.

Gerry Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights said the organization is prepared to file a lawsuit over the issue, but not until the law is put into practice. It takes effect July 1.

A similar law in Florida took effect last July but was blocked in October by a federal judge, who cited constitutional concerns.

At least two dozen states have proposed measures this year that would require drug tests for benefits.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Inmate’s lawsuit says circumcision ‘robbed’ him

SIOUX FALLS — A South Dakota prison inmate is suing the hospital where he was circumcised as a newborn, saying he only recently became aware that he’d undergone the procedure and that it robbed him of his sexual prowess.

Dean Cochrun, 28, is asking for $1,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. He also asks in the lawsuit that his foreskin be restored “in the hopes I could feel whole again,” though he acknowledged that he didn’t expect such a restoration to be anything more than aesthetic.

Cochrun, who is imprisoned in Sioux Falls on a kidnapping conviction, filed the federal lawsuit Friday against Sanford Hospital. Cochrun isn’t represented by a lawyer in the suit.

CALIFORNIA

Coast Guard ends search for four yacht racers

SAN FRANCISCO — The Coast Guard said it has suspended its search for four yacht crew members who went missing off the Northern California coast after a weekend racing accident.

Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield said the search was halted at sundown Sunday and rescuers have no plans to resume it.

He said the decision was made reluctantly after searching more than 5,000 square miles of ocean during more than 30 hours, well beyond the “window of survivability.”

The crew members - Alan Cahill, of Tiburon, Calif.; Jordan Fromm, of San Rafael, Calif.; Elmer Morrissey, of Ireland; and Alexis Busch, of Larkspur, Calif. - were thrown into 50-degree water when a series of disastrous events caused their sailboat to run aground during a race Saturday near the Farallon Islands, about 25 miles offshore.

The body of 46-year-old Marc Kasanin of Belvedere, Calif., was pulled from the water hours after the accident. The three remaining crew members survived.

COLORADO

Problems with planned burn resulted in deadly wildfire

DENVER — Firefighters encountered some problems with a prescribed burn blamed for triggering a deadly Colorado wildfire, but there was little they could have done differently to prevent the disaster that followed, a veteran forest manager said Monday.

William Bass, who led a team of specialists in examining the March 22 controlled burn, said the firefighters developed a good plan and executed it well.

“It was a good burn,” Mr. Bass said at a briefing before the team’s report was made public.

The Colorado State Forest Service conducted the prescribed burn in the foothills 25 miles southwest of Denver. Four days later, a fast-moving wildfire tore through a forested subdivision with spacious lots and narrow gravel roads. Three people were found dead at their homes.

The fire blackened 6 square miles, damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes, and displaced hundreds of people.

CALIFORNIA

8 arrests in international online narcotics market

LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities in Los Angeles say eight people have been arrested on allegations they ran a secret online narcotics marketplace that sold controlled substances to about 3,000 customers throughout the United States and in 34 countries.

A Justice Department statement Monday said arrests were made in the Netherlands and Colombia, and domestically in Iowa, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Florida.

A newly unsealed indictment follows a two-year probe led by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles field division, with assistance from international agencies.

The indictment alleges the defendants were part of a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances around the globe through an online marketplace that allowed independent sources of supply to anonymously advertise illegal drugs for sale to the public.

OHIO

Police tapes released in restaurant attack

BROOKLYN — Radio transmissions of police responding to an attack at a northeast Ohio restaurant that left three people dead show officers initially struggled to find the gunman.

The tapes released Monday by Brooklyn police in suburban Cleveland reveal that officers found the suspect’s vehicle at the Cracker Barrel restaurant but didn’t see him.

One officer says, “I don’t know where he’s at,” and then an officer says there were “shots fired in the restaurant.”

A dispatcher in contact with the restaurant told officers she also heard shots.

Police said Kevin Allen killed his wife and 10-year-old daughter, critically wounded another 10-year-old daughter and was killed by police Thursday as he fled.

An officer reported one person dead on arrival at the restaurant counter.

The woman had called police from the restaurant asking for help.

TEXAS

Teen facing murder charges in van crash that killed 9

PALMVIEW — A 15-year-old South Texas boy has been charged with nine counts of murder among other charges after a van he was driving crashed, killing nine of the suspected illegal immigrants packed inside.

The boy, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, appeared at a probable cause hearing Monday. He was also charged with 17 counts of smuggling a person and causing serious bodily harm including death, and one count of evading.

The boy told investigators he drove the van because his family had been threatened, Palmview police Chief Chris Barrera said.

Chief Barrera said prosecutors would decide whether to try the boy as an adult.

The nine killed in the rollover crash April 10 were all Mexican citizens. Chief Barrera said the ground around the van was strewn with bodies.

The boy, a U.S. citizen from Hidalgo County, has cooperated with police since his arrest at home Thursday night.

He said the boy told them he had not done this before, but he did have a previous record.

Border Patrol agents had stopped the van in Palmview, 10 miles west of McAllen, when officials said some of the passengers immediately sprinted away and agents pursued them on foot, catching one. As the foot chase unfolded, the van sped off.

The agents came across the wreck three or four blocks away. The scene was strewn with backpacks and water bottles, the Border Patrol said.

An investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to the discovery of a stash house where a dozen illegal immigrants were located. At least four of the six crash survivors were detained as material witnesses.

The teen was arrested along with six others who allegedly acted as caretakers at the stash house.

UTAH

Member of Anonymous charged in hacking case

SALT LAKE CITY — An Ohio man linked to the hacker collective Anonymous has been charged with hacking into the websites of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association and the Salt Lake City Police Department, then taking credit for the attacks on Twitter.

John Anthony Borell III, of Toledo, Ohio, is to be arraigned Monday in federal court in Salt Lake City. The 21-year-old is charged with two counts of computer intrusion in a federal indictment unsealed Monday.

Prosecutors said Mr. Borell intruded on the chiefs’ website server Jan. 19, then broke into the police department’s website Jan. 31. The two computer attacks caused more than $5,000 damage.

FBI investigators said they tracked Mr. Borell through his Internet address. He was arrested March 20.

Each count carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

ARIZONA

Several injured in suburban Phoenix school bus crash

PEORIA — Authorities say five people, children and adults, were taken to a Phoenix-area hospital after a chain-reaction accident involving a loaded school bus whose brakes apparently failed.

Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said three students on the Peoria Unified School District bus and the drivers of two other vehicles were being treated for minor injuries.

He said the school bus driver told officers that his vehicle’s brakes didn’t work when he came off the freeway. Mr. Graves said the bus struck a pickup stopped at the off-ramp’s light and the truck then hit a car also stopped at the light.

Mr. Graves said another bus transported the 32 students on the bus who weren’t injured to their destination, Sunnyside Elementary School.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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