American Scene: 5 ex-cops sentenced in Katrina killings case

LOUISIANA

NEW ORLEANS Five former New Orleans police officers were sentenced Wednesday to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for their roles in deadly shootings of unarmed residents on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon were convicted of firearms charges in the shootings. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, was convicted of helping orchestrate the cover-up.

Faulcon received the stiffest sentence, 65 years. Bowen and Gisevius each got 40 years, while Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years. Kaufman received the lightest sentence, six years.

A federal jury convicted the officers in August 2011 of civil rights violations in the shootings on the Danziger Bridge and the cover-up.

Police shot six people, killing two, less than a week after the storm’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005. To make the shootings appear justified, officers conspired to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports.

The case became the centerpiece of the Justice Department’s push to clean up the troubled New Orleans Police Department.

U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt heard hours of testimony earlier in the day from prosecutors, defense attorneys, relatives of shooting victims and the officers.

CALIFORNIA

Planet-hunting mission extended through 2016

MOFFETT FIELD NASA has decided to keep its planet-hunting spacecraft running for several more years.

The space agency said Wednesday the Kepler spacecraft will search for alien worlds through fiscal 2016. The $600 million mission was launched in 2009 to track down other Earths in a faraway patch of the Milky Way galaxy.

The extension came after a team of experts reviewed the project’s progress. It is estimated to cost about $18 million a year to operate Kepler in the extended phase.

Kepler has found examples of planets similar in size to Earth orbiting stars outside the solar system.

Scientists are eagerly awaiting the discovery of an Earth-size world in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” a place that’s not too hot, not too cold, where water might exist in liquid form.

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