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American Scene: Wave of bomb threats leaves campus on edge

- - Monday, April 9, 2012

PITTSBURGH — Dozens of bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh, including at least four Monday, have prompted professors to start holding classes outside and forced security officials to implement new building access measures.

The threats began in mid-February, at first targeting a landmark building at the center of campus. But in recent weeks numerous buildings have been threatened. Four threats had been made by mid-afternoon Monday, starting at about 4 a.m.

CALIFORNIA

Prosecutors detain girl to solidify rape case

SACRAMENTO — Prosecutors have taken the unusual step of detaining a reported teenage rape victim who has a history of running away, saying she is a key witness against a man prosecutors say is a career criminal and serial rapist.

Victims' rights advocates are joining the 17-year-old foster child's attorneys in arguing that her detention, upheld three times by two superior court judges, could discourage other victims from reporting sexual assaults. Moreover, they say the detention conflicts with laws governing the well-being of foster children, and with Marsy's Law, a victims' rights initiative approved by California voters in November 2008.

"This is a very rare step for us. It's really the last thing we want to do, but we do feel that there is a public danger that has to be balanced here," Sacramento County Assistant District Attorney Albert Locher said Monday.

The girl has been held in juvenile hall since March 23.

ILLINOIS

Suspect wants judge to hear old rape case

SYCAMORE — A Seattle man suspected in the sexual assault of an Illinois teenager 50 years ago will have his case decided by a judge instead of a jury.

Jury selection was due to begin Monday in the case of Jack McCullough, who is charged with rape and indecent liberties with a child in the alleged abuse of a 14-year-old Sycamore, Ill., girl from 1961 to 1962.

But Mr. McCullough, 72, says he wants a judge to rule instead. Opening statements are expected to begin Tuesday.

Mr. McCullough also faces kidnapping and murder charges in the 1957 death of Maria Ridulph, also of Sycamore. Those charges aren't part of the current trial.

Both sides say there is no physical evidence in the decades-old rape. Prosecutors say the accuser is expected to testify.

MASSACHUSETTS

Birth control pioneer, 79, will continue his crusade

CAMBRIDGE — This month marks the 45th anniversary of abortion rights activist Bill Baird's arrest at Boston University for giving contraception to a student.

Now 79, the Massachusetts man spent 36 days in jail in Boston after his April 1967 arrest. Mr. Baird appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices found in his favor.

That 1972 decision, Eisenstadt vs. Baird, gave single people the same rights to birth control as married people.

Mr. Baird recently told a lecture audience in Massachusetts that he is determined to keep fighting for reproductive rights.

Supporters and some people who have opposed Mr. Baird's abortion rights activism agree he will go down in history.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, from the anti-abortion organization Priests for Life, says he respects Mr. Baird's work as a "warrior" on the opposite side.

PENNSYLVANIA

Judge limits comments to press in Sandusky case

BELLEFONTE — The judge overseeing the child sex abuse case against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is putting attorneys on both sides under an order that severely limits what they can say to reporters.

Judge John Cleland's order issued Monday also applies to investigators who have ever worked on the case and tells attorneys to limit statements by witnesses.

Judge Cleland says he issued the new rules to help ensure a fair, impartial and orderly trial.

Mr. Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year span, with prosecutors saying some of the abuse happened on Penn State's campus. Mr. Sandusky maintains his innocence.

The ensuing scandal led to the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the ouster of the university president.

MISSISSIPPI

Suspect in three slayings falls to death from tower

BAY ST. LOUIS — Authorities say a man killed his mother, stepfather and girlfriend at their Mississippi home before he climbed a cellphone tower and plunged about 300 feet to his death.

The Biloxi, Miss., Sun Herald reports that the triple homicide occurred Saturday in the Gulf Coast town of Bay St. Louis.

No motive has been disclosed.

Authorities identified the victims as Wilton Bernard Jr., his wife, Jeanie Bernard, and Kathleen Deese.

The suspect, Anthony Garrett, died later Saturday night as authorities tried to talk him down from a tower in nearby Waveland.

UTAH

Hackers get into records at state health department

SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of thousands of people could have had their Social Security numbers stolen by hackers, state health officials said Monday after discovering that the thieves downloaded thousands more files of personal information than authorities initially believed.

The revised estimates were issued after nearly 200,000 additional files were found to have been downloaded by the hackers, health department spokesman Tom Hudachko said at a news conference. Officials originally estimated that about 24,000 people had their records stolen after a computer tracked to Eastern Europe infiltrated a server beginning March 30, then changed that number to 182,000 potential victims.

The culprit actually downloaded about 224,000 files, some of which contained hundreds of records, Mr. Hudachko said. The latest discovery adds more than 750,000 people to the number of Utah residents whose personal data was taken.

The additional files contained about 250,000 Social Security numbers submitted within the past four months by health care providers to verify Medicaid coverage for a patient, as well as names, addresses or other personal information for up to 500,000 people.

The Social Security numbers didn't include other personal information, Mr. Hudachko said. About 130,000 of the numbers belong to current Medicaid recipients. Some of the victims were beneficiaries of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, department officials said last week.

ALASKA

Boy, 7, admits setting fires, including one at a school

JUNEAU — A 7-year-old Juneau boy has admitted setting five fires over a little more than four months, according to fire officials in Alaska's capital.

Juneau Fire Marshal Dan Jager tells the Juneau Empire that the boy caused about $1,000 in damage by setting fires in restrooms at Harborview Elementary School and the Terry Miller Legislative Building, plus a downtown grass fire and two fires at a Fred Meyer store.

The boy's name was not released.

"He won't be going to jail," Fire Chief Richard Etheridge said, but the case will be forwarded to probation officers at the Johnson Youth Center.

The boy told fire officials during interviews Wednesday that he set the small fires with a lighter he found. There was no immediate indication of why, Marshal Jager said, but the incidents were dangerous.

"He has no idea how big the fires could have gotten," Marshal Jager said. "He could have gotten hurt, and other people could have been hurt because some of those buildings were occupied. Being that age, I don't think he understood the magnitude of what could have happened."

WASHINGTON

Seattle council protects public breast-feeding

SEATTLE — It's already against Washington state law to discriminate against public breast-feeding, but the Seattle City Council on Monday specifically made it illegal for businesses and other entities to ask nursing moms to stop, cover up or move to a different location in public areas.

The council unanimously approved a measure that adds a mother's right to breast-feed her child to a list of protected civil rights, such as race, color, disability and religion - allowing the city's office of civil rights to enforce the law and educate the public about the issue.

Mayor Mike McGinn will sign the bill into law, his spokesman Aaron Pickus said Monday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports