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American Scene: Soldier gets life sentence for killing two roommates

- - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

GEORGIA

FORT STEWART — A soldier was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole for the 2010 slayings of two Army roommates, both shot at a U.S. base camp in Iraq hours after the suspect complained their room was too messy.

A military jury at Fort Stewart spent just an hour deliberating before returning with a sentence for Army Spc. Neftaly Platero, 34, of Kingwood, Texas. The same court-martial convicted him Tuesday of premeditated murder in the killings of Pfc. Gebrah Noonan of Watertown, Conn., and Spc. John Carrillo Jr. of Stockton, Calif.

Under military law, premeditated murder carries a minimum life sentence. The only decision for jurors was whether to deny Platero the possibility of parole. Commanders at Fort Stewart, where all three soldiers served in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, decided last year not to seek the death penalty.

William Noonan, the father of one of the slain soldiers, said Wednesday he would have preferred the death penalty for Platero but got some solace that jurors decided he should never be freed from prison.

ARIZONA

State asks for haikus to promote storm safety

PHOENIX — Arizona transportation officials are getting the message out about dust storm safety in precisely 17 syllables.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is encouraging Twitter users to tweet haikus around the theme safe driving in haboobs - severe dust storms that hit Phoenix in the summer.

An example, from Phoenix resident Mindy Lee, who goes by the Twitter handle mindyblee: "Haboobs blow through town / In one instant it is dark / Pull over and wait."

Transportation Department spokesman Timothy Tait says the agency was looking for a creative way to engage residents in its "Pull Aside Stay Alive" campaign.

So far they've seen more than 30 entries and are re-tweeting some of the best ones.

The haiku challenge runs through Friday. Tweeters are asked to include the hashtag (hash)HaboobHaiku.

MONTANA

Driver clocked at 134 mph charged by trooper with DUI

BILLINGS — A Montana man faces a felony charge of driving under the influence after authorities say a state trooper clocked him driving 134 mph in a 50 mph zone.

The Billings Gazette reports that Shaun Kachina Bell, 32, of Billings made an initial appearance in Justice Court on Monday on the DUI charge, along with felony criminal endangerment and misdemeanor counts of speeding and driving without a license or proof of insurance.

His bail was set at $15,000.

Prosecutors say Mr. Bell was driving a Dodge Magnum late Sunday on Highway 312 outside Billings. Trooper Kyle Hayter followed him into the city limits and pulled him over. The trooper said there was a man passed out in the passenger seat.

Court records say Mr. Bell has three previous DUI convictions.

OHIO

Trailer hauling toilet paper catches fire on highway

PERRYSBURG — A tractor-trailer hauling 10 tons of toilet paper caught fire on a highway in northwest Ohio, temporarily blocking southbound traffic as rescuers responded to the scene, the State Highway Patrol said.

The Tuesday night fire began when the trailer air lines dislodged and ignited as the vehicle was traveling on Interstate 75, south of Toledo. The blaze then spread around the trailer and its cargo.

The Blade newspaper in Toledo reports hundreds of rolls of toilet paper spilled into the roadway. Much of the rest of the load was ruined by fire or doused by firefighters.

No one was hurt.

The highway was reopened after the fire was extinguished and the vehicle was towed.

ALASKA

State returns basketball washed away by tsunami

ANCHORAGE — A basketball washed away in last year's tsunami was reunited with students at a middle school in Japan.

A cleanup crew found the basketball in March on a beach near Craig.

It had the words "Kesen chu," short for Kesennuma Chugakko or Kesennuma Middle School in Rikuzentakata, printed on it.

Students in Alaska returned the ball, along with words of encouragement for the Japanese students, half of whom are still living in temporary housing.

Students and school officials opened the white cardboard box and immediately began playing ball. They called the basketball's return a miracle and said it brings back memories.

A soccer ball, a volleyball and a buoy, all found in Alaska, also are being returned this week to their owners in Japan by FedEx.

TENNESSEE

Southern Baptists see further membership decline

NASHVILLE — The nation's largest Protestant denomination continues to see a decline in membership.

Statistics released Tuesday by the Southern Baptist Convention's Lifeway Christian Resources show membership in 2011 decreased by almost 1 percent to just less than 16 million. That marks the fifth straight year of decline.

The number of churches increased slightly, but the total number of congregations dropped as the denomination lost several church-type missions. These are smaller congregations that are supported by larger churches.

The number of baptisms increased slightly last year an important measure for a denomination with an expressed mission to win souls for Christ. But Lifeway Research President Ed Stetzer downplayed the significance.

"Baptisms had their second lowest year in the last 50 years, so this is not a time to pull out the party hats," he said.

Mr. Stetzer said the overall trend is that baptisms and membership are declining for the Nashville-based denomination. And for membership that decline is accelerating.

Those changes mirror the declines that mainline Protestant denominations such as the Methodists have been seeing for decades.

NEW YORK

NYPD officer surrenders to face shooting charges

NEW YORK — An New York City police officer has surrendered to face charges in the fatal shooting earlier this year of an unarmed suspect in a Bronx home.

Attorney Stuart London says he has been told that Officer Richard Haste will be charged with manslaughter. He had no further comment.

Officer Haste was awaiting arraignment Wednesday in the death of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham.

The shooting stemmed from an NYPD investigation in February of street-corner drug dealing. Police pursued Graham into his home before he was shot once at close range as his grandmother and 6-year-old brother stood nearby.

The NYPD and Bronx prosecutors have declined to comment.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports