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American Scene: California serial killer arraigned in NYC case

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NEW YORK

NEW YORK — A convicted California serial killer pleaded not guilty Thursday to murdering two women in New York City in the 1970s, charges lodged just last year after suspicion swirled around him for decades.

Rodney Alcala, a former dating-show contestant who has spent the past 33 years tangling with authorities in a series of trials and overturned convictions, was arraigned Thursday in the deaths of Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hover.

A former photographer with an IQ said to top 160, Alcala was convicted in 2010 of killing four women and a 12-year-old girl in Southern California in the 1970s.

OHIO

Pro-life group falls short in bid to add referendum

COLUMBUS A pro-life group in Ohio is facing a significant shortfall in the number of signatures needed to force a voter referendum this fall on whether the state constitution should declare that life begins when a human egg is fertilized, throwing up another obstacle for the "personhood" movement.

With less than two weeks before a crucial July deadline, the group's director says it has close to 20,000, or 5 percent, of the roughly 385,000 signatures required for the proposed personhood constitutional amendment to appear on November ballots.

Stacks of signatures have yet to be counted, and more arrive each day.

Still, Patrick Johnston, the director of Personhood Ohio, acknowledges that the group might not secure enough signatures in time to make the ballot in a state considered key to the presidential election.

TEXAS

Boy, 6, dies of wounds suffered in hotel shooting

McALLEN — Six-year-old Jaydin Thompson died after authorities say he was shot by his mother's boyfriend at a South Texas hotel in an attack that also killed his 1-year-old half-brother.

Jaydin's 21-month-old half-brother, Davian Bluntson, died in the shooting in the Laredo hotel. Demond Bluntson, the younger boy's father, is charged with capital murder and aggravated assault in the attack.

Mr. Bluntson, 36, is being held on $2.5 million bond and could face yet more charges in El Campo where police believe he killed his 28-year-old girlfriend, Brandy Cerny.

ALABAMA

Citing media, judge delays Auburn tree-poisoning trial

OPELIKA — A judge Thursday delayed the trial of an Alabama fan accused of poisoning Auburn's cherished Toomer's Corner oak trees, citing increased media attention stemming from a report this week that the defendant confessed outside the courtroom.

Defense attorneys for Harvey Updyke have also asked the judge to move the trial to a different location, saying that the jury pool so close to Auburn University has been tainted. Judge Jacob Walker said Thursday that he would schedule a hearing to consider the request.

Prosecutor Robbie Treese objected after the judge's ruling and noted that the issue was "invited by the actions of the defendant." But Judge Walker replied that the report of the confession marked "a very unusual set of circumstances."

NEW YORK

Bird flu study published after terrorism debate

NEW YORK — The second of two bird flu studies once considered too risky to publish was released Thursday, ending a saga that pitted concerns about terrorism against fears of a deadly global epidemic.

Both papers describe how researchers created virus strains that could potentially be transmitted through the air from person to person. Scientists said the results could help them spot dangerous virus strains in nature.

But in December, acting on advice of a U.S. biosecurity panel, federal officials asked the researchers not to publish details of the work, which identified the genetic mutations used to make the strains. They warned the papers could show terrorists how to make a biological weapon.

UTAH

19 wildfires blamed on target shooting

SALT LAKE CITY — Nineteen wildfires in Utah have been sparked this year by target shooting, with about three months left in the dry season, authorities said..

State Fire Marshal Brent R. Halladay told the Salt Lake Tribune that dry conditions and winds have made it remarkably easy to spark a blaze. Authorities counted 24 wildfires sparked by guns last year, and 20 the year before.

Conditions were ripe for new fires spreading Thursday in Utah as well as parts of western Colorado, Nevada and Oregon because of hot, windy weather.

WASHINGTON

Breast cancer survivor can swim topless in Seattle pool

SEATTLE — A Seattle breast cancer survivor whose breasts were surgically removed has gained the permission to swim topless at a city pool.

But Jodi Jaecks wants to make sure her privilege is also extended to other breast cancer survivors who want to swim comfortably.

"Initially when I heard about the reversal I was elevated. Then it came that it wasn't a policy change, it was just an exception for me. Then I was quite deflated," the 47-year-old said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Christopher Williams announced he was giving Ms. Jaecks an exception to the department's clothing policy.

MINNESOTA

Duluth cleans up as floods persist to south

DULUTH — Residents began Thursday to assess the damage from flooding caused by historic rainfall, even as areas farther south continued to fight rising waters.

While touring the flood-ravaged northeastern Minnesota city Thursday morning, Gov. Mark Dayton said state aid was a certainty and federal aid likely. Duluth's mayor, Don Ness, estimated $50 million to $80 million in damage to public infrastructure alone.

A few low-lying parts of the city still had standing water, and nearly 80 roads around St. Louis County remained closed.

Despite the extent of damage, no deaths or injuries were reported in Minnesota.

WISCONSIN

3 die in crashes after rain washes away road

NEILLSVILLE — Authorities say three people died in crashes after heavy rain washed away a 50-foot stretch of highway in central Wisconsin road.

Clark County Chief Deputy Jim Backus says a passer-by discovered two vehicles in the large hole in a county road near Neillsville, about 50 miles southeast of Eau Claire, early Thursday. Authorities say a pickup truck carrying two people crashed into the hole, then another vehicle with one occupant went into the same hole. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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