Nation Briefs: Investigation of Indianapolis blast focused on appliances

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INDIANAPOLIS — Investigators in the Indianapolis explosion that killed two people and decimated a neighborhood believe natural gas was involved and are focusing on appliances as they search for a cause, a city official said Tuesday.

Indianapolis Homeland Security Director Gary Coons made the announcement after the National Transportation Safety Board said investigators had found no leaks in the gas main or pipes leading into the house that exploded. The explosion Saturday leveled two homes and left dozens more uninhabitable.

TEXAS

Woman convicted of murder in day care fire

HOUSTON — A Texas woman was convicted of murder Tuesday in the death of one of four children who died in a fire at her home day care after she left them alone with hot oil on the stove while she shopped at Target.

Neighbors said they could hear children crying inside the burning Houston home but couldn’t reach them. The fire killed 16-month-old Elias Castillo and three other children. Three more were seriously injured.

Jurors began hearing evidence in the punishment phase of Jessica Tata’s trial Tuesday afternoon, more than an hour after their verdict for a murder conviction was announced. They found Tata, 24, guilty of one count of felony murder.

WASHINGTON

Death penalty sought in Afghan massacre

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — Army prosecutors Tuesday asked an investigative officer to recommend a death penalty court-martial for a staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage, saying that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales committed “heinous and despicable crimes.”

Prosecutors made their closing arguments after a week of testimony in the preliminary hearing.

Prosecutors say Sgt. Bales, 39, slipped away from his remote base at Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan to attack two villages early March 11. Among the dead were nine children.

CALIFORNIA

100 days after birth, panda gets name

SAN DIEGO — There is a little gift at the San Diego Zoo that’s going to get very big.

It’s been 100 days since the latest panda cub was born there. That’s the day Chinese tradition at the zoo calls for the cub to get its name.

In a ceremony Tuesday, the cub was dubbed Xiao Liwu. That’s means Little Gift in English.

NORTH CAROLINA

Judge rules against holiday possum drop

RALEIGH — A possum drop that attracts thousands of people to a tiny town in western North Carolina each New Year’s Eve may have had its last hurrah after a judge ruled Tuesday that a state agency didn’t have the authority to issue a permit for the event.

The ruling would end a 19-year tradition of suspending a possum in see-through box covered with holiday tinsel and lowering it to the ground at midnight.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had sued the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which issues the permit for the event, saying it’s illegal and cruel.

REGION

Feds: 2 caught snakes, flew them to Florida

Two Florida men were charged Tuesday with conspiracy to traffic in endangered and threatened reptiles, including rattlesnakes that allegedly were trapped in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey and shipped to Florida.

Robroy MacInnes, 54, of Fort Myers, and Robert Keszey, 47, of Bushnell, along with Glades Herp Farm Inc., a business they owned, were named in a two-count indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

According to the indictment, from 2007 to 2008, the two men collected protected snakes from the wild in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, purchased protected eastern timber rattlesnakes that had been illegally collected in violation of New York law and transported federally threatened eastern indigo snakes from Florida to Pennsylvania.

Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno, who heads the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said the men and the company were charged with conspiracy to traffic in endangered and threatened reptiles. Mr. MacInnes and Mr. Glades also were charged with trafficking in protected timber rattlesnakes in violation of the Lacey Act.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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