- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Inmate's death sentence commuted to life

ATLANTA After an outcry from advocates for the mentally ill, the Georgia parole board commuted the death sentence yesterday of a killer who is said to be so delusional he believes actress Sigourney Weaver is God.

Alexander Williams' sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole just hours before a stay of execution was to expire at midnight.

Williams, 33, had been facing lethal injection for the 1986 murder of a 16-year-old girl.

The board announced its decision after hearing from a panel of three psychiatrists who examined Williams last week.

Families give blood for corpse identification

NOBLE, Ga. Distraught families lined up to give blood samples yesterday in the hope their DNA might help investigators identify more of the scores of corpses scattered around a Georgia crematory.

Some people brought what they once believed were the ashes of relatives whose bodies had been sent to Tri-State Crematory. Elaine Bray angrily rattled a mugful of pebbles that she said were passed off as the remains of her brother.

Mrs. Bray was among dozens of people who lined up to give blood samples at a civic center down the road from Tri-State, where teams resumed a full-scale search for more bodies.

Astronauts ready for risky mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Seven NASA astronauts reported for duty at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday for a risky mission to the Hubble Space Telescope that will boost the observatory's performance tenfold or leave it a piece of tumbling space junk.

Their 11-day mission includes five spacewalks, among the most challenging ever attempted, and some upgrades to Hubble systems that astronauts were never meant to touch, NASA said.

NASA will cut Hubble's power for the first time in orbit while spacewalkers swap out a complicated power control unit, part of Hubble's permanent systems.

Investigators believe missing girl is dead

SAN DIEGO Investigators concluded yesterday that a 7-year-old girl who vanished from her bedroom more than three weeks ago is dead, and said they would file murder charges against her neighbor.

"I must conclude that Danielle van Dam is no longer living and was killed by her abductor," District Attorney Paul Pfingst said.

David Westerfield, 50, who lives two doors down from the van Dams, was arrested Friday on suspicion of kidnapping. He was held without bail. Authorities said they found traces of Danielle's blood in Mr. Westerfield's motor home and on a piece of his clothing.

Psychiatrist testifies in Yates trial

HOUSTON Andrea Yates had visions and heard voices encouraging her to use a knife to kill her five children but she decided it was "too bloody," a jail psychiatrist testified yesterday.

As testimony resumed in the second week of Mrs. Yates' capital murder trial, Dr. Melissa Ferguson said under cross-examination that Mrs. Yates also ruled out drugs to kill her children but believed drugs could be used for suicide. Dr. Ferguson interviewed the Houston mother at the Harris County Jail the day after her children were drowned in their bathtub June 20.

Mrs. Yates' attorneys contend the former nurse turned stay-at-home mother is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Tax assessors arrested in bribery scheme

NEW YORK Sixteen tax assessors were arrested yesterday for reportedly taking part in a 35-year plot to accept bribes and cheat the city out of hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax revenue, officials said.

An indictment accused the assessors of accepting bribes for at least 35 years to alter the assessed values of more than 500 properties worth a total of $8 billion.

"These folks sold their office and sold out the people of New York by taking bribes," U.S. Attorney James Comey said.

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