- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

Soldier convicted of desertion

FORT STEWART, Ga. — A U.S. soldier who said he left his unit in Iraq to protest an “oil-driven” war was convicted of desertion yesterday and sentenced to a year in jail and a bad conduct discharge.

A military jury met for about 20 minutes before giving the maximum sentence to Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, an infantry squad leader with the Florida National Guard.

“I have no regrets, not one,” Mejia said before his sentencing.

Mejia, 28, said he refused to return to his unit after a two-week furlough in October because he believes the war in Iraq is unjust. He turned himself in to the Army in March and sought status as a conscientious objector.

Military prosecutors argued that Mejia abandoned his troops and didn’t fulfill his duty.

Teachers aid cheating students

LOS ANGELES — At least 75 California teachers helped students cheat on standardized exams since a new testing program began five years ago, according to a newspaper report citing state documents.

Incidents include teachers who gave hints by drawing on the blackboard or leaving posters on the wall, told students the right answers and changed the students’ responses themselves, the Los Angeles Times reported, referring to documents obtained through a Public Records Act request.

State education officials say the numbers of proven cases is small in a state with more than 200,000 teachers.

Fighter pilot ejects safely before crash

ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. — An F-15C fighter jet crashed off the coast of a resort island along the Florida Panhandle yesterday, but its pilot was able to eject from the plane, Air Force officials said.

The pilot, whose name was not immediately released, was pulled out of shallow water by a state Fish and Wildlife patrol boat about five miles off the coast of St. George Island, officials said.

“They said he was in good shape,” said Lt. Stan Kirkland of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.

The jet was assigned to the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City.

Zoo to release ailing elephants

ROYAL OAK, Mich. — Wanda has arthritis and Winky has foot problems after years of bitter winters and tight living conditions at the Detroit Zoo.

So the zoo is granting them amnesty in a rare attempt to end their suffering.

The Asian females will be sent to a wildlife refuge this summer or early fall, making the zoo the nation’s fist major animal facility to give away its elephants solely on ethical grounds, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Lawsuits filed in rape cases

DENVER — A grand jury convened yesterday to hear evidence in the University of Colorado recruiting scandal, hearing closed-door testimony from a former escort service employee who says a university recruiting aide handed over $2,000 to her agency.

The university has been roiled in recent months by allegations that football players used sex, alcohol and drugs to lure recruits to the school.

Federal lawsuits have been filed by three women who say they were raped by recruits or players at or shortly after an off-campus party in 2001. A federal magistrate yesterday granted two of the women the right to amend their original complaint to include material given in recent depositions by school officials and others.

The lawsuits accuse the university of failing to protect the women under federal Title IX gender equity law. They seek unspecified damages.

Groups challenge subway photo ban

Civil liberties groups say New York’s Transit Authority has gone too far by seeking to ban photography and filming inside the city’s subway system.

The Transit Authority, for security reasons, has proposed rules that would make it illegal to photograph, videotape or film the subway.

The only exceptions would be news photographers with police press credentials and movie companies that obtain prior written approval. Tourists taking snapshots in the subway could face a ticket and possible fine.

“It’s excessive, it’s unenforceable, particularly with cell phone and pocket-sized digital cameras,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told New York Newsday.

Transit Authority officials say the rule is an effort to improve security for riders and transit employees.

From staff reports and wire dispatches.

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