Friday, October 8, 2004


Library mural contains misspellings

LIVERMORE — Spelling counts — especially at a library.

A $40,000 ceramic mural was unveiled outside the city’s new library and everyone could see the misspelled names of Einstein, Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo and seven other historical figures. The council voted Monday to pay another $6,000, plus expenses, to fly artist Maria Alquilar up from Florida to fix the errors.

Miss Alquilar said she was willing to fix the work, which is 16 feet wide and made up of brightly colored ceramic pieces. But she offered no apologizes for the 11 misspellings, including “Eistein,” “Shakespere” and “Michaelangelo,” among the 175 names.

“The importance of this work is that it is supposed to unite people,” Miss Alquilar said. “They are denigrating my work and the purpose of this work.”


Freed inmate savors freedom, slams Bush

HOUSTON — Ernest Willis, the eighth exonerated inmate to walk off of Texas’ death row, criticized President Bush yesterday as one who, as Texas governor, ignored his innocence.

Mr. Willis, 59, was released Wednesday after a state court ruled he received an unfair trial and likely did not set the June 1986 fire that killed two young women.

“There were a lot of people who knew I was innocent and didn’t care, and one of those is running the country right now,” Mr. Willis said.

However, Texas law severely limits a governor’s power to commute a sentence, allowing him only to issue a temporary 30-day stay when an execution is imminent, which never happened to Mr. Willis.


Story changes in missing child case

MIAMI — The former caregiver of a missing foster child now says she lied when she backed up her roommate’s story that the girl was taken away by a state social worker in early 2001.

Pamela Graham, who is helping prosecutors after agreeing to plead guilty to neglecting and abusing Rilya Wilson, told police she had backed up Geralyn Graham’s story because she feared being sent to prison.

Rilya was 4 years old when she vanished. She would have turned 8 last week, but her whereabouts remain unknown and she is feared dead. The Florida Department of Children and Families had taken Rilya from her homeless, crack-addicted mother; Pamela Graham had legal custody.

Her disappearance was not detected by the state until April 2002, triggering an upheaval at the department.

Geralyn Graham’s attorney said his client has never wavered about what happened to Rilya, whose disappearance is being treated as a homicide.


Hunt yields some large alligators

ALBANY — Art Ford witnessed the raw power of an alligator when his son harpooned a 9-footer on a southwest Georgia lake in the dead of night and the reptile responded with a loud hiss and an attack on their boat.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to get my hand near this thing,’” Mr. Ford recalled yesterday. “Until we really knew he was dead, I was real wary of that sucker.”

Mr. Ford and his son, Robert, 26, were among 300 hunters picked by lottery from 3,122 applicants for Georgia’s second annual alligator hunt in September. Most of the applicants were Georgia residents, but hunters applied from 32 other states as far away as Alaska.

This year, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has reports of 58 kills, but that is only a preliminary number because the reporting deadline isn’t until Oct. 15.


Muslims begin talk radio program

CHICAGO — Some Chicago-area Muslims have launched their own talk radio program, deciding it will be the best way to break down stereotypes about their faith.

“Whenever I hear the word ‘Muslims’ in the news, it is always followed by something negative, a car bombing in Iraq,” said Jenan Diab, the producer of “Radio Islam,” which aired its first show last week on WCEV-AM (1450). “We want something positive for Muslims, we want to encourage them, we want to show non-Muslims something positive.”

The daily, hourlong call-in show, which is broadcast in English, will feature several Muslim-American hosts, including educators, physicians, religious leaders and lawyers and both Muslim and non-Muslim guests. Discussions are planned on a variety of issues, including those that are not specifically about Muslims.


Kidnapping defendant attacks his attorney

BATON ROUGE — A man on trial for taking a kindergartner hostage leapt up in court Wednesday and slashed his public defender with a razor blade.

Barbette Williams, 48, of New Orleans was booked with attempted second-degree murder for injuring lawyer Bert Garraway.

Mr. Williams wrapped his arms around Mr. Garraway and cut him above the eye and on the neck just as the defense attorney was about to rest his case.

“I’ve contended all along that this guy is nuts, and to be honest, this pretty much confirms it,” Mr. Garraway said late Wednesday after treatment for his wounds. “What kind of rational person would attack his own lawyer?”

Mr. Williams has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges he kidnapped and tried to kill 6-year-old Ben Smith IV, who was taken from his class in March 2003.


Bomb scare closes airport

JACKSON — Airport security officers destroyed a passenger’s carry-on bag yesterday after an X-ray showed a suspicious object and the owner falsely claimed to be a law-enforcement officer, officials said.

No bomb was found, and the passenger was being questioned, said Larry Rowlett, federal security director for airports in Mississippi.

The bomb scare closed the airport for an hour. Hundreds of people were evacuated, and flights were delayed.


Police capture runaway, companion

OMAHA — A 15-year-old runaway girl and a male companion were arrested in Nebraska yesterday, ending a two-day chase by police that prompted schools to cancel some activities.

Wendy Valencia’s parents reported their daughter as a runaway Tuesday. Police later found her and were preparing to take her home when she reportedly stole an unmarked squad car and eluded authorities at speeds up to 100 mph.

On Wednesday, two persons were spotted in a stolen car, and authorities concluded the girl had a companion, identified as Emeterio Guajardo, 18, with her. But the two managed to abandon the vehicle and flee. Police conducted an intensive search. The two were arrested yesterday in Phelps County, said Deb Collins, a spokeswoman with the Nebraska State Patrol.


Golfing poll predicts Kerry win

RENO — The margin of error in the latest presidential poll is wide — about 50 yards.

Golfers in northern Nevada have been recording their slices — left and right — as part of an unscientific attempt to predict the outcome of the Nov. 2 election.

More than a dozen sports and travel writers played two holes at nine courses Tuesday, taking care to chart how many of their shots sliced to the right and how many hooked to the left.

If the final results are any indication of the real election, spokesman Phil Weidinger said, the Kerry-Edwards ticket will ride to the White House on the strength of the left-leaning trend that was evident at the promotional event. Of the 1,416 shots, 646 went to the left, 562 went to right and 214 were up the middle.

Mr. Weidinger said the results prove one thing that nobody can dispute, regardless of handicap or political affiliation.

“We all need a lot of work on our golf game,” he said.


Authorities hunt for deadly chemical

DEVILS LAKE — Three drums filled with sodium cyanide fell off a truck, and one barrel remains missing. Authorities said beekeepers planned to use the dangerous chemical as a pesticide and could be fined.

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office has declined to say how or when the kegs of sodium cyanide disappeared or who was involved, citing the pending investigation.

Farmers found two 30-gallon kegs alongside a state highway east of Devils Lake on Sept. 30. The missing barrel, half that size, is believed to have fallen off the back of the truck somewhere between Devils Lake and Cavalier.

Sodium cyanide reacts with water to create lethal hydrogen cyanide gas, which can kill a person in five minutes, said Andrew Thostenson, North Dakota State University pesticide specialist.

Its disappearance attracted the attention of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.


It’s not the cork that makes wine fine

PORTLAND — Wine snobs may snub screw-off caps in place of natural corks, but a study says they have no reason to whine.

A blind taste test conducted by researchers for Oregon State University has found that the stopper — be it natural cork, synthetic cork or a cap — makes no discernible difference in taste.

In a second study, consumers given a choice between the two kinds of stoppers were much more likely to choose corked wine, saying it was better quality. Others said they would pay less for wine that was topped with a screw-top bottle.


Commandments to stay on courthouse

PHILADELPHIA — A plaque of the Ten Commandments that has hung for 86 years on a wall outside the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh can remain, a federal appeals court ruled. The court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the plaque didn’t endorse any religion.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued Allegheny County four years ago on behalf of two county residents who said they were offended by the plaque.

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