- - Saturday, October 11, 2008

NASA reiterates Mars-probe plans

LOS ANGELES — NASA said Friday it will press ahead with plans to launch a supersized rover to Mars next year despite spiraling costs and schedule pressures.

The decision to maintain the status quo - at least for now - came after the space agency’s top managers met to mull over the progress of the Mars Science Laboratory, a souped-up, nuclear-powered rover.

Concerns have been raised about how to pay for the project’s escalating costs and whether engineers can ready the rover in time for a safe launch next fall. NASA has poured $1.5 billion into the project but the final price tag is expected to be close to $2 billion.

Doug McCuistion, who heads the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters, said significant work lies ahead and the space agency will revisit the mission’s progress in January. Meanwhile, “our intent is to keep our eye on the ball and keep pressing” for a 2009 liftoff, Mr. McCuistion told reporters in a conference call.

Simpson files bid for new hearing

LAS VEGAS — Lawyers for O.J. Simpson are citing judicial errors and insufficient evidence as they seek a new trial.

They filed documents Friday in Las Vegas with Judge Jackie Glass, who oversaw the trial at which the former football star was convicted of robbing two memorabilia dealers at gunpoint.

If she doesn’t grant a new trial, Simpson attorney Yale Galanter says he will appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Attorneys for co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart also plan to seek a new trial. They have argued that their client should have been tried separately from Simpson.

Simpson and Stewart were convicted this month and face up to life in prison when they are sentenced in December.

Army rejects trial in beating case

SAVANNAH, Ga. — An Army trainee will face nonjudicial punishment rather than criminal charges for beating a Jewish soldier so badly he was treated by a hospital, the military said Friday, in a move that keeps many details of the attack secret.

Fort Benning commanders decided not to seek a court-martial in the attack on Pvt. Michael Handman and will resolve it as a personnel matter rather than a crime.

Spokeswoman Monica Manganaro said Friday privacy restrictions prohibited the Army from releasing further information such as the soldier’s name and his specific punishment. She said investigators determined religious bigotry wasn’t the motive in the attack, but gave no more details.

Pvt. Handman was attacked Sept. 24 in a laundry room near his barracks days after complaining of being harassed by drill sergeants because he is Jewish. The 20-year-old was treated at a hospital for a concussion and bruising to his face. He has since returned to basic training.

“I’m infuriated,” Jonathan Handman, the beaten soldier’s father, said Friday. “The Army’s continuing to do what they tried to do from the beginning, which is just shovel this under the carpet. It should be treated and charged as a hate crime.”

Rat-hunter woman causes lockdown

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — Police in North Carolina say a woman hunting rats on her property caused a scare at a neighboring public school.

The Times-News of Hendersonville reported Friday that a bus driver saw the woman and officials thought she was an armed student on school property. So they kept students and staff inside the Balfour Education Center for about an hour until police determined she wasn’t a threat.

Authorities say the woman wasn’t on school property, wasn’t doing anything wrong and had a rifle to shoot rats. She wasn’t identified.

Sheriff Rick Davis says a call to authorities about the woman was properly handled.

Fatal crash mars balloon fiesta

BERNALILLO, N.M. — A hot air balloon crashed into power lines and burst into flames Friday during Albuquerque’s annual balloon fiesta, throwing both men on board to the ground and killing one of them.

Witnesses said that winds had picked up a bit and that many of the balloons were flying low right before the Wings of Wind balloon crashed in Bernalillo, just north of Albuquerque.

Stephen Lachendro of Butler, Pa., was killed and Keith Sproul of North Brunswick, N.J., was critically injured. Kathie Leyendecker, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, said she did not know who was piloting the balloon.

Mr. Lachendro was found dead at the scene on the side of a ditch; Mr. Sproul was unconscious and taken to the hospital, Rio Rancho Fire Battalion Chief Paul Bearce said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Glenn Vonderahe, a witness. “I saw the balloon and the next thing I knew, there was a lot of fire and smoke. There was total fire under the balloon.”

Videotaped murder brings death penalty

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A suburban Kansas City man who videotaped the death of a woman he suffocated during sex has been sentenced to death.

Richard Davis was sentenced Friday for killing 41-year-old Marsha Spicer in May 2006. A jury convicted the 44-year-old Davis of first-degree murder in July.

Davis received sentences of life imprisonment on more than 20 other charges. He was also previously found guilty in the sexual attack of a 36-year-old woman in April 2006 and is charged with capital murder in her death.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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