- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Not groundhogs, but marmots

JUNEAU | Alaska now has its own version of Groundhog Day.

Then-Gov. Sarah Palin signed a bill last year to make every Feb. 2 Marmot Day in Alaska.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Linda Menard, a Wasilla Republican.

Because groundhogs are not common in Alaska, Miss Menard says it made sense for the marmot to become Alaska’s version of Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog famed for his winter weather forecasts.

Miss Menard’s bill didn’t give marmots any weather forecasting duties, but she hopes the state will create educational activities around the animal.


Court says jail term too lenient

SAN FRANCISCO | A federal appeals court Tuesday quashed a 22-year sentence for an al Qaeda member convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles airport on New Year’s Eve 1999, ruling the jail term was too lenient.

A three-member panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a bid by prosecutors concerning Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested as he entered the United States 10 years ago driving a car packed with explosives.

Prosecutors have sought to increase Ressam’s sentence on appeal, arguing the Algerian national deserved to be jailed for 45 years.

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court said Judge John Coughenour’s original sentence was “both procedurally and substantively unreasonable,” noting it had fallen well below the normal sentencing guidelines, which called for a term of between 65 and 130 years in prison.


Robots, dogs ready for game

MIAMI | Several dozen bomb-sniffing dogs, robots that defuse explosives and police bomb squads are being deployed to protect the Super Bowl.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showed reporters Tuesday how the dogs can detect even minute amounts of bomb compounds. Four dogs easily found a small amount of residue hidden in a closed car trunk.

Miami ATF chief Hugo Barrera said the dogs can smell 19,000 different bomb components. The ATF puts them through a 16-week training course before they are ready for duty.


NFL defers claim to ‘Who Dat’ cheer

NEW ORLEANS | The NFL has backed off its claim that the league owns the rights to “Who Dat” and the fleur-de-lis after T-shirt makers were hit with cease-and-desist letters from the NFL demanding they stop selling shirts with the traditional cheer of New Orleans Saints fans.

The National Football League had said the shirts infringe on a legal trademark it owns. Separately, two brothers and longtime Saints fans claim they own the phrase, which was around before the long-downtrodden team’s inception in 1966.

Shirts bearing the Saints cheer are big business as the team prepares for the big game against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday in Miami.


Derelict house encased in ice

DETROIT | Two artists who have encased one of Detroit’s thousands of abandoned homes in ice are hoping their effort inspires and helps draw attention to the housing crisis that has battered the nation.

Photographer Gregory Holm and architect Matthew Radune have spent weeks spraying water on the home for the Ice House Detroit project. They plan to bring in large lights Friday to illuminate the house.

They haven’t yet made the location public, but passers-by already have gotten a peek.

The project also included helping a Detroit woman get a home by paying back taxes on a foreclosure. This spring, the plan is to take apart the home so building materials can be reused.

The Detroit area’s foreclosure rate is among the country’s highest.


Ex-official involved in theft released

GARDEN CITY | A former New York school superintendent who admitted taking part in the theft of $11.2 million from a Long Island school district has been released from prison.

Frank Tassone received an early release Tuesday from his 4- to 12-year term because of good behavior.

Mr. Tassone and five others pleaded guilty in 2006 for their roles in the theft from the Roslyn school district, 20 miles east of Manhattan.

Prosecutors said the stolen money was used to finance lavish lifestyles that included Concorde flights for British vacations, cruises, mortgages on vacation homes, resort stays, furniture, jewelry and meals.

The suspects were required to pay restitution.


Fugitives’ pleas bring long sentences

DICKINSON | Three people involved in a June standoff in North Dakota that followed an Alabama prison break have been sentenced to at least 10 years in prison.

Judge Zane Anderson on Monday accepted plea agreements from Joshua Southwick, Angela Mink and her brother, Ashton Mink.

Authorities say Angela Mink and her sister-in-law, Jacquelin Mink, helped the men escape from an Alabama prison in May.

The four are believed to have eluded authorities until a June video store robbery in North Dakota. They fled, holed up at a nearby ranch and were arrested after a shootout with police.

Angela Mink was sentenced Monday to serve 10 years in prison, while Southwick and Ashton Mink received 20 years each. Jacquelin Mink was sentenced to serve 7½ years under the terms of her earlier plea deal, which involved testifying against the others.


College head defies threat to blacks

NELSONVILLE | The president of an Ohio technical college is spending a few days living in a dorm where graffiti warned black students would be killed Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Judy Sinnott says Hocking College President Ron Erickson and his wife are staying in Hocking Heights during the scare. They hope their presence reassures students.

The message was found scrawled on a bathroom wall more than a week ago. It is being investigated by campus police and the FBI.

The threat led at least two black students to withdraw from school and others to move out of the dorm. Mr. Erickson pledged better security, police and counselors.


Bomb blows up empty pickup

SPARTANBURG | Authorities say someone planted a bomb that exploded under a pickup truck in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Spartanburg County deputies say the explosive device destroyed the unoccupied truck Tuesday morning, damaging a second truck nearby and blowing out the windows of a mobile home.

Deputies say firefighters discovered the bomb remnants after extinguishing the fire ignited by the blast.

Authorities say no one was injured, and investigators didn’t find any other explosive devices in the area. Deputies don’t have a motive for the blast or any suspects.


Bakery thieves leave tracks

KINGSPORT | It was a Zinger of a theft in Tennessee.

It also included cupcakes, Twinkies and other snack cakes from the Merita Bread Co.

The Kingsport Times-News cites a report from the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office in reporting 34-year-old James M. Denoon and 18-year-old Anthony Stout were found hiding under a truck at the bakery late Friday night.

The deputies found about $300 worth of stolen snack cakes stacked on the ground nearby.

Finding the accused thieves was easy: The deputies only had to follow their footprints. There was more than an inch of snow on the ground by Friday night.

Mr. Denoon and Mr. Stout were charged with theft under $500 and two counts of auto burglary. It was not immediately clear whether they had attorneys.


Couple accused of abusing child

BROWNSVILLE | A southern Texas couple accused of locking the woman’s 12-year-old daughter in a closet for about a year except to attend school have been arrested.

Jail records show that 43-year-old Alfredo Ines and 40-year-old Leticia Ines are being held on charges of unlawful restraint and injury to a child. Neither has an attorney.

Police say the girl was released to attend school, eat or use the bathroom in the family’s tiny Brownsville home. Investigators say she appeared malnourished, and would do her homework by light coming from beneath the closet door.

Child Protective Services investigated after one of her three brothers alerted school officials. Police say the girl’s mother claimed they were trying to keep her from stealing food from the refrigerator.


Man sues ICE for detainment

SEATTLE | A naturalized American citizen and Army veteran who was detained for more than seven months by immigration authorities is suing the federal agency and the officers who handled his case.

Rennison Castillo’s federal lawsuit is moving forward after a federal district court in Tacoma rejected an attempt by government lawyers to have the suit dismissed. The government appealed that ruling last month.

Mr. Castillo, who was born in Belize and became a U.S. citizen after serving in the Army, alleges that ICE officials violated his constitutional rights in 2005 by failing to properly check their databases, which held the evidence they needed to know he was an American citizen.

The government contends the ICE officials did not act willfully and did not intentionally violate Mr. Castillo’s constitutional rights.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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