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Associated Press
A bulldozer clears a firebreak near a wildfire Thursday in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Briefs

Maryland abolishes death penalty

– Opponents of capital punishment marked a milestone Thursday as Maryland became the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line in nearly 50 years to abolish the death penalty, joining only West Virginia.

The passage was a significant victory for Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Roman Catholic who opposes capital punishment and is considering seeking the 2016 presidential nomination. Death penalty opponents said the governor helped maintain the national momentum of repeal efforts by making Maryland the sixth state in as many years to abolish capital punishment.

“I think you’ll see more and more states repeal the death penalty,” O’Malley said in a brief interview after the bill signing. “It’s wasteful. It’s ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime.”

Man dies in Houston airport shooting

A man who had fired a gun inside a ticketing area at Houston’s largest airport was killed after being confronted by a law enforcement official during an incident that sent people in the terminal scrambling and screaming, police said Thursday.

It’s unclear whether the man fatally shot himself or was killed by a Homeland Security agent who had confronted him, Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said. The man’s name was not released, but police said he was about 30 years old.

Police say the man walked into the ticketing area in Terminal B at Bush Intercontinental Airport at 1:35 p.m. and fired at least one shot into the air. The agent, who was in his office, came out and confronted the man, telling him to drop his weapon, but the man refused, police said.

Obama names picks for commerce, trade

President Obama on Thursday chose two old friends with corporate executive experience for top posts on his economic team, naming longtime fundraiser Penny Pritzker as Commerce secretary and adviser Michael Froman as U.S. Trade Representative.

Pritzker, a Hyatt hotel heiress, businesswoman and philanthropist, is Obama’s pick to fill a Cabinet post that has been vacant since former Secretary John Bryson resigned last summer, after he said he suffered a seizure that led to a series of traffic collisions.

Froman is one of Obama’s law school classmates and senior economic advisers who previously was an executive at Citigroup. The Cabinet-level trade representative performs as the administration’s top adviser and negotiator on international trade.

Agent: Ricin, DNA of suspect on mask

A dust mask that tested positive for ricin also contained DNA from a Mississippi man suspected of sending poison-laced letters to President Obama and others, an FBI agent testified Thursday.

The testimony came during a preliminary hearing for James Everett Dutshcke, 41, who was arrested Saturday at his home in Tupelo and charged with making ricin, the same substance mailed April 8 to Obama, a U.S. senator and a county judge.

US asks North Korea to release prisoner

The U.S. called for North Korea to grant amnesty and immediately release a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for “hostile acts” against the state.

Kenneth Bae, 44, a Washington state man described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms.

But there was no immediate sign that a high-profile envoy was about to make a clemency mission to the isolated nation, which has taken an increasingly confrontational stance under its young leader Kim Jong Un.

Rhode Island makes gay marriage legal

Rhode Island on Thursday became the nation’s 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, as a 16-year effort to extend marriage rights in this heavily Roman Catholic state ended with the triumphant cheers of hundreds of gays, lesbians, their families and friends.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law on the Statehouse steps Thursday night after a final 56-15 vote in the House. The first weddings will take place Aug. 1, when the law takes effect.

Wind-whipped fire forces evacuations

A wildfire fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds raged along the fringes of Southern California communities on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of homes and a university.

The blaze erupted during morning rush hour along U.S. 101 in the Camarillo area about 50 miles west of Los Angeles. It was quickly spread by the winds, which also pushed other damaging blazes across the region.

The evacuation orders included the smoke-choked campus of California State University, Channel Islands, which has about 5,000 students.

Poll gives Clinton 16 Democratic nod

The 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is Hillary Clinton’s if she wants it, according to a poll released Thursday in which Vice President Biden is the party’s frontrunner if she doesn’t.

The Quinnipiac University survey showed 65 percent of Democratic voters backing Clinton as their party’s nominee, with Biden second at 13 percent.

Clinton, 65, “has a rock-solid hold on the hearts of Democratic voters at this point,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute in Hamden, Conn.

Honeybee collapse complex, report says

A new federal report blames a combination of problems for a mysterious and dramatic disappearance of U.S. honeybees since 2006.

The intertwined factors cited include a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides.

The multiple causes make it harder to do something about what’s called colony collapse disorder, experts say. The disorder has caused as much as one-third of the nation’s bees to just disappear each winter since 2006.

The federal report, issued Thursday by the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, said the biggest culprit is the parasitic mite varroa destructor, calling it “the single most detrimental pest of honeybees.”

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