Italy appeals court upholds murder conviction against Amanda Knox, sets
28 1/2-year sentence
FLORENCE, Italy (AP) -- An appeals court in Florence on Thursday upheld the guilty verdict against U.S. student Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend for the 2007 murder of her British roommate. Knox was sentenced to 28 1/2 years in prison, raising the specter of a long legal battle over her extradition if the conviction is confirmed.
Lawyers for Knox and her co-defendant, Raphael Sollecito, vowed to appeal to Italy’s highest court, a process that will take at least another year and drag out a legal saga that has divided court watchers in three nations.
In a statement from Seattle, where she had awaited the verdict at her mother’s home, Knox said she was "frightened and saddened" by the decision. She said it was "unjust" and the result of an overzealous prosecution and narrow-minded investigation that worked to "pervert the court of justice."
"This has gotten out of hand," she said. "Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."
After nearly 12 hours of deliberations, the court reinstated the guilty verdicts first handed down against Knox and Sollecito in 2009 for the death of Meredith Kercher. Those verdicts had been overturned in 2011 and the pair freed from prison, but Italy’s supreme court vacated that decision and sent the case back for a third trial in Florence.
U.S. expresses concern over growing delays in mission to rid Syria of chemical weapons
BEIRUT (AP) -- The United States accused the Syrian government Thursday of using stalling tactics to delay efforts to remove and destroy chemical agents, an indication that the international community’s patience is wearing thin over the slow pace of the operation.
The comments, delivered by the U.S. representative to the international chemical weapons watchdog, marked some of the strongest public criticism of Syria’s commitment to relinquish its chemical stockpile.
Syria agreed to surrender its arsenal after a deadly chemical attack in August on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus raised the threat of punitive U.S. missile strikes. President Barack Obama has touted the agreement as a victory and a major policy achievement for his administration on Syria’s intractable civil war.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is leading the mission to eliminate Syria’s 1,300-metric ton stockpile by a June 30 deadline.
Under the OPCW’s tight timeline, the most toxic chemicals in Syria’s arsenal were to have been removed from the country by Dec. 31, but that deadline was missed due to poor security amid Syria’s raging civil war as well as other factors. So far, just two small consignments of chemicals have been shipped out.
will seek death penalty against Boston Marathon bombing suspect
BOSTON (AP) -- Federal prosecutors Thursday announced they will seek the death penalty against 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing, accusing him of betraying his adopted country by ruthlessly carrying out a terrorist attack calculated to cause maximum carnage.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to press for Tsarnaev’s execution was widely expected. The twin blasts last April killed three people and wounded more than 260, and over half the 30 federal charges against Tsarnaev -- including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill -- carry a possible death sentence.
"The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision," Holder said in a statement of just two terse and dispassionate sentences that instantly raised the stakes in one of the most wrenching criminal cases Boston has ever seen.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.
In a notice of intent filed in court, federal prosecutors in Boston listed factors they contend justify a sentence of death against Tsarnaev, who moved to the U.S. from Russia about a decade ago.
Immigration overhaul: Republican lawmakers wrestle with each other over possible changes
CAMBRIDGE, Md. (AP) -- House Republicans wrestled with the outlines of immigration legislation on Thursday, sharply divided over both the contentious issue and the political wisdom of acting on it in an election year.
At a two-day retreat on the frozen banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Speaker John Boehner said he and other House leaders wanted to gather reaction from their rank and file to leadership-drafted principles that already have provoked a backlash from some conservatives.
The most divisive of the points is a proposed pathway to legal status for millions of adults who live in the U.S. unlawfully and would be required to pay back taxes as well as fines to come out of the legal shadows. The principles also include steps to increase security at the nation’s borders and workplaces.
As contentious as it is, the proposal for legal status falls short of full citizenship, which was included in a bipartisan measure that cleared the Senate last year with the support of President Barack Obama.
The entire subject remains intensely controversial, particularly among conservatives in the House and Senate.
After paralyzing snow, Atlanta mayor and Ga.gov play delicate blame game
When the snow started falling Tuesday and cars lined up on the highways, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed were at an awards luncheon, smiling and back-slapping each other as the Republican governor introduced the Democratic mayor, who was named a local magazine’s "Georgian of the Year."
Just 40 minutes earlier, the mayor declared via Twitter: "Atlanta, we are ready for the snow."
Within hours, the metropolitan area was in gridlock with tens of thousands of people, including some children on school buses, stranded on icy, wreck-strewn roads. Two days later, the ice was thawing, the children were home and abandoned vehicles were being reclaimed, yet Deal and Reed have scrambled to explain how it all happened after the National Weather Service -- despite the governor’s claims to the contrary -- clearly warned of a dangerous scenario.
Both men have played the blame game delicately, perhaps knowing political futures are sometimes made or squashed by storm preparations and response, and that the city that has a long and painful past of being ill-prepared for nasty winter weather.
Reed, who recently began his second term, holds ambition for a statewide run, possibly for governor. Deal is running for re-election this year, and Democrats believe he is vulnerable.
Government report shows solid economic growth at end of 2013, brightens outlook for 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Consumers will spend more. Government will cut less. Businesses will invest more. And more companies will hire.
Add it all up, and you can see why expectations are rising that 2014 will be the best year for the U.S. economy since the recession ended 4 1/2 years ago. That’s why the Federal Reserve is pressing ahead with a plan to scale back its economic stimulus.
The optimists got a boost Thursday from a government report that showed consumers fueled solid economic growth in the final quarter of 2013. The report lifted hopes that the economy will be able to withstand turmoil in emerging economies, a pullback in the Fed’s stimulus and mounting risks to the U.S. stock market over the next 12 months.
Americans struggling with long-term unemployment and stagnant pay might not get relief anytime soon. And areas such as manufacturing, construction and home sales remain far from full health. Still, the outlook for the economy as a whole brightened after the government said growth reached a 3.2 percent annual rate last quarter on the strength of the strongest consumer spending in three years.
"The economy showed real signs of momentum at the end of 2013," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "We are better positioned for decent growth for 2014 than we were a year ago." Police: 9 members of family killed in Ky. house fire; only father and 11-year-old girl escaped
GREENVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Eight children and their mother were killed in an early morning house fire in western Kentucky on Thursday, with only the injured father and an 11-year-old girl escaping, Kentucky State Police said.
Trooper Stu Recke said eight of the people were found in a master bedroom while the ninth person was found between 10 and 15 feet away. Recke said the fire started accidentally with combustible material against an electric heater in a bedroom.
Recke identified those killed as 35-year-old LaRae "Nikki" Watson, 15-year-old Madison Watson, 14-year-old Kaitlyn Watson, 13-year-old Morgan Watson, 9-year-old Emily Watson, 8-year-old Samuel Watson, 6-year-old Raegan Watson and 4-year-old twin brothers Mark and Nathaniel Watson.
Recke said the fact that all the victims were near each other could be an indication that they were trying to escape through a window, but investigators aren’t sure.
Autopsies on the remains were started Thursday afternoon.