Sterling banned for life by the NBA, fined $2.5 million

NEW YORK (AP) -- Issuing about the strongest rebuke that he could, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life Tuesday for making racist comments in a recorded conversation, the first step toward forcing a sale of the club and permanently removing Sterling from the league.

Silver also fined Sterling $2.5 million, and again expressed outrage.

"I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him," Silver said.

Several owners immediately chimed in with support of Silver’s decision. Sterling, the league’s longest-tenured owner and someone with an estimated net worth of about $2 billion, did not offer any immediate comment.

The penalties, which were announced only three days after the scandal broke, are the harshest ever issued by the league and among the stiffest punishments ever given to an owner in professional sports. Silver said a league investigation found that Sterling was in fact the person on the audiotapes that were released over the weekend and immediately sent shock waves throughout the game.

Death toll hits 35 as South braces for more twisters; ‘It makes you pay attention to life’

LOUISVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Ruth Bennett died clutching the last child left at her day care center as a tornado wiped the building off its foundation. A firefighter who came upon the body gently pulled the toddler from her arms.

"It makes you just take a breath now," said next-door neighbor Kenneth Billingsley, who witnessed the scene at what was left of Ruth’s Child Care Center in this logging town of 6,600. "It makes you pay attention to life."

Bennett, 53, was among at least 35 people killed in a two-day outbreak of twisters and other violent weather that pulverized homes from the Midwest to the Deep South. The child’s fate was not immediately known.

As crews in Mississippi and Alabama turned from search-and-rescue efforts to cleanup, the South braced for a third round of potentially deadly weather on Tuesday. Tornadoes usually strike in the late afternoon and evening.

One of the hardest-hit areas in Monday evening’s barrage of twisters was Tupelo, Miss., where a gas station looked as if it had been stepped on by a giant.

Insurgent leader emerges, bolstering evidence of Russian hand in turmoil

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) -- When shadowy commander Igor Strelkov appeared before the cameras recently in green combat fatigues and a clipped mustache, he did more than reveal the face of the insurgency rocking eastern Ukraine. He strengthened the case that Russia is behind the turmoil.

The commander did not address Ukraine and European Union assertions that he is a Russian intelligence officer. But he told journalists that he and his men entered Ukraine from Crimea, which Russia annexed in March after an insurgency that Russian President Vladimir Putin now admits involved Russian troops. Strelkov’s assertion that many of the insurgents are not locals undermines rebel claims that the insurgency is a spontaneous uprising, rather than a coordinated operation backed by outside forces.

"The militia is of course strongly sprinkled with volunteers from other regions," Strelkov said in a taped interview with Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda. He estimated that a third of the fighters are not Ukrainian. He backtracked Tuesday in an interview with Russian TV, claiming 90 percent of the militiamen were Ukrainian.

The EU on Tuesday included Strelkov among 15 new people targeted by sanctions. EU documents identify him as a member of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, as do Ukrainian authorities. The commander himself was cryptic about his origins in the weekend interview.

In Moscow, a flurry of drama surrounded Strelkov’s emergence, as camera crews swarmed around an apartment building that Ukrainian TV reported to be home to his mother. Neighbors told The Associated Press that a "fancy black car" had turned up Tuesday morning to whisk the woman away.

FedEx employee opens fire at package-sorting center in Georgia

KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) -- A FedEx employee wearing ammunition draped across his chest "like Rambo" opened fire Tuesday at a package-sorting center outside Atlanta, wounding six people before apparently committing suicide, police and witnesses said.

In addition to a shotgun, the gunman also had an undisclosed number of Molotov cocktails, but he did not use them in the attack, police said.

The shooter, who was not publicly identified, was found dead inside. He worked as a package handler at the sprawling facility, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said.

Investigators have an idea of what his motive may have been, but they were not prepared to disclose it yet, Pierce said.

Three of the wounded were hospitalized in critical condition, including two who were in surgery with life-threatening injuries.

Supreme Court wary of unbridled police checks of arrestees’ phone contents

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court seemed wary Tuesday of allowing police unbridled freedom to search through cellphones of people they arrest, taking on a new issue of privacy in the face of rapidly changing technology.

The justices appeared ready to reject the Obama administration’s argument that police should be able to make such searches without first getting warrants.

A key question in two cases argued Tuesday is whether Americans’ cellphones, with vast quantities of sensitive records, photographs and communications, are a private realm much like their homes.

"People carry their entire lives on their cellphones," Justice Elena Kagan said.

The issue involving devices now carried by almost everyone is the latest in which the court is being asked to adapt old legal rules to 21st-century technological advances. "We are living in a new world," Justice Anthony Kennedy said.

At least 54 killed in Syria as attacks hit pro-government areas in Damascus, Homs

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- A massive double car bombing and a mortar strike targeted pro-government neighborhoods Tuesday in two of Syria’s largest cities, killing at least 54 people a day after President Bashar Assad declared his candidacy for re-election.

The attacks in Damascus and Homs heightened fears of an escalation ahead of the contentious June 3 vote and showed that despite a series of battlefield setbacks, the rebels remain capable of hitting the government and its core of support.

Now in its fourth year, Syria’s conflict has left the country a chaotic tableau of localized battles whose front lines shift back and forth, but have little impact on the wider war. The map of control has remained largely unaltered: Assad holds sway in Damascus and the corridor that runs up to the Mediterranean coast, while the rebels control most of the north along the Turkish border and the Kurdish minority controls a corner in the northeast.

But the rebels are feeling squeezed in the capital, Damascus, and in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and an opposition stronghold since the beginning of the uprising against Assad. The government has taken a two-pronged approach to crushing resistance in both areas: suffocating blockades that eventually force cease-fires and a fierce offensive along the Lebanese frontier that has severely restricted the flow of weapons and fighters along cross-border supply lines.

In Homs, the rebels are growing desperate as government forces ramp up their assault on the last remaining pockets of opposition in the Old City. Among the hundreds of fighters still holding out in besieged districts, some talk of surrender while others have lashed out at the government with suicide car bombings in pro-Assad districts.

Chamber’s ads back GOP establishment in Senate races

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pumping money into ads for establishment Republican favorites in North Carolina, Georgia and Alaska, while pointedly calling them conservatives and highlighting their opposition to Washington bureaucrats.

The commercials, which begin airing on Wednesday, represent the powerful business organization’s determination to tip the balance in crowded, Republican primaries and help the GOP nominate viable general election candidates in Senate races.

The ads’ description of establishment candidates such as Georgia’s Jack Kingston and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis as "consistent conservative" and "bold conservative" is designed to neutralize criticism and attract the support of far-right GOP voters who have a major say in primaries.

The Chamber is also launching ads for Republican Senate candidates in Michigan and Montana, and is looking to lift a House candidate in North Carolina.

The GOP needs to gain six seats to seize the majority in the Senate, and emboldened Republicans, pointing to President Barack Obama’s unpopularity, are bullish about their chances. Establishment Republicans blame some tea party candidates for costing them the majority in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Italian court: Knox struck mortal blow, victim’s wounds indicate multiple aggressors

MILAN (AP) -- The Italian appeals court that reinstated the conviction against Amanda Knox in her British roommate’s 2007 murder said in a lengthy reasoning made public Tuesday that Knox herself delivered the fatal blow out of a desire to ‘’overpower and humiliate" the victim.

Presiding Judge Alessandro Nencini concluded in a 337-page document that the evidence ‘’inevitably leads to the upholding of the criminal responsibility" against Knox and her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of 21-year-old Meredith Kercher in a hillside villa occupied by students in the university town of Perugia.

The judge said the nature of Kercher’s wounds, which he said were inflicted by two knives, and the absence of defensive wounds indicated multiple aggressors were to blame, also including Rudy Hermann Guede, an Ivorian man convicted separately and serving a 16-year sentence.

Nencini presided over the Florence-based panel that reinstated the first trial guilty verdicts against Knox and Sollecito in January, handing Knox a 28 1/2 year sentence including the additional conviction on a slander charge for wrongly accusing a Congolese bar owner. Sollecito faces 25 years.

The release of the court’s reasoning opens the verdict to an appeal back to the supreme Court of Cassation. If it confirms the convictions, a long extradition fight for Knox is expected.

A spike in lime prices is creating a citrus drink conundrum

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Every time a bartender at trendy Los Angeles fusion eatery Luna Park squeezes a shot of lime into a drink these days, owner Peter Kohtz says he winces a little.

Luna Park, known for its large selection of craft cocktails, is one of thousands of restaurants from coast to coast that have fallen victim to the Great Green Citrus Crisis of 2014 -- a severe shortage of limes that has meant that the fruit has skyrocketed in price in recent weeks.

A case of 200 or so fetches between $80 and $130 now, up from about $15 last year -- the result of a perfect storm of circumstances from citrus disease that struck Florida in 2001 and wiped out most lime groves to flooding to the efforts of drug cartels to disrupt supplies in Mexico, the biggest U.S. supplier.

The cost might not seem like that big of a deal until one realizes that it’s lime juice that’s squeezed into every margarita, mojito or mai tai. It’s also lime that’s chopped up and mixed with fresh fish to create ceviche. It’s lime, mixed with avocado, that makes up guacamole -- a mainstay at every Mexican restaurant.

"It’s just one of those things that you take for granted. You never really think about it because it’s always there," said Kohtz, noting his bartenders squeeze an entire lime’s worth of juice into most specialty drinks.