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Nation in brief

Federal jury rejects death for spy

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 25, 2003

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The government's attempt to impose the death penalty on spy Brian Patrick Regan was rejected Monday by the federal jury that convicted him of offering to sell U.S. intelligence to Iraq and China.

Regan, a former Air Force master sergeant, was found guilty last week on two attempted espionage counts and one charge of gathering national defense information. He was acquitted of attempting to spy for Libya.

The Iraq conviction required the jury to consider a second question: Did Regan offer documents concerning nuclear weaponry, military satellites, war plans or other major U.S. weapons systems?

Jurors deliberated nearly seven hours over two days before deciding he did not, a decision that spared him the possibility of the death penalty.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were the last Americans put to death for spying. They were executed in 1953 for conspiring to steal U.S. atomic secrets for the Soviet Union.

Regan could receive life imprisonment when he's sentenced May 9, but his lawyers claimed victory with Monday's decision.

Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro said with a possible war with Iraq looming, "it took a lot of guts" for jurors to forgo the death penalty.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said he was satisfied. Justice has been served in this case," he said. "Mr. Regan is now a convicted spy. For this betrayal of country, he will pay a heavy price."

Senate passes pornography bill

WASHINGTON -- The Senate moved Monday to crack down on child pornography with a bill drawn to strengthen bans on using minors in obscene material while dealing with the Supreme Court's constitutional problems with an earlier version.

The bill, passed 84-0, was in response to a court ruling last April that struck down a 1996 law that banned virtual child pornography. The court said banning images that only appear to depict real children engaged in sex was unconstitutionally vague and far-reaching.

The bill, which requires House action, bans the pandering or solicitation of anything represented to be obscene child pornography. Responding to the court ruling, it requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person intended others to believe the material was obscene child pornography.

55 charged in drug paraphernalia case

WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities charged 55 people with trafficking in illegal drug paraphernalia in an investigation they said targeted the nation's biggest Internet distributors of marijuana bongs, crack pipes and other drug abuse gear.

In coordinated raids on Monday, officials confiscated "thousands and thousands of tons" of paraphernalia from companies boasting up to $50-million in annual sales, said Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh whose office is leading the "Operation Pipe Dreams" investigation with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The government was getting court orders to shut down 11 Internet sites that peddle the paraphernalia, with visitors to those web sites redirected to a DEA site that cites the law against sale of such items.

NASA to study in-flight shuttle repair

HOUSTON -- NASA will study whether it can give astronauts the ability to inspect and repair heat-resistant tiles on the space shuttle while in orbit, officials said Monday.

NASA was unable to inspect Columbia for damage while it was in orbit, and the astronauts could not have repaired the craft anyway. With current technology, the crew and mission control officials in Houston merely accept damage to protective tiles as a routine risk of space travel.

The study will investigate whether astronauts who dock with the international space stations can use the station's robotic arm to assess the integrity of the shuttle's shell. The 58-foot-long, 3,000-pound arm could allow astronauts to inspect the shuttle's underbelly, then use it as a giant platform to perform repairs while spacewalking, NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said.

'Sammy the Bull' charged with murder

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Former hit man Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, who helped bring down mobster John Gotti, has been charged with murder for allegedly arranging the 1980 killing of a New York City police officer, a prosecutor said Monday.

Gravano was charged on Wednesday in the death of Peter Calabro, a day before another admitted hit man, Richard Kuklinski, pleaded guilty to pulling the trigger, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said.

Kuklinski was charged after he confessed to the slaying in an interview broadcast May 20, 2001, on the HBO series America Undercover.

Gravano, who is imprisoned on drug charges, could be brought to New Jersey within several weeks to face the single murder count, unless he opposes extradition, Molinelli said.

Elsewhere . . .

LAW TO TESTIFY: Cardinal Bernard Law has been called to testify today before a grand jury examining how the church dealt with sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, though attorneys say it's unlikely Law will face criminal charges.

The cardinal has been deposed for several civil lawsuits filed by alleged abuse victims, but this is the first time he is to testify before a criminal grand jury about the scandal.

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