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Nation in brief

Focus turns to small shuttle piece

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2003


A small but key piece of wreckage from the space shuttle Columbia's left landing-gear door, shown in photos released over the weekend, may help investigators zero in on the spot where superheated air first breached the vehicle's skin, according to the Washington Post.

The piece -- a pin with a u-shape at one end, which is part of the gear door latch -- will likely provide a clue to what was happening to the doomed vehicle and the direction of the lethal flow of hot gases, an official told the Post.

This and other evidence lend growing credence to the theory that an initial breach in Columbia's protective heat shield occurred on or near the leading edge of the left wing, flowed into the wing with the effect of a blowtorch and into the wheel well, where it built up heat and pressure until it blew open the door.

The investigation, while considering other possibilities, has focused heavily on a scenario in which the damage that triggered the accident resulted from the impact of foam or other debris that appeared to break free of the shuttle's external fuel tank 82 seconds after the Jan. 16 liftoff.

Writings taken from sniper suspect's cell block

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Writings and drawings were taken secretly by officials from a cell block where sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo was held and incorrectly made public, said attorneys for Malvo and his co-defendant.

The two pages of notes and pictures scribbled on the back of Fairfax County jail forms were photocopied and provided to investigators on the task force preparing for the trials of Malvo, 18, and John Allen Muhammad, 42. They were published Sunday by the Washington Post.

Michael Arif, one of Malvo's lawyers, declined to discuss the documents.

Muhammad's lawyer, Peter Greenspun, also questioned the validity of the writings and said they should not have been published.

"It shows the media is looking for any reason to print anything in this case, whether it has merit or not," Greenspun said. "This type of reporting makes it more difficult to get a fair and neutral jury."

Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Horan Jr. declined to comment on the writings, other than to say, "They are interesting, to say the least." He would not say whether they would be used as evidence at Malvo's trial.

However, the Post, citing unnamed officials, said Horan might use them during a penalty phase to convince jurors that Malvo would endanger others if allowed to live.

The documents feature scattered writings, including lyrics from reggae songs, references to the movie The Matrix, quotes from various philosophers and references to Islam. There are also drawings that resemble newspaper photographs of Malvo, with the addition of crosshairs of a sniper scope centered on Malvo's head.

Lawyer: Mitchell calls Elizabeth Smart his wife

SALT LAKE CITY -- An attorney for the man suspected of abducting Elizabeth Smart told a television station Sunday that his client considers the 15-year-old his wife and "still loves her."

"He wanted me to tell the world that she is his wife, and he still loves her and knows that she still loves him, that no harm came to her during their relationship and the adventure that went on," said Larry Long, an attorney for Brian David Mitchell, in an interview with KUTV.

Long told the station that Mitchell asked him Sunday to be his lawyer. He was speaking for his client for the first time.

Calls to Long's office from The Associated Press were not returned Sunday, and calls to his home went unanswered.

Long said Mitchell did not consider Elizabeth's disappearance a kidnapping, but a "call from God."

Long also suggested that giving a light sentence to his client -- whom he referred to as "the perpetrator" -- could send a signal to kidnappers that they should keep their captives alive.

Donor group didn't check blood type in transplant

NEW YORK -- The head of a group that helped locate organs for the Mexican teenager who died after a bungled transplant says his organization didn't know her blood type before it released the heart and lungs.

Jesica Santillan, 17, died Feb. 22, more than two weeks after her first heart-lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center.

A second set of organs was required because Jesica had type O blood and the organs used in the first operation were type A. Correctly matched organs were implanted Feb. 20, but she died two days later.

"We could have requested her blood type, and I wish we had," Lloyd Jordan, president of Carolina Donor Services, said in a 60 Minutes interview broadcast Sunday. "We did not do that."

The policy of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the distribution of organs nationwide, requires that blood types of donors and recipients be matched before releasing any organs.

Duke already admitted its own errors.

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