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Nation in brief

Skinny teen's Fla. death may lead to murder trial

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- Prosecutors plan to file homicide charges against a couple accused of starving an 18-year-old boy, then putting the dying teen on a bus and sending him to find his estranged father in Florida, a defense attorney said.

Paul Hoffman and Lyda Miller of Hazleton, Penn., have been jailed on assault charges since September, when Miller's emaciated son, Chester, knocked on a stranger's door in Milton after a two-day bus trip and begged for help.

The teen was delirious and weighed less than 65 pounds when he was admitted to a Florida hospital. He died four days later.

A medical examiner in Florida this past week declared the death a homicide, clearing the way for the criminal charge.

Scientists find mystery illness virus, verify test

LONDON -- Scientists believe they have found the virus responsible for the mystery illness that has sickened hundreds of people worldwide and are perfecting a test to diagnose it, the World Health Organization announced Saturday.

The advances, by the University of Hong Kong, are considered an important step in slowing the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and bring scientists closer to determining how best to treat it.

The development of the diagnostic test was announced Friday, but experts were cautious because the results had not been confirmed by further experiments. By Saturday its accuracy had been verified in eight more patients and more details were released.

SARS has made 386 people around the world ill and killed 11 people in the past three weeks, according to WHO figures. Experts suspect it is linked to an earlier outbreak of an unidentified disease in China, where officials say 305 people have fallen ill and five have died.

VIETNAM TRAVEL ADVISORY:The State Department on Saturday advised Americans to reschedule nonessential travel to Vietnam to limit exposure to SARS.

Civilian prosecutors look into alleged academy rape

DENVER -- For the first time since a sexual assault scandal broke within the Air Force Academy, civilian authorities are investigating an allegation, a prosecutor said Saturday.

The district attorney has concurrent jurisdiction at the academy, and the sheriff's department also has an agreement allowing it to investigate cases there, May said.

The Defense Department's inspector general plans to start an investigation next week.

Police find knives at Smart kidnapping campsites

SALT LAKE CITY -- Investigators found knives at campsites where Elizabeth Smart said she was held captive, as well as a hole in the ground where she and her abductors hid from authorities, the Associated Press reported, quoting a source close to the investigation Friday.

Police are trying to determine which of the knives self-styled prophet Brian Mitchell used to abduct the girl last June, said the source, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The source said Mitchell kept a knife at each of several hidden camps, moving among them to avoid thousands of volunteers who searched the Wasatch foothills for Elizabeth, now 15. The knives were recovered after the girl pointed out the makeshift camps -- some recognizable only by a fire ring -- from a helicopter last weekend.

Elsewhere . . .

US AIRWAYS REACHES PENSION AGREEMENT: US Airways and its pilots union reached agreement early Saturday on a replacement for the pilots' pension plan, ending a dispute that threatened to block the airline's emergence from bankruptcy at the end of the month.

ENRON WORKERS MUST PAY: A bankruptcy judge has decided that current Enron Corp. employees, and not the company, must pay for the management of workers' retirement plans. Employees, who are locked into the plans, will pay an average of $320 per year, according to the company.

CONN. GOVERNOR SCRUTINIZED: -- Connecticut Gov. John Rowland's administration is under intense scrutiny from federal investigators since a former aide pleaded guilty this month to accepting bribes. Rowland denies any knowledge of a scheme that steered state business to certain contractors.

GET OUT YOUR ALIEN MASKS: New Mexicans can now celebrate every second Tuesday in February as "Extraterrestrial Culture Day" after a lawmaker's proposal won approval in the state House.

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