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Nation in brief

Sniper case trial moved to coast

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 17, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A judge moved the murder trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad out of the Washington suburbs Wednesday, sending the case to this coastal city 200 miles down the road.

The decision by Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. means that the murder trials of Muhammad and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo will be held in neighboring towns this fall.

In moving the trial to Virginia Beach, Millette said "good cause has been clearly shown that such change of venue is necessary to ensure a fair and impartial trial."

Millette also noted that prosecutors had withdrawn their objection to the defense request for a change of venue away from the Washington suburbs that were so terrorized by the shootings last year. Millette's one-page ruling was released early Wednesday.

Muhammad and Malvo have been linked to 20 shootings, including 13 killings, in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.

Muhammad, 42, is charged in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers at a gas station. Malvo, 18, is facing trial in the shooting in Fairfax County of Linda Franklin, 47. Both could face the death penalty.

Wildfires close park, keep residents away

WHITERIVER, Ariz. - Firefighters made advances Wednesday on one side of a forest fire that has forced as many as 5,000 people from their homes, but wind and lightning could threaten their progress.

The fire on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation was 10 percent contained after blackening 14,000 to 16,000 acres and leading to several thousand evacuations in Whiteriver and other reservation communities in eastern Arizona.

Crews made were evaluating when residents might be able to return.

Elsewhere in the Southwest, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado was closed after lightning started six blazes Tuesday. Officials initially feared the fires would threaten ruins there, but later said there was no significant danger.

Three of the fires were contained, but two others on the park boundary had merged.

Search for Hoffa's body in back yard finds nothing

HAMPTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Authorities dug under a backyard pool in a residential neighborhood Wednesday in search of clues to the disappearance of ex-Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa but came up empty after an eight-hour search.

Nearly 28 years after Hoffa disappeared from the Detroit area, law enforcement officials combed the site where an informant said a briefcase was buried that contained a syringe and possible evidence that Hoffa had been injected with drugs or poison.

When nothing was found, the search was ended, said Jeffrey Werner, chief of the Bloomfield Township Police, the lead investigative agency in the case.

"We thought this information was pretty good, and that's why we went to all this effort and we're frankly disappointed that we didn't find something," he said.

Hoffa, 62, vanished the afternoon of July 30, 1975, from a parking lot in Oakland County, about 25 miles north of Detroit. Hampton Township is a few miles northeast of Bay City, about 100 miles away.

Authorities said the informant, inmate Richard Powell who is imprisoned for killing his landlady in 1982, led a team to the spot. He lived in the home in the 1970s.

Bay County Undersheriff Joel Luethjohann said Powell told investigators in March that he buried the body of a missing Bay City man in the crawl space beneath the same home.

Acting on that information, state police investigators found the body of Robert A. Woods, who had been missing for nearly 30 years.

Powell had long claimed a role in the Hoffa case, but authorities had not taken him seriously.

Earlier this year, Powell told officers that Hoffa's body was buried at his former home, where the aboveground pool now sits. Authorities decided to pursue the lead in part because Powell's claim about Woods' body was true.

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