Supreme Court Weighs Military Funeral Protests: Are They Free Speech?

Photo Courtesy -- Darren McCollester | Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Do members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church have a constitutionally protected right to protest at the funerals of members of the military?

That's the question the Supreme Court took up Monday as it began its term.

In the case, Snyder v. Phelps, the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder sued members of the Westboro Church's Phelps family after they protested at his son's funeral.

As they have at many other military funerals, the church members carried signs near the funeral with messages including "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags." Snyder was not gay. The Topeka, Kan., church members say they are protesting the federal government's tolerance of homosexuality and that soldiers' deaths are a divine message about America's sins.

Albert Snyder sued for emotional distress and an invasion of his family's privacy, winning $5 million before the ruling was overturned by a federal appeals court. The court said that Westboro's protest was "rhetorical hyperbole" protected by the First Amendment.

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Shooting In Florida Leaves 5 Wounded, 2 Dead

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(GAINESVILLE, Fla.) -- A random shooting spree Monday has left 5 wounded and 2 dead, Gainesville, Florida police told ABC News. 

The gunman reportedly drove around the area in his truck shooting individuals. 

Police said that the first 911 call reporting the incident came in at 4:06 p.m. Eastern time. By 4:16 p.m. Eastern time, the last 911 came in from an individual reporting that a person was found deceased in a vehicle.  Police believe the man found deceased in the vehicle appears to be the gunman.  

Lt. Steve Maynard said, "We have not developed a motive, nor have we been able to develop a connection between the shooter or shooters and any of the possible victims in this case."

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Jimmy Carter Back at Work After Hospital Stay

Photo Courtesy - Louise Gubb/The Carter Center(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Jimmy Carter appeared healthy and vibrant as he started construction on a new Habitat for Humanity home in northeast Washington, D.C. on Monday. The former president worked outside for an hour to kick off World Habitat Day and joked about his hospital visit last week.

“I spent two days last week on a vacation in a Cleveland hospital and got well very quickly because I wanted to be ready for the Habitat Project,” Mr. Carter said.

Hammering in nails and setting the frame for a new home, the 86-year-old Carter was accompanied by former first lady Rosalynn Carter, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford and nearly 200 volunteers.

The event was part of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s Work Project.
The former president was hospitalized last week with stomach pains, and released after recovering from a gastric viral infection.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Suspect Dead After Fatal NJ Shooting Spree

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LITTLE EGG, N.J.) -- An individual suspected of fatally shooting two people in New Jersey on Monday was found dead after a spree that left two others injured.

Neighbors described hearing several shots fired in Little Egg Township in Ocean County.

"I thought it was just banging in the dumpsters, but then I hear sirens go off," said Chet Thornberry, a resident of the condominium complex where the shootings took place.

Thornberry said he stepped outside his home and was told by police "to go inside and lock my door."

Area schools were placed on lockdown.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Kagan Takes the Bench as Supreme Court Term Begins

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A new Supreme Court term got underway Monday with Justice Elena Kagan, in her first appearance on the bench, asking several questions about a technical case involving bankruptcy law.

For the first time in history, three women -- Justices Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- sat on the bench, each one participating lively.

Kagan took Sotomayor's old seat on the far right of the bench from a spectator's perspective. The addition of a new justice changes the court's seating arrangement, as justices with the most seniority flank the chief justice, who sits at the center.

When the first case ended, Kagan left the courtroom, as she had recused herself from the second case. Kagan has so far recused herself from about half the cases -- 52 so far -- because she dealt with them in some capacity while serving as solicitor general.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


US Could Save Millions of Barrels of Oil By Cutting Food Waste

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- If Americans cut back on wasting food, the country could save the energy equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil annually.  According to Science Daily, in a study reported in the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology, scientists discovered the amount of oil needed to produce, ready and distribute a year's worth of food in the U.S. is around 1.4 billion barrels.  Of this total energy consumption, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans waste close to 27 percent of their food.

The scientists see this waste as an unrecognized opportunity to save energy and fight against global warming.  Based on their analysis of wasted food and the energy used to prepare the food for consumption, the country wasted about 350 million barrels of oil in 2007.  That amounts to about two percent of the total energy consumed in the U.S. per year.

"Consequently, the energy embedded in wasted food represents a substantial target for decreasing energy consumption in the U.S.," the article notes. "The wasted energy calculated here is a conservative estimate both because the food waste data are incomplete and outdated and the energy consumption data for food service and sales are incomplete."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


JonBenet Ramsey Death Gets Fresh Look, New Round of Interviews

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(BOULDER, Colo.) -- Investigators hoping to solve the 1996 killing of six-year-old pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey have launched a fresh round of interviews with witnesses that could provide the clue they've been missing all these years.

Among the potential witnesses police have contacted is the little girl's brother, Burke Ramsey. Now 23, he was nine when his sister's body was found in the family's Colorado basement, beaten and strangled.

Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood recently told the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper that a police detective "met with Burke and gave him a card and said, 'If you want to talk to us, here's how you would contact me.'"

Larry Schiller, author of a book on the case, Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, said the new investigation comes likely as part of a police mandate to re-open cold cases every few years.

"I think there's always a chance with technology and confession," Schiller said of finding the killer.

Schiller theorized that police are interested in speaking to Burke Ramsey not as a suspect but as someone who may have a childhood memory from that day that could be triggered by a new investigation.

At one point or another, every member of the Ramsey family, including Burke Ramsey and his parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, has lived under a cloud of suspicion. The family was officially cleared as suspects in 2008, two years after Patsy died of ovarian cancer.

JonBenet was reported missing the day after Christmas in 2006. Her mother placed a frantic 911 call to report a kidnapping and a ransom note was found in the house. Her body was found in the basement later that day.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Man Killed by Mexican Pirates on Texas Lake

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(ZAPATA, Texas) -- Search teams are combing a Texas lake for the body of a man who was allegedly shot and killed by Mexican pirates when he and his wife were ambushed after crossing into Mexican waters on their personal watercraft.

David Michael Hartley, 30, and his wife Tiffany Hartley, 29, were attacked on Falcon Lake, near the southern tip of Texas, police said.

Tiffany Hartley told police her husband was shot in the back of the head as the couple fled to U.S. waters. Hartley fell off his watercraft after he was shot, according to his wife, who told rescuers and police she attempted to circle back to save him, but the gunmen were still firing shots so she had to abandon the rescue attempt.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials said Friday they believed that David Hartley was dead, but his body has yet to be found.

Falcon Lake, part of the Rio Grande situated directly on the Texas-Mexico border, has recently become a haven for the pirates, and there have been at least five reported run-ins with pirates on the lake so far this year, though this is the first instance of a death.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the shooting points to the need for further border security.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Ex-Dean Accused of Making Students Do Personal Chores

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- An ex-dean at New York's St. John's University is facing forced labor charges after being accused of exploiting students by having them run errands and do chores at her home.

Cecilia Chang, 57, the recently fired dean of the Institute of Asian Studies and the vice president for international relations at St. John's, allegedly threatened to withdraw scholarships from students if they did not perform the personal tasks.

According to allegations in a federal complaint, students were forced to make meals at Chang's home, answer her personal e-mails and even deliver cash to her at a casino. The complaint also said that students were allegedly made to wash her clothes, shovel snow at her home and drive her son to the airport at 3:00 a.m.

Ron Rubenstein, Chang's attorney, stated that she is "not a slave-driver" and that students prepared Chang's home for school-related dinners that she was hosting and that the work is similar to other college work-study programs.

Officials from the university said that students working under Chang will not lose their scholarships.

This is only the latest in a torrent of accusations against Chang, who was arrested on September 15 on state charges that she embezzled approximately $1 million from the University. The charges, which she has denied, led to her dismissal from St. John's and further investigation into her treatment of students.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


'Taliban' Dropped From 'Medal of Honor' Game

Image Courtesy - Electronic Arts Inc.(REDWOOD CITY, Calif.) -- After a huge outcry, the company Electronic Arts has decided to drop a feature from its new "Medal of Honor" video game that would have allowed players to assume the role of Taliban fighters killing U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Politicians and military officials in the U.S., Britain, Canada and Australia denounced the feature, and the Pentagon banned sales of the game from nearly 300 stores on U.S. military bases around the world because of it.

The critics said allowing gamers to play as Taliban fighters was insensitive to the families of U.S. and allied forces killed in Afghanistan. "At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry," British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said in late August.

In a new posting on the Electronic Arts Web site, "Medal of Honor" Executive Producer Greg Goodrich said the "feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers" who opposed the Taliban-fighter feature was an "important voice" that "has earned the right to be listened to."

Electronic Arts is scheduled to roll out the new "Medal of Honor" game on Oct. 12.

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