Obama's High-Speed Rail Plan Derailed in Florida

Thinkstock Images(TAMPA, Fla.) -- President Obama's vision for a national high-speed rail network was dealt a significant blow Friday when the Florida Supreme Court upheld Gov. Rick Scott's authority to unilaterally kill a cornerstone of the plan.

Scott last month rejected $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money to fund new express train service between Orlando and Tampa that had been under consideration for decades.

The move was hailed by Scott's Tea Party supporters, but it was challenged by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers who said the governor had exceeded his constitutional authority.

The court ruled that Scott acted legitimately, effectively ending prospects for completion of the rail project.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had set a deadline of Friday for Florida to accept the cash, which would have covered nearly all the costs, before offering it to one of 13 similar projects in 31 states.

Obama, who was to appear in Florida on Friday with former Gov. Jeb Bush to talk about education reform, had touted the Florida high-speed rail line as a positive example of how to improve the country's infrastructure.

But Scott repeatedly voiced concerns about the potential of cost-overruns and long-term operating costs that could hit Florida taxpayers.

The state of Florida faces a $3.6 billion budget deficit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NASA's Glory Mission Fails to Reach Orbit

NASA(VANDERBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.) -- NASA's launch of the multi-million dollar Glory mission was a washout Friday when the Taurus XL Rocket -- headed to space on a science mission -- failed to separate and the satellite didn't make orbit.

"We did not have a successful fairing separation from the Taurus," said NASA launch commentator George Diller. "There was insufficient velocity with the fairing still on for the vehicle to be able to achieve orbit."

At a news conference at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, NASA launch director Omar Baez said officials have tentatively located the rocket.

"All indications are, the satellite and rocket are in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere," Baez said.

NASA says it is "devastated" by the launch failure.

"We will recover and the team will bounce back because we're all professionals," said Ron Grabe, general manager of Orbital's Launch Systems Group. "Orbital will bounce back with the Taurus vehicle."

The mission was intended to improve understanding of how the sun and some atmospheric particles affect Earth's climate.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Former BYU Player Booted For Premarital Sex Speaks Out

BYU's Brandon Davies. BYU/ABC News(REXBURG, Idaho) -- In the wake of Brigham Young University's star basketball player, Brandon Davies' suspension from the team for having premarital sex, a former athlete at the school who faced the same fate is speaking out.

Reno Mahe, a star football player at BYU 13 years ago, said he didn't take the Mormon school's strict honor code seriously.

"A girl I was dating at the time, my girlfriend at the time, was pregnant," Mahe said.

He was kicked off the football team for having pre-marital sex.

The BYU honor code stipulates that students must "be honest, live a chaste and virtuous life…use clean language" and abstain from alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee and drugs. It also bars gambling, use of pornography and homosexual behavior, though "feelings or attraction" are allowed.

Years later, Mahe is now married and says that getting suspended was the best thing that could have happened to him. Mahe went on to play five seasons in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles. He said the suspension at BYU taught him humility.

Similar to Mahe, basketball player Davies has apologized to his teammates for his transgressions. The university and his teammates are rallying around the sophomore despite his suspension from the red-hot Cougars.

In the team's first game since his departure, the third-ranked Cougars lost to unranked New Mexico, a crushing blow for a team many thought was headed for a national title.

The team hopes that Davies returns next season.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Military Panel Wants Women Allowed in Close-Combat Units

Jupiter Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While thousands of women face the dangers of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan every day, serving as aviators, military police, intelligence, and civil affairs officers, they remain technically barred from infantry units that specialize in close combat with the enemy on the ground.

Critics say the policy creates an unlevel playing field that makes it difficult for women to pursue careers in front-line tactical operations and acquire experience essential for assuming some of the military's top jobs.

However, that policy could soon come to an end.

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission, a nonpartisan advisory panel created in 2009 to study advancement of women and minorities in the military, is expected to formally recommend as early as Monday that President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates end the restrictions.

"The Commission recommends that DoD and the Services take steps to open all career fields and units to all women who are qualified," commission members wrote in their draft report, due in final form before March 15.

The commission's report will go to Congress and the White House upon its release.  But, ultimately, it's up to Gates to decide on a change of policy, because no law exists to exclude women from joining infantry units.

The panel found that allowing women to serve formally in close-combat units would have minimal impact on unit readiness and mission capability, morale, or cohesion, and restore a more equitable environment for all service members based on their qualifications.

Advocates for women in the military have hailed the report as a step toward recognition of the contributions women have already made on the front lines.

There are more than 213,000 women on active duty in the U.S. military, comprising 14 percent of the overall force and serving in each of the service branches, according to Women in Military Service for America.  But disproportionately small numbers are flag officers or generals.

Women are least represented in the Marine Corps, which is 93 percent male.  Only 3 percent of the Marines' flag officers and generals are women.

Opponents of change say close-combat conditions are no place for women, who don't have the physical strength to match their male counterparts and whose presence would bring sexual tension to the ranks and provide tempting targets to enemies intent on capturing them.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


High School Basketball Player Dies After Making Game Winning Shot

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(FENNVILLE, Mich.) -- A star basketball player from Michigan's Fennville High School died Thursday after leading his team to victory.

According to a hospital spokeswoman, 16-year-old Wes Leonard collapsed Thursday night after hitting a game-winning shot in overtime.  Leonard fell to the floor as people began rushing the court.

He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was later pronounced dead.  The cause behind his collapse is still unknown.

Leonard was not only a star basketball player, but also the quarterback for the school's football team.  His winning basket Thursday night brought the Fennville Blackhawks to a 20-0 season.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


American Held in Cuba for a Year Goes to Trial

ABC News(HAVANA) -- After being held in Cuba without charges for over a year, 61-year-old American Alan Gross will appear in a Cuban court Friday, facing a possible 20-year sentence for allegedly bringing communications equipment into the country illegally.

On Thursday, the State Department called on Cuban authorities to clear Gross of all charges.

"We hope it will be resolved so that Mr. Gross can return home to the United States.  He's been in prison for too long," spokesman P.J. Crowley said. Cuban officials have told the Americans they will allow U.S. officials to witness the trial.

Gross, a Maryland native, was detained in December 2009 as he tried to depart Havana's airport.  He had been working as a U.S. government subcontractor distributing communications devices to Jewish communities in Havana, according to U.S. officials. He's now accused of "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state."

Gross was working for the Bethesda-based Development Associates International on a USAID program that promotes democracy.  He has been held in Havana's maximum-security Villa Marista prison, most of that time without charge.

A U.S. State Department official, asking not to be named, told ABC News, "We deplore the Cuban government's announcement that Cuban prosecutors intend to seek a 20 year sentence against Mr. Gross.  As we have said many times before, Mr. Gross is a dedicated international development worker who was in Cuba providing support to members of the Cuban Jewish community.

"He has been held without charges for more than a year, contrary to all international human rights obligations and commitments regarding justice and due process," said the official.  "He should be home with his family now.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Immigration Wars: More States Looking at Arizona-Style Laws

John Moore/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Undocumented nannies, housekeepers, or lawn caretakers in the state of Texas can perhaps breathe easier about deportation, as new legislation in the Texas House of Representatives would make it a state crime to hire undocumented workers, except those employed in single-family households.

The bill, introduced by state GOP Rep. Debbie Riddle, is the first of its kind in the country.  It's unique in that while it appeases those who want more stringent immigration laws, it doesn't subject Texas households to the rule that would mainly apply to businesses and large employers.

Critics of the bill say it's hypocritical. Supporters charge the measure is needed in a state where the Hispanic population continues to climb swiftly.

Though it remains stuck in political limbo, the bill reflects a wider push toward implementing tougher anti-immigration laws at the state level.  More than 100 immigration-related bills are pending in the Texas legislature alone, including those that would give state and local police officers the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, make English the official language, and prevent undocumented students from getting in-state tuition and scholarships.

States across the country, including Georgia and Oklahoma, where the legislatures debated immigration bills this week, have been mulling controversial Arizona-style immigration laws. Thirty-seven states are considering tougher immigration bills, with multiple bills pending in some states.

"The mere fact that Arizona law has sprung up in over 24 other states within a few months of passage, I believe, is historic," said William Gheen, president and spokesman of Americans for Legal Immigration, a group that supports stricter immigration laws.

"We are going to pass more immigration enforcement legislation in the states in 2011 than any year prior. And what we don't get done in 2011 we will get done in 2012," he vowed.

States enacted a record number of bills and resolutions on immigration issues during the 2010 sessions, and every state that met in regular session in 2010 considered laws related to immigrants, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures report. Forty-six state legislatures and the District of Columbia passed 208 laws and adopted 138 resolutions for a total of 346.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Harvard University Welcomes Back Naval ROTC After Nearly 40 Years

(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) -- Harvard University will welcome back the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program after a near 40-year absence from the campus.

The university made the announcement Thursday and will make the deal official Friday when Harvard President Drew Faust and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus sign an agreement to formally recognize the Naval ROTC on campus.

"Our renewed relationship affirms the vital role that the members of our Armed Forces play in serving the nation and securing our freedoms, while also affirming inclusion and opportunity as powerful American ideals," Faust said in a statement. "It broadens the pathways for students to participate in an honorable and admirable calling and in so doing advances our commitment to both learning and service."

Under the agreement, a director of Naval ROTC will be appointed on campus and the university will resume funding as well as provide office space for the program.  Students who enroll will not train at Harvard but rather at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consistent with a consortium that has been in place for decades.

Harvard expelled the ROTC program in 1969 in response to anger over the Vietnam War.  The university continued to uphold its expulsion over the years because of the "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" military policy, which banned homosexuals from serving openly in the military.  The policy was repealed in December of last year, paving the way for Harvard to welcome back the Naval ROTC and begin talks to bring back other ROTC programs.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Man Who Claimed He Assisted a Suicide Convicted of Murder

Photo Coutesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- An unemployed drug addict who claimed he was paid to assist a motivational speaker commit suicide was convicted Thursday of murder.

A New York City jury found Kenneth Minor guilty of first degree murder in the death of Jeffrey Locker, a Long Island self-help guru whose business was floundering.

The prosecution conceded that Locker was suicidal and sought out Minor on a Harlem street corner in July 2009.

Minor and the prosecution agreed that Locker asked Minor to make his death look like a robbery so Locker's family would be able to claim a multi-million dollar insurance settlement.

Minor's lawyer told the jury his client simply held a knife against the steering wheel of Locker's station wagon as Locker thrust his chest against the blade to kill himself.

"He was taken advantage of... He's no contract killer," said Minor's lawyer, Daniel Gotlin, in closing arguments. Gotlin said Minor should be acquitted under a state statue that allows an assisted suicide defense in some murder charges.

But the prosecution said Minor killed Locker for money, binding his hands and stabbing the man repeatedly in the chest.

"This was murder for money, not a mercy killing, which is why we prosecuted the case as an intentional murder," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement. "We believe the jurors got it right with their verdict."

Gotlin said he would appeal the jury's verdict.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Boy, 12, to Face Charges in Parents' Killing

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(DENVER) -- A Denver prosecutor says that he plans to file charges against a 12-year-old boy suspected of killing his parents and wounding his two siblings in an attack at their Burlington, Colo. home.

The boy's uncle said the horrific event has left family and friends struggling to understand what went wrong.

"It's a mystery to me," said Wally Long. "I'm sure it's a mystery to everyone. I don't know if anyone can explain it at this point and maybe never will be able to explain it."

Wally Long is the older brother of Charles Long, who was found dead along with his wife, Marilyn Long, Tuesday night. The police who found them were responding to a 911 call in which the caller said three people in the house had been shot.

Two other siblings, a 9-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl, were wounded in the attack and are recovering in a Denver hospital.

The couple's 12-year old son, who police said made the 911 call, was taken into custody.

A prosecutor plans on filing first-degree murder and other charges by the end of Friday. District Attorney Robert Watson said he has not decided whether he will charge the boy as an adult.

Wally Long has spoken with friends and family close to the murdered couple, and even with the benefit of hindsight, he insisted nobody recalled any red flags that might have foreshadowed the alleged crimes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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