Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Published:

Nursing director believes she was likely target of shooter who killed 7 at California college

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- An administrator at a small Christian university where seven people were killed this week said Wednesday she was the alleged gunman's primary intended target after she rejected his repeated requests for a refund of his tuition.

Ellen Cervellon, director of the nursing program at Oikos University, said she wasn't on campus Monday when her former student, One Goh, came looking for her then went on his rampage.

Two days later, in an interview with The Associated Press, a shaken Cervellon said the slayings are haunting her.

"I have that weight on my shoulders and I don't know what to do with it," she said, her voice quavering. "Every single one of those students were going to be an excellent, excellent nurse. They're in my heart, and they always will be."

Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan confirmed Cervellon was the apparent target. Officer Johnna Watson, a police spokeswoman, said later that police are looking into the possibility that other administrators had been targeted.

___

Romney questions Obama's candor, says president hopes to hide second-term plans from voters

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney unleashed a strong attack on President Barack Obama's truthfulness Wednesday, accusing him of running a "hide-and-seek" re-election campaign designed to distract voters from his first-term record while denying them information about his plans for a second.

Addressing an audience of newspaper editors and publishers, Romney said Obama's recent remarks to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on a second-term arms reduction treaty had called "his candor into question." Romney, the likely GOP opponent for Obama in November, also accused the president of undergoing "a series of election-year conversions" on taxes, government regulation and energy production.

"He does not want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press," Romney said. "By flexibility, he means that what the American public doesn't know won't hurt him. He is intent on hiding. You and I will have to do the seeking."

Romney himself has been sharply criticized by Rick Santorum and other Republican rivals for changing his own positions on issues ranging from abortion to climate control as part of an attempt to win the backing of conservative primary voters. Earlier this year, he reversed course on the minimum wage to bring his stance in line with party orthodoxy, saying he no longer believes it should rise along with inflation.

Romney spoke to the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors as the Republican nominee-in-waiting, his standing confirmed by three primary victories Tuesday night in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

___

Democratic Party leader rejects senator's claim that Obama might attack Romney's Mormon faith

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Democratic leaders on Wednesday dismissed Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch's warning to supporters that Democrats might attack the Mormon faith of Mitt Romney during the presidential campaign.

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, described that suggestion as "preposterous" and "utter nonsense." During an interview with MSNBC, she said the party wouldn't stoop to the same levels as Republicans.

"Let's remember that President Obama has had so many things hurled at him -- birth certificate questions, whether he is or is not a Christian," Wasserman Schultz said. "For them to suggest that religion will be injected by President Obama and the Democratic Party, I mean, I think they need to take a look inward at the accusations that their party and their supporters have hurled before they take that step."

Hatch made the remark in response to a question at a political event Tuesday night in northern Utah, and repeated the point Wednesday night after a debate in Draper, Utah. Hatch, also a Mormon, is seeking a seventh term in the Senate.

"For them to say they aren't going to smear Mitt Romney is bologna," Hatch said. "It's way out of bounds, but that's what is going to happen."

___

Holder: Justice Department will respond 'appropriately' to Texas judge upset by Obama comments

CHICAGO (AP) -- U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Justice Department will respond "appropriately" to a federal appellate judge in Texas who demanded a letter recognizing federal courts' authority to strike down laws passed by Congress.

Holder spoke a day after 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith questioned President Barack Obama's remarks this week about an "unelected" court possibly striking down the president's health care overhaul. Smith, during oral arguments in a separate challenge to the health law, asked the Justice Department for a three-page, single-spaced letter affirming the federal court's authority.

When asked during a Wednesday news conference in Chicago what an appropriate response to Smith would be, Holder said, "I think what the president said a couple of days ago was appropriate. He indicated that we obviously respect the decisions that courts make."

"Under our system of government ... courts have the final say on the constitutionality of statutes," Holder said. "The courts are also fairly deferential when it comes to overturning statutes that the duly elected representatives of the people, Congress, pass."

The White House, meanwhile, struggled for a third day to explain Obama's original remark that a Supreme Court reversal of the case would be "unprecedented."

___

Ex-New Orleans officers sentenced to decades in prison for Katrina bridge killings, cover-up

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A federal judge sentenced five former police officers to years in prison for the deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina but not before lashing out at prosecutors for allowing others involved to serve lighter penalties for their crimes. The case that wrapped up Wednesday was the centerpiece of a Justice Department push to clean up New Orleans' police department that has long been tainted with corruption.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt expressed frustration that he was bound by mandatory minimum sentencing laws to imprison former Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius and former officers Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon for decades when other officers who engaged in similar conduct on the Danziger Bridge -- but cut deals with prosecutors -- are serving no more than eight years behind bars.

"These through-the-looking-glass plea deals that tied the hands of this court ... are an affront to the court and a disservice to the community," he said.

Police gunned down 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who were both unarmed, and wounded four others on Sept. 4, 2005, less than a week after the storm devastated New Orleans. To cover it up, the officers planted a gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports. Defense attorneys have indicated they will appeal.

Engelhardt also criticized prosecutors for the different ways they charged those who didn't cooperate with a Justice Department civil rights investigation and those who did. The charges were filed in such a way that they left judges with little discretion in handing out sentences in each set of cases, Engelhardt said.

___

Colorado's deadly wildfire a chronicle of missteps and vagaries of wind and fire

DENVER (AP) -- The Colorado State Forest Service conducted a 50-acre prescribed burn on March 22, part of a normal plan to consume fuel in the rugged, pine-filled foothills southwest of Denver. It wasn't far from site of the monstrous Hayman Fire 10 years ago, and this burn was a precaution.

Once the fire was out, crews patrolled the perimeter daily to make sure it stayed that way. And it was on one such patrol the hot afternoon of Monday, March 26, that they spotted an ember blown across the perimeter and lighting grass. What they hadn't done in all their methodical planning was ask for real-time weather forecasts that would have predicted vicious, swirling winds.

From there, a deadly cascade of missteps combined with the vagaries of wind and fire to produce another tragedy in the Rocky Mountains, new documents obtained this week show. The 6-square-mile blaze killed three people, destroyed dozens of homes near the small town of Conifer and raised questions about what could have been done to contain the human and material losses -- questions that will be addressed by an out-of-state investigator.

"This is heartbreaking, and we are sorry," deputy state forester Joe Duda said.

"People up here want accountability," said resident Glenn Davis. "Telling me 'I'm sorry' doesn't really make a difference."

___

Anti-abortion grandpa sued over alleged aggressive protests outside Washington clinic

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Dick Retta stands outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Washington three days a week, trying to persuade pregnant women not to get abortions. The 80-year-old grandfather has been coming to the clinic for eight years and said he's personally persuaded over 400 women to leave this clinic and others.

Retta says his approach is friendly, gentle and loving. Government lawyers portray him differently, calling him "among the most vocal and aggressive anti-abortion protestors" outside the clinic.

In court documents, they say he routinely follows patients entering the building and yells at them as the clinic door closes. Last year he physically blocked a woman from entering the clinic, shouting at her not to kill her baby, they say.

As a result they sued Retta over last year's incident, using a 1994 law that makes it a crime to intimidate or interfere with someone obtaining reproductive health services. He is one of a handful of people nationwide charged every year under the law. Lawyers for the government and Retta have a meeting before a judge Thursday to see if they can come to an agreement in the case, but it's unclear how likely that is.

"They'd like to get rid of me," said Retta, who acknowledges he's persistent and assertive with his message but denies ever blocking access to the clinic.

___

Republicans scurry to make clear they have no interest in becoming vice presidential nominee

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Tag. I'm not it.

Republicans considered to be up-and-comers are scrambling to declare a lack of interest in becoming Mitt Romney's running mate, taking themselves off the still-forming short list of would-be vice presidents. With Romney poised to win the GOP nomination in June, if not earlier, some of the focus has shifted to his pick for the No. 2 spot on the ticket. But no one is rushing forward and many of the top prospects are trying to shut down the conversation before it begins.

"I'm not going to be the vice president," Sen. Marco Rubio said Wednesday.

"If offered any position by Gov. Romney, I would say no," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told The Associated Press a day earlier.

"I've taken myself off the list," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said recently.

___

Moving day: 101-year-old Mich. woman evicted from foreclosed home gets it back 7 months later

DETROIT (AP) -- Baking cookies never seemed as sweet for 101-year-old Texana Hollis as it did on Wednesday, when she tearfully was allowed back into the home her husband bought after World War II following her eviction seven months ago.

Foreclosure initially forced Hollis from the home where she'd spent six decades of her life, then federal officials wouldn't let her move back in because of its dilapidated condition. That's when Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom and his charity stepped in, and convinced volunteers and businesses to do the same.

"God bless everyone who had a hand in this," Hollis said, tears swelling in her eyes, after she re-entered the home.

One of her first tasks: Trying out the new stove to bake sugar and chocolate chip cookies, which she lifted off a tinfoil-covered baking sheet using a new spatula and carefully placed into a tin.

Albom and his charities helped renovate Hollis' house after buying it from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Albom spent $30,000 -- much of it out of his own pocket -- on the project, and more than 100 volunteers spent months putting in new flooring, drywall, appliances and even a portion of the roof.

___

Burger King apologizes to Blige over 'unfinished' ad; singer says she understands fans' anger

NEW YORK (AP) -- Burger King is apologizing to Mary J. Blige and her fans for releasing an ad that garnered the singer serious fan backlash.

The clip featured Blige soulfully singing about the fast-food chain's new chicken snack wraps. It immediately went viral when it was released Monday, and some in the black community said it was stereotypical. Burger King pulled the ad Tuesday over what the company said was a music licensing issue. The company explained Wednesday the spot was unfinished.

In a statement, Blige said she understood why fans were upset. She said the ad didn't come across the way it was planned and she would never put out an unfinished spot.

Burger King said it was released prematurely and they hope to have the final ad on the air soon.