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The Associated Press

Juror says jury pressured him to change vote in case of man accused of killing teen in NY


A juror who helped convict a black man of fatally shooting a white teenager said he felt pressure from other jurors and the judge to change his vote to guilty during a marathon deliberating session over the weekend.

The jury convicted John White of second-degree manslaughter in the August 2006 shooting of 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro Jr. White, 54, remains free on bail until sentencing, when he faces a prison term of five to 15 years. He plans to appeal.

The case drew national attention after the defense argued that White had feared a "lynch mob" had come to attack his family when a group of angry white teenagers gathered outside his home. The teens had come to fight White's son.

Juror Francois Larche, who is white, said he and another holdout juror changed their votes Saturday evening after enduring "a lot of psychological tactics" from fellow jurors on an unusual weekend session ordered by the judge over jurors' protests.

Larche, 46, said the stress had become unbearable.

"It was a huge burden to bear," Larche told the New York Post in Monday's editions. "It got heated. Some of the men lost their cool. I took a lot of heat."

The jury forewoman, Maureen Steigerwald, denied that the judge, a 12-hour deliberating session on Saturday &

the fourth day of deliberations &

or the holidays played a role in the jury's decision.

"The jury did a very careful, conscientious deliberate job," she told Newsday in Monday's editions.

The jury told Suffolk County Judge Barbara Kahn on Friday it was deadlocked and that some jurors were not properly following the judge's instructions. They continued deliberations on Saturday.

Kahn said the jury would have to return on Sunday if they didn't reach a decision. Several jurors appeared stressed when appearing in the courtroom; one man nearly collapsed in tears and buried his head in his hands early Saturday evening.

Larche told the Post the judge also told them a mistrial would leave the families to suffer more and the next jury with a larger burden. He said he and the second juror decided then to change their vote.

"I thought about my family and the families of the other jurors," Larche said. "It was not worth it in the end."

Larche's home telephone number was out of service on Monday.

Study says many parents of fat children are in denial about their youngsters' weight


A startling number of parents may be in denial about their youngsters' weight.

A survey found that many Americans whose children are obese do not see them that way.

That is worrisome because obese children run the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems and other ailments more commonly found in adults. And overweight children are likely to grow up to be overweight adults.

"It suggests to me that parents of younger kids believe that their children will grow out of their obesity, or something will change at older ages," said Dr. Matthew M. Davis, a University of Michigan professor of pediatrics and internal medicine who led the study, released earlier this month.

"When I see a child that is obese at these younger ages, I take that as a sign of ways nutrition can be improved, a child's activity level can be improved."

Among parents with an obese, or extremely overweight, child ages 6 to 11, 43 percent said their child was "about the right weight," 37 percent responded "slightly overweight," and 13 percent said "very overweight." Others said "slightly underweight."

For those with an obese child ages 12 to 17, the survey found more awareness that weight was a problem. Fifty-six percent said their child was "slightly overweight," 31 percent responded "very overweight," 11 percent said "about the right weight" and others said "slightly underweight."

Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said obesity in children isn't as easy to identify as in adults. "Plus, because of the social stigma, it's not something that parents are willing to admit to readily," Rao said.

The survey of 2,060 adults, conducted over the summer by Internet research firm Knowledge Networks, collected height and weight measurements on the children from their parents, then used that to calculate body mass index.

When a child's BMI was higher than the 95th percentile for children who are the same age and gender, the child was considered obese.

Based on what the parents reported, 15 percent of the children ages 6 to 11, and 10 percent of the children ages 12 to 17, were obese.

The Michigan researchers said that, too, suggests parents underestimate their children's weight. National estimates indicate about 17 percent of U.S. children are obese under the standard used by the researchers.

Dr. Reginald Washington, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and part of the AAP's committee on childhood obesity, noted that in about half of cases where a child is obese, one or both parents are overweight, too &

and parents can take a pediatrician's concerns as a personal affront.

Experts said doctors need to help parents better understand the health risks of childhood obesity.

"Obesity isn't just something that affects the clothes that you buy or how you are perceived by your friends and your schoolmates," Davis said. "It is something that can have health effects, not only in adulthood but in childhood."

C.S. Mott Children's Hospital: http:www.med.umich.edu/mott

Knowledge Networks: http:www.knowledgenetworks.com

Both Dems and Republicans set records as they raise money for 11 governors' races in 2008


The major parties are raising record amounts of cash as they prepare for gubernatorial campaign showdowns in 11 states next year.

Republicans and Democrats both say 2007 was a lucrative start to the four-year fundraising cycle that helps determine which party controls the nation's governors' mansions.

Governors have enormous influence over how Americans live their lives, particularly in areas such as health care and schools. Control of the governors' offices also plays a crucial role in presidential elections. Governors can rally support for a candidate and energize a party's get-out-the-vote machinery.

The Democratic Governors Association raised $5.3 million through June, according to its midyear IRS filing, and is on track to break $9.3 million, the previous record for the first year of the cycle.

The Republican Governors Association raised $12 million through June and expects to easily top its previous record of $15 million. Final tallies won't be available until the end of next month.

Democratic governors have a 28-22 edge nationally, having regained a majority last year after 12 years of GOP dominance. This year, they lost a seat in Louisiana but retook the governor's mansion in Kentucky.

Republican governors still have the financial edge. They are quick to point out that's the opposite of what's happening in Washington.

For example, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee &

whose candidates control the House &

raised $61 million this year. contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee raised $43 million during the same time.

Both governors' associations are pulling in contributions from some of the same deep-pocketed companies, according to a review of IRS reports.

"We're a bipartisan company. We partner with elected officials from both sides of the aisle," said David Tovar, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, which gave $100,000 to both groups this year.

Many of the issues important to governors, like the cost of health care, also matter to Wal-Mart, he said.

Health care is also a top issue for the Service Employees International Union, the country's fastest-growing union, which also gave $100,000 to both governors' associations this year.

Earlier this year SEIU and Wal-Mart jointly called for affordable health care for all Americans by 2012. But SEIU has also criticized Wal-Mart for its employee health plans.

"Governors can often have the greatest impact on workers' ability to have a voice on the job," said SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller.

Other companies donating $100,000 to both governors' groups this year include ATT Inc., Union Pacific, American Electric Power Co. and Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Drug makers are also courting both parties, with companies like Merck Co. and AstraZeneca PLC contributing $50,000 to each group.

Decades later, the notion that crack is far more dangerous than cocaine is widely disputed



During some of the bloodiest years of the drug wars of the 1980s, crack was seen as far more dangerous than powdered cocaine, and that perception was written into the sentencing laws. But now that notion is under attack like never before.

Criminologists, doctors and other experts say the differences between the two forms of the drug were largely exaggerated and do not justify the way the law comes down 100 times harder on crack.

A push to shrink the disparity in punishments got a boost last month when reduced federal sentencing guidelines went into effect for crack offenses. Then, earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for federal cases, voted to make the reductions retroactive, allowing some 19,500 inmates, mostly black, to seek reductions in their crack sentences.

Many think the changes are long overdue.

Crack, because it is smoked and gets into the bloodstream faster than snorted cocaine, produces a more intense high and is generally considered more addictive than powdered cocaine.

But experts say that difference does not warrant the 100-to-1 disparity that was written into a 1986 law that set a mandatory minimum prison term of five years for trafficking in 5 grams of crack, or less than the amount in two packets of sugar. It would take 100 times as much cocaine to get the same sentence.

"There's no scientific justification to support the current laws," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Many defense lawyers and civil rights advocates say the lopsided perception of crack versus cocaine is rooted in racism. Four out of every five crack defendants are black, while most powdered-cocaine defendants are white.

While powdered cocaine became the drug of choice for middle- and upper-income Americans in the 1970s, crack emerged in the early 1980s as a much cheaper version of the same drug.

In the mid-1980s, powdered cocaine was typically sold by the half-gram or gram for $50 to $100, while crack was sold as small rocks that cost as little as $5 to $10. Crack became popular in poor, largely minority urban areas, and it developed an image as a drug used mostly by violent, inner-city youths.

"You had politicians manipulating fear, and instead of being seen as a more direct mode of ingestion of a very old drug, it became a demonic new substance," said Craig Reinarman, a sociology and legal-studies professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz who edited the 1997 book "Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice" about the rise of crack in the 1980s.

When crack first became popular, there was an increase in murders and other crimes associated with the drug. But the bloodshed was not necessarily the result of something inherent in crack.

Instead, most of that violence was typical for what happens when any illegal drug is introduced and drug dealers with guns compete for new markets, said Dr. Alfred Blumstein, a professor of urban systems and operations research at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Although there was already a great deal of concern about crack by 1986, the death of basketball star Len Bias in June of that year is seen as the pivotal event that spurred Congress to enact the much tougher sentences for crack offenses.

Bias was a star at the University of Maryland and had just been drafted by the Boston Celtics when he died. Initial news reports incorrectly said Bias died after using crack. It wasn't until months later that one of Bias' teammates testified that he had actually snorted cocaine the night be died.

that time, the harsh penalties for crack crimes had already been passed by Congress, with a push from House Speaker Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts, whose Celtic-fan constituents were up in arms about Bias' death.

Researchers Date Planets' Creation

Marc Kaufman

The Washington Post

Mountain-size chunks of rock began to coalesce from interstellar dust in our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago, initiating the process that resulted in the creation of the planets we know today, researchers have determined.

Researchers at the University of California at Davis arrived at the figure of 4.5 billion years, give or take 2 million years, by analyzing meteorites known as carbonaceous chondrites, which are made up of the oldest known material left from the formation of the solar system.

The chondrites contain globules of silica and grains of metals embedded in a black mix of interstellar dust that is rich in organic matter. The researchers used what they found to be the consistent ratio of the amount of manganese and chromium isotopes in the meteorites that they studied to determine their age, and, consequently, of that early phase in the formation of the solar system.

The meteorites were too small to heat up from radioactive decay and, thus, never melted as larger structures did, said assistant professor of geology Qing-zhu Yin. As a result, they are considered "cosmic sediments."

"We've captured a moment in history when this material got packed together," he said.

Scientists think that in the second stage of the solar system's development, the mountain-size rocks coalesced into about 20 planets the size of Mars, and that in the third, these smaller planets crashed into each other and created the planets we know today.

But the earliest stage has not been well understood, Yin said, making information about when it may have occurred particularly important.


Iraqi officials say that Iran wants to hold ambassadorial-level talks with U.S. over Iraq




Iran wants to renew high-level talks with U.S. officials on security in Iraq, insisting that discussions take place between ambassadors and not lower-level functionaries, Iraqi officials said Monday.

The Iranians also want a clear-cut agenda for the meeting, which the American side has not yet provided, according to Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and a member of parliament. Three Iraqi officials confirmed his account, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the press.

There was no immediate comment or confirmation from Iran's Foreign Ministry or state media.

A May 28 meeting concerning security in Iraq between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze between the two countries.

A planned Dec. 18 meeting between Iranian and American security, military and diplomatic experts was canceled a few days before it was to be held. At the time, Iranian officials said it was a scheduling problem while U.S. officials referred questions to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

American officials have since pointed out that Dec. 18 was the day Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq, which forced the postponement of the meeting. For security reasons, they said they could not disclose Rice's arrival date ahead of time.

Since then, top Iranian officials in Baghdad have asked their Iraqi counterparts to push the Americans to hold a fourth-round of talks between Crocker and Qomi, an Iranian official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The two last met in August, shortly after the first and only meeting of low-level experts, which produced no concrete results.

Iran has long been accused by Washington of training, arming and funding Shiite extremists inside Iraq to kill American troops.

But in the past month, U.S. officials have said Tehran appears to have slowed or halted the flow of illegal weapons across the frontier. Iran has denied the arms smuggling accusations, insisting that it is doing its best to help stabilize its embattled western neighbor.

Crocker told reporters during a Sunday briefing in Baghdad that he would be willing to meet Qomi again, but said no date had been set for a meeting at any level.

"I would be open to this. We could do it at the experts' level or we could do it at my level. I would definitely see that as a possibility," he said. "We're looking at what we might talk about, which I think is the first and necessary step before deciding who talks about it."

Crocker said there were "some signs, some indicators that the Iranians are using some influence to bring down violence from extremist Shiia militias." They included a drop in the number of attacks that use high-tech shaped charge bombs, which American officials allege are made in Iran.

"How lasting a phenomenon that will be, and how Iran will define and play its role in Iraq in 2008 will be very important to the long-term future of the country," he said.

Crocker said any talks with the Iranians would focus solely on Iraqi security and would not extend into the explosive issue of U.S. accusations that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Al-Askari said a top Iranian diplomat complained to him in recent days that U.S. officials are not providing enough information about what a new round of talks at any level will achieve.

"They told us that the Americans are vague and that they want to know what is the goal, what is the purpose of these talks," al-Askari said. "They said they do not want to talk on the level of experts &

that at a minimum, it should be at the ambassadorial level or even higher."

Al-Askari added that the Iranians were also upset that although they contributed to the improving security situation in Iraq, U.S. officials have not done enough to acknowledge it.

"The Iranians will not stand anymore going to talk with the U.S. one day, and the next day watch the Americans speak badly about them in the press &

by saying Iran is supporting militias and supplying weapons," he said.

The Iranian Embassy in Baghdad was closed Monday for the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Candidates court vote of Kenya's Muslim minority in nation's closest election ever

AP Photo NAI107, NAI113, NAI111, NAI101, NAI102


KIBERA, Kenya &

In the Kenyan slum of Kibera these days, the ancient cadences of the Muslim call to prayer compete with election propaganda blaring from loudspeakers.

With opposition candidate Raila Odinga holding onto a razor-thin lead over incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, every pollster describes Thursday's vote as too close to call. It's a rare tight race on a continent where sitting presidents are usually re-elected, and in a country where an incumbent has never before faced a credible challenge.

Kenya's roughly 3.5 million Muslims &

out of a predominantly Christian population of 34 million &

may be the deciding factor.

"It's the first time that religious issues have played such a prominent part in national politics," said Karuti Kanyinga, a political scientist at the University of Nairobi's Institute for Development Studies. "Because the race is so close, candidates are looking for any issue that may pull voters over to their side."

The campaign has featured promises to clean up Kenya's notoriously corrupt government and thinly veiled appeals to tribal loyalties. Crowds of people supporting the rival candidates shouted tribal epithets and threw rocks at each other during rallies Monday, prompting police to fire tear gas.

But the race has also has focused to an unusual degree on Muslim grievances. There are concerns about delays in granting mainly Muslim ethnic minorities national identity cards, without which they cannot work, vote or own land, and about the constant poverty in the slums and along Kenya's coastline, where many residents are Muslim.

There are also perceptions among Muslims that they are being targeted in a war on terrorism in which Kibaki has allowed terror suspects to be deported from Kenya and sent to neighboring Ethiopia for questioning, in some cases by U.S. agents.

When Odinga signed an agreement in August with one leading Muslim forum promising to end the deportations and launch an inquiry into the practice, it dominated headlines for days.

Kibaki, who has said little about the deportations, responded in October by setting up a committee dedicated to looking at Muslim grievances, including the deportations. However, no date was set for the committee to report on its findings and the president has not publicly commented on it since it was established.

An investigation by The Associated Press earlier this year confirmed some terror suspects were being deported from Kenya and sent to Ethiopia for questioning. Human rights activists have criticized the Ethiopian government's human rights record, but it is a strong ally of the U.S. in the war on terror.

Saidi Osman of National Muslim Leaders Forum said before Kibaki, "no president in Kenya or Africa had removed citizens of his country to another country without due process."

Following widely publicized protests over the deportations, "Muslims in Kenya have decided to punish Kibaki and vote him out," Osman said.

Sheik Mohamed Dor, secretary-general of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, has taken the lead in organizing Muslim voters and demands that candidates address the community's concerns.

Turkish police stop would-be bomber in Istanbul

ISTANBUL, Turkey &

Turkish police thwarted a bomb attack in Istanbul on Monday, arresting a 25-year-old man with explosives in his backpack outside a subway station, the city's governor said.

The man was carrying more than 7 pounds of A-4 plastic explosives when he was arrested in the Sisli district, one of the most crowded areas of the city, Turkish news agencies reported.

Though Governor Muammer Guler said the man was surely preparing for a bomb attack but said police were not yet able to find out what his target had been.

Guler said police launched a raid on an apartment believed to be used as a safe house and seized more explosives and various mechanisms that could set off a bomb. Another man at the apartment was arrested after a chase, Guler said, and was suspected of membership in an unspecified terrorist organization.

Militant Kurdish, leftist and Islamic groups have carried out bombings in big cities and in resort towns in the past.

In May, a 28-year-old once convicted of membership in a militant leftist group blew himself up in Turkey's capital, killing six people and wounding dozens.

Israeli military prosecutors uphold use of cluster bombs during last year's war in Lebanon



Israeli military prosecutors have decided not to take any legal action over Israel's use of cluster bombs during last year's war in Lebanon, the army said Monday, closing an investigation into a practice that has drawn heavy criticism from the U.N. and international human rights groups.

The investigation determined that Israel's use of the weapons, which open in flight and scatter dozens of bomblets, was a "concrete military necessity" and did not violate international humanitarian law.

The United Nations and human rights groups have accused Israel of dropping about 4 million cluster bomblets during its 34-day war against the Hezbollah guerrilla group.

They say as many as — million bomblets failed to explode and now endanger civilians. More than 30 people have been killed by cluster bomb and land mine explosions in Lebanon since the 2006 summer war.

In a statement, the army said its chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Gershon HaCohen, determined "it was clear that the majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas, areas from which Hezbollah forces operated and in which no civilians were present."

It said cluster bombs were fired at residential areas only "as an immediate defense response to rocket attacks by Hezbollah" and that Israeli troops did everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.

Whenever firing cluster bombs, Israeli forces were "respecting the laws of armed conflict ... and preserving the ethical values" of the Israeli military, the statement said.

"The use of this weaponry was legal once it was determined that, in order to prevent rocket fire onto Israel, its use was a concrete military necessity," the statement added.

The conclusions were passed on to the military's advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avihai Mendelblit, who accepted the recommendation and decided not to press charges. The investigation was launched following the war.

The conflict erupted on July 12, 2006, when Hezbollah men attacked an Israeli border patrol, killing three soldiers and capturing two.

Amnesty International has harshly criticized Israel for bombing civilian areas and using cluster bombs during the fighting. It also has criticized Hezbollah for firing nearly 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities and towns.

The fighting left 159 Israelis dead, including 119 soldiers, while in Lebanon more than 1,000 people died, most of them civilians, according to counts by human rights groups, the Lebanese government and The Associated Press.

Israel failed to win the freedom of the soldiers, and Hezbollah has given no signs of life from the pair, who were severely wounded.