Nation, World Briefly: Court mulls execution in child rape conviction

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday it will decide whether a convicted child rapist can be put to death, thereby reconsidering a more than 40-year trend in the United States in which executions have been limited to murderers. The justices agreed to hear an appeal from Patrick Kennedy, a Louisiana man who was convicted of the brutal rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter. His lawyers described him has “the only person in the United States who is on death row for a nonhomicide offense.” In May 1964, Missouri executed Ronald Wolfe for rape, the last such execution in this country for a sexual assault that did not result in death.

S. Carolina: Pet death settlement

A company that made contaminated pet food that killed dozens of dogs nationwide will pay $3.1 million in a settlement with pet owners, an attorney said Friday. The pet food, which contained a mold called aflatoxin, was produced at Diamond Pet Foods’ plant in South Carolina. The company will set up a fund to reimburse pet owners for the loss of their dog, veterinarian bills and the cost of any unreturned contaminated food, an attorney who represented a Knoxville, Tenn., family that sued the company said.

Utah: Worker dies in Capitol

A construction worker was found dead in a crawl space Friday at the Utah state Capitol, where government officials were holding a ceremony to mark the building’s recent renovation. The 30-year-old man was found in a confined space where heating ducts and pipes run, a Utah Highway Patrol spokesman said. Foul play was not suspected, but “we’ll look into every aspect,” he said.

Pennsylvania: Shooting deaths

For the second year in a row, Philadelphia officials are being asked how police officers responding to celebratory New Year’s Eve gunfire ended up shooting innocent bystanders. This year, police chasing an armed reveler shot into a house filled with partygoers, leaving one man in a coma, a second wounded and a 9-year-old boy with a graze wound to the chest. A year ago, police fatally shot a man in the back of the head as he tried to flee when neighbors started shooting guns into the air.

New York: Transit tolls, fees rise

Millions of drivers will pay $2 more to get into New York City and commuter train riders will pay an extra 25 cents in hikes announced Friday by transit officials trying to keep up with post-Sept. 11 expenses. The increases, which take effect in March, are the first since 2001 from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for its six bridges and tunnels and the PATH train line. Peak tolls went from $6 to $8 for motorists — a 33 percent hike — and PATH train riders who paid $1.50 for one-way fares will pay $1.75.

Florida: Iguanas fall from trees

How cold was it in South Florida this week? So cold the iguanas fell from the trees. The cold-blooded reptiles go into a deep sleep when the temperature falls into the 40s. Experts said their bodies basically shut off and they lose their grip on the tree. But it isn’t sudden death: Experts said the reptiles perk up when the temperatures rises. The iguanas turn a gray hue in the meantime. Temperatures hit the high 20s and low 30s this week in Florida during an unusual cold snap.

Brazil: Albino gators missing

Seven rare albino alligators disappeared from a Brazilian university zoo and authorities suspect animal smugglers stole them, officials said Friday. The theft at the Federal University of Mato Grosso was carried out sometime between Monday, when the alligators were last fed, and Wednesday morning, when a zookeeper noticed their disappearance, the zoo’s director said. There were no signs of a break-in, he added. The alligators are extremely rare and are worth about $9,700 apiece, the zoo director said.

Venezuela: Plane with 14 crashes

A plane crashed into the sea off Venezuela Friday with 14 people onboard, including eight Italians and a Swiss citizen. There was no immediate report on casualties. Search teams fanned out by air and sea to look for the downed twin-engine plane, which left Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas and hit the sea about 24 miles from Los Roques islands, Venezuela’s emergency management director said. Los Roques are a popular tourist destination, with a national park and world-class scuba diving off white sand beaches.

Spain: Avalanche kills 3 skiers

An avalanche killed three skiers at a resort in the Spanish Pyrenees on Friday, authorities said. The avalanche swept down an out-of-bounds area of the Formigal ski station Friday morning, a government spokeswoman in the northern Aragon region said. Two skiers died while crews tried to resuscitate them, and a third was found dead by rescuers, she said.

From Herald news services

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