Dempsey urges patience on defense cuts

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (UPI) — U.S. service members need to be patient instead being nervous about proposed defense budget cuts while the process moves along, Gen. Martin Dempsey said.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking aboard a military aircraft while returning from Britain, said the Defense Department is pledged to $450 billion in cuts during the next 10 years, adding the fiscal 2013 defense budget to be submitted in February would answer many of the questions of the U.S. troops, the department Web site reported.

“It shouldn’t be lost on anybody that we were handed this bill — this reduction — about two months ago,” the chairman said. “What we’ve been doing is revising our strategy because you can’t just take cuts and do the same things we’ve been doing.

“I know there’s a lot of anxiety in the force. I’m anxious. But we’ve got to follow the existing process.”

Dempsey said even if the defense department gets all its asks for, the military would still have to examine its strategy, consider threats, make changes and eliminate funding for capabilities no longer needed.

Based on lessons learned from 10 years of war and looking at what type of military will be needed in 2020, Dempsey said counter-terrorism will be a big portion of the budget. Cyber safety issues also would need to be addressed.

“One thing I will assure you of is no one is going to write off the possibility of any particular form of conflict,” the chairman said.

Pediatrician charged with killing adoptee

LEBANON, Tenn., Dec. 1 (UPI) — A Tennessee pediatrician is on trial, charged with killing the 4-year-old girl she and her husband adopted from China.

Dr. Deborah Wen-Yee Mark is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and child abuse, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported.

Kairissa Mark died in 2010, a few months after she arrived in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., and two days after she suffered a severe head injury.

Mark told police in a recorded interview in 2010 that she and her husband had trouble with Kairissa from the moment she arrived in their home. She acknowledged that as she became more frustrated she reacted physically, hitting Kairissa and pinching her.

She said on the night Kairissa was injured she threw the little girl down on a bed and she hit her head on the wall as she fell.

Mark’s lawyers suggested Wednesday that Steven Mark might have been the one that caused the fatal injury, reported. He faces child abuse charges but is not charged with murder.

Mark told police she had never seen her husband hit Kairissa.

Mom’s boyfriend on trial for boy’s death

BELLEVILLE, Ill., Dec. 1 (UPI) — Almost six years after an Illinois boy died, his mother’s boyfriend has gone on trial charged with his murder.

Prosecutors opened their case against Lee Crutchfield, 39, Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Paramedics summoned on Christmas Day 2005 to the house Crutchfield shared with Starr Lohman and her son, Ryon Smith, found the 6-year-old boy’s battered body.

In the first two days of the trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court, jurors heard two versions of Ryon’s last days.

On Tuesday, prosecutors played a videotape of Crutchfield’s police interrogation in which he denied harming the boy. Lohman testified Wednesday that Crutchfield often shut Ryon in a closet and that he beat him.

Lohman said she had an agreement to plead guilty to aggravated battery of a child with a sentence of 15 to 30 years.

Crutchfield and Lohman gave opposite descriptions of Lohman. Crutchfield, who is black, told police six years ago that the boy, who was white like his mother, would often use racial slurs, while Lohman said she could only remember one and called her son a basically good child.

Dr. Raj Nanduri, a forensic pathologist, said Ryon had 57 injuries. She said the boy had clearly been dead for some time because decomposition had already started.

A police officer who responded to the house broke down on the witness stand Tuesday as he looked at a picture of Ryon’s body, dressed in Spider-Man pajamas.

Group wants non-partisan candidate

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Americans Elect, a group that hopes to run a centrist ticket in next year’s U.S. presidential race, has obtained minor party status in Colorado.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced Tuesday the group’s petition had 12,191 valid signatures, well over the 10,000 needed to qualify, The Denver Post reported.

Americans Elect hopes to get on the ballot in all 50 states and says it has qualified in 10 states so far, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported. Organizers plan to hold an online convention in the spring.

The group says it hopes to provide an alternative to polarized politics. All candidates seeking its presidential nomination would be required to choose a running mate from a different party.

“The ticket that comes out of it can be a Democrat with a Republican, a Republican with an independent, an independent with a Democrat, but not two Rs or two Ds,” Chief Operating Officer Elliot Ackerman said Tuesday at a meeting with the Tennessean editorial board.

Polls suggest a credible third-party candidate would help President Barack Obama win a second term, the report said.

Caretaker agrees to annul marriage

SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A Texas woman who married an 87-year-old man suffering from dementia agreed to a quick annulment in return for a $10,000 payment.

Half of the money goes to Marjorie Messer’s lawyer, the San Antonio Express-News reported. She agreed to drop any claims to Jewell Hall’s assets or estate based on documents he signed after their marriage.

Messer, 58, faces a criminal charge of theft from an elderly person.

Hall hired Messer as his caretaker in February and she married him a month later. Adult Protective Services took over his care in April, and he was transferred to a nursing home.

Messer agreed to the settlement as the case was scheduled to go to trial.

She said after Tuesday’s hearing that her only concern had been Hall’s welfare.

“Just write something nice,” she said. “I’m a good girl. I saved a man’s life.”

Obama stresses Asia role

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking about his recent trip to Asia, said Wednesday people there are “incredibly hungry” for American leadership.

Attending a campaign event at in New York, the president said his meetings with Asia-Pacific leaders indicate U.S. foreign policy is pivoting to the fast-growing region. He said it has become fashionable in the United States to talk about America’s diminished world role but in the Asia-Pacific region “folks are incredibly hungry for American leadership.”

He said the United States is organizing a trade partnership with most of the major economies in the region and “everybody was eager to join because they recognize that America is willing to play by the rules and those rules can benefit everybody and not just some,” a White House transcript indicated.

Obama traveled to the region after hosting the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu.

While in Australia, he said the United States “is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” while assuring greater U.S. military involvement as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

“We were able to solidify security arrangements that assure freedom of passage and navigation, and help to underwrite the mutual security of the Asia Pacific region,” the president said Wednesday.

He said it was fascinating “how much people still look to America as a power that is not simply self-interested” but is also interested in the well-being of people outside its borders, and “not only projects military might but also projects values.”

Man wounds woman, 4 children, kills self

BAY CITY, Texas, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A man allegedly killed himself after wounding a woman and four children in Bay City, Texas, police said Wednesday.

Investigators had yet to determine the relationships between the man and the victims, KHOU-TV, Houston, reported.

Bay City police said officers found the victims about 3:18 p.m. in a home.

The children were flown to a Houston hospital for treatment and the woman was in surgery at a Bay City hospital. The man was dead at the scene of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, police said.

The names and ages of those involved had not been released.

Kentucky church bars interracial couples

PIKEVILLE, Ky., Nov. 30 (UPI) — The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in eastern Kentucky has banned interracial couples from membership, congregation members say.

Dean Harville, a longtime member and church secretary, told the Lexington Herald-Leader the issue came up after his daughter brought her fiance to a service in June. Stella Harville played the piano while Ticha Chakuni, who is from Zimbabwe, sang.

In November, Melvin Thompson, who had resigned as pastor of the congregation, which typically draws about 40 people to its Sunday service, in August, asked for a vote on interracial couples. Members voted 9-6 Sunday that they could not be members and could not participate in certain ways, although they can attend church.

Other members present did not vote, Harville said.

“It sure ain’t Christian. It ain’t nothing but the old devil working,” Harville said of the motion.

Thompson, a hardware-store owner who stepped down as pastor for health reasons, said the motion was being taken out of context, but offered no further explanation, the newspaper said.

Death sentence meted to ‘Baseline Killer’

PHOENIX, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A jury in Arizona Wednesday sentenced Mark Goudeau, Phoenix’s “Baseline Killer,” to death for a horrific 11-month crime spree that included murder and rape.

Goudeau, 47, was convicted Oct. 31 on 67 felony counts. Before the sentencing phase of his trial, he asked the jury for life in prison instead of a death sentence.

He said he believes he is being judged based on prior crimes.

Goudeau was sent to prison in 1989 for a sexual assault that resembled the Baseline Killer crimes.

“People can change,” he said. “I changed. … I got out of prison and never looked back.”

The Maricopa County Superior Court jury took two days to decide Goudeau should be executed, The Arizona Republic reported.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Goudeau attacked 33 victims, nine of whom were killed, between August 2005 and June 2006.

32 tons of pot found in U.S.-Mexico tunnel

SAN DIEGO, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A record seizure of more than 32 tons of marijuana was found in a tunnel linking warehouses in Mexico and California, U.S. authorities announced Wednesday.

“This is the largest seizure associated with a tunnel investigation on the California-Mexico border,” Special Agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego Derek Benner told The San Diego Union Tribune. The tunnel “is the most elaborate and sophisticated that we’ve ever seen on the California-Mexico border.”

Authorities discovered the tunnel, measuring 625 yards, Tuesday inside a San Diego warehouse. The Mexican side of the tunnel comes above ground at a warehouse near the A.L. Rodriguez International Airport in Tijuana.

“It’s one of the most sophisticated tunnels we’ve ever discovered,” said Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “It’s got a number of features that were used to facilitate the smuggling.”

Authorities found an elevator, ventilation and an electric rail system to transport the marijuana inside the tunnel. Mexican military authorities said the tunnel measured 1.3 yards wide and 1.5 yards wide and was high enough to allow an adult to stand upright in some spots.

Suspect gets kids back, for now

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 30 (UPI) — A Florida man suspected of abducting or killing his missing ex-girlfriend should keep custody of their children, at least for now, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Orange Circuit Judge Thomas Turner said the Department of Children and Families acted too quickly to take the twin brother and sister from their father’s care, The Orlando Sentinel reported. Dale Smith II was named this week as a suspect in the disappearance of Michelle Parker, and the children were taken from him Tuesday.

Parker has not been seen since she dropped the twins off with Smith Nov. 17. He denies harming her and his lawyer said Smith was at his parents’ house with the twins in just over an hour after Parker dropped them off, with no time to kill her and hide the body.

Parker and Smith had a sometimes violent relationship, her family says. A session of the television show “The People’s Court” dealing with a dispute between the couple over a $5,000 engagement ring was taped the day Parker disappeared.

Report: Neo-Nazis in Germany heavily armed

BERLIN, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Germany’s neo-Nazis appear to be more heavily armed than previously believed, the Interior Ministry says.

A ministry report, in response to a parliamentary inquiry, says the 811 weapons confiscated from right-wing extremist groups in 2009 and 2010 included handguns, rifles, military-grade firearms, pepper spray, more than 40 explosive devices and more than 300 blades, Der Spiegel reported Wednesday.

“The increasing number of weapons found in the possession of neo-fascists prove that the militant right is arming themselves to an alarming degree,” Ulla Jelpke, the domestic affairs representative for the far-left Left Party in the German Parliament, told the daily Berliner Zeitung. “Of particular concern is the strong increase in the number of firearms.”

The Interior Ministry prepared the report in response to a request filed by the Left Party faction in Parliament.

The report comes on the heels of revelations that a neo-Nazi terror cell based in the eastern German town of Zwickau was responsible for nine slayings targeting immigrants from 2000 to 2006 as well as the 2007 death of a police officer. The three-member cell had been operating under cover 14 years, Der Spiegel said.

A parliamentary committee was to continue examining possible police errors made in investigations into the killings. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, has been criticized for internal communication problems that contributed to the slayings remaining unsolved for so long.

SF Happy Meal toy ban going into effect

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 30 (UPI) — McDonald’s restaurants in San Francisco will start charging 10 cents for toys included in Happy Meals to comply with a city ordinance, one owner says.

A city law banning free toys in kids’ meals high in fat, salt and sugar goes into effect Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“It complies with the letter of the law,” McDonald’s franchise owner Scott Rodrick said of his plan to charge a dime extra for the toys without changing the menus at his 10 s in San Francisco.

There are 19 McDonald’s outlets in San Francisco and three other franchise owners indicated they also would add 10 cents to their Happy Meals, the Chronicle said.

The proceeds collected from the sale of the toys at his fast-food outlets will be used to help build a Ronald McDonald House to benefit families with sick children.

Danya Proud, director of media relations for McDonald’s USA, said the 10-cent fee idea came after surveying customers.

“They told us 10 cents is fair and reasonable,” especially once they found out the money would go toward charity, she said.

A chief sponsor of the law, Supervisor Eric Mar, said eliminating toys from high-fat children’s meals was meant to add incentive for restaurants to offer healthier options.

“McDonald’s and the others are gradually moving in the direction we want,” Mar said. “But I think that we in San Francisco, and Santa Clara County before us, are making them move more quickly than they would have otherwise. But there’s still a long way to go.”

California woman faces torture charges

DALY CITY, Calif., Nov. 30 (UPI) — A California woman faces a torture charge for allegedly pouring boiling water on her ex-husband as he slept, a prosecutor said.

Jesusa Ursonal Tatad, 39, was in court Tuesday but did not enter a plea to charges of torture, aggravated mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence, the San Mateo County Times reported. She remained jailed in lieu of $600,000 bail.

San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Tatad was upset with her former husband — with whom she still shared a home in Daly City– because she believed he was cheating on her. She allegedly poured the boiling water on him Saturday morning, burning more than 60 percent of his body. When he ran into the bathroom in pain, prosecutors say she then hit him on the head with a baseball bat.

The man was in critical condition at San Francisco General Hospital with second- and third-degree burns and cannot speak due to his injuries, the Times reported.

If found guilty of the charges, Tatad could face life in prison.

Americans 65 and over largest group

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — People 65 and older comprise the largest age group in the United States, a 2010 Census report released Wednesday showed.

The seniors bloc, infused by the aging baby boomer generation, grew faster than the total population between the years of 2000 and 2010, the report said. On April 1, 2010, there were 40.3 million people age 65 and older, an increase from 2000 of 5.3 million people. In 2000, there were 35 million people within the age range.

The percentage of this group compared with the total population also increased, representing 12.4 percent of the population in 2000 and 13 percent in 2010.

The population age 65 and older also grew faster than the total population, the 2010 Census found. The older group grew 15.1 percent, while the total population grew 9.7 percent from 2000.

The number of people 65 to 69 years old grew the fastest from 2000 to 2010 — by 30.4 percent — and that group is expected to expand even more rapidly by 2020 as baby boomers started turning 65 this year.

In terms of gender, women have traditionally outnumbered men in older ages, but the 2010 Census shows that gap is closing.

“For most single years of age above age 65, the ratio of men to women was higher in 2010 than in 2000 and 1990,” the report said.

Mexican killings move away from border

GUADALAJARA, Mexico, Nov. 30 (UPI) — The struggle between the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas has brought violence to central Mexico while homicides are down along the U.S. border, officials say.

In Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, killings are down 35 percent in 2011, McClatchy Newspapers reported. Recently, there was a period of almost three days with no homicides.

Instead, bodies are turning up in Guadalajara and Veracruz. Last week, 26 bodies were left in three vehicles under the Millennium Arches in Guadalajara.

“Look how we leave you these dead people,” a poster signed Z for Los Zetas, said. “We are in your kitchen.”

Members of the Sinaloa cartel have been involved for 50 years in smuggling drugs north from Mexico, and the gang, centered on Mexico’s Pacific coast, has branched out as far away as Australia.

The Zetas were formed recently. Originally, they were a group of former military commandos who became a militia to protect the Gulf cartel, but they have struck out on their own.

To add to the bloodshed, the Sinaloa group recently formed its own strike force, the Metazetas or killers of Zetas.

Feds oppose ex-FEC officials’ testimony

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Nov. 30 (UPI) — Prosecutors are trying to bar two former chairmen of the Federal Elections Commission from testifying for indicted former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.

In a filing this week in U.S. District Court in Chapel Hill, N.C., the prosecutors contend Scott Thomas and Robert Lenhard will present legal conclusions, usurping the role of the trial judge, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. Such testimony “is generally not helpful to the jury and is properly excludable,” the prosecutors said in their filing.

Edwards, 58, allegedly misused campaign contributions in an effort to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer who bore him a daughter. The affair with Hunter began during Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign.

Thomas and Lenhard have said they do not believe the payments made by two rich supporters should be considered campaign contributions.

Edwards is scheduled to go on trial in February.

Unions challenge Wisconsin law

MADISON, Wis., Nov. 30 (UPI) — Two unions have gone to court, challenging the constitutionality of a Wisconsin law limiting collective bargaining for public workers.

Unions representing teachers and sanitation workers in Madison and Milwaukee, respectively, filed the motion Tuesday against the law Republican state lawmakers pushed through and GOP Gov. Scott Walker signed in March, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The law limits unions to only negotiating wage increases, which are capped at the rate of inflation unless otherwise approved by voters in a referendum. Non-union worker wages are not capped and the lawsuit argues that violates the equal-protection clause of the Constitution.

That union workers are given additional burdens violates freedom of association, the lawsuit said.

Walker and fellow Republicans say they feel the law will stand up in court, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Colo. police investigate dog poisoning

FIRESTONE, Colo., Nov. 30 (UPI) — Police are investigating a Colorado man after a couple say their two dogs were poisoned by strychnine-laced ground meat in their back yard.

Tesla Dougherty said she found the German shepherd, Kyera, and chocolate Labrador, Dozer Boy, dead in her Firestone back yard shortly after she let them out of the house in August, The Denver Post reported Wednesday.

Tests by Texas A&M Veterinary Hospital found poisoned ground meat lodged in the dogs’ throats.

Police have not named a suspect, but said scratches on the Doughertys’ fence led them to investigate an unnamed neighbor who has been accused of killing animals in the past.

The neighbor had previously lived in Minnesota, where police say they’ve unearthed a restraining order against him. A Minnesota neighbor told police the person of interest in the Colorado case had poisoned his animals on multiple occasions.

The Environmental Protection Agency found packaging with small amounts of ground meat in the man’s trash and police took packages of granular substances, crystal white cubes and pest killer out of his home, court documents showed.

“We’d like to believe our dogs died for a reason — to catch this guy,” Dougherty said.

The person of interest told the Post he and his wife “had nothing to do with that crazy act.”

Dad who let girl, 9, drive may plead out

DETROIT, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A Detroit-area man charged with getting his 9-year-old daughter to drive him to a store because he was drunk may plead guilty, his lawyer says.

Shawn Weimer entered a not guilty plea to child abuse Tuesday, The Detroit News reported. But David Steingold, his lawyer, said Weimer does not want his daughter to have to testify again.

“It’s very likely that if he took a plea even to the felony, he would end up with a probationary sentence,” Steingold said.

“More important to Shawn is it would keep his daughter out of the public spotlight.”

Weimer’s arrest Oct. 8 in Brownstone became international news. Earlier this month, his daughter testified at a preliminary hearing, describing her father drinking Black Velvet whiskey before they drove to a gas station.

Weimer has only been allowed supervised visits with his daughter since his arrest.

Steingold said Weimer will have to decide before another hearing set for Dec. 20 whether he will take a plea, the Detroit Free Press said.

Teacher on leave after report of porn past

MALDEN, Mass., Nov. 30 (UPI) — The chairman of the English Department at a Massachusetts charter school is on administrative leave after officials learned he acted in pornographic films.

The move came after Boston’s WFXT-TV reported Kevin Hogan, who was hired in August at the prestigious Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, had appeared in pornographic films.

Asked about having appeared in pornographic films, Hogan told the station, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The school notified parents in an e-mail Tuesday Hogan had been put on leave pending an investigation, The Boston Globe reported.

The e-mail said school staff had followed normal hiring protocol in checking Hogan’s background in California, where he had lived before moving to Massachusetts, the e-mail and school spokesman Martin Gately said.

“What the media outlet has claimed, if true, was not reported by the employee in the application process,” the message to parents said.

The school said background checks turned up no problems and “the references the school received for this employee were superlative.”

Hogan had applied for the position through a third-party recruiter, Carney, Sandoe & Associates, that performed an initial screening, the e-mail said.

“We do wish to confirm the school’s insistence that any applicant for a position here be candid and forthright about disclosing past employment positions,” the e-mail said.

Hogan also was the school’s crew coach this fall.

Texas challenges court’s redistricting map

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Texas’ top lawyer went to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to try to head off a court-ordered redistricting map that may help Democrats’ congressional fortunes.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott requested the court prevent the implementation of an interim redistricting plan that would make it easier for Democrats to win three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in next year’s elections, Roll Call reported. Texas picked up four House seats because of its population growth in the past decade.

State Republicans engineered their own plan this past summer only to have it contested in federal courts. After a trial in San Antonio at which plaintiffs argued the Republicans’ version did not adequately reflect minority voting power, the court last week approved an interim map. Another trial is ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Abbot contends the federal court in San Antonio went too far in drawing its own map before the Washington trial wraps up.

“The court’s interim order should be immediately stayed, and the case should be remanded with instructions to withhold interim relief unless some likely violation of law is found and to defer to the legislatively enacted map as required by this Court’s precedents,” Texas officials said in asking the plan be halted.

Another Kennedy may run for Congress

BOSTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Joseph P. Kennedy III, a scion of the leading Massachusetts political dynasty, suggested he might run for Barney Frank’s seat in Congress.

“I just haven’t had the time to give it any thought, the type of careful consideration that it requires,” Kennedy told the Boston Herald Tuesday. “I’ve always thought politics is an honorable profession. It demands that you give it careful thought before you jump into it. When I get the time to do that, I’ll think about it, but we’re not there yet.”

Kennedy, now an assistant Middlesex County district attorney in Massachusetts, is the son of former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. That makes him the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and the great-nephew of Sen. Ted Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy.

Frank announced two days ago he has decided to retire after his current term ends in January 2013. Redistricting after the 2010 Census changed the shape of his district considerably.

Kennedy, 31, recently moved to Cambridge, which is not in Frank’s district.

There’s more than one way Kennedy could wind up in a congressional race. Another scenario would have U.S. Rep. William Keating running for Frank’s open seat with Kennedy moving to Cape Cod to seek election to a newly created district there.