Archive for Thursday, July 24, 2003

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July 24, 2003

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Colorado

Air Force Academy faces fresh allegations

The Air Force Academy, still reeling from a rape scandal that led to the ouster of its top brass, is investigating possible drug use by students and new sexual assault allegations against at least two male cadets.

The assault investigations are the first known cases since the academy installed new commanders in a shake-up prompted by complaints from at least 60 women who said they were ignored or punished when they reported sexual assaults.

The academy's Office of Special Investigations is pursuing the assault allegations. One cadet is accused of assaulting a civilian, and another allegedly attacked a female cadet, according to sources.

The drug probe involving several cadets is the first at the academy near Colorado Springs since seven cadets were sentenced to prison for selling or using drugs in 2001.

Mississippi

Court blocks reforms for death row prisoners

A federal appeals court has blocked a series of improvements ordered on Mississippi's death row, including mental health checkups, improved toilets and ways of keeping inmates cool during the summer heat.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed on Tuesday to hear an appeal from the Mississippi Corrections Department on the measures ordered by a federal judge.

In May, U.S. Magistrate Jerry Davis ruled that "filthy conditions" on Mississippi's death row were so bad they violated the Constitution and were contributing to a high rate of mental illness among the prisoners.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates at the Parchman penitentiary alleged they were subjected daily to excessive heat, human excrement, biting insects and the ranting of psychotic prisoners.

The state contends that conditions on death row do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as the judge had ruled.

Michigan

Hot air balloon accident leaves 11 injured

Wind caught a hot air balloon as it landed and its basket was dragged 100 yards across the ground Wednesday, injuring the pilot and 10 passengers.

Pilot Eric Horton, who said he was very experienced in flying balloons, said the wind picked up as he started to land the balloon and he told the passengers the landing would be very bumpy.

The balloon landed in a rural area of Highland Township, about 50 miles northwest of Detroit. The Federal Aviation Administration was called to investigate, sheriff's Sgt. Arthur Cockrell said.

One of the passengers was given the balloon trip as a birthday present.

Rhode Island

Decorated Vietnam vet admits forging award

A decorated Vietnam veteran admitted Wednesday that he illegally obtained his highest honor by buying a Distinguished Service Cross on the Internet.

Bruce Cotta, 56, agreed to perform 100 hours of community service and contribute $5,000 to the Army Emergency Relief Fund to avoid prosecution, U.S. Atty. Margaret Curran said in Providence.

Cotta told the FBI he bought the medal after the Army twice rejected his application for a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. He said he then forged papers that would go along with a Distinguished Service Cross and sent them to Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

Kennedy presented the bogus Distinguished Service Cross -- the Army's second-highest honor -- to Cotta in a ceremony in 2000.

In addition to a Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and the Soldier's Medal, Cotta holds a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor for his actions when his unit came under attack in 1968.

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