Archive for Tuesday, March 30, 2004


March 30, 2004



Nichols trial testimony focuses on fertilizer

A man using an alias linked to Terry Nichols bought more ammonium nitrate fertilizer from a farmer's co-op in Kansas than almost anyone else in the year before the Oklahoma City bombing, an FBI agent testified Monday.

Such fertilizer was a key ingredient in the bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people.

A receipt for 2,000 pounds of the material, dated Sept. 30, 1994, was discovered in Nichols' Herington, Kan., home during a search by FBI agents three days after the bombing. It listed the purchaser as Mike Havens.

FBI agent Louis Michalko testified at Nichols' murder trial that he reviewed about 132,000 sales tickets from the Mid Kansas Cooperative Assn. to find others who bought fertilizer from Jan. 1, 1994, up to the date of the bombing.

Michalko said his analysis determined that Mike Havens bought a total of 4,000 pounds of fertilizer during the period, ranking him the third-largest buyer, behind a local experimental field and a school district.


Violations cited against acting mayor

Prosecutors on Monday alleged campaign finance violations by the acting mayor, eight days before voters will decide between him and another candidate for mayor.

Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt admitted that he made careless mistakes, but he denounced the investigation as politically motivated and said he hoped voters judge him on issues like jobs, crime and education.

"Mistakes were made, and I accept responsibility," Pratt said.

Pratt was accused of four civil counts of filing a false campaign finance report and one civil count of failing to deposit personal campaign contributions in a campaign account. He faces a forfeiture of $2,500, which Pratt said he would pay.

Dist. Atty. Michael McCann said Pratt's campaign finance reports did not match up with bank statements for his campaign account. The figures were allegedly off by $116,000 at the end of 2003.


Judge cuts verdict against Exxon Mobil

The record $11.9 billion verdict that Alabama won in a natural gas royalty dispute with Exxon Mobil Corp. was cut to $3.6 billion Monday by a state judge who said she was bringing it in line with U.S. Supreme Court guidelines.

But Montgomery County Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey said there was no question about Exxon Mobil's intentions when it drilled natural gas wells in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast.

"This court is thoroughly convinced, as was the jury, that Exxon intentionally and deliberately took actions, from the moment the leases were signed, to commit fraud upon the state," the judge wrote. "Exxon engaged in a carefully planned scheme, conceived and approved at the highest echelons of its corporate offices, to keep nearly $1 billion in easy money that it knew was due."

Bob Davis, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, said the oil company would appeal.

New York

Next space tourist plans experiments

The next civilian to be rocketed into orbit at his own expense won't just be enjoying the ride: Gregory Olsen, a scientist who made a fortune with optics inventions, plans to do some research during his $20 million trip to the International Space Station.

Olsen, the founder of Sensors Unlimited Inc. in Princeton, N.J., has hired the company that brokered the first space tourist trip, millionaire Dennis Tito's flight aboard a Russian spacecraft in 2001.

The 58-year-old Olsen said he planned to bring along infrared sensors, which detect varying levels of heat, to analyze pollution in the Earth's atmosphere and the health of agricultural systems on the ground.

At a news conference Monday, he also said he wanted to take the camera and "turn it around to look at the heavens and do infrared astronomy."


Teachers want pay tied to student performance

Teachers in the Denver public schools have agreed to an innovative new salary structure that will eliminate raises based on seniority and pay teachers based on their students' test scores and their willingness to work in difficult schools.

Becky Wissink, president of the local teachers union, said Denver, with 72,000 students in 140 schools, would be the first big-city school system to adopt performance-based pay. Although teachers would give up the certainty of raises based on years of service, they would gain a chance to earn continuous raises, with no limit on top pay.

The plan, based on a pilot program operating in 16 Denver schools since 1999, provides raises for teachers whose students show a year-to-year improvement on a statewide standardized test. Teachers could also get higher pay for agreeing to move to schools designated "hard to staff."

Washington, D.C.

Top scientist rebuts charges from peers

More than two years after leaving the directorship of Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island to become the White House science adviser, John Marburger III finds himself defending the Bush administration against charges it has distorted and misused science.

Marburger said in an interview last week he was disappointed that more than 60 prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, recently signed an open letter calling for action to "restore scientific integrity" in federal policy making.

A separate report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., alleged a pattern by the Bush administration of stacking scientific advisory groups to advance its political agenda, muzzling government scientists and tampering with the analysis of scientific data on key issues such as climate change.

Marburger called the report a conspiracy theory that made generalizations based on disconnected incidents he said were not fully investigated by the authors.

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