Originally created 03/18/03

Across the southeast



Lawyer says officers schemed to plant guns

MIAMI -Eleven Miami police officers schemed to plant guns on unarmed suspects who had been shot and lied under oath to protect each other, a prosecutor charged Monday in closing arguments of their federal conspiracy trial.

Prosecutor Allan Kaiser told jurors that the officers had "a premeditated plan that in case of a bad shooting, we get a 'throwdown,"' police slang for planting guns.

"That was the remedy. That was the way of doing business in bad shootings," he said.

But defense attorneys said prosecutors had no proof and that their case was built on the testimony of two officers, John Mervolion and William Hames, who had made plea deals to protect their pensions and lessen their prison sentences.

Closing arguments were expected to end today in the 10-week trial. Officers face up to 10 years in prison and loss of their careers if convicted in shootings that left three men dead and one wounded from 1995 to 1997.

Senator offers cause of shuttle disaster

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said arrogance and a lack of communication among NASA officials contributed to the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia six weeks ago.

The former astronaut, who flew on Columbia in 1986, said Monday that the same problems befell the Challenger before it exploded in 1986.

"It's a very unforgiving environment," Mr. Nelson told the Forum Club civic association. "You don't want any mistakes and the mistakes caught us."

Mr. Nelson said he wants to know whether NASA could have changed how Columbia re-entered the atmosphere to minimize stress on the space shuttle's left wing when there were indications that some of its thermal tiles had been damaged.

Pair of giant pandas head for Memphis zoo

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -By late next month, a pair of pandas from China should be settled in at their new $15 million home in Memphis and ready to receive visitors.

Their arrival will make the Memphis zoo one of only four in the country, including Zoo Atlanta, with giant pandas on long-term display.

Zoo president Chuck Brady said final approval for the pandas' 10-year visit is expected soon from the Chinese government and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

"We decided it was time to start making the actual preparation for the shipment and announce the shipment date," Mr. Brady said at a news conference Monday.

Efforts to bring the pandas to Memphis began four years ago. Only about 1,000 of the endangered black-and-white animals live in the wild, with 150 others in captivity.