Originally created 12/14/03

Across the southeast



Novelist's friends say owl killed wife

DURHAM, N.C. -Two friends of novelist Michael Peterson are pushing the Durham district attorney to reopen the case of the convicted killer because of information they say points to another culprit.

Larry Pollard and Nick Galifianakis contend an owl killed Mr. Peterson's wife in December 2001.

A close examination of autopsy photos shows that some of the gashes on the body of Kathleen Peterson clearly resemble talon marks. They also cite research indicating that owl attacks are far from unprecedented in the United States.

District Attorney Jim Hardin Jr., who obtained the murder conviction against Mr. Peterson three months ago, said he rejected the owl theory outright.

"It's absurd," Mr. Hardin said. "Nothing in the evidence in any way suggests there is any validity whatsoever to that theory. It's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard."

Pharmaceutical group selects site for plant

RALEIGH, N.C. -Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. will build a $300 million vaccine plant in North Carolina if state and local incentives come through as promised, a company spokeswoman said Saturday.

"Merck has selected a site in Durham County, N.C., as the location for its new vaccine manufacturing facility," spokeswoman Anita Larsen said. "This decision is contingent upon final approval of state and local economic incentive packages. We expect to be able to make a final announcement in the near future."

On Wednesday, North Carolina's Legislature was called into a special session by Gov. Mike Easley and approved incentives worth $36 million to lure the Merck plant. Mr. Easley's office did not return calls seeking comment Saturday.

The Merck plant will produce a combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and a second medication for chickenpox, Ms. Larsen said.

Company isn't cited for living conditions

RALEIGH, N.C. -An agriculture company can't be held responsible for hundreds of tomato pickers living in squalor because there isn't evidence that the company knew about the conditions, state officials say.

Ag-Mart, a Florida-based company that runs the Brunswick County farm where the workers were found, hired independent labor contractors to provide workers and find them housing.

"We can't just issue a citation on intuition," said Regina Luginbuhl, the head of the state Labor Department's Agricultural Safety and Health Bureau. "In a court of law, we have to be able to substantiate it."

State inspectors discovered workers last fall living with as many as six people squeezed into one motel room. Some lived in roach-infested houses with broken windows, exposed wiring and malfunctioning toilets.