February 7, 2009 in Nation/World

Tainted peanuts sold back in ’07


A Georgia peanut plant knowingly shipped salmonella-laced products as far back as 2007, at times sending out tainted products after tests confirmed contamination, according to inspection records released Friday.

Food and Drug Administration officials earlier had said Peanut Corp. of America waited for a second test to clear peanut butter and peanuts that initially were positive for salmonella.

Federal law forbids producing or shipping foods under conditions that could make it harmful to consumers’ health.

The salmonella outbreak has been blamed for at least eight deaths and 575 illnesses in 43 states. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation. More than 1,550 products have been recalled.


Inmate exonerated posthumously

A judge on Friday ordered the exoneration of a man who died in prison while serving time for rape after recent DNA tests showed another man committed the crime.

State District Judge Charles Baird also ordered Timothy Cole’s record expunged, calling it the “saddest case I’ve ever seen.”

Cole was convicted of raping a Texas Tech University student in Lubbock in 1985 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He died in 1999 at age 39 from asthma complications.

DNA tests in 2008 connected the crime to Jerry Wayne Johnson, who is serving life in prison for separate rapes. Johnson testified in court Friday that he was the rapist in Cole’s case and asked the victim and Cole’s family to forgive him.

“I’m responsible for all this. I’m truly sorry for my pathetic behavior and selfishness. I hope and pray you will forgive me,” Johnson said.


Bill would allow same-sex marriages

Nine years after becoming the first state to permit civil unions, Vermont moved a step toward legalizing gay marriage Friday.

A bill that would allow same-sex unions was introduced in the Legislature, causing a crowd of about several hundred supporters to gather at the Statehouse in celebration.

“This really is a great day and a part of moving forward to a time when all Vermont couples will be treated equally under our laws,” said a sponsor, Rep. Mark Larson.

A similar bill is expected to be introduced later in the state Senate.


Fiery crash blamed on truck driver

A truck driver speeding on a rain-slicked interstate in 2007 lost control and crashed into a median barrier, setting off chain-reaction collisions that turned a tunnel into an inferno and left three people dead, investigators concluded Friday.

The pileup closed Interstate 5 for two days and cost $17 million to clean up and repair.

The report concluded that the double-trailer truck with a faulty brake was traveling more than 65 mph when it jackknifed shortly after passing through a curving, dimly lighted bypass tunnel on Oct. 12, 2007. Despite the bad brake, the report said, the accident was caused primarily by the truck’s excessive speed on a rainy night as it descended the mountain pass on the edge of Los Angeles. The driver, Jose Reyes, survived.

The report said the stormy weather also contributed to the crash. Thirty-three trucks and a car were involved, and 26 were destroyed by fire.

Saia Inc., which owned Reyes’ truck, said in a statement that the report “failed to give appropriate consideration to a number of critically important factors,” including what it called a poorly designed and maintained tunnel.


Ginsburg plans quick return

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg plans to be back at work for the court’s next public session, less than three weeks after surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Ginsburg intends to be in court when the justices hear arguments on Feb. 23, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Friday.

The 75-year-old justice is recuperating at a New York hospital after undergoing surgery on Thursday.


Mom who killed kids reaches plea deal

A mother who drowned her three young children in a bathtub at their Long Island home has apparently reached a plea agreement that would send her to a psychiatric facility rather than prison.

Prosecutors and a defense attorney declined to confirm whether an agreement had been reached in the case of Leatrice Brewer, 28, but the father of two of the victims issued a statement Friday saying he had been informed of the deal.

“I am shocked that the district attorney would allow Ms. Brewer to plead insanity and be found not guilty without a trial,” Innocent Demesyeux said.

Brewer was due in court Monday to face murder charges in the deaths of 5-year-old Michael and his 18-month-old brother, also named Innocent Demesyeux. She is also charged with killing her 6-year-old daughter, Jewell Ward.

She is suspected of drowning her three children in a bathtub inside their apartment in New Cassel, N.Y., on Feb. 24. She told authorities she slashed the little girl’s throat before drowning her.


Girl says mother put her in hot oven

After telling police that “Mom cooks me in the oven like a turkey,” a 4-year-old Hamtramck girl and her four siblings are in foster care and their mother is facing years in prison on torture charges.

Reyna Valentino, 40, was arraigned Thursday in 31st District Court in Hamtramck on two counts of torture and two counts of child abuse. Bond was set at $1 million. Her next hearing is set for Feb. 12.

Police said Valentino went to a neighbor’s house after burning the girl in the oven at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 23, begging the neighbor to call police.

Hamtramck police Detective Ben Bielecki said Valentino asked police in her 911 call to come get her.

“She said, ‘I’m going to hurt my family,’ ” Bielecki said. “When our guys got there, it was pretty bad.”

While the father had gone to pick the two boys up from school, Valentino used a heated nail or a screwdriver to burn the 4-year-old girl’s lower eyelid, police said . Then she put the girl in the turned-on oven, creating sear lines on her back.

From wire reports

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