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In brief: Man shoots self in cathedral

A man shot and killed himself in front of a cross inside televangelist Robert H. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral on Wednesday as a nearby volunteer told a group of visitors about the church’s suicide-prevention program, police and church officials said.

The man handed a note and his driver’s license to two ushers, walked to the cross and then shot himself in the head as he appeared to be praying, Senior Pastor Juan Carlos Ortiz said.

The Orange County coroner’s office identified the man as Steve Smick, 48. Church spokesman Mike Nason said there was no record of Smick at the cathedral.

The glass-walled, 10,000-member megachurch in Orange County is home to the “Hour of Power” broadcast, an evangelism staple aired internationally for more than three decades. Thousands visit the cathedral to see where the broadcast is filmed before a live congregation.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Jury sides with smoker’s widow

Philip Morris was ordered by a jury Wednesday to pay $8 million in damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer in a case that could set a standard for some 8,000 similar Florida lawsuits.

The six jurors deliberated over two days before returning the award for Elaine Hess, 63, whose husband Stuart Hess died in 1997 at age 55 after decades as a chain smoker.

The award amounts to $3 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages against Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc. Hess’s attorneys sought up to $130 million.

The Hess case was the first to go to trial since the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 voided a $145 billion class-action jury award in the so-called Engle case, by far the highest punitive damage award in U.S. history. The court said each smoker’s case had to be decided individually, but let stand that jury’s findings that tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid risks from the public.

Altria, the Philip Morris parent, issued a statement calling the Florida legal procedure “profoundly flawed” and predicted the damage awards would be reduced or thrown out on appeal.


Chinese Muslims remain in custody

The U.S. government may continue holding a group of 17 Chinese Muslims instead of releasing them in the United States, even though they are no longer considered dangerous, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in reversing an earlier decision.

In October, a trial judge ordered all 17 men freed in the Washington area after he determined that the government had no legal right to continue holding them at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They remained in custody pending the appeal.

The men are Uighurs, an ethnic group native to China’s vast western steppes that has occasionally sought autonomy from Beijing. They were detained near Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains shortly after the American invasion and later handed over to U.S. military officials.

They would have been the first Guantanamo detainees released in the United States.

But in Wednesday’s ruling, the appeals court overruled the lower court decision, saying a judge cannot force the White House to allow foreigners entry into the U.S. because such decisions can be made only through immigration laws passed by Congress.

From wire reports