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Nation in brief: VA to re-examine Gulf War claims

Fri., Feb. 26, 2010

WASHINGTON – The Veterans Affairs Department will re-examine the disability claims of what could be thousands of Gulf War veterans suffering from ailments they blame on their war service, the first step toward compensating them nearly two decades after the war ended.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the decision is part of a “fresh, bold look” his department is taking to help veterans who have what’s commonly called “Gulf War illness” and have long felt the government did little to help them. The VA says it also plans to improve training for clinic staff who work with Gulf War vets, to make sure they do not simply tell vets that their symptoms are imaginary.

Gunfire kills officer in standoff

SANGER, Calif. – A gunman opened fire Thursday on authorities who tried to serve search warrants at his mobile home in Central California, killing one law enforcement officer and wounding two others before barricading himself in the residence during a raging gunbattle that also left him dead.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said authorities used a robot to confirm the suspect’s death Thursday evening following a tense, daylong standoff outside the home in Minkler, a tiny village in the San Joaquin Valley.

It was not immediately clear if his injuries were self-inflicted or suffered as he exchanged hundreds of bullets with officers, Dyer said. Authorities need to fingerprint the man to confirm his identity before releasing his name, he said.

About an hour before the robot was sent in, a woman voluntarily came out with a dog spattered in blood, according to Dyer. Her relationship to the gunman was not immediately known.

Jury convicts man of five murders

SANTA ANA, Calif. – A jury convicted an amateur photographer Thursday for the third time in the murder of a 12-year-old girl and also found him guilty in the brutal stranglings of four women, whose deaths went unsolved for decades until investigators discovered DNA and other evidence tying the cases together.

Jurors took less than two days to find Rodney James Alcala, 66, guilty of five counts of first-degree murder after six weeks of grueling testimony. Alcala, a UCLA graduate with prior convictions for sexual molestation and rape, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.

The jury also found true special circumstance allegations of rape, torture and kidnapping, making him eligible for the death penalty. Jurors return next week for the penalty phase.

Alcala, who represented himself, has been sentenced to death twice before for 12-year-old Robin Samsoe’s murder, but both convictions were overturned.

Bond reduced in sweat lodge case

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – An Arizona judge has lowered the bond from $5 million to $525,000 for a motivational speaker charged with manslaughter for the deaths of three people, clearing the way for his release as early as today.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow issued the ruling Thursday. James Arthur Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter stemming from a sweat lodge ceremony he led near Sedona in October.


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