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NW today: Man gets 5 life sentences for Pasco killings

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PASCO – Vicente Ruiz was ordered Thursday to serve one life term for each of the men he killed 23 years ago inside a Pasco garage. Five men died that night in a crime that thrust Pasco into the national spotlight. A sixth was wounded, and for that, Ruiz got an additional 20 years, though Judge Cameron Mitchell admitted Thursday that it is “perhaps somewhat redundant given the other sentences.” But the 46-year-old Ruiz is confident he won’t die in prison, and defense attorneys join him in the belief the case will be back for a fourth trial. “We’re optimistic that there is solid grounds for the appeal,” said lawyer Kevin Holt. Ruiz was convicted Dec. 22 by a Spokane County jury of five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. The seven-week trial was moved out of Franklin County after the first two Superior Court trials ended in mistrials.

Idaho lawmaker introduces medical marijuana bill

BOISE — A North Idaho lawmaker has introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state. Republican Rep. Tom Trail of Moscow earlier this week sponsored the Idaho Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to establish a system for patients to legally obtain and use marijuana. Trail says it’s time for lawmakers to help reduce the suffering of seriously ill citizens. If passed, patients would need a certificate from a doctor to get medical marijuana. Patients or their caregivers would also have to register with the state before they could obtain marijuana. Only treatment centers licensed by the state would be allowed to sell medical marijuana, and patients would be limited to 2 ounces in a 28-day period.

Initiative would legalize marijuana in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. — The head of the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation in Portland, Paul Stanford, is working to put a measure on the 2012 ballot in Oregon to legalize marijuana. Stanford told KATU marijuana should be regulated like cigarettes and liquor. He says taxes would bring a steady flow of revenue to the state. Stanford needs nearly 90,000 signatures to make the ballot. Last November, Oregon voters turned down a measure that would have allowed dispensaries to sell limited amounts of marijuana to Oregonians with medical marijuana cards.

NIC president asks BNSF to donate land

COEUR d’ALENE — The president of North Idaho College has asked billionaire Warren Buffett if the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway would consider donating a piece of land it owns to the college. The Coeur d’Alene Press reports Priscilla Bell wrote to Buffett in August and school officials say they could have an answer by the end of the month. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate acquired BNSF last February. Bell admitted to “being a bit bold” in asking the company to donate the 2.63-acre strip of land the growing Coeur d’Alene campus would like to use to improve traffic flow. Bell told Buffett the $700,000 price BNSF placed on the land is “completely out of our reach.” The land is adjacent to a BNSF right of way that is being abandoned.

Watershed council: Beavers valuable to ecosystem

ASTORIA, Ore. — Some watershed councils on the Oregon coast are looking for ways to help beavers and humans coexist. The Necanicum Watershed Council is hosting a series titled “Listening to the Land” with the North Coast Land Conservancy, a land trust that owns properties from the Columbia River Estuary to Lincoln City. Wayne Hoffman, MidCoast Watersheds Council coordinator, says beavers are rodents that can be big pests, making water flow onto roads and across property, and gnawing on valuable trees. But Hoffman says the industrious animals can also be incredibly useful. He told the Daily Astorian that he was part of a series of studies that showed a decline in beaver dams across the region in 2006 and 2007, and he says it’s time to find ways to help the animals recover.

Gang members’ long sentences may just be the first

YAKIMA – Two Lower Valley men waved goodbye to tearful relatives Thursday as they prepared to serve more than 50 years each in prison for a gang-related shooting in Sunnyside. The case foreshadows a possible wave of lengthy prison terms for Yakima County defendants convicted of violent gang crimes, thanks to recent changes in state law intended to crack down on street gangs. Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, was the prime sponsor of the 2008 legislation that boosted prison time for crimes designed to raise the profile of street gangs, such as drive-by shootings. Despite protests from defense attorneys and grieving family members at Thursday’s sentencing, Ross said in a telephone interview that the lengthy sentences were exactly what the Legislature envisioned when it approved the stiff sentencing laws. Judges can impose sentences of up to life for the most serious crimes, such as assault and homicide, if it’s found the crime benefited the gang’s reputation.

Man guilty of robbing store with hot chocolate

BILLINGS, Mont. — A 31-year-old man accused of throwing a cup of hot chocolate at a Billings convenience store clerk to access the till has pleaded guilty to robbery. KULR-TV reports Michael Barreca Jr., changed his plea Thursday in District Court in Billings. Police say he got away with $48 in the December robbery. The clerk did not have serious injuries. Prosecutors are recommending a 10-year sentence to run concurrently with a previous robbery conviction when Barreca is sentenced on April 1.

Hundreds pack hearing to testify on Idaho schools

BOISE — There was standing room only as lawmakers on the panel that writes Idaho’s budget held their first public hearing in state history and took testimony on public schools. Less than an hour into the hearing today, lawmakers were already getting an earful on the impact of budget cuts in the classroom and a plan to overhaul schools with more technology and fewer teachers. Lauren Peters sobbed while telling lawmakers how the loss of funding had devastated her community, where her son’s high school no longer had a band to play pomp and circumstance when he graduates later this year. Hundreds of teachers and parents filled the auditorium, with overflow crowds filling nearby hearing rooms. More than 130 people had signed up to testify as the hearing got under way and more were lining up.

Corps releases report on pollution at dam

VANCOUVER – The Army Corps of Engineers has released a voluminous investigation of contamination at an old landfill that had been leaching pollution into the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam. The corps is soliciting public comment, then will formulate long-term cleanup plan. The landfill, at the upriver tip of Bradford Island, had been used for household waste as well as project-related debris between 1942 and 1982. Materials dumped in the landfill include household garbage, petroleum products such as oil and grease from dam turbines, paint, solvents, insulators, mercury vapor lamps, sealed buckets of grease, blast grit, scrap metal, switch gear and cables. In 1999, workers surveying the shoreline for groundwater seepage spotted three electrical capacitors poking out of the river. Each capacitor contained between 10 and 12 gallons of oil heavily laden with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

Injured cougar killed near Prineville

PRINEVILLE, Ore. — An injured cougar was killed by a reserve Crook County sheriff’s deputy who found in near a Prineville-area home. The sheriff’s office says a driver reported he struck the animal Thursday on Highway 26. When deputies arrived it ran off. They feared it could threaten nearby residents, so they tracked it down. The cougar was a 90-pound male, 2 or 3 years old.

Search fails to find body in N. Santiam River

DETROIT, Ore. — A search of the North Santiam River and Detroit Lake on Thursday failed to find the body of a woman who police believe was killed nearly three months ago and dumped in the water. KTVZ reports the Linn County sheriff’s office has called off the search for Lori Blaylock’s body for the rest of the winter. Searchers also were unable to find it in December when kayakers thought they had spotted it. Some of Blaylock’s clothing was found in the river after she disappeared Oct. 28. Blaylock’s husband, Steven Blaylock, is facing a murder charge in Deschutes County. He says his wife walked away from their home in Bend.

Shooting suspect had been in Mont. for 2 months

BOZEMAN, Mont. — A Florida man suspected of shooting the mother of a young genius before being shot to death by law enforcement officers had been in the Bozeman area for up to two months. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that 81-year-old Thomas Kyros of New Port Richey, Fla., had been living at the Days Inn in Bozeman since mid-November. Kyros is suspected of shooting Georgia Smith at her house south of Livingston on Monday. Smith is the mother of 19-year-old Promethea Pythaitha, who at 14 became the youngest person to graduate from Montana State University. Officials say Smith is hospitalized in stable condition. The Chronicle has reported that Kyros became angry and blamed Smith when Pythaitha quit accepting his offers to pay her college tuition and returned books and other gifts.

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