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In brief: Death of Reagan aide Brady ruled homicide

Sat., Aug. 9, 2014

WASHINGTON – This week’s death of former White House press secretary James Brady, who survived a gunshot wound to the head in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, has been ruled a homicide, District of Columbia police said Friday.

Federal prosecutors said only that they are reviewing the ruling. But a law professor and an attorney for John Hinckley Jr., who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting, said bringing new charges against the 59-year-old in Brady’s death seemed unlikely.

“I think it (the medical examiner’s ruling) will mean nothing,” longtime Hinckley attorney Barry Levine told the Associated Press.

Brady lived through hours of delicate surgery and further operations over the past 33 years, but never regained normal use of his limbs and was often in a wheelchair.

An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a gunshot wound and its health consequences, and the manner of death was ruled a homicide, according to a news release Friday from District police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump. Nancy Bull, district administrator for the Virginia medical examiner’s office, which made the ruling, declined to disclose any more results of the autopsy.

NASA upbeat about Mars landing device test

LOS ANGELES – NASA engineers say an experimental flying device successfully mimicked the conditions of landing in Mars’ atmosphere, clearing the way for future tests with the device.

At a news conference Friday, the engineers laid out what they’ve learned in the six weeks since the $150 million test, which involved sending a saucer-shaped craft to 190,000 feet above the Earth’s surface.

The high altitude simulates the low-density atmosphere around Mars.

Principal investigator Ian Clark said two breakthrough technologies that were tested on the experimental flight showed promise, despite one of the technologies, a parachute, disintegrating the moment it deployed.

The other technology, a doughnut-shaped inflatable ring, successfully slowed the 7,000-pound saucer from a speed of about four times the speed of sound.

New secretary takes first tour of VA hospital

PHOENIX – Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald visited a VA hospital Friday for the first time since taking over the embattled agency last month, meeting with veterans and health care providers, and vowing to restore trust in the organization.

Reports that dozens of people died while waiting to see a doctor and that employees covered up long wait times at the Phoenix VA hospital helped touch off a national firestorm over veteran care. The former VA secretary was forced to resign, and President Barack Obama on Thursday signed a $16.3 billion law to overhaul the department.

McDonald said his visit to the Phoenix hospital was the first of what would be many across the country in the next few months.

“I’ve been on the job about a week or so, and I’m more encouraged than I’ve been before,” the former Procter & Gamble CEO said. “This is doable.”

Sam Foote, a retired VA doctor who brought to light allegations of wrongdoing at the Phoenix VA hospital, said McDonald and VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson are the right people to lead the department.

“I don’t know if the job’s doable or not,” Foote said. “But if anyone can do it, it’s these two guys.”

McDonald promised to work to regain veterans’ trust by changing the culture of the agency. The department announced Friday that it has initiated independent reviews of its scheduling and access practices to compare the VA hospitals’ performance with that of other health care systems.