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POSTED February 29, 2012 8:27 p.m.

POLL: 6 IN 10 CALIF. VOTERS BACKS GAY MARRIAGE: SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A new poll finds that six out of every 10 voters in California now support allowing same-sex couples to get married, a significant increase since the state voted to ban same-sex marriage a little more than two years ago.

The Field Poll published Wednesday found that of the 515 registered voters surveyed, 59 percent said they favored extending regular marriage rights to same-sex couples. When the state's gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, passed in November 2008, the figure stood at 49 percent.

According to the poll, support for legalizing same-sex marriages extends across many demographic groups and to every region of the state.

Republicans, voters who described themselves as politically conservative or Protestant, and those ages 65 and over were the only segments that did not have at least half of the respondents backing gay marriage.

US MOTHBALLS AIRBORNE LASER MISSILE DEFENSE WEAPON: EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE  (AP) — The Pentagon has mothballed a laser-equipped jumbo jet after 15 years and $5 billion worth of research to develop an airborne missile defense system.

Budget cuts shot down the Airborne Laser Test Bed but some research into anti-missile lasers will continue, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

"We didn't have the funding to continue flying the aircraft," agency spokeswoman Debra Christman told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/xEnw3z ).

The plane, a Boeing 747 mounted with a high-energy chemical laser, has been sent into storage at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, the agency said. The base near Tucson, Ariz., serves as a boneyard for military aircraft.

The Boeing had been based at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California's Mojave Desert. It was the centerpiece of the laser-based missile defense system research program that began in 1996.

WOMAN'S QUEST TO BE TEXAS A&M YELL LEADER ENDS: COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Samantha Ketcham's quest to become Texas A&M's first female yell leader ended abruptly Wednesday when the university's election commission said no runoff would be needed after it discovered a vote-tabulation error.

Ketcham was hoping to be elected to the five-member group, which A&M has instead of cheerleaders and has always been comprised of men at the formerly all-male military institution. Yell leaders are among the most visible students on campus.

The commission released results Tuesday night that showed Nelson Ingram had been elected senior yell leader, with Ketcham and three other students facing a runoff for the two remaining positions. A day later, the commission said "the percentages were tabulated incorrectly" and that Drew Nelson and Hunter Skoog had won the other two spots.

NY MOM WHO STOLE SON'S CANCER FUNDS GETS PROBATION: BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — An upstate New York mother who gambled away thousands of dollars raised to help her son fight cancer was sentenced Wednesday to five years' probation.

Sherry Holcomb, 46, of Cortland also must perform 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty in September to a felony count of scheme to defraud.

"I don't understand how it came to this," Holcomb told State Supreme Court Judge John Michalski at her sentencing. "I'm trying to understand."

Holcomb admitted that she opened a bank account for her 21-year-old son, Ryan O'Donnell, depositing money raised at a benefit and included in get-well cards. In a written confession, she said she then withdrew the money to gamble at casinos across the Northeast.

IOWA HOUSE APPROVES 2 GUN BILLS AFTER DEM WALKOUT: DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa House approved two gun-rights measures Wednesday night that sparked Democrats to stage a walkout earlier in the day, stalling action for six hours.

One bill would allow people to use deadly force to protect themselves and the other called for writing gun rights protections into the Iowa Constitution. The second measure would have to be approved by another legislative assembly next year and then be referred to voters.

ALA. COAST GUARD CHOPPER CRASH: 1 DEAD, 3 MISSING: MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — As divers searched the muddy bottom of Alabama's Mobile Bay, a salvage ship was dispatched Wednesday to the sunken wreckage of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that crashed on a training mission, leaving one crewmember dead and three others missing.

Officials said the search would continue through the night throughout the choppy bay in the hope of finding survivors.

The MH-65C helicopter crashed Tuesday evening near Point Clear, Ala. One crewmember was found unresponsive and later declared dead, the Coast Guard said.

The crewmembers were outfitted with survival gear called "dry suits" for the water which officials said was around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

GOD IS DEAD THEOLOGIAN WILLIAM HAMILTON DEAD AT 87: Theologian William Hamilton, a member of the Death of God movement of the 1960s that reached its peak with a Time Magazine cover story, has died in Portland, Ore. He was 87.

Hamilton died Tuesday from complications from congestive heart failure at the downtown apartment he shared with his wife, his family said.

Hamilton told The Oregonian newspaper in 2007 that he had questioned the existence of God since he was a teenager, when two friends — an Episcopalian and a Catholic — died from the explosion of a pipe bomb they were building, while a third — an atheist — escaped without a scratch.

It caused him to question why the innocent suffer, and whether God intervened in people's lives, he said.

MAN FOUND GUILTY IN GRAND CANYON CHILD ABUSE CASE: PHOENIX (AP) — A grandfather was found guilty of child abuse Wednesday for forcing his grandsons on grueling hikes in the Grand Canyon in searing August heat, withholding food and water and choking and kicking them during the long treks.

All three of the boys testified during the trial. The oldest described secretly asking a hiker to call 911 toward the end of a 19-mile hike on Aug. 28 after he started throwing up, falling down because of cramping and experiencing changes to his vision.

"I needed medical attention and I was hurting and he was hitting and pushing me and calling me fat," said the boy. "I was scared and it was hard and I was all weak and tired and kind of hurt."

GROUP DEMANDS DOJ MEMO AUTHORIZING DRONE STRIKE: SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The latest call for the Obama administration to publicly release its legal justification for a drone strike that killed U.S.-born al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen last year came Wednesday in the form of a federal lawsuit.

The First Amendment Coalition of San Rafael is demanding release of a reported U.S. Department of Justice memo that authorized the attack that also killed a second American, Samir Khan, who edited al-Qaida's Internet magazine.

The free speech advocates argued in the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco that the American public has a right to know the "legal justification for the use of lethal force against al-Awlaki and potentially other U.S. citizens who join forces with foreign terrorist organizations that threaten U.S. interests."

 

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