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POSTED March 23, 2012 8:37 p.m.

SLAIN TEEN'S FRIENDS SAY HE NEVER PICKED A FIGHT: MIAMI (AP) — Wearing a hoodie. Listening to music and talking on his cellphone. Picking up Skittles for his soon-to-be stepbrother. Friends say that's how they would have imagined 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on a Sunday afternoon.

Starting a fight? Possibly high on drugs and up to no good? No, friends say that description of Martin from the neighborhood crime-watch volunteer who shot and killed the unarmed black teenager doesn't match the young man they knew.

"There's no way I can believe that, because he's not a confrontational kid," said Jerome Horton, who was one of Martin's former football coaches and knew him since he was about 5. "It just wouldn't happen. That's just not that kid."

Martin was slain in the town of Sanford on Feb. 26 in a shooting that has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice. Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, claimed self-defense and has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating.

Since his death, Martin's name and photographs — in football jerseys, smiling alongside a baby, and staring into the camera in a gray hoodie — have been held up by civil rights leaders and at rallies stretching from Miami to New York demanding Zimmerman's arrest.

ARMY SERGEANT CHARGED IN AFGHAN MASSACRE: WASHINGTON (AP) — Charges filed Friday against Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales reflect the horror of the crime: 17 counts of premeditated murder, more than half of them children, during a shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan. But while Afghans are calling for swift and severe punishment, it will likely be months, even years, before the public ever sees Bales in a courtroom.

One only has to look at two recent and similarly high-profile cases to see that the wheels of military justice turn slowly.

It's been nearly 29 months since an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan, allegedly killed 13 and injured two dozen more at Fort Hood, Texas. His trial is scheduled to begin in June. And it's been 21 months since the military charged intelligence analyst Bradley Manning with leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified information. It took nine months before he was deemed competent to stand trial.

The military on Friday charged Bales with 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault in the March 11 pre-dawn massacre in two southern Afghanistan villages near his base. The father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., was officially informed of the 29 charges just before noon at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he is confined.

OFFICIAL: NO SIGN FRENCH SUSPECT HAD AL-QAIDA TIES: PARIS (AP) — Investigators have found no signs the suspected gunman behind a deadly string of attacks in southern France was under orders from al-Qaida or any militant group, a top French official said Friday — disputing Mohamed Merah's claim of terrorist ties before he died in a shootout with commandos.

France's prime minister and other officials have been fending off suggestions that anti-terrorism authorities failed to adequately monitor the 23-year-old Merah, who had been known to them for years before he carried out three deadly shooting attacks this month.

Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, was killed in a dramatic gunfight with police Thursday after a 32-hour standoff at his Toulouse apartment. Prosecutors said he filmed himself carrying out the attacks that began March 11, killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers with close-range shots to the head. Another Jewish student and a paratrooper were wounded.

 

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