Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Notes From All Over

FBI Investigating Threats To Democrats

The FBI is investigating threats against lawmakers stemming from intense opposition to the health care overhaul law. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says more than 10 Democratic lawmakers have reported incidents. Hoyer adds that the FBI and Capitol Police briefed Democrats on how to handle perceived security threats.

The FBI says that all threats and incidents directed against members of Congress are taken seriously and are being investigated by the FBI. The bureau's Washington field office issued the statement.

The FBI statement added that U.S. Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies also are investigating to identify and bring to justice those responsible.

38-Year Fugitive Found Running Wedding Chapel

A hitchhiker originally sentenced to be executed for the 1951 killing of a Montana man who picked him up during a blizzard has been found running a wedding chapel under an assumed name in Arizona 38 years after he skipped out on parole.

Frank Dryman was found after the victim's grandson hired an investigator who tracked the fugitive to his Arizona City notary and chapel business, where he was known as Victor Houston.

Now 78, Dryman was awaiting extradition proceedings Wednesday, a day after his arrest by the Pinal County sheriff's office. Dryman initially received a hanging sentence after a quick trial in 1955. His case became the focus of a battle over the death penalty and frontier justice, and he received a new sentence of life in prison with the help of the Montana Supreme Court.

In 1969, after just 15 years in prison, he was paroled. The Montana Department of Corrections said that today, the soonest a person convicted of murder could gain parole is 30 years.

Dryman disappeared three years later. No Montana offender had been missing longer.

"He just went into thin air in 1972," said Clem Pellett, the victim's grandson. "I don't think that my grandfather's death was well represented; it just got lost in all the ideologic conversation of the time."

Pellett, a surgeon in Bellevue, Wash., pursued the case after first learning details last year while digging through old newspaper clippings in storage. He said the issue was never discussed in the family. Pellett said he was driven by a sense of curiosity, and does not feel like he needs any revenge since he never knew his grandfather Clarence, and knew little about the murder.

Newspaper clippings from the time say that Clarence Pellett stopped to pick up Frank Dryman in 1951 during a spring blizzard near Shelby, a small town in northern Montana.

Pellett, who ran a small cafe, was shot seven times in the back as he tried to run away, according to the accounts. The private investigator hired by the grandson used scores of documents the family dug up from old parole records, the Montana Historical Society and Internet searches to trace Dryman to the Cactus Rose Wedding Chapel.

Pellett told Montana corrections officials of the discovery. Officials said Dryman acknowledged his identity to officers. A call to the wedding chapel Wednesday was not answered.

The Montana Department of Corrections said that Dryman will be sent back to the state prison. He will face a parole revocation hearing within the next few months -- and possible resumption of his life in prison sentence.

Pellett said he has learned his family has a long, coincidental history with Dryman. Records show that Pellett's great aunt once testified in support of Dryman when the then 16-year-old was accused of robbing a liquor store.

"She came to his defense so that he was not labeled as a delinquent," Pellett said.

Pellett, who only decided to hire a private investigator on a whim during a dinner party conversation, said he is not driven to see Dryman punished.

"The legal system will handle it," the grandson said. "Whatever they decide is fine with me. I mean he is 78 years old."

But Pellet, 56, said would like to finish writing the family history of the long trial.

New Home Sales Drop To Record Low

Sales of new homes fell unexpectedly to the lowest level on record in February as stormy winter weather kept buyers on the sidelines. The weak results make clear the difficulties facing the housing industry as it tries to recover from the worst slump in decades.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new home sales fell 2.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 308,000.

It was the fourth consecutive month of declines and the worst showing on records dating to 1963. January's results, meanwhile, were revised upward slightly to a pace of 315,000.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected February sales would rise to an annual rate of 320,000.

Sales plummeted dramatically in parts of the country that were hit with bad weather. In the Northeast, they fell 20 percent from a month earlier. Midwestern sales fell 18 percent. Sales fell nearly 5 percent in the South but rose 21 percent in the West.

The new home sales report reflects signed contracts to purchase homes rather than completed sales and thus gives economists a feel for how many buyers were out shopping for new homes in a given month.

The number of new homes up for sale in February increased slightly to 236,000. At the current sales pace, it would take more than 9 months to exhaust that supply.

There was some positive news for builders as the median sales price climbed on both a monthly and yearly basis. It rose to $220,500, up more than 5 percent from a year earlier and up about 6 percent from January.

Home sales have been sluggish during the winter even though the deadline for a tax credit for first-time home buyers was extended. It had been set to expire on Nov. 30. The earlier deadline caused sales to surge last fall.

Congress extended the deadline until April 30 and expanded it to cover existing homeowners who move. But economists and real estate agents say the extension has not had much of an impact on sales. That also was reflected Tuesday when the National Association of Realtors said sales of previously occupied homes dropped 0.6 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.02 million.

Some homebuilders say their outlook is getting better, but the recovery is not a strong one.

Daimler To Pay $185M To Settle Bribe Charges

Car manufacturer Daimler AG will pay $185 million to settle criminal and civil investigations in which the company is accused of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to officials of at least 22 foreign governments over the course of a decade, two people familiar with the deal said Tuesday.

Filings in federal court in Washington said the German-based company and three of its subsidiaries engaged in the misconduct from 1998 to 2008 in countries that included China, Russia, Egypt and Greece.

The payments allegedly were aimed at helping secure contracts with government customers for the purchase of Daimler vehicles valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.

Daimler AG will avoid indictment when two of its subsidiaries enter guilty pleas in federal court April 1, according to the two people knowledgeable about the outcome of the five-year probe. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal still must go before a federal judge.

The settlement includes paying $93.6 million to the Justice Department and $91.4 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the two people said.

U.S. Rep. Candidate Calls Obama 'Buckwheat'

Buckwheat, the Little Rascal from the 1920s series of film shorts called "Our Gang," is now center stage in a foot-in-mouth moment for a South Florida candidate for the U.S. Congress.

Corey Poitier, who is running for U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek's seat, delivered a passionate speech against the health care reform bill Monday night to Broward County Republicans. During the speech, Poitier called President Barack Obama "Buckwheat," reported WPLG-TV in Miami.

"I wasn't meaning him any harm. Maybe it was a little insensitive," Poitier said. "It's a term that my brother and I use. It was kind of a way of saying, 'dummy,' like when I say to my brother, 'Hey, Buckwheat, cut that out.' That's what it was."

Poitier admitted that the comment was not very respectful, but he insisted it was not racial.

"I believe that we have become so racially sensitive that anything can be set off," said Poitier, who is black. Students in Poitier's government class at North Miami Beach Senior High School on Tuesday invoked his First Amendment right to free speech.

"Everyone says what they want to say," said senior Donna Saincelaire.

Poitier is the only Republican so far in the race for District 17, where 57 percent of constituents are black and where nine out of 10 voters cast their votes for Obama.

Reading Scores Hold Steady On Nationwide Test

Reading scores for fourth and eighth grade students held mostly steady last year, with improvements seen in a handful of states and among low-income students.

Scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress rose in two states in grade four and in nine states for grade eight in 2009. Overall, the fourth-grade average remained unchanged while eighth graders rose one point.

The average score of fourth-grade students declined in four states: Alaska, Iowa, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Reuters; AP; UPI; WPLG-TV, Miami.

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