Black smoke billows from Sistine Chapel chimney signals no pope on first vote of conclave
VATICAN CITY (AP) — This time there was no doubt. There was no new pope yet, and the mystery of who — and when — was as thick as the unmistakable heavy black smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel chimney.
As thousands waited in a cold night rain in St. Peter's Square, the cardinals signaled Tuesday they had failed on their first attempt to find a leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and their troubled church.
"It's black, it's black, it's waaay black!" screamed Eliza Nagle, a 21-year-old Notre Dame theology major on an exchange program in Rome, as the smoke poured from the 6-foot-high copper chimney at 7:41 p.m.
"They definitely got the color right this time," agreed Father Andrew Gawrych, an American priest based in Rome, referring to the confusion over the smoke during the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
That was thanks to special smoke flares — akin to those used in soccer matches or protests — lit in the chapel ovens to make the burned ballots black, the sign that cardinals must come back for another day of voting Wednesday.
Ryan's new budget, like the old, goes after Obama programs; he says it would lead to balance
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans redoubled their efforts to roll back signature accomplishments of President Barack Obama on Tuesday, offering a slashing budget plan that would repeal new health care subsidies and cut spending across a wide swath of programs dear to Obama and his Democratic allies.
The GOP plan was immediately rejected by the White House as an approach that "just doesn't add up" and would harm America's middle class. Obama has rebuffed similar plans two years in a row and ran strongly against the ideas when winning re-election last year — when its chief author, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was on the Republican ticket.
Ryan's budget illustrates the stark differences in the visions of tea party-backed Republicans and Obama and his Democratic allies about the size and role of government — with no obvious avenues for compromise.
Senate Democrats are responding with a milder plan that would repeal automatic spending cuts that began to take effect earlier this month while offering $100 billion in new spending for infrastructure and job training. The Democratic counter won't be officially unveiled until Wednesday, but its rough outlines were described by aides. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to describe it publicly.
That plan by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., would raise taxes by almost $1 trillion over a decade and cut spending by almost $1 trillion over the same period. But more half of the combined deficit savings would be used to repeal the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that began to hit the economy earlier this month and are slated to continue through the decade.
Judge enters not guilty plea on behalf of Holmes in deadly Colorado theater shooting
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — A bearded and bushy-haired James Holmes sat quietly as a packed courtroom waited Tuesday for a plea that could help shed light on a deadly shooting rampage he is accused of going on in a crowded Colorado movie theater last summer.
Instead, his lawyers told the judge they weren't ready to enter a plea — despite numerous delays since the July 20 attack that killed 12 people and injured 70 at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
A barely audible gasp rose from dozens of family members and victims.
"So how am I supposed to make an informed decision?" Judge William Sylvester asked pointedly, his gaze fixed on defense lawyer Daniel King, before the judge entered a not guilty plea on Holmes' behalf.
Victims were relieved by Sylvester's action.
AP Exclusive: Will nation's uninsured get lost in long application for Obama health care plan?
WASHINGTON (AP) — Applying for benefits under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul could be as daunting as doing your taxes.
The government's draft application runs 15 pages for a three-person family. An outline of the online version has 21 steps, some with additional questions.
Seven months before the Oct. 1 start of enrollment season for millions of uninsured Americans, the idea that getting health insurance could be as easy as shopping online at Amazon or Travelocity is starting to look like wishful thinking.
At least three major federal agencies, including the IRS, will scrutinize your application. Checking your identity, income and citizenship is supposed to happen in real time, if you apply online.
That's just the first part of the process, which lets you know if you qualify for financial help. The government asks to see what you're making because Obama's Affordable Care Act is means-tested, with lower-income people getting the most generous help to pay premiums.
Man accused in deadly plot to lure people with Ohio Craigslist job offers convicted of murder
AKRON, Ohio (AP) — A self-styled street preacher accused of teaming up with a high school student in a deadly plot to lure men with Craigslist job offers and then rob them was found guilty Tuesday of aggravated murder and could face the death penalty.
A jury in Akron returned the verdict in the case against Richard Beasley, who was charged with killing two men from Ohio and one from Norfolk, Va. A man from South Carolina was shot but survived and testified about running for his life and hiding in the woods, scared he would bleed to death.
Family members of the victims hugged and wiped away tears as the verdict was read. Beasley, who also was convicted of aggravated robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder in wounding the lone survivor, slumped in his wheelchair, which he uses because of back problems. His mother leaned over and sobbed in the hushed courtroom.
The jury that convicted Beasley will return March 20 to consider whether to recommend the death penalty for him.
Prosecutors, who had asked jurors to use common sense and return a guilty verdict, labeled the 53-year-old Beasley the triggerman in the 2011 plot with a student he mentored. The 16-year-old student, Brogan Rafferty, was convicted and sentenced last year to life in prison without the chance of parole.
Bill requiring gun background check clears Senate panel, faces difficult path in Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats gave a boost Tuesday to the pillar of President Barack Obama's plans for reducing gun violence, pushing a bill requiring nearly universal federal background checks for firearms buyers through the Senate Judiciary Committee over solid Republican opposition.
The proposal still faces a difficult path through Congress, where GOP lawmakers say it would have little impact on crime and warn that it is a precursor to a federal registry of gun owners. Such a listing is forbidden by federal law and is anathema to conservatives and the National Rifle Association.
The committee approved the bill 10-8, supported by every Democrat and opposed by all Republicans. It would require background checks for transactions between private individuals — they are now mandatory only for sales by licensed gun dealers — and expand a system designed to keep firearms from criminals, those with major mental problems and others.
"This isn't going to be a perfect bill," said its sponsor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., acknowledging that it wouldn't end gun violence. "But it will sure reduce crimes."
The panel also voted 14-4 for a measure providing an additional $40 million annually for school safety improvements like classroom locks and training for teachers. Four Republicans joined Democrats in backing that measure, which initially called for a higher figure that was reduced in bargaining between Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Giffords' husband draws criticism from gun-right supporters for buying AR-15 type rifle
PHOENIX (AP) — The husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords generated nearly 4,000 comments on Facebook from people on both sides of the gun debate after he posted a photo of himself buying a military-style rifle — a purchase he made to demonstrate how easy it is to obtain the kind of firearms he's lobbying Congress to ban.
A background check took only a matter of minutes to complete, Mark Kelly said in the Facebook post, adding that it's scary to think people can buy similar guns without background checks at gun shows or on the Internet.
It didn't take long for gun-rights supporters to accuse Kelly of being a hypocrite for buying an AR-15-style rifle and a 45.-caliber handgun. Many of the Facebook comments focused on his motivations and the rules for purchasing such guns.
Kelly and Giffords started a gun control advocacy group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, amid the wave of recent mass shootings. They have been touring the country in recent months in support of expanded background checks for gun purchases.
Kelly bought the guns at a Tucson shop the day before he appeared with his wife at the supermarket where she was wounded during a shooting rampage that left six dead and 12 others injured two years ago.
Los Angeles schools reach multimillion-dollar settlement of 58 teacher lewd acts claims
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles school district will pay millions of dollars to settle dozens of legal actions stemming from an abuse case in which a former teacher is charged with lewd acts on children in his classroom over five years, district officials said Tuesday.
General Counsel David Holmquist said the settlement will cover 58 of the 191 claims and lawsuits filed against the district after the January 2012 arrest of former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt on 23 charges of lewd behavior at Miramonte Elementary School.
Holmquist would not specify the exact amount until the settlement is approved by a judge. He described it only as double-digit millions.
Prosecutors say Berndt played "tasting games" with students in which he fed them his semen on cookies and by spoon, sometimes blindfolding and photographing them. Berndt, who taught for 32 years at the South Los Angeles school, has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case.
The allegations came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded children and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they found a plastic spoon in Berndt's classroom trash bin that was found to contain traces of semen.
New York cop convicted in plot to kidnap and eat women; defense decries 'thought prosecution'
NEW YORK (AP) — Police Officer Gilberto Valle's lawyers said he was just spinning sick and twisted fantasies for his own pleasure when he chatted online about abducting, roasting and eating women. A jury, though, decided he was deadly serious.
Valle, 28, was convicted Tuesday of conspiracy in a macabre case that opened a window on a shocking Internet world of cannibalism fetishists. He could get life in prison at sentencing June 19 but is likely to face much less.
His lawyers branded the outcome a "thought prosecution" that sets a dangerous precedent, while federal prosecutors said the verdict proved that Valle crossed the line from fantasy to reality and was genuinely bent on committing "grotesque crimes."
Valle slumped in his chair, dropped his head and wept when the verdict in what the tabloids dubbed the "Cannibal Cop" trial was announced after more than two days of deliberations: guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and guilty of illegally using a police database.
The jurors left the courthouse without comment. Most did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages or declined to discuss the case.
Curiosity rover tests rock, shows ancient Mars had right ingredients to support microbes
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Drilling into a rock near its landing spot, the Curiosity rover has answered a key question about Mars: The red planet long ago harbored some of the ingredients needed for primitive life to thrive.
Topping the list is evidence of water and basic elements that teeny organisms could feed on, scientists said Tuesday.
"We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it," said chief scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology.
The discovery comes seven months after Curiosity touched down in an ancient crater. Last month, it flexed its robotic arm to drill into a fine-grained, veiny rock and then tested the powder in its onboard labs.
Curiosity is the first spacecraft sent to Mars that could collect a sample from deep inside a rock, and scientist said they hit pay dirt with that first rock.