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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Court extends freeze on Michigan gay marriages

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 00:49 Published in National News
   DETROIT (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday put an indefinite halt to gay marriage in Michigan while it takes a longer look at a judge's decision overturning a 2004 ban on same-sex nuptials.
   The court granted the state's request to suspend a ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who declared the voter-approved ban unconstitutional on Friday. Hundreds of same-sex couples in four counties were married Saturday before the appeals court stepped in with a temporary stay that had been set to expire Wednesday.
   The 2-1 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for Attorney General Bill Schuette, who had pledged to rush to the U.S. Supreme Court if the court turned him down.
   Judges Karen Caldwell and John Rogers said a stay is appropriate, especially because the Supreme Court ordered a similar time-out in January in a gay marriage case in Utah.
   "There is no apparent basis to distinguish this case or to balance the equities any differently than the Supreme Court did" in Utah, Caldwell and Rogers said. "Furthermore, several district courts that have struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage similar to the Michigan amendment at issue here have also granted requests for stays made by state defendants."
   Appeals court Judge Helene White disagreed.
   It will be months before the next major step by the Cincinnati-based court. It set May and June deadlines for additional filings by the state and attorneys for two Detroit-area nurses who had challenged the gay marriage ban. The court has yet to schedule a day for arguments.
   "We will now focus on preparing an appeal in defense of the constitution and the will of the people," Schuette spokeswoman Joy Yearout said.
   Friedman, a judge in Detroit, ruled last week in favor of Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who live with three adopted children. They can't jointly adopt each other's kids because joint adoption in Michigan is tied to marriage.
   The judge held a two-week trial, listening to experts mostly talk about the impact of same-sex parenting on children. Friedman said conservative social scientists and economists who testified for Michigan were "unbelievable" and "clearly represent a fringe viewpoint."
   Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.
   Attorneys for Rowse and DeBoer had urged the appeals court to allow gay marriages in Michigan while the case was under review.
   "The public interest in this case lies on the side of ending discrimination, promoting equality and human dignity and providing security for children," they said.
   Nearly 60 percent of Michigan voters in 2004 approved adding an amendment to the constitution that says marriage only is between a man and a woman. Friedman, however, said the election result was no defense to discrimination against gays and lesbians.
   What remains unclear is the legal status of more than 300 couples who were married Saturday in Washtenaw, Ingham, Oakland and Muskegon counties. Supporters of same-sex marriage are urging the Obama administration to recognize the marriages for purposes of federal benefits as it has done in other states.
   Gov. Rick Snyder has not signaled if the state will recognize the marriages.

Snag delays arrival of crew at space station

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 00:42 Published in National News
   MOSCOW (AP) — An engine snag has delayed the arrival of a Russian spacecraft carrying three astronauts to the International Space Station until Thursday.
   A rocket carrying Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and American Steve Swanson to the International Space Station blasted off successfully early Wednesday from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
   The Soyuz booster rocket lifted off as scheduled at 3:17 a.m. local time Wednesday (2117 GMT Tuesday). It entered a designated orbit about 10 minutes after the launch and was expected to reach the space station in six hours. All onboard systems were working flawlessly, and the crew was feeling fine.
   NASA and Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, said shortly before the planned docking that the arrival had been delayed after a 24-second engine burn that was necessary to adjust the Soyuz spacecraft's orbiting path "did not occur as planned."
   The crew is in no danger, but will have to wait until Thursday for the Soyuz TMA-12M to arrive and dock at the space station, NASA said. The arrival is now scheduled for 7:58 EDT (2358 GMT) Thursday.
   Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko said on Wednesday that the glitch occurred because of a failure of the ship's orientation system. The crew is in good spirits and they have taken off their space suits to prepare for the long flight, Ostapenko said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
   The Russian official said the crew is now working to adjust the spacecraftt to the right orbit to make it for the Thursday docking.
   Russian spacecraft used to routinely travel two days to reach the orbiting laboratory before last year. Wednesday would have been only the fifth time that a crew would have taken the six-hour "fast-track" route to the station.
   NASA said that Moscow flight control has yet to determine why the engine burn did not occur.
   The three astronauts traveling in the Soyuz will be greeted by Japan's Koichi Wakata, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, who have been at the station since November. Wakata is the first Japanese astronaut to lead the station. The new crew is scheduled to stay in orbit for six months.
   The joint mission is taking place at a time when U.S.-Russian relations on Earth are at their lowest ebb in decades, but the U.S. and Russia haven't allowed their disagreements over Ukraine to get in the way of their cooperation in space.
   Swanson is a veteran of two U.S. space shuttle missions, and Skvortsov spent six months at the space outpost in 2010. Artemyev is on his first flight to space.
   So far, the tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine have been kept at bay. Since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft as the only means to ferry crew to the orbiting outpost and back.
   The U.S. is paying Russia nearly $71 million per seat to fly astronauts to the space lab through 2017. It's doing that at a time when Washington has led calls for sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine following a hastily-arranged referendum. So far the sanctions have been limited and haven't directly targeted the wider Russian economy.
   Earlier this month, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden repeatedly said the conflict in Ukraine would have no effect on what's going on in space between the U.S. and Russia, saying that the "partnership in space remains intact and normal."
   At the same time, Bolden said on his blog Tuesday that while NASA continues to cooperate successfully with Russia, it wants to quickly get its own capacity to launch crews. NASA is trying to speed up private American companies' efforts to launch crews into orbit, but it needs extra funding to do so.
   BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) - A man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 17 year old St. Charles girl has been executed in Missouri, marking the state's fifth execution in as many months.
   Jeffrey Ferguson was lethally injected just after midnight Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
   The 59 year old was accused of kidnapping Kelli Hall as she finished her shift at a Mobil gas station in St. Charles on Feb. 9, 1989.
   Her frozen body was found 13 days later on a St. Louis County farm.
   Ferguson had expressed remorse for the crime. Supporters said he'd found religion, counseled other inmates and helped start a prison hospice program.
   But St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Ferguson's good deeds in prison didn't make up for the senseless killing of an innocent teenager.
 
 AP's earlier story is below:
 
   The U.S. Supreme Court refused late Tuesday to stop the impending execution of a Missouri man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 17 year old girl in 1989.
   The high court released its rulings barely an hour before 59 year old Jeffrey Ferguson was scheduled for lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
   Ferguson's attorneys were challenging, among other things, the state's refusal to disclose where it gets its execution drugs. Their appeals also were denied by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the governor denied a clemency request.
   The execution will mark the state's fifth execution since November.
   Ferguson was accused of kidnapping Kelli Hall shortly before her shift ended at a Mobil gas station in St. Charles on Feb. 9, 1989. Her frozen body was found 13 days later on a St. Louis County farm.
   "Kelli Hall was only 17 when she was abducted from her workplace, raped and brutally murdered," Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement Tuesday evening. "Her life, so full of promise, was brutally taken from her and her family."
   "The jury that convicted Jeffrey Ferguson of Kelli's murder found that the aggravating circumstances for this crime warranted the death penalty," he said in denying the clemency request. "My decision today upholds that appropriate sentence. "
   Missouri switched to a one-drug execution method late last year. The state obtains the drug, pentobarbital, from a compounding pharmacy it refuses to name.
   Ferguson's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, had asked the 8th Circuit to stay the execution, arguing that the state's secretive process prohibited the public from knowing exactly how the drug was made and whether it could cause pain and suffering for the inmate.
   The drug was used in the state's four previous executions, and the inmates showed no outward signs of distress during the execution process.
   A similar request for a stay, arguing that Ferguson wasn't given timely notice of the method being used for his execution, was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
   Ferguson's supporters argue that he has turned his life around behind bars and has been a model prisoner who works with other inmates, helped start a hospice program and performed other good deeds.
   Herndon said Ferguson was an alcoholic who blacked out on the night of the murder, but that he became devoutly religious once sent to death row.
   Ferguson and a friend, Kenneth Ousley, were at a Shell service station in St. Charles on the night of the murder.
   Hall, who worked at the Mobil station across the street, was nearing the end of her eight-hour work shift when she went outside to check the levels of four fuel tanks.
   A witness said Ferguson's Chevrolet Blazer pulled up. The witness saw a man standing close to Hall with a hand in his pocket. Ferguson was carrying a pistol.
   About a half-hour later, a co-worker went looking for Hall. When they found out she was not home and her purse was still at the station, they contacted police. Later, some of her clothing was found by a city worker in the St. Louis County town of Chesterfield.
   On Feb. 22, Warren Stemme was approaching a machine shed on his farm in Maryland Heights, another St. Louis suburb, when he found Hall's frozen body, naked except for socks. She had been strangled.
   An acquaintance suspicious about Ferguson led police to him, and he was convicted of first-degree murder. Ousley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1993; he is serving a life term but is eligible for parole.
 

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