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Earlier this month, Oundre Akins was convicted for robbing a Steak 'n Shake restaurant and killing two employees in 2008. Today, a judge ensured that he will never set foot outside of prison.

The judge sentences Akins to consecutive life sentences for the murders. The death penalty was taken off the table after Akins agreed to waive a jury trial. Akins' brother Anthony goes to trial in July for allegedly helping his brother in the robbery and murders.
Thursday, 21 March 2013 16:50
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JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Crews have started rebuilding a high school destroyed when a deadly tornado swept through Joplin in May 2011.

Broadcaster KOAM reports that the first structural beams for the school were dropped into place Wednesday. This was the first work visible to the community on a building that Superintendent C.J. Huff calls the hub of the community.

Previous work on utilities and footings for the 504,000-square-foot building was largely done underground.

Huff watched as a crane moved the beams into place. He says the work is good for the community to see.

The tornado that destroyed the school hit soon after an offsite graduation ceremony. One graduate was sucked out of a vehicle and killed.

Since then, older students have been attending classes in a converted
Thursday, 21 March 2013 11:15
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PHOENIX (AP) -- The NFL believes it made pro football safer, particularly for defensive players, with rule changes passed at the owners meetings.

Team owners on Wednesday barred ball carriers from using the crown of their helmets to make forcible contact with a defender in the open field. The previous day, they eliminated the peel-back block everywhere on the field.

"This meeting is primarily about evaluating our rules both from a safety standpoint and what we think we can do to improve and make the game better," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We made some very significant progress on both of those fronts."

The second significant player safety rule passed this week came with much debate - and some criticism, naturally, from running backs. Several coaches and team executives expressed concern about officiating the new rule, but Goodell championed it and it passed 31-1. Cincinnati voted no.

But if it was good enough for football's greatest running back, NFL owners figure, it should work in the 21st century.

"Jim Brown never lowered his head," Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney said with a smile. "It can be done."

The changes were the latest involving safety, and head injuries in particular, with the issue receiving heightened attention amid hundreds of lawsuits filed by former players claiming that the NFL did not do enough to prevent concussions in years past. League officials have defended the NFL's record and did so again Wednesday.

"I have always thought that player safety has been at the forefront of our discussion for a long, long time," said Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee that recommends rule changes. "The game has gotten safer over time. Where we have really focused is on the big hits, the open field hits and hits where players truly can't defend themselves. In this step that we are taking, we are trying to protect the player from himself with respect to this rule."

The tuck rule, one of the most criticized in pro football, was eliminated. Now, if a quarterback loses control of the ball before he has fully protected it after opting not to throw, it is a fumble.

The Steelers were the only team to vote against getting rid of the tuck rule. New England and Washington abstained.

"We have so many continuing action plays, it's a different scope," said Ravens coach Marvin Lewis, also a member of the competition committee. "Because of the evolution of replay and putting turnovers into automatic reviews, it just seemed like an easier transition to make right now.

"It was put in before for player safety, but it is not being ruled as that. There's a mad scramble for the ball."

Peel-back blocks had been legal inside the tackle box, but now players can't turn back toward their goal line and block an opponent low from behind anywhere on the field.

Video review now will be allowed when a coach challenges a play that he is not allowed to. But the coach will be penalized or lose a timeout, depending on when he threw the challenge flag.

That change stems from Houston's Thanksgiving victory over Detroit in which Lions coach Jim Schwartz challenged a touchdown run by the Texans' Justin Forsett. Although officials clearly missed Forsett being down by contact before breaking free on the 81-yard run, when Schwartz threw the red flag on a scoring play that automatically is reviewed, the referee could not go to replay.

That loophole has been eliminated.

Goodell was eager to get approved the competition committee's proposal to outlaw the use of the crown of the helmet by ball carriers, and there was talk the vote would be tabled until May if the rule change didn't have enough support.

But after watching videos of the play that clearly showed the differences in legal and illegal moves by ball carriers, the owners voted yes - and then applauded the decision, something Rams coach Jeff Fisher said is "rare."

"We had discussions with the players association and the players themselves, the coaches' subcommittee," said Fisher, co-chairman of the competition committee. "A lot of people talked to us about this rule and how to roll it out in our game."

The penalty will be 15 yards from the spot of the foul, and if the offensive and defensive players both lower their heads and use the crown of the helmet to make contact, each will be penalized.

"It'll certainly make our runners aware of what we expect relative to use of the helmet," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "One of the questions I ask a lot is who gains from this, offense or defense? And it's a toss-up as to which side of the ball has the advantage on this rule, if any. The main thing is it's pro-health and safety, and that's the big thing."

The owners discussed simply using fines on ball carriers to eliminate the tactic, but instead voted to make the rule change.

Goodell announced that the Pro Bowl will be held in Honolulu on Jan. 26, the Sunday before the Super Bowl. The commissioner has considered scrapping the all-star game, but was satisfied with the level of performance in this year's matchup, won 62-25 by the NFC.

He added that the system for choosing the players won't change, but some consideration has been given to having team captains select their rosters, rather than an AFC vs. NFC format.

The Rooney Rule that requires every team to interview at least one minority candidate when there is a coaching or general manager opening was discussed at length. This year, with eight coaching vacancies and seven for GMs, no minority candidates were hired.

Goodell said he was disappointed in those results and would like to see more flexibility when teams ask to interview candidates whose clubs still are playing.

"One of the major focuses we've had was that we are going to reinstate the symposium program that we've had in the past," Goodell said. "That was primarily focused on coaches, but we are likely to have some potential GM candidates also attend with the coaches."

The owners also approved tight ends and H-backs wearing numbers between 40 and 49. Previously, they were supposed to have numbers in the 80s. --

AP Sports Writer Bob Baum contributed to this story.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Thursday, 21 March 2013 09:24
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A familiar budget plan to sharply cut safety-net programs for the poor and clamp down on domestic agencies performing the nuts-and-bolts programs of the government is cruising to passage in the tea party-flavored House.

The Republican measure is advancing to the finish line in the House as the Senate starts a lengthy slog toward passage of a rival budget measure. It takes a sharply different view, restoring automatic cuts to agency budgets and increasing taxes by $1 trillion over the coming decade.

The dueling budget plans are anchored on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum in Washington, appealing to core partisans in the warring parties gridlocked over persistent budget deficits. President Barack Obama is exploring the chances of forging a middle path that blends new taxes and modest curbs to government benefits programs.

The sharp contrast over the 2014 budget and beyond came as the House is positioned to clear unfinished budget business - a sweeping, government-wide funding bill to keep Cabinet agencies running through the 2013 budget year, which ends Sept. 30.

The Senate passed the bipartisan 2013 measure by a sweeping 73-26 vote Wednesday after easing cuts that threatened intermittent closures of meat packing plants starting this summer and reviving college tuition grants for active-duty members of the military. The cuts were mandated by automatic spending cuts that took effect at the beginning of the month.

Looking to the future, Democrats and Republicans staked out divergent positions over what to do about spiraling federal health care costs and whether to raise taxes to rein in still-steep government deficits.

The long-term GOP budget plan, authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offers slashing cuts to domestic agencies, the Medicaid health care plan for the poor and "Obamacare" subsidies while exempting the Pentagon and Social Security beneficiaries. The measure proposes shifting programs like Medicaid to the states but is sometimes scant on details about the very cuts it promises.

The Ryan measure revives a controversial plan to turn the Medicare programs for the elderly into a voucher-like system - for future beneficiaries born in 1959 or later - into a program in which the government subsidizes the purchase of health insurance instead of directly paying hospital and doctor bills. Critics say the idea would mean ever-spiraling out-of-pocket costs for care, but Ryan insists the plan would inject competition into a broken system.

The cuts to domestic agencies like the FBI, Border Patrol and National Institutes of Health could approach 20 percent when compared with levels agreed to as part of a hard-fought budget deal from the summer of 2011. That could run the already troubled appropriations process - it features 12 spending bills that are supposed to be passed by Congress each year - into the ground.

Fresh from passing the 2013 wrap-up measure, the Senate was turning to a plan by new Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., that would add nearly $1 trillion in new taxes over the coming decade in an attempt to stabilize the $16 trillion-plus national debt. But Murray's plan would actually increase government spending after the $1.2 trillion cost of repealing the automatic cuts, called a sequester in Washington-speak. That means the net cuts to the deficit would amount to just a few hundred billion dollars in a federal budget estimated at $46 trillion or so over the coming decade.

"We need to tackle our deficit and debt fairly and responsibly," Murray said. "We need to keep the promises we've made as a nation to our seniors, our families and our communities."

At issue is the arcane process by which Congress approves a budget. It involves special legislation, called a budget resolution, that sets nonbinding targets for taxes and spending but relies on follow-up legislation to go into effect.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
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