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Sept. 21, 2011 at 10:00 PM   |   Comments

House rejects stop-gap funding bill

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- The House Wednesday rejected a bill that would fund the U.S. government past the end of the month, with Democrats and Republicans joining together to vote no.

The vote -- 230-195 to reject the measure -- could increase the possibility the government will shut down Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year, The Washington Post reported.

At issue is funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is running out of money to reimburse local governments and individuals for repairing disaster damage. As of Tuesday, the fund had dipped to $256 million.

House Republican leaders failed to satisfy Democrats who argued the bill did not include enough relief for disaster victims, or conservative Republicans who were demanding deeper spending cuts, the Post said.

GOP House leaders had included $774 million for disaster relief in the continuing resolution that would be available upon passage and $226 million for flood relief efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The bill would have authorized $2.65 billion for the disaster relief fund for fiscal year 2012.

Senate Democrats said the House wasn't providing enough and the White House recently said the disaster relief fund needs $500 million now and would need $4.6 billion next year, the Post said.

Senate Democrats also decried House GOP efforts to offset $1.5 billion of the disaster funding by reducing funds to a loan program to car manufacturers to encourage production of energy-efficient vehicles.

Last week, 10 Senate Republicans joined Democrats to approve a $6.9 billion disaster relief measure that would fully fund Obama's request, and $1.8 billion more in disaster cleanup funds.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday he would try to amend the House bill with the Senate's $6.9 billion figure when it reaches the upper chamber later this week. House leaders said a bill with more FEMA funding likely won't pass their chamber.

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., downplayed the possibility of a shutdown because "Congress always responds appropriately to disasters," Reid said he wasn't so certain this time.

"We're not going to cave in on this, because it's a matter of principle," he said.


Davis appeals to U.S. Supreme Court

JACKSON, Ga., Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Troy Davis' execution was put on hold Wednesday while Georgia authorities waited for word on whether the U.S. Supreme Court would grant a stay.

Lawyers for Davis filed an appeal with the high court Wednesday evening, and Sara Totonchi, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights said prison authorities delayed the execution -- scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT -- as they waited for word on whether the Supreme Court would grant the request, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The appeal came after the Georgia Supreme Court rejected a similar appeal, the newspaper said. The Georgia pardons board rejected a last-ditch request Wednesday to halt the execution.

Davis was scheduled to die by lethal injection at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson.

USA Today said defense attorney Brian Kammer filed the appeal in Butts County Superior Court, based on a claim that ballistic testing linking Davis to the shooting was defective.

The state Pardons and Paroles Board said in a statement it would not review its decision, the newspaper reported. The pardons board also denied a request for Davis to take a polygraph test.

A court filing in Butts County, where Georgia's death row is located, said new evidence "exposes key elements of the state's case against Mr. Davis at trial to be egregiously false and misleading," the Journal-Constitution reported.

The NAACP said it may appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama for executive clemency, after Georgia's pardon and parole board Tuesday denied clemency to Davis. NAACP Georgia State Conference President Edward DuBose told the Los Angeles Times the appeal is "a long shot," but may be one of the only avenues left.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Davis' appeal in March, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal does not have the power to commute a death sentence, unlike governors in many other states.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have argued Davis should be spared death by lethal injection based on new evidence that emerged after his jury trial, including numerous key witnesses who changed their stories implicating him.

Conservatives including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., and former FBI Director William Sessions have expressed similar concerns.

The pardon and parole board did not give a reason for its denial, but said its five members had "not taken their responsibility lightly and certainly understand the emotions attached to a death penalty case."

The family of Mark Allen MacPhail -- a Savannah, Ga., police officer who, while working as a security guard, was gunned down in 1989 as he sought to aid a beating victim in a city parking lot -- contend the jury was correct in convicting Davis in 1991 and say the death penalty is warranted.

State prison officials Wednesday denied Davis, who has always maintained his innocence, the opportunity Wednesday to take a polygraph test.

Davis supporters have argued Savannah police rushed to judgment after MacPhail's killing, coercing African-American witnesses to testify against Davis, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Davis is black and MacPhail was white.

Supporters held a news conference Tuesday at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, former home of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

"To execute a man with this much doubt does not bode well for any of us -- and, quite frankly, it harkens back to some ugly days in the history of this state," the Times quoted Ebenezer senior pastor the Rev. Raphael Warnock as saying.

"This is Jim Crow in a new era -- there's just too much doubt for this execution to continue," Warnock said.

Davis did not ask for a special last meal and instead will be offered the prison's meal tray, consisting of grilled cheeseburgers, oven-browned potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw, cookies and a grape drink, the prison said in a statement.

If executed, Davis will be the 29th inmate put to death by lethal injection and the 52nd man executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Ninety-nine other men and one woman are on Georgia's death row.


Texas executes Brewer for dragging death

HUNTSVILLE, Texas, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Texas Wednesday executed Lawrence Russell Brewer for the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr., officials said.

Brewer, 44, was executed at 7:21 p.m. by lethal injection in Huntsville for the hate crime, CNN reported, citing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Byrd was dragged for miles while chained to a pickup truck near Jasper, KFDM-TV, Beaumont, Texas, said.

Brewer, one of three men convicted in the killing of Byrd, who was 49, chose a last meal that included two chicken fried steaks, a bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, three fajitas, a pizza, three root beers and a pint of vanilla ice cream, a Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman said.

Brewer had been on death row 12 years.

Families of the condemned and the victim were to occupy separate rooms, each with glass windows allowing a view of the chamber. Several of Byrd's relatives were expected to attend.

Byrd's death led to calls for stiffer penalties for hate crimes and passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Also convicted in Byrd's death were John William King, 36, whose death sentence is being appealed, and Shawn Berry, 36, who received a life sentence.


Tropical storms in Atlantic and Pacific

MIAMI, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Two tropical storms churned in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans Wednesday with a watch in effect for Western Mexico, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Tropical Storm Ophelia, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, was about 1,165 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west over the tropical Atlantic at 16 mph, the center said in its 5 p.m. EDT advisory.

No coastal watches or warnings were in effect for Ophelia, which was expected to remain on a westward path for the next 48 hours with some increase in forward speed, then gradually turn toward the west-northwest Friday, the center said. The storm was not expected to strengthen significantly in that time.

A tropical depression south of Mexico, about 245 miles south-southeast of Puerto Escondido, has strengthened and is now Tropical Storm Hilary, the center said. In its 8 p.m. EDT update, the hurricane center said Hilary was gradually intensifying and could gain hurricane force Thursday.

The storm, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, was heading northwest at about 6 mph. Tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 50 miles from the center of the storm.

The government of Mexico issued a tropical storm watch for the Pacific coast from Lagunas de Chacahua to Lazaro Cardenas.

The storm could bring 3-5 inches of rain to parts of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero states with isolated amounts of up to 10 inches possible, the center said.

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