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Regional Headlines for Friday, March 23, 2012




Email: Business Discussed at KS Governor's Meetings at Cedar Crest

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An email from the manager of the Kansas governor's residence said the purpose of private dinner meetings with Republican legislators was, in part, to discuss business.  The Shawnee County District Attorney is investigating seven Republican-only dinners at the governor's mansion for violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, which prohibits a majority of a legislative body from gathering behind closed doors to discuss business.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that among hundreds of emailed RSVPs obtained through an open records request, there's one in which Rebecca Witte, who manages Cedar Crest, told a legislator's assistant that committee members gathering for a dinner will "spend some time discussing business."  Brownback's office said Witte "misinformed" the lawmaker's office, and the dinners didn't violate the Open Meetings Act."


Brownback Now Says Meetings Were for Agenda Discussions, but Did Not Violate Open Meetings Act

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback acknowledges he set up private meetings with Republican legislators at his official residence to discuss his agenda but says the events didn't violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Brownback said Friday that the manager at Cedar Crest, the governor's residence, made an inaccurate statement when she told a legislator's assistant in a January email that lawmakers would discuss business. But the Republican governor said he intended to talk about his legislative agenda at the gatherings - and did. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, a Democrat, is investigating seven meetings in January at Cedar Crest with Republicans on 13 legislative committees. Brownback said his presentations didn't violate the law and that his staff and lawmakers present monitored discussions to make sure legislators did not as well.


Date Change for Voter ID Law Comes Before KS Senate... Again

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Secretary of State Kris Kobach's proposal to move up the date to require proof of citizenship for voter registration is again before the Kansas Senate.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that House members have replaced the contents of a Senate bill with Kobach's plan.  Kobach said the move allows the Senate to vote on it.  Opponents of the ID requirement say the legislative move -- called a "gut and go" -- is a questionable maneuver to sneak through controversial legislation.  Legislators enacted a law last year requiring Kansans registering to vote for the first time to provide proof of U.S. citizenship. That law doesn't take effect until January. Kobach wants to move the date to June.  Kobach's bill passed the House last month but didn't make it out of a Senate committee.


Construction Firm Owner Named As New Kansas DOT Secretary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has appointed the owner of a McPherson construction company to lead the Kansas Department of Transportation. Brownback introduced 52-year-old Mike King as transportation secretary during a news conference Friday. King's appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate. The governor said King has extensive experience in construction, including highway work. The new secretary has owned King Enterprise Group since 1991. King said his company isn't involved in any state highway projects and concentrates on projects for the oil and gas industry. However, he said, he will put his interests in a blind trust. He'll replace Barb Rankin, formerly KDOT's chief counsel, who became acting secretary in December following the resignation of Deb Miller. Miller stepped down after nearly nine years as secretary to take a private-sector job.


Kansas Losing 400 T-Mobile Call Center Jobs

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — Northeastern Kansas is losing 400 jobs as T-Mobile closes some of its call centers around the country.  The customer care call center in Lenexa is one of seven the company announced it will close by the end of June. T-Mobile says the employees will have the option of transferring to one of the 17 remaining centers.  KMBC-TV reports the 400 Lenexa workers are among 980 T-Mobile employees in Kansas. The company's nearest remaining call centers are in Wichita and in Springfield, Missouri.


UPDATE: Army Sgt Charged with Premeditated Murder in Afghan Shooting Rampage 

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. military says Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has been officially charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in a shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan. Premeditated murder is a capital offense and if convicted, Bales could be sentenced to death. Colonel Gary Kolb, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, says Bales was also charged Friday with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault. The 38-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Washington, is accused of leaving a U.S. military post on March 11, killing nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the bodies in Panjwai district of Kandahar province. Six other Afghan civilians were wounded in the attack.


Army: PTSD Treatable; Some Diagnosed Return to War

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ It is still not known if the soldier accused of killing 17 Afghans was ever diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. But officials say that even if Sergeant Robert Bales had been, that alone would not have prevented him from being sent back to war. The Army diagnosed more than 76,000 soldiers with PTSD between 2000 and 2011. Of those more than 65,000 were diagnosed at some stage of their deployment. The Bales case has sparked debate about whether the Army failed in detecting a soldier's mental instability or pushed him too far. The Army is reviewing all its mental health programs in light of the March 11 killings. Mental health workers say it's reasonable to consider PTSD in the case, but it was likely not the sole factor. They say that there is much that is not known about the psychological wounds of war.


Shots Fired in Junction City over Loud Music

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Junction City say an argument over loud music turned violent when a gunman opened fire outside an apartment building. WIBW-TV reports a resident told police he argued Thursday afternoon with a stranger who was sitting in a vehicle in the building's parking lot with loud music blaring. The stranger apparently took offense and drove away, but came back a short time later. The resident says he went outside when the music started up again. Junction City Police Chief Tim Brown says that's when the suspect fired three shots at the resident, missing him but hitting the building behind him. Police are investigating the case as an attempted homicide.


Oklahoma Woman Convicted in Topeka Double Slaying

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An Oklahoma woman has been convicted of fatally shooting her ex-husband and his fiancée as they slept in a Topeka duplex in 2002.  A Shawnee County jury deliberated just 90 minutes yesterday (THUR) afternoon before finding 52-year-old Dana Chandler, of Duncan, Oklahoma guilty of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder.  Prosecutors say Chandler was angry with her ex-husband, 47-year-old Mike Sisco. They said she drove to Topeka from Denver, where she lived at the time, after learning Sisco planned to marry 53-year-old Karen Harkness. The couple's bodies were found in a basement-level bedroom in Harkness's home.  The defense described a lack of physical evidence as "overwhelming" and argued that police bungled the investigation.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that sentencing was set for June 1st.


KS Boy Struck, Killed by Freight Train

RUSSELL, Kan. (AP) — Residents of a north-central Kansas community are mourning a 9-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a freight train.  Details are still being gathered, but authorities in Russell said the boy was hit by a Union Pacific train on the west edge of town a little after 11am yesterday (THUR).  Witnesses said the boy, whose name was not immediately released, had been playing on the railroad tracks.  Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said the train was traveling east from Denver to Salina.  Russell is a city of about 4,500 people, located 170 miles west of Topeka along Interstate 70.


Rally Planned in Topeka for Slain Florida Teenager

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A weekend rally in Topeka is being held for the unarmed black teenager shot to death in an Orlando, Florida, suburb.  Sonny Scroggins, a community activist, told The Topeka Capital-Journal that the rally is scheduled for tomorrow (SAT) at 7pm on the south side of the Statehouse.  Trayvon Martin was shot to death last month in Sanford, Florida.  A neighborhood watch volunteer has said he shot Martin on February 26 in self-defense. No arrests have been made.  The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the local prosecutor -- before he quit the case -- convened a grand jury April 10 to determine whether to charge the man who shot Martin.  Civil rights groups have held rallies elsewhere, saying the shooting was unjustified.  A similar protest rally is planned in Wichita.


UPDATE: Kansas Researcher Spared Prison in Conspiracy Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas nurse who admitted conspiring to falsify test data on a clinical trial of an allergy medicine will be spared prison time. The U.S. attorney's office says 49-year-old Lisa Sharp, of Olathe, was sentenced Friday to one year of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $36,046. Her co-defendant, Dr. Wayne Spencer, received the same sentence earlier this month. Sharp was the lead research coordinator in the 2010 clinical trial. She pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to defraud and failing to maintain records in a clinical trial as required by the Food and Drug Administration. Sharp and Spencer worked for Lee Research Institute, which was paid by Schering-Plough to conduct the trial. Sharp's lawyer requested leniency, saying his client showed "a momentary lapse in judgment."


2nd Lawrence Police Officer in Fixed Ticket Case Now Off the Force

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A second Lawrence police officer inolved in a ticket-fixing scandal is now off the job.  The officer had been suspended for allegedly fixing traffic tickets for a University of Kansas athletics department employee.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Police Chief Tarik Khatib confirmed the officer's departure yesterday (THUR) but declined to give details.  Lawrence officials have said another officer, who resigned last month, had a long friendship with the athletics employee and fixed at least six traffic tickets in exchange for Kansas basketball tickets. At least twice, that officer asked the second officer for help.  The individual whose tickets were fixed is now in federal prison for his role in a broader ticket scandal in the athletics department.  In all, seven people were convicted in the thefts of more than 17,000 Jayhawk basketball tickets and at least 2,000 football tickets.


Ian Naismith, Grandson of Basketball Inventor James Naismith, Dies 

NEW YORK (AP) — Ian Naismith, grandson of the inventor of basketball James Naismith, and who ran a foundation in the family name dedicated to promoting youth sports died Tuesday. The Naismith International Basketball Foundation announced the death on its website and listed Ian Naismith's age as 72. Naismith died of a heart attack while on a train journey from western Massachusetts that took him to New York. The NIBF says Naismith was discovered unresponsive after the train had pulled into Penn Station. The North Carolina-based foundation Naismith ran gained attention in 2010 when it sold James Naismith's original 13 rules of basketball at auction for more than $4 million to help its work.


Texan in Multi-State Sex Case Charged with Witness Tampering

HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston man held on sex trafficking charges has now been accused of trying to intimidate witnesses and law officers.  A federal grand jury in Houston has returned a nine-count indictment against 42-year-old Andre McDaniels.  Investigators say McDaniels in January allegedly attempted to contact and threaten individuals who could testify against him.  McDaniels is one of six people indicted last year and accused of conspiracy, sex trafficking of children and forcing and coercing adults to engage in commercial sex acts. The investigation involves modeling studios and massage parlors in Houston, with ties to Kansas, Nevada, Arizona and Florida.  A witness tampering conviction carries a possible life term in prison.


Judge Orders KC Area Bloggers Back to School

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered two Kansas City area high school students to return to the high school where they had been suspended for 180 days over what the school district considered offensive blog posts.  The Kansas City Star reports that senior U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs issued a preliminary injunction yesterday (THUR), halting the remaining 69 days of their suspensions from Lee's Summit North High School. The 17-year-old twins haven't been identified in court documents because they're minors.  Sachs said the teens' interest in returning to school outweighed the district's concerns.  The school suspended the boys in December after they posted what it considered sexually offensive and racially insensitive remarks on their website. The parents sued to have the teens returned to their high school.  A district lawyer declined comment.


Abortion Foe Randall Terry Fights to Get on KS Democratic Ballot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry says he'll go to court to try to get his name on the ballot in the Kansas Democratic presidential caucus.  The Kansas Democratic Party determined this week that Terry is not a bona fide Democrat and won't be awarded any delegates from the party's April 14 Kansas caucuses.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Terry said keeping him off the ballot is a violation of the Constitution.  Democratic Party attorney Joe Sandler said Terry also failed to meet two mandatory deadlines, one for naming his state representative and another for filing a plan to encourage participation in the caucus by potential delegates.  Terry said the deadlines he missed were not meaningful because he was planning to act as his own representative in Kansas.


Nebraska Pipeline Opponent Criticizes President Obama

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — President Barack Obama's decision to expedite approval of an oil pipeline between Oklahoma and Texas is being criticized by Nebraska pipeline opponents.  Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska says the president's decision is a disappointment because a fast approval could jeopardize land and water along the route.  Kleeb helped organize opposition in Nebraska to TransCanada's larger proposed Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and Texas because of concerns about the Sandhills and underground Ogallala (oh-guh-LAH'-lah) aquifer. The aquifer irrigates Nebraska, Kansas and other Midwestern states.  Kleeb says she hopes operator TransCanada will abandon the larger Keystone XL pipeline project if this southern section gets built.  Kleeb says approving this pipeline is a departure from the president's otherwise responsible energy policy that encourages clean energy and increased efficiency.


Leavenworth Completes 2011 Flood Cleanup

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — The city of Leavenworth has taken down the last of the temporary fences put up at city parks during last year's flooding on the Missouri River.  Crews removed the last of the barriers this week and reopened the walkway along Landing Park. The quarter-mile stretch of riverside parkway had been at least partially closed since June, when the Missouri began flowing out of its banks.  Other flood-related repairs and renovations at Leavenworth parks are complete, and the city expects to open the Riverfront Park Campground as scheduled on April 1.


ACLU Intervenes in KC Efforts to Collect Signatures 

The American Civil Liberties Union says a security official was wrong to tell a woman to stop gathering signatures for ballot measures outside the Kansas City Public Library's main branch. The ACLU sent a letter Friday to the branch director saying that circulating a petition is protected speech. Attorney Doug Bonney said later Friday that library personnel told security officials to leave the signature-gatherers alone as long as they're on public sidewalks. One of the ballot measures would cap payday loan interest rates, while the other would increase the state of Missouri's minimum wage. Each petition needs roughly 105,000 valid sigantures from six Missouri congressional districts to get on a statewide ballot. City spokesman Danny Rotert says he doesn't know details about Bonney's complaint, but that the city respects the right to gather signatures.  


KC Car Dealer Pleads Guilty in Federal Fraud Case 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The owner of several Kansas City-area used-car dealerships has pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy that the government says caused millions of dollars in losses for financial institutions. Acting U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark says 51-year-old John Hart III, of Kansas City, entered the plea Friday in federal court. Prosecutors say Hart operated the dealerships from May 2000 to February 2009. He and others obtained loans and lines of credit in connection with the vehicles involved in his car dealerships, and Hart admitted providing false information to obtain the funds. Hart also admitted obtaining multiple loans in which the same vehicle was pledged as collateral. He could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, plus restitution.


Santorum's Rural Appeal Keeping Him in GOP Contest

WEST MONROE, La. (AP) — Republican presidential nominating contests often reveal a rural-urban split in the party, but a distinguishing feature this year is the emphasis Rick Santorum is placing on that divide. To hear Santorum tell it, front-runner Mitt Romney's ability to win in big city suburbs is a sign of ideological weakness, not political strength. Santorum says the fact that he does better in counties where Republicans do well is an indication of which candidate best reflects the party's values. But some political analysts say his relative weakness outside of rural areas raises doubts about his ability to slow Romney's march to the nomination. Santorum's aides shrug off those assessments. They say he can keep collecting delegates to the party's national convention using his current strategy.


KC Royals Pitcher to Have Elbow Surgery; Will Miss Season

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria will undergo reconstructive elbow surgery and will miss the season. The surgery is scheduled for April 3. Soria made the decision Friday after being examined by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama for a third opinion. He had already been diagnosed with right elbow ligament damage by the Royals physicians and Dr. Lewis Yocum, who will perform the surgery in Los Angeles. Soria left the game Sunday against Cleveland with pain in his elbow. Soria, a two-time All-Star, who has 160 saves the past five seasons, also missed the 2003 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Manager Ned Yost said in Soria's absence the three candidates to close games for the Royals are Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland and Aaron Crow. 


KS Gov Preparing to Name New KDOT Secretary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is preparing to name a new secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation.  Brownback scheduled a news conference for today (FRI), saying he would introduce his newest Cabinet secretary. His aides declined to identify the new secretary before the event.  Barb Rankin, former KDOT chief attorney, became acting secretary in December following the resignation of Deb Miller. Miller stepped down after nearly nine years to take a job in the private sector.  The department is two years into a 10-year, $8.2 billion program of highway, bridge and other transportation projects. KDOT has about 2,800 employees and a total budget of $1.6 billion, making it one of the state's largest agencies.

**this story has been updated. See above for most recent story. 


Army Sergeant Could Be Charged Today With Murder in Afghan Killings

FT. LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A U.S. official says Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder in the massacre of Afghan villagers.  The official says charges against Bales also include six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault and other violations of military law. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.  The 38-year-old soldier allegedly gunned down nine Afghan children and eight adults as they slept in their homes in two southern Afghanistan villages. The civilian attorney for Bales says his client has memory problems that pre-date the March 11 shootings.  John Henry Browne told CBS TV that he spent 11 hours this week with Bales, who's in detention at Fort Leavenworth.  Bales is expected to be formally presented today (FRI) with charges including 17 counts of murder as well as a string of other offenses.  Browne said Bales had earlier suffered a "serious" concussion, and that it was not treated "for a variety of reasons," which Browne did not explain.  Browne said his reaction to the government's allegations is: "Prove it." And he said he believes the government will have difficulty proving its case against Bales.  He said "there is no crime scene" and a lack of important physical evidence like fingerprints.

***this story has been updated. See above for most recent story. 


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