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News Briefs

Ashcroft Approves Prosecutors For Sniper Trial in Virginia


When Attorney General John Ashcroft on Thursday selected two Virginia prosecutors to hold the first trials in the Washington-area sniper attacks, he chose veteran lawyers well-acquainted with the death penalty and high-profile cases.

Robert F. Horan, the top prosecutor in bustling Fairfax County for the last 35 years, has handled dozens of major cases, including the conviction of a Pakistani who is scheduled to be executed next week for killing two and wounding three in 1993 outside CIA headquarters in Langley.

Paul B. Ebert has been Prince William County’s top prosecutor as long as Horan, and has tackled his share of homicide trials, sending more people to death row than any other commonwealth’s attorney in Virginia.

Even with their experience, Horan and Ebert have never faced such a challenge. Their every move will be dissected by legal experts, and millions of people will be hanging on each courtroom motion and maneuver to see what happens to the defendants in one of the nation’s most notorious serial killing rampages.

Pelosi, Frost Battle It Out For House Minority Leader Post


House Democrats, in the wake of the party’s Election Day losses, are bracing for a heated and potentially divisive contest between two of their highest-ranking officials, Nancy Pelosi and Martin Frost, for the mantle of minority leader.

House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt, tarnished by his party’s defeat in Tuesday’s elections and pondering a run for president in 2004, announced Thursday that he will step down from the top minority post when the new Congress convenes in January.

His decision opened the way for a vigorous leadership battle between liberal party whip Pelosi of California, and Frost of Texas, the moderate chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Pelosi is regarded as the favorite in a race to be decided Nov. 14.

Gephardt’s retreat follows his fourth consecutive failure as minority leader to seize control of the House from Republicans in a national election.

It is the first clear consequence of the turmoil foisted upon the Democratic Party following Tuesday’s midterm elections, in which it lost ground in the House and Senate, and made fewer gains than projected in statehouses around the country.

Bush Considers Immunizing Soldiers With Smallpox Vaccine


President Bush received a recommendation Thursday from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to inoculate U.S. troops against smallpox but did not immediately accept it. One White House official said the Pentagon had not answered many of the president’s questions.

“There’s a lot of issues on both sides,” the official said. “He’s concerned not just about whether to do it, but how you do it. You don’t want to do it if you can’t do it right.”

Another official compared Bush’s contemplation about the issue to last year’s agonizing over whether to allow federal funds to be used for research on stem cells from human embryos, since the issues involved are so grave and Bush is considering them so carefully.

The question of whether to immunize U.S. forces is part of a larger dilemma that includes whether to vaccinate civilian health care workers and, eventually, the general public.