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News Briefs

At Sniper Trial, a Replay of the Crime


Opening a new phase in the Washington-area sniper trial, prosecutors on Monday began recreating the morning of Oct. 3, 2002, when four people were killed in suburban Maryland in less than three hours and the nation became aware that someone with a rifle was stalking random victims.

Describing the autopsy of Premkumar Walekar, a 54-year-old cabdriver who was shot at a gas station in Montgomery County that morning, the state’s deputy chief medical examiner said Walekar had died from wounds caused by a single bullet fired by a high-powered rifle.

The authorities say they confiscated a high-powered Bushmaster rifle, a commercial version of the military’s M-16 rifle, from the car of John A. Muhammad, the former soldier who has been accused of being the mastermind behind the shootings.

The medical examiner, Dr. Mary G. Ripple, described how the single shot shredded Walekar’s left arm, disintegrated internal tissue and created a “lead snow storm” of fragments that left tears, scrapes and bruises along their path.

Bank of America to Buy Fleet, Creating Second Largest Bank


Bank of America and FleetBoston Financial announced on Monday that they would combine to create a consumer banking giant with branches from Maine to California.

Bank of America, which is based in Charlotte, N.C., but has a strong California franchise, will pay an estimated $48 billion in stock for FleetBoston’s robust presence in the Northeast and for access to some of the wealthiest households in the country. Combined, the institution would be the nation’s second-largest bank in assets and would control nearly 10 percent of the nation’s deposits, the maximum that can be gained by acquisition. All told, it would have 5,700 branches in 29 states.

The announcement comes as Bank of America is being investigated for its role in a widening examination of improper trading in mutual fund shares. The bank recently fired several key executives, and one former broker faces criminal charges by the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer. The head of its asset management business with oversight of mutual funds was left without a job in the new organization.

Scientists Uncover Peacock’s Colors


Over the centuries, humanity has been so impressed by the splendor of the peacock’s colors that this magnificent bird has variously been a symbol of divine beauty, endless love, paradise, purity, rebirth, and God’s omniscience.

Now physicists in China have discovered the secret of the peacock’s array of hues.

In a study published this month in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report that slight variations in the arrangement of keratin and melanin are responsible for the palette of colors found in the eye of a peacock’s tail feather. Keratin is the material also found in human fingernails; melanin is the substance that darkens human skin.

“It’s an ingenious and simple way to diversify colors,” said Dr. Jian Zi, a physicist at Fudan University in Shanghai and lead author on the paper.

He began the study with colleagues after being struck by the sight of peacock feathers in a Chinese market. “I study optics,” Zi said. “So when I looked at these peacock feathers against the sunshine, it was a fascinating experience. What can produce such diversified colors?”