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News Briefs

Supreme Court Appears Likely To Overturn Texas Man’s Death


Delma Banks Jr., a Texas death-row inmate, lay strapped to a gurney with barely 10 minutes to go before execution last March when the Supreme Court granted a stay in order to hear his claim that prosecutorial misconduct rendered his murder conviction and death sentence unconstitutional.

Banks, the longest-serving of 453 prisoners on Texas’ death row, has had 15 execution dates in the nearly 24 years since he was sentenced to die at age 20 for killing a 16-year-old acquaintance and stealing his car. Given the justices’ reactions on Monday to the arguments in his Supreme Court appeal, it is unlikely that he will face an execution date again in the near future.

The court appeared strongly inclined to set aside at least the death sentence, if not the conviction itself, in a case that death-penalty opponents have cited as an example not only of what can go wrong in a capital prosecution but also of what they deem the casual attitude that the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Texas has adopted toward the capital cases it reviews.

U.S. Asks Taiwan to Avoid Voting Over China Issue


The Bush administration issued an unusually strong warning to Taiwan on Monday not to hold a referendum that could fuel the island’s independence movement. The decision was intended to curb tensions in Asia and avoid a crisis there while U.S. forces are tied up elsewhere.

The warning came just a day before President Bush is to meet China’s new prime minister, Wen Jiabao, at the White House.

All three parties -- China, Taiwan and Washington -- are engaged in a delicate dance that involves as much international diplomacy as domestic politics: Taiwan’s leaders are up for reelection, the Bush administration needs Chinese help on issues like Korea and trade, and the Chinese would like Washington to take a harder line towards Taiwan.

Administration officials insisted that there was no change in the fundamental one-China policy, and, indeed, the State Department in recent weeks had said it opposed steps that could lead to independence for Taiwan.

But the warning on Monday was usually blunt and officials went further by stating that they were abandoning three decades of deliberate ambiguity about how far either China or Taiwan could go in their constant maneuverings for the upper hand on the question of reunification or independence.

New Jersey Hunters Kill Bears With Protesters in Their Sights


Hundreds of hunters armed with shotguns and muskets tromped through a foot of snow on Monday in search of some of what could be as many as 3,200 black bears thought to be residing in northwest New Jersey.

The six-day hunt had been alternately hailed as an attempt to cull a bear population that had grown to dangerous proportions and lambasted as a cruel exercise in human vanity.

Protesters were also out in force on Monday as the fierce weekend snowstorm that struck the region threw an unexpected wrench into the hunt. Bears live in 41 states, 27 of which allow bear hunts.

But the issue in New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state, has been the subject of a handful of lawsuits and a welter of controversy.

There was speculation early in the day that the snow would keep the bears in their dens, where hunters were forbidden by the rules of the hunt. But by 5 p.m., hunters had bagged 61 bears, the largest weighing 498 pounds, the state Department of Environmental Protection said.