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Other News: Judge Dismisses Charges Against Stevens

April 7, 2009 at 6:05 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: In other news today, a federal judge in Washington dismissed the corruption conviction of former Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan also opened a criminal investigation into the Justice Department prosecutors who handled the case. The judge said in his 25 years on the bench, quote, “I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case.”

Stevens said his faith in the judicial system has been restored. He narrowly lost his Senate re-election bid shortly after the verdict.

Vermont today joined Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa in legalizing gay marriage. The state legislature voted to override Republican Governor Jim Douglas’ veto of a bill allowing same-sex couples to wed. The move makes Vermont the first state to allow gay marriage through legislative action instead of through the courts.

A report from the International Committee of the Red Cross found health workers violated medical ethics in overseeing CIA interrogations at secret prisons overseas. The report was completed in 2007, after Red Cross interviews with 14 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Investigators concluded medical personnel served the interrogation process, not the patient.

In Italy today, news agencies reported a woman was pulled alive from the rubble 42 hours after a powerful earthquake hit the central part of the country. Strong aftershocks continued to rock the region, including a 5.6 magnitude tremor felt as far away as Rome. The death toll rose to 235.

We have a report from Keme Nzerem of Independent Television News.

KEME NZEREM: Somewhere under what’s left of this four-story apartment block lie the bodies of three students. The fire brigade crowd around. Their search dogs pinpoint exactly where they must dig, but the slightest tremor could visit more death.

And then a strong aftershock sparks panic. The rescue team scramble for safety, and so the bodies must stay buried until someone gathers the courage to go back in.

The triumphs are few and the tragedies many. Here an attempt at least to offer dignity in death, a simple green sheet held up as another body is freed, one of more than 200 victims of Monday’s earthquake.

And in the mountains looming above L’Aquila, the destruction is far worse. Twenty miles away in the tiny hamlet of Onna, 39 people were claimed by the rubble. Few buildings remain intact.

Survivors are listed and then accounted for. This man explains that he escaped needing just four stitches to his head.

One of the last to be pulled out alive in the depths of the night, student Valeria Esposito. She’s been trapped for 27 hours.

Under this building lay two women. Rescue workers told us the family dog refused to leave the scene, but by the time they found its owners, they were dead.

Morning light and there was little left except an explanation. This house had been built on the cheap. We were told the roof was brand new, but too heavy for the structure.

This emergency worker told us that, “Unfortunately, this happens in Italy. Checks are not made, and I don’t know what to say.”

And so the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, visited town and insisted the rescue mission would continue for another two days or until they’re sure there were no more survivors.

SILVIO BERLUSCONI, prime minister, Italy (through translator): Aftershocks are possible, so the message being given out to the population is: Do not return to your homes. The response operation is proceeding in a very satisfactory way. We’ve had 150 people pulled alive from the rubble, and I think this is the most positive fact to be underlined. The search-and-rescue operation for the missing will continue for another 48 hours.

KEME NZEREM: There are now thousands homeless, entire families sharing tents, too scared to go back to their homes for fear of further tremors, some braving the trip back to retrieve their most valued possessions.

GWEN IFILL: Local officials now place the number of homeless at 17,000, down from earlier figures.

In Afghanistan, two NATO soldiers have been killed within the last 48 hours. A roadside bomb killed a Romanian officer on patrol in Zabul province today. And Monday, a Dutch soldier died in a rocket attack on the main Dutch military base, southwest of Kabul. The site has been targeted by Taliban fighters in the past.

Fidel Castro met with three members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Congressional Black Caucus in Havana, Cuba. It was the former Cuban leader’s first known meeting with American officials since he became ill in 2006. The meeting was confirmed by a spokesman for the U.S. interests section in Havana, a de facto embassy.

The former president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity. A special tribunal found him guilty of ordering military death squads to murder and kidnap citizens during the 1990s when he was president. Fujimori has vowed to appeal the conviction. He is already serving a separate six-year sentence for abuse of power.

On Wall Street today, there was unease over the upcoming corporate earnings season. Stocks also tumbled for a second straight day on concerns over the health of banks and the auto industry.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 186 points to close at 7,789. The Nasdaq fell 45 points to close at 1,561.

The University of North Carolina Tar Heels are the champions of men’s college basketball. UNC beat the Michigan State Spartans 89-72 last night at Ford Field in Detroit. It’s North Carolina’s fifth NCAA basketball title, and its second under coach Roy Williams. The universities of Louisville and Connecticut play for the women’s championship tonight.