AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on February 5, 2013 at 12:02 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 5 at 7:30 AM

Ala. town relieved: Child rescued from underground bunker, captor killed after long standoff

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) — For six anguished days, people in this small Alabama town asked just one question about the 5-year-old boy being held hostage in an underground bunker by a menacing, unpredictable neighbor: "Is he free yet?"

After FBI agents determined that talks with an increasingly agitated Jimmy Lee Dykes were breaking down, they stormed the closet-sized shelter and freed the kindergartner. The 65-year-old hostage-taker was killed by law enforcement officials, an official told the AP.

Authorities say the boy, who appeared to be facing imminent danger when they went in, is doing well in the aftermath of his ordeal. But they have yet to answer questions as to how they monitored Dykes and exactly what prompted the rescue Monday afternoon.

And almost a week after Dykes was accused of fatally shooting a school bus driver on Jan. 29 and grabbing the child at random from a busload of students, the man described as threatening and volatile by his neighbors lay dead on his property in Midland City.

An official in Midland City, citing information from law enforcement, said police had shot Dykes. The official requested anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the investigation into the case that had captured national attention.

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Obama looking for more diversity in next wave of jobs; Pritzker, Burwell on list for top jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — As he prepares to announce a new wave of Cabinet and other senior posts, President Barack Obama is aiming to put a more diverse face on his administration — an image that was missing as he filled the first round of vacancies of his second term with a parade of white men.

Obama is said to be looking at women, Latinos and openly gay candidates for top slots at the departments of Commerce, Labor and Interior, and for his own White House budget office.

The leading candidate for nomination to be secretary of commerce is Penny Pritzker, a long-time Obama ally and big-money fundraiser from Chicago, according to people familiar with the White House selection process. The top candidate to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget is Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was a former budget, White House and treasury official in the Clinton administration and is now the president of the Wal-Mart Foundation.

Both women, if nominated, would replace men, bringing business and government experience to the jobs and helping rebalance the male dominance of Obama's early nominations at the State Department, Treasury and the Pentagon — the three top posts in the Cabinet. In addition to selecting former Sen. John Kerry for secretary of state, Jack Lew for treasury secretary and former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, Obama last month also nominated John Brennan to be CIA director. Then he appointed Denis McDonough as his new chief of staff.

The initial series of personnel decisions stood out not only because the posts are so high-profile, but because Obama has pledged to bring a racial and gender mix to his administrative team. Obama also chose Kerry to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had been the most high-profile woman in the Cabinet, after weighing whether to nominate U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to the post.

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Documents: Superdome officials worried about a power outage before Super Bowl blackout

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The cause of a 34-minute blackout at the Super Bowl remains under investigation, but public records released Monday show that Superdome officials were worried about a power outage several months before the big game.

An Oct. 15 memo released by the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, which oversees the Superdome, says tests on the dome's electrical feeders showed they had "some decay and a chance of failure."

Entergy New Orleans, the company that supplies the stadium with power, and the structure's engineering staff "had concerns regarding the reliability of the Dome service from Entergy's connection point to the Dome," the memo says. Those concerns were due in part to "circumstances that have previously occurred with the electrical service regarding transient spikes and loads."

The memo also cites 2011 blackouts that struck Candlestick Park, where the San Francisco 49ers were playing a nationally televised Monday night football game, as a reason for ordering the tests.

The board later authorized spending nearly $1 million on Superdome improvements, including more than $600,000 for upgrading the dome's electrical feeder cable system.

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Son of slain Minneapolis business owner joins Obama, leads state's push for gun law changes

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (AP) — Sami Rahamim has committed statistics about gun deaths to memory, folding them into sentences that make his case. He talks like a lawyer, not a high school senior — no pauses or filler, no public trace of his pain.

On Sept. 27, Rahamim's father, Reuven Rahamim, was shot and killed along with five others at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, the company he founded, by an ex-worker who recently had been fired. In the months since, Sami Rahamim has become a 17-year-old lobbyist for reducing gun violence.

Rahamim has been at the state Capitol nearly every day for a month, missing school to push for legislation that would boost background checks and tighten gun regulations in Minnesota. He's spoken at churches, synagogues and gun violence forums.

And Monday, Rahamim sat two chairs from President Barack Obama as part of a round-table discussion on how best to reduce gun violence, before the president took his push to tighten gun laws on national TV from Minneapolis. Rahamim shared his story and ideas with Obama — not just as a victim, but as a committed advocate.

"Nobody would blame him if he were curled up in a corner crying even until this moment," Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison said. "But he's on his feet. He's talking to people about gun violence. He has truly harnessed his grief."

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After avoiding comment for days, NJ Sen. Menendez forcefully denies prostitution allegation

WASHINGTON (AP) — After ducking comment for days, Sen. Robert Menendez is forcefully denying allegations he engaged with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, calling the claims false "smears."

Menendez told reporters on Monday that he had done nothing wrong. His voice rose with anger as he described "anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals" who he said have driven false stories into the mainstream media.

"That's what they've done successfully," he said his first public remarks since the allegations began to spread on Wednesday. "The bottom line is all of those smears are absolutely false."

Menendez's public denial came after the FBI conducted a search of the West Palm Beach offices of a Florida doctor who also was the senator's biggest political donor in his re-election campaign last year. A week before the November election, The Daily Caller, a conservative website, reported that Menendez had used a business jet owned by Dr. Salomon Melgen to fly to the Dominican Republican for trysts with prostitutes. None of the allegations have been substantiated. It is unclear whether the FBI raid of Melgen's office was related to Menendez.

The reports have dogged Menendez, 59, as he has assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, succeeding former Sen. John Kerry, who resigned last week to become secretary of state. The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating the case.

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Records: Vet charged in Texas shooting deaths had been taken to mental hospital, claimed PTSD

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The Iraq War veteran charged with gunning down two men on a Texas shooting range — including a highly decorated former Navy SEAL sniper — had been taken to a mental hospital twice in recent months and told authorities he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to police records.

After the shootings, Eddie Ray Routh, 25, also told his sister and brother-in-law he had "traded his soul for a new truck," according to an Erath County arrest warrant affidavit obtained by WFAA-TV. Police said Routh was driving the truck of victim and ex-Navy SEAL author Chris Kyle at the time of his arrest.

Routh is charged with one count of capital murder and two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of Kyle, author of the best-selling book "American Sniper," and his friend Chad Littlefield at a shooting range Saturday in Glen Rose. He is on suicide watch in the Erath County Jail, where he's being held on $3 million bail, Sheriff Tommy Bryant said.

Routh, a member of the Marines Corps Reserve, was first taken to a mental hospital Sept. 2 after he threatened to kill his family and himself, according to police records in Lancaster, where Routh lives. Authorities found Routh walking nearby with no shirt and no shoes, and smelling of alcohol. Routh told authorities he was a Marine veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Eddie stated he was hurting and that his family does not understand what he has been through," the report says.

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Mexico official: gas buildup, spark caused state oil company blast that killed 37

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A gas buildup ignited by an electrical spark or other heat source caused the blast that killed 37 people and wounded dozens of others last week at the state oil company's headquarters, Mexico's attorney general said.

But Attorney-General Jesus Murillo Karam said investigators were still looking for the source of the gas, and revising records of building inspections to determine why Petroleos Mexicanos had not discovered the gas accumulation. As a state company, Pemex is responsible for inspecting its own buildings.

Murillo said late Monday that an investigation by Mexican, Spanish, U.S. and British experts into the petroleum giant's worst disaster in more than a decade found no evidence of explosives in the Thursday afternoon blast that collapsed several lower floors of the Pemex administrative building.

He said the investigators believe that an electrical spark or other source of heat had detonated the gas.

With the exception of three victims, none of those killed had the burn marks or damaged ear drums that are typical evidence of a bombing, he said. Nor was there any sign of a crater or fracturing of the building's steel beams, also common signs of the detonation of an explosive device.

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In surprise move, woman charged in lover's slaying in Arizona testifies in murder trial

PHOENIX (AP) — A soft-spoken and calm Jodi Arias laid out the story of her life in painstaking detail, beginning with the day she killed her lover.

She went on to recount a series of tumultuous — and sometimes bizarre — events from her upbringing: An abusive childhood at the hands of her parents. A high school boyfriend who believed in vampires and tried to strangle her. Dropping out of high school to support herself. A belief in the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. Deceit, lies, sex and naïveté.

"Did you kill Travis Alexander on June 4, 2008?" asked her defense attorney Kirk Nurmi.

"Yes I did," Arias replied softly. "He attacked me and I defended myself."

Arias took the witness stand Monday in a surprise move aimed at bolstering her case that the killing was self-defense. She told jurors of her childhood and explained the path that brought her to Alexander's home on the day she killed him.

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Q&A: What's the deal with federal charges against Standard & Poor's and the financial crisis?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government is readying civil charges against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services for improperly giving high ratings to toxic mortgage bonds before the financial crisis, the company says.

It would be the government's first big enforcement action related to a credit rating agency's actions in the lead-up to the 2008 crisis. S&P on Monday denied any wrongdoing and said any lawsuit would be without merit.

So what's the big deal? And what did the bond-analysis shops have to do with the financial crisis?

Here are some questions and answers about the expected charges against Standard & Poor's:

Q: The government brings civil charges against financial companies all the time. What's so important about this case?

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Activists say stray cats starve to death in sealed basements in Belarus

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — City authorities in the Belarusian capital of Minsk are carelessly trapping stray cats in locked basements, dooming them to starvation, animal activists say.

Elena Titova, leader of the animal rights group Protect Life, says the ex-Soviet nation has no long-term shelters to house stray animals. She estimated that about 9,000 strays have been killed in the Belarusian capital alone over the past three years.

"Killing the animals with impunity has become a government policy," Titova said Monday. "This barbarian policy can be described as 'No animal, no problem.' They find it easier to kill them as they don't have to build shelters."

City authorities say they must isolate the basements of apartment buildings in line with Soviet-era health rules to prevent rodents from getting in.

"Cats and residents will scream for a while and then they will calm down," said Alexander Yubkov, a city worker who has welded iron covers on basement windows.

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