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CALIFORNIA: Ruling awaited in Haditha trial

The news came at a low point in the Iraq war and seemed to reflect much of what was going wrong: A Marine squad killed 24 people in Haditha in November 2005, including unarmed women and children. The killings dealt another blow to America's reputation following the photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Now, more than four years later, a military judge is expected to decide Friday whether to dismiss charges against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 30, the remaining defendant in the biggest criminal case against U.S. troops to arise from the war. If the defense request alleging unlawful command influence is granted, it would mark a crushing finale in a string of defeats in military prosecution of alleged war crimes.

WASHINGTON: Jobless aid bill blocked

As Congress raced to leave for Easter recess, a Republican senator blocked a stopgap bill to extend jobless benefits, saying its $9-billion cost should not be added to the national debt. As a result, some people who have been out of work for more than six months will at least temporarily lose benefits. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) insists the measure be "paid for" so as not to add to the $12.7-trillion debt.

Democrats fight coastal drilling

Ten Senate Democrats including Bill Nelson of Florida and Ron Wyden of Oregon said they won't back climate-change legislation that opens U.S. coasts and oceans to "unfettered" oil-and-gas drilling. The senators, all from coastal states, sent a letter to the lead drafters of energy legislation, warning of the potential for oil spills jeopardizing coastal state economies and ecosystems. House Minority Leader John Boehner and other Republicans had written to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar demanding that the administration move on offshore drilling.

NEW JERSEY: Second incident at Walmart

A teenager who allegedly made an announcement ordering all black people to leave a southern New Jersey Walmart has been charged in a similar incident at the same store just after Christmas. The 16-year-old Atlantic County boy, whose name was not released because he is a juvenile, was charged last week with harassment and bias intimidation in the March 14 incident. Washington Township police said Thursday that the teen did the same thing Dec. 28 at the Gloucester County store. Store officials turned over surveillance video this week.

TENNESSEE: Med chopper crash kills 3

A medical helicopter crashed in stormy weather over western Tennessee early Thursday, killing its crew of three, around the same time another helicopter company had declined to go on a flight in the area because of the weather conditions. No patients were on board the helicopter operated by Hospital Wing when it crashed in a field about 55 miles northeast of Memphis, authorities said. The National Transportation Safety Board had nine investigators on the scene in the afternoon, and chairwoman Debbie Hersman said the safety of medical helicopters is a high priority.

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