National briefs: Barge spills oil in Mississippi

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VICKSBURG, Miss. -- Cleanup crews with booms skimmed oily water from the Mississippi River a day after a barge with more than 80,000 gallons of oil struck a railroad bridge near Vicksburg, spreading a sheen of light crude that kept part of the waterway shut to ship traffic Monday, authorities said.

It remained unclear Monday how much oil had leaked into the river, according to the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. Officials said crews are looking for oil roughly 50 miles downriver from the site.

Gruesome murder case

PHOENIX -- Jodi Arias was adamant at first. She said she knew nothing about her lover's death, didn't slit his throat, stab him nearly 30 times or put a bullet in his forehead.

Then she offered a different story: Masked intruders killed Travis Alexander and she escaped.

Ms. Arias finally settled on a third version: She had slain her abusive, on-again, off-again boyfriend in self-defense.

However, her different stories will pose a formidable obstacle as her attorneys present their case beginning today in the trial that has become a cable TV news sensation.

Gitmo policy shifting?

FORT MEADE, Md. -- The State Department on Monday reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him, according to an internal personnel announcement.

Mr. Fried's office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be "assumed" by the office of the department's legal adviser, the notice said.

The closure appeared to signal that the Obama administration does not currently see the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.

Mr. Fried will become the department's coordinator for sanctions policy and will work on issues including Iran and Syria.

Death penalty for arson

LOS ANGELES -- A methamphetamine addict with a violent history was sentenced to death Monday for setting the 2003 Old fire in San Bernardino County that destroyed 1,000 homes and led to five deaths.

A jury in August convicted Rickie Lee Fowler of murder and arson for the blaze, which prosecutors said he deliberately set by tossing a lighted road flare into brush at the base of the mountains on an October day when Southern California already was overwhelmed by wind-fed wildfires. The same jury recommended in September that Fowler be sent to California's death row.

Dog plunges to death

NEW ORLEANS -- A Secret Service dog fell to its death in New Orleans this past weekend while performing a security sweep of a six-story parking garage next to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, where Vice President Joe Biden was speaking.

The dog, a bomb-sniffing Belgian Malinois, was working in the Premier Parking garage on Iberville Street near the French Quarter hotel when it fell off the roof Saturday night, police said.

School-closings complaints

PHILADELPHIA -- The U.S. Education Department is investigating complaints that plans to close or reorganize public schools in Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark, N.J., discriminate against black and Hispanic students, as well as those with disabilities, a department official confirmed on Monday.

Community activists from those cities and 15 others are scheduled to meet today with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to urge a moratorium on school-closure plans until alternatives can be found.



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