National briefs: Skakel slams former attorney

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VERNON, Conn. -- Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel launched a barrage of criticism Thursday against the attorney who represented him at his murder trial, portraying an overly confident lawyer basking in the limelight while making fundamental mistakes from poor jury picks to failing to track down key witnesses.

Skakel testified in his latest appeal, arguing that trial attorney Michael Sherman failed to competently defend him when he was convicted in 2002 of killing his Greenwich neighbor in 1975 when they were both 15. Skakel, the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, is serving 20 years to life for the golf club bludgeoning of Martha Moxley.

Mr. Sherman says he did all he could to prevent Skakel's conviction. He is due to take the stand Friday.

Another Senate gun vote?

WASHINGTON -- Two top senators predicted Thursday that gun legislation will come up again for a Senate vote -- possibly before the end of the year.

Their assessment comes after the defeat last week of a widely popular bipartisan background check measure.

"I think we're going to bring this bill back before the end of the year and I think you may find some changes," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a chief backer of the bill, at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a key Republican backer who spoke at the same event, concurred.

Military faulted for burn pits

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military spent $5 million on incinerators at a base in Afghanistan that never became operable, forcing troops to use a type of open-air burn pit that has been linked to serious respiratory problems among veterans, according to a new inspector general report.

The case of the inoperable incinerators at Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Afghanistan sheds light on the continued challenges of waste disposal in combat zones.

Boeing 787 order lifted

WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators are telling airlines they can fly Boeing's 787 Dreamliners again as soon as they replace problematic lithium ion batteries with a revamped system.

Only one airline -- United -- currently has 787s in its fleet. The Federal Aviation Administration estimated the repair costs for those six planes at $2.8 million.

The planes have been grounded since mid-January, following a battery fire on a 787 parked at Boston's Logan International Airport, and a smoking battery that led to an emergency landing by another 787 in Japan.

3 injured in Ala. barge fire

MOBILE, Ala. -- Firefighters on Thursday extinguished a huge blaze that erupted hours earlier when two fuel barges exploded, leaving three people with critical burns and forcing the evacuation of crew from a nearby cruise ship.

The cause of the explosions on the gas barges in the Mobile River, east of downtown, remained under investigation, but investigators believe it was likely from a spark caused by a crew cleaning the barges, Coast Guard Lt. Mike Clausen said.

Victim caused lion attack

SAN FRANCISCO -- Authorities in Central California said Thursday that a volunteer worker killed in a lion attack at an animal park accidentally caused her own death by leaving the animal's door open.

A 550-pound Barbary lion named Cous Cous escaped from the partially closed feeding cage on March 6 and struck Dianna Hanson, a 24-year-old intern, who died immediately from a broken neck, according to the coroner's autopsy report.

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