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Saturday, February 19, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Across The Nation

Across The Nation

Seattle Times News Services

Branch Davidian jurors can consider self-defense

SAN ANTONIO - The judge in the federal murder trial of 11 Branch Davidians agreed yesterday to tell jurors that during their deliberations they can consider whether the defendants acted in self-defense.

"If these defendants don't have the right to self-defense, then we wasted six weeks of trial," said defense attorney Joe Turner after U.S. District Judge Walter Smith's ruling.

The prosecution wasn't pleased.

"If they can get self-defense . . . for killing these agents, then we are at a deadly crossroads in this country," Prosecutor Bill Johnston said.

The defense rested its case Thursday without calling any of the Branch Davidians to testify. The jury should get the case next week after closing arguments, which are scheduled for Tuesday.

Prosecutors contend the Davidians murdered four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as the federal officers raided David Koresh's compound near Waco last Feb. 28.

The 11 Davidians could face up to life in prison if convicted.

Six Davidians were killed in the raid, which led to a 51-day standoff. That ended April 19, when the cult compound was destroyed by fire.

Ban on anti-gay bias included in quake-aid bill

WASHINGTON - With two words inserted into the California earthquake-assistance package that President Clinton signed into law a week ago, the federal government has for the first time banned

discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" in a federal program.

Advocates and critics of gay rights said the little-noticed ban on federal agencies discriminating against homosexuals in the distribution of emergency earthquake aid marked a narrow, but significant, departure in civil-rights law.

"I don't want to overstate it. It may be a landmark of sorts," said Laurence Tribe, a liberal constitutional scholar at Harvard Law School.

"It's an important event in the sense it's the first time Congress has added this category to the list of protected groups," said William Rubenstein, director of the National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This certainly represents a gain for those who are trying to inject sexual orientation into mainstream civil-rights laws," said Bruce Fein, a conservative constitutional scholar.

Congress has previously taken into account sexual orientation only in regulations affecting the military and a 1990 law requiring the Justice Department to compile and report statistics on hate crimes, including those directed at homosexuals.

Hillary Clinton takes pitch on health care to rural S.D.

LENNOX, S.D. - Hillary Rodham Clinton took her health-care crusade to rural America yesterday and promised that the president's plan would deliver more doctors, more dollars and new technology to struggling remote towns.

"We have to be sure there's medical care out there to be taken advantage of," the first lady told 1,000 people crowded into a high-school gymnasium about 25 miles south of Sioux Falls. "There are many, many ideas in the president's plan that will help rural America."

Among those she cited: plans to beef up medical staffing in remote areas, more funding for hospitals and clinics in those communities, and technology to link doctors to sophisticated medical schools.

"We could not design a system more complicated than the one we currently have," Mrs. Clinton said. "We could not create a system that deliberately eliminated people more effectively than the one we have."

Warning due on using child seats in cars with air bags

WASHINGTON - The federal government will soon require manufacturers of child-safety seats to warn parents against strapping rear-facing seats into car seats protected by air bags.

The child seats must be clearly labeled with the warning, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said yesterday.

Air bags inflate with enough force to cause serious head and chest injuries to a child in a rear-facing seat, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. No such injuries have been reported.

Air bags do not pose a threat to children in forward-facing seats or in convertible child seats strapped in to face a car's front end, the agency said.

Writer's daughter, husband charged in infant's '91 death

LAS VEGAS - The daughter and son-in-law of writer Pete Hamill were charged yesterday with murder and child abuse in the 1991 death of the couple's 2-month-old son.

Adriene and Charles Wellesley were indicted by the Clark County grand jury on one count of murder and five counts of child abuse with substantial bodily harm.

An autopsy determined the baby died "as a result of absolute and complete destruction of the brain," police Detective Don Dibble said in an affidavit.

Bench warrants with bail of $200,000 each were issued for the couple, who separated following the infant's death.

Hamill, a journalist who writes books, served briefly last year as editor in chief of the New York Post.

- Seattle Times news services

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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