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Associated Press
Syrian President Bashar Assad reviews an honor guard Wednesday upon his arrival at the presidential palace to take the oath of office in Damascus, Syria, in this photo released by official news agency SANA.

Calif. death penalty overruled

– A federal judge ruled California's death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, writing that lengthy and unpredictable delays have resulted in an arbitrary and unfair capital punishment system.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney said factors such as the manner in which paperwork is handled are what “determine whether an individual will actually be executed.” Since the current death penalty system was adopted by California voters 35 years ago, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death, but only 13 have been executed, he wrote.

Carney's ruling could be appealed by the governor or state attorney general, although they both oppose the death penalty.

The death penalty had already been on hold since a 2006 ruling by another federal judge that the state's lethal injection procedures needed overhaul. A new judge on that case has not ruled on whether changes the state has made are enough for the state to restart executions.


US, Europe boost sanctions on Russia

Struggling to defuse the persistent crisis in Ukraine, both the U.S. and European Union imposed new economic sanctions on Russia on Wednesday, with President Barack Obama declaring that Russian leaders must see that their actions supporting rebels “have consequences.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, sounding unperturbed, said the U.S. was only hurting itself.

The penalties announced by the White House were broad in scope, targeting two major Russian energy firms, a pair of powerful financial institutions, eight arms firms and four individuals. Leaders in Europe, which has a far deeper economic relationship with Russia than the U.S., were more restrained, ordering investment and development banks on the continent to suspend financing agreements with Moscow.

Niacin called unfit for routine use

New details from two studies reveal more side effects from niacin, a drug that hundreds of thousands of Americans take for cholesterol problems and general heart health. Some prominent doctors say the drug now seems too risky for routine use.

The larger study suggests that “for every 200 people that we treat with niacin, there is one excess death,” plus higher rates of bleeding, infections and other problems – “a completely unacceptable level” of harm, said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones of Northwestern University in Chicago. “Niacin should not be used routinely in clinical practice at all.”

Actress who mailed ricin gets 18 years

A Texas actress who tried to blame her husband after sending ricin-laced letters to officials including President Barack Obama was sentenced Wednesday to 18 years in prison.

A federal judge gave Shannon Guess Richardson, 36, the maximum sentence under her plea deal on a federal charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin. Richardson was also ordered to pay restitution of about $367,000.

Richardson said she thought security measures would prevent anyone from opening the letters. But Judge Michael H. Schneider noted that she had put many lives in danger.

Attempt at killing spider burns house

A man who used a can of spray paint and a lighter as a makeshift blowtorch to kill a spider in his laundry room started a blaze that caused $60,000 worth of damage, Seattle fire officials said Wednesday.

The man and his mother got out of the house, and no injuries were reported in the fire that broke out in the West Seattle home Tuesday night, said Kyle Moore, a spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department.


Gunmen attack airport in Kabul

Gunmen used rockets to attack Kabul International Airport in the Afghan capital early today, a senior military official said.

The gunmen occupied two buildings, 700 yards north of the airport and were using them as a base to fire rockets and gunfire toward the airport and International Security Assistance Force jet fighters flying over Kabul, said Afzal Aman, a general in the Afghan army.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

Aman said several rockets hit the airport but no planes had been damaged so far. He said two attackers had been killed by Afghan forces.

In war-torn Syria, Assad on 3rd term

In a lavish ceremony, a smiling and confident President Bashar Assad was sworn in for a third seven-year term Wednesday, praising supporters for “defeating the dirty war” and denouncing insurgents who have “failed in trying to brainwash you or break your will.”

Syria's 3-year-old civil war is grinding on without reprieve, with 170,000 dead and a third of the country displaced. Opposition activists say more than 400 people have been killed in the past three days alone.

But rebels once focused on Assad's forces are now also fighting increasingly belligerent jihadis seeking to expand a cross-border fiefdom they carved out with neighboring Iraq.

2 detained after deadly train wreck

Investigators detained two Moscow subway workers Wednesday in the wake of a deadly rush-hour derailment that killed 22 people and injured 136 others.

Investigators said a new rail switch at the point where the train left the tracks wasn't properly installed during repairs in May and was attached only by a single 3-millimeter wire.

Pakistan captures Taliban leader

Pakistani security forces captured a key Taliban commander linked to a 2003 assassination attempt on former President Pervez Musharraf, officials said Wednesday as a U.S. drone strike killed 15 militants near the country's border with Afghanistan.

Adnan Rashid, a former air force officer-turned-militant, was arrested during a raid last Friday on a militant hideout in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region, two intelligence officials told The Associated Press.