Coroner says Whitney Houston died from drowning, but cocaine and heart disease contributed
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Coroner's officials have ruled Whitney Houston died by drowning, but heart disease and cocaine use were contributing factors.
The announcement Thursday ends weeks of speculation about what killed the Grammy-winning singer on Feb. 11.
Houston was found submerged in the bathtub of her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on the eve of the Grammy Awards.
Several bottles of prescription medications were found in her hotel room, but coroner's officials said they weren't in excessive quantities.
Coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey says cocaine metabolites were found in Houston's system, and it was listed as a contributing factor in her death. He says the results indicated Houston was a chronic cocaine user.
Standoff in France ends with Islamic suspect shot in the head, police seeking any accomplices
TOULOUSE, France (AP) -- In a dramatic end to a 32-hour standoff, a masked French SWAT team slipped into the apartment of an Islamist extremist Thursday, sparking a firefight that ended with the suspect jumping out the window and being fatally shot in the head.
Mohamed Merah, 23, was wanted in the deaths of three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi -- all killed since March 11 in what Merah reportedly told police was an attempt to "bring France to its knees."
Police had been trying to capture him alive since a predawn raid Wednesday to arrest him at his apartment in the southwestern city of Toulouse. The killings he was accused of -- and boasted about to police -- have shocked France, ignited fear in moderate Muslims about stoking discrimination and may even affect the country's upcoming presidential election.
The seven slayings, carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks, are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris, said an investigation was under way to see if Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, had any accomplices.
Police chief criticized for not arresting neighborhood watch volunteer temporarily steps down
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- The police chief who has been bitterly criticized for not arresting a neighborhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager temporarily stepped down Thursday, saying he wanted to passions to cool.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee's announcement came less than a day after city commissioners gave him a "no confidence" vote, and after a couple of weeks of protests and uproar on social media websites. Lee has said the evidence in the case supported George Zimmerman's claim that the Feb. 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was self-defense.
"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Lee said.
Martin was returning from a trip to a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.
Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle.
Santorum tries to overcome delegate deficit by improving math in states that voted weeks ago
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rick Santorum is falling so far behind Mitt Romney in the race for Republican delegates that his best chance might be in states that voted weeks ago.
The chief rival to the front-running Romney, Santorum is trying to improve his lot in places like Iowa and Washington, where local caucuses were just the first step in determining delegates to the Republican National Convention. In those states and a few others, supporters are now preparing for county, congressional district and state conventions, where the campaigns hope to keep their delegates -- and possibly poach some from other candidates.
Santorum's delegate count could use a boost. He trails Romney by 300 and would need to win 74 percent of the delegates in the remaining primaries to clinch the nomination before the national convention in August. So far, Santorum is winning just 27 percent, according to the tally by The Associated Press.
But the former Pennsylvania senator's campaign predicts that he will significantly increase his delegate haul in caucus states, primarily at the expense of Romney.
"The Romney campaign likes to talk about how they have this superior organization in these caucus states and therefore they are going to perform well," said John Yob, Santorum's national delegate director. "If you believe the Romney campaign's spin that they have this superior organization, but yet they're losing these contests, it must mean they have a deficient candidate who is unable to appeal to the base of the party."
Drivers feeling pain at the gas pump are unsure who is to blame but want a government solution
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Families canceling vacations. Fishermen watching their profits burn up along with their boats' gasoline. Drivers buying only a few gallons of gas at a time because they can't afford to fill the tank.
From all corners of the country, Americans are irritated these days by record-high fuel prices that have soared above $4 a gallon in some states and could top $5 by summer. And the cost is becoming a political issue just as the presidential campaign kicks into high gear.
Some blame President Barack Obama. Some just cite "the government," while others believe it's the work of big, greedy oil companies. No matter who is responsible, almost everyone seems to want the government to do something, even if people aren't sure what, exactly, it should or can do.
A Gallup poll this month found 85 percent of U.S. adults believe the president and Congress "should take immediate actions to try to control the rising price of gas." An Associated Press-GfK poll last month showed 71 percent believe gas prices are a "very" or "extremely" important matter.
Chris Kaufman, who spends $120 a week on gas to travel the 60 miles between his two jobs, at the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and at a hotel in Vermillion, S.D., blames the price spike on threats from Iran to cut off oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.
Top Russian lawmaker says Assad needs to pull out his forces from cities
MOSCOW (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad must take the first step toward settling his country's yearlong conflict by pulling his forces out of cities and allowing humanitarian assistance, a senior Russian lawmaker said Thursday, in a statement that signaled a marked shift in Moscow's stance.
The comments by Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin-connected chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russian parliament, indicated Moscow's increasing impatience with Assad and its eagerness to raise pressure on an old ally.
"Syrian President Bashar Assad must urgently fix numerous mistakes that he has made, according to Russia's official position," Margelov said, according to the ITAR-Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies.
Commenting on Wednesday's statement by the United Nations Security Council that spelled out U.N. mediator Kofi Annan's proposals, including guaranteed humanitarian access and the pullout of government forces from Syrian cities and towns, Margelov said that Assad should now act first.
"Assad must take the first step," Margelov was quoted as saying. "He must pull out the Syrian army from big cities. It's also necessary to deliver humanitarian assistance to the areas affected by fighting."
Renegade soldiers in Mali loot presidency after ousting leader just weeks ahead of election
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- Drunk soldiers looted Mali's presidential palace hours after they declared a coup on Thursday, suspending the constitution and dissolving the institutions of one of the few established democracies in this troubled corner of Africa.
The whereabouts of the country's 63-year-old president Amadou Toumani Toure, who was just one month away from stepping down after a decade in office, could not be confirmed. The United States Embassy issued a statement dispelling rumors that he had sought refuge in their compound.
The scene in this normally serene capital was unsettling to those proud of Mali's history as one of the few mature democracies in the region. Soldiers smelling of alcohol ripped flat-screen TVs, computer monitors, printers and photocopiers out of the presidential palace, carting them off in plain sight. Others in pickup trucks zoomed across the broad avenues, holding beer bottles in one hand and firing automatic weapons with the other.
The mutineers said they were overthrowing the government because of its mishandling of an ethnic Tuareg insurgency in the country's north that began in January. Tens of thousands of Malian civilians have been forced to flee. The soldiers sent to fight the separatists have been killed in large numbers, often after being sent to the battlefield with inadequate arms and food supplies, prompting fierce criticism of the government.
The coup began Wednesday, after young troops mutinied at a military camp near the capital. The rioting spread to a garrison thousands of miles (kilometers) away in the strategic northern town of Gao.
Allegations of opulence refocus attention on TBN, world's largest Christian broadcaster
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) -- Televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch have faced plenty of mountains building their religious broadcast empire -- among them allegations of a homosexual tryst and a prolonged battle with the Federal Communications Commission -- but the most recent attack on the founders of Trinity Broadcasting Network comes from their own flesh and blood.
Their granddaughter, Brittany Koper, recently filed court papers that include allegations of $50 million in financial shenanigans at the world's largest Christian broadcasting network. Her suit was followed by another from a Koper in-law, who detailed opulent spending at the network on items such as private jets, mansions in California, Tennessee and Florida and a $100,000 mobile home for Jan Crouch's dogs.
The lawsuits came after Koper's husband was accused by a debt collection company of embezzling more than $1 million from TBN. The debt collection company that filed the lawsuit later added the Crouches' granddaughter and two of her in-laws as defendants.
The outbreak of legal skirmish offers a rare window into the secretive world of the sprawling religious non-profit and exposes a family feud that could draw more outside scrutiny of TBN. Attorneys from both sides say they have contacted police and the Internal Revenue Service.
The Crouches founded TBN in 1973 and grew it into an international Christian empire that beams prosperity gospel programming -- which promises that if the faithful sacrifice for their belief, God will reward them with material wealth -- to every continent but Antarctica 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has 78 satellites and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates and owns seven other networks, as well as its headquarters in Costa Mesa in Orange County, an estate outside Nashville called Trinity Music City, USA and the Holy Land Experience, a Christian amusement park in Orlando.
Kroger, Stop & Shop join growing list of stores that will stop buying beef made with filler
NEW YORK (AP) -- Supermarket chains Kroger Co. and Stop & Shop said Thursday they will join the growing list of store chains that will no longer sell beef that includes an additive with the unappetizing moniker "pink slime."
Federal regulators say the ammonia-treated filler, known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," meets food safety standards. But critics say the product could be unsafe and is an unappetizing example of industrialized food production.
The Kroger Co., the nation's largest traditional grocer with 2,435 supermarkets in 31 states, also said it will stop buying the beef, reversing itself after saying Wednesday that it would sell beef both with and without the additive.
Earlier Thursday, Stop & Shop said that while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said the product is safe for consumption, it will stop selling the beef due to customer concerns. Stop & Shop is a unit of Dutch supermarkets owner Royal Ahold NV and operates 400 stores in the Northeast U.S.
The chains joined Safeway, Supervalu and Food Lion, among others, who have said they won't sell beef with the filler.
Defense lawyer asks Pa. judge to throw out child sexual abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Jerry Sandusky asked a judge Thursday to throw out the child sex abuse charges against him, arguing some counts are not specific enough, evidence is lacking in others and the statute of limitations may have run out regarding eight of the 10 alleged victims.
The catch-all pretrial motion also sought to delay the May 14 start of his trial, saying more time was needed to prepare a defense.
"We raised a number of issues that we thought were pertinent for various reasons," said his lawyer, Joe Amendola. "But the judge will have to decide that. We'll see what happens."
The omnibus pretrial motion, as it is called, is standard in Pennsylvania criminal cases.
Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said the document was under review, and prosecutors planned to respond in writing within a week. An April 5 court proceeding in Bellefonte has been scheduled to hash out any remaining disputes.