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Girl's lung transplant deemed a success
Philadelphia • A 10-year-old girl whose efforts to qualify for an organ donation spurred public debate over how organs are allocated underwent a successful double-lung transplant on Wednesday, the girl's family said.
Sarah Murnaghan, who suffers from severe cystic fibrosis, received new lungs from an adult donor at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, spokeswoman Tracy Simon said.
The Murnaghan family said it was "thrilled" to share the news that Sarah was out of surgery.
"Her doctors are very pleased with both her progress during the procedure and her prognosis for recovery," the family said in a statement.
During double-lung transplants, surgeons must open up the patient's chest. Complications can include rejection of the new lungs and infection.
Panel rejects overhaul of military justice
Washington • Siding with the Pentagon's top brass, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved legislation Wednesday to keep commanders involved in deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases, rejecting an aggressive plan to stem sex-related crimes in the armed forces by overhauling the military justice system.
By a vote of 17-9, the committee passed a bill crafted by its chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., designed to increase pressure on senior commanders to prosecute sexual assault cases by requiring a top-level review if they fail to do so. Levin's proposal also makes it a crime to retaliate against victims who report a sexual assault and also calls on the Pentagon to relieve commanders who fail to create a climate receptive for victims.
The committee rebuffed a proposal in a bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would have rested instead with seasoned trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and hold the rank of colonel or above. The committee also rejected a provision of Gillibrand's bill that would have taken away a commander's authority to convene a court-martial by giving that responsibility to new and separate offices outside a victim's chain of command.
Parents face trial in faith-healing death
Philadelphia • A Philadelphia couple who believes in faith healing over medicine faces a murder trial in the death of their second son in four years.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible are being held on third-degree murder charges after Wednesday's preliminary hearing.
Two-year-old Kent died in 2009, followed by 8-month-old Brandon in April. Both boys died of pneumonia.
Prosecutors say the Schaibles defied terms of their probation after the first case by failing to get Brandon medical care.
Their seven surviving children are now in foster care.
Castro pleads not guilty in kidnap case
Cleveland • A man accused of holding three women captive in his home for about a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday to hundreds of rape and kidnapping charges, and the defense hinted at avoiding a trial with a plea deal if the death penalty were ruled out.
The death penalty is in play because among the accusations facing Ariel Castro, 52, is that he forced a miscarriage by one of the women, which is considered a killing under Ohio law. That charge doesn't include a possible death penalty, but a prosecutor has said that's under review.
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each said they had accepted a ride from Castro.
FEMA: No additional aid for fertilizer plant
Houston • The Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing to provide additional money to help rebuild the small Texas town where a deadly fertilizer plant explosion leveled numerous homes and a school, and killed 15 people.
According to a letter obtained by The Associated Press, FEMA said it reviewed the state's appeal to help but decided that the explosion "is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration."
FEMA already has provided millions of dollars in aid to the town of West and its residents, but the decision prevents them from getting some of the widespread assistance typically available to victims of tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The decision likely means less money to pay for public repairs to roads, sewer lines, pipes and a school that was destroyed.
The blast killed 10 first responders and brought national attention to the agricultural community.
As of Wednesday, FEMA said the agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved more than $7 million in aid and low-interest loans to West residents impacted by the blast. FEMA also is paying 75 percent of the costs of debris removal and will reimburse the state and the municipality for the initial emergency response.
It's not unusual for FEMA to turn down that level of assistance for emergencies not stemming from natural disasters.
Supreme Court sign ban ruled illegal
Washington • In a case that could end with the Supreme Court deciding how much free speech to allow on its own doorstep, a federal judge has thrown out a law barring processions and expressive banners on the Supreme Court grounds.
The law is so broad, the judge said, that it could criminalize preschool students parading on their first field trip to the high court.
Harold Hodge Jr. was arrested on the Supreme Court plaza in January 2011 while wearing a sign that criticized police treatment of blacks and Hispanics.
He claimed the law violates the constitution, and U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell agreed. She ruled Tuesday that the statute ran afoul of the First Amendment's free speech protections.
The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization which challenged the law on Hodge's behalf, said that ruling "throws a lifeline to the First Amendment at a time when government officials are doing their best to censor, silence and restrict free speech activities."
If the Obama administration appeals, the case could reach the Supreme Court, historically the guardian of free speech rights. That could create the ultimate not-in-my-backyard case, except it would be more about the court's front yard.