Jury selection on for Blagojevich
Like a candidate still running for office, a smiling and jovial Rod Blagojevich waded into the crowd — making upbeat statements, hugging and shaking hands with supporters holding signs. He's not on a ballot anymore, though, and the only voters that matter are the 12 people who will be chosen from the potential jurors whom the judge began questioning Thursday. They will decide if the former Illinois governor tried to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat and leverage his power into a moneymaking enterprise. Federal prosecutors have 500 hours of FBI wiretap tapes, which they say incriminate Blagojevich. Blagojevich's attorneys have said that the recordings, if played in their entirety, would show he did not try to sell the seat. He faces 24 counts including racketeering, wire fraud, attempted extortion and bribery. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 415 years in prison and fines totaling $6 million.
More political court: Former Massachusetts state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion in Boston. She was caught on video stuffing bribe money in her bra. She faces up to four years in prison.
Mock mission to Mars gets started
An international team of six male researchers climbed into a set of windowless steel capsules Thursday to launch a 520-day simulation of a flight to Mars intended to help real space crews of the future cope with the confinement, stress and fatigue of interplanetary travel. The Mars-500 experiment aims to reproduce the conditions of space travel, with the exception of weightlessness. Mission director Boris Morukov said the experiment could be disrupted for medical or technical reasons or if some of the participants categorically demand it be stopped.
Homely hound dies in Tennessee
Miss Ellie, a small, bug-eyed Chinese crested hairless dog whose pimples and lolling tongue helped her win Animal Planet's "World's Ugliest Dog" contest in 2009, has died after a career in resort show business in the Smoky Mountains. She was 17. Over the years, Ellie helped raise more than $100,000 for the Sevier County Humane Society.
For once, fewer people in jail
Amid a drop in the crime rate, the nation's local jail population has declined for the first time since the federal government began keeping count nearly three decades ago.
The government says the number of inmates in county and city jails was about 767,600 at the end of June 2009. That's down nearly 18,000 inmates from a year earlier.
Growth in the U.S. jail population has been slowing since 2005. The latest figures are down 2.3 percent and represent the first decline since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began its annual survey of jails in 1982.
According to the survey, Hillsborough County dropped from 3,857 to 3,503 and Pinellas County dropped from 3,463 to 3,233. The report counted the number of inmates held by local jail jurisdictions on the last weekday in June 2008 and 2009.
The reversal took place as crime in the United States fell dramatically. Violent crime fell 5.5 percent last year and property crime was down 4.9 percent, the third straight year of declines.
Unlike prisons, more than 60 percent of people housed in local jails await the filing of criminal charges or their trials. The rest await sentencing, transfer to state or federal prison or have been sentenced to serve time in jail.