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Veterans benefits group visits St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is the first of eight stops nationwide for a federal commission created to evaluate disability and death benefits for veterans and their families.

The Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission is scheduled to hold a town hall-style meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, 333 First St. S.

A business session - also open to the public - is scheduled at the hotel from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

Throughout the year the commission plans to visit San Antonio, Texas; Chicago; St. Louis; San Diego; Seattle; Boston; and Atlanta. The panel plans to submit a report to the president and Congress in October 2007.

MacDill sergeant's

trial in slaying starts

TAMPA - Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a one-time MacDill Air Force Base Army sergeant charged with murdering his girlfriend two years ago.

Police arrested Richard Williams Jr. on May 21, 2003, after his 20-year-old girlfriend, Constance Shanieka Culbreth, was found bleeding to death inside the couple's apartment at 6301 S West Shore Blvd.

Williams, 26, and Culbreth shared the lease on Apartment 712 at the Camden Bayside apartments and had returned to their home about 10:30 p.m. on May 20. Neighbors told investigators they heard screaming, banging and gunshots shortly before Culbreth was found alone, lying in a pool of blood.

Williams' current military status was unclear Tuesday. The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said he had not been discharged. But CentCom officials said they could not verify whether he is still assigned to the division's headquarters.

Opening statements in Williams case were presented Tuesday morning. The trial is expected to end Thursday.