Pardon urged in Jena Six case

NEW ORLEANS - Members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to pardon Mychal Bell and five other black teenagers known as the Jena Six who were involved in a racially charged schoolyard fracas.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) said in a letter to Blanco this week that Bell, who is serving an 18-month sentence, and the other accused had paid their debt to society and should be pardoned. "They and their families have suffered enough, as has the State of Louisiana and the town of Jena."

Blanco's press secretary, Marie Centanni, said yesterday in a statement that the governor cannot grant a pardon or commutation without a recommendation to do so from the state Pardon Board. Blanco leaves office Jan. 14. The next Pardon Board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.

- AP

Army turns down memorial request

WASHINGTON - The Army rejected plans to use Arlington National Cemetery as the site for a memorial to 40 soldiers killed in a plane crash in Australia during World War II.

A group of volunteers with ties to the crash raised private money for the memorial and helped locate family members to tell them the circumstances of their relatives' deaths. Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, where six of the victims were from; Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill; and two other senators wrote the Army asking that the memorial be placed at Arlington.

John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army, wrote McCaskill back saying that placing the memorial at Arlington would take away "ever-decreasing land that is needed for burial purposes."

- AP

Senators' travel for funerals paid

WASHINGTON - Senators will now be allowed to use taxpayer dollars to travel to the funerals of service members in their home states.

The policy, adopted this week by the Rules Committee, was championed by Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.), who argued that it was wrong to cover the cost of a senator flying across the country to give a speech, but not to attend the funeral of a soldier killed in action.

"I consider it one of my most important duties to attend the funerals of our fallen soldiers," Nelson said yesterday. Nelson is a member of the Rules Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Rules panel determines what activities qualify as official duty and can be reimbursed using federal funds.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Hijackers in New York

posing as police commandeered a FedEx tractor-trailer loaded with Christmas presents and kidnapped the driver, but the would-be Grinches let him go early yesterday and abandoned the rig full of packages, police said.

Prosecutors

in Broward County, Fla., are pondering whether to bring charges against a 15-year-old boy who twice threw a football against the stomach of a pregnant girl, also 15, causing the baby to be born prematurely and die hours later.