Big Tobacco Suit Goes to Jury

MIAMI -- A Florida jury began deliberations yesterday in a multibillion-dollar class action lawsuit filed against the tobacco industry by people who said smoking sickened them or killed their relatives.

Jurors in the complex case, Engle et al. vs R.J. Reynolds et al., must decide whether smoking cigarettes causes any of 18 diseases, including heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis and infertility. They must then decide whether cigarettes are addictive and whether the tobacco companies concealed the health risks involved in smoking cigarettes.

Jurors were chosen in July and have been hearing testimony since October in the landmark case, the first class action lawsuit by sick smokers against the industry to go to trial.

They were not told that if they unanimously answered "yes" to any of the questions, they would have to return for a second phase of the trial to determine what damages the cigarette makers should pay. The reason for that, Judge Robert Kaye said outside the jury's presence, was that: "They might decide, `Well I really don't want to come back for another three to five months, so I'll just end it now.' "

The lawsuit, named after a Miami pediatrician who blamed smoking for his emphysema, was filed on behalf of 40,000 to 1 million sick or dead Florida smokers and their survivors. Besides R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., the defendants include Philip Morris Cos., Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco Co., Brooke Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group Inc., the Brown & Williamson unit of British American Tobacco PLC and the industry's Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.

3 Get Life in `Boredom' Killing

PAPILLION, Neb. -- Three people were sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of a teenage friend whose death they apparently plotted out of sheer boredom.

Daniel Jones, 17, Niccole Wetherell, 18, and James Hargett, 20, pleaded no contest to first-degree murder in the stabbing death of 19-year-old Scott Catenacci. They were among six people, ages 16 to 20, who authorities said were involved in the stabbing.

The group initially said Catenacci was killed in retaliation for getting rough during an episode of group sex. However, authorities now believe the killing was the culmination of increasingly violent games.

"It appears the murder was the result of idle minds with little or no moral or ethical guidance," Sarpy County District Judge Ronald Reagan said.

Authorities said the group talked about killing people, and some dabbled in drugs and dark, Gothic beliefs. The group considered killing people while invading their homes to rob them but were afraid to pull off the crimes.

They turned their attention to Catenacci, luring him to a park in Bellevue, outside Omaha, on Sept. 29 with the promise of buying his laptop computer. He was stabbed at least 57 times and left to bleed to death in the deserted park.