Fen-Phen User Awarded $23 Million

CANTON, Tex. -- A manicurist who said her heart was damaged by the diet drug combination known as fen-phen was awarded $23.3 million yesterday in the first jury verdict against the makers of the controversial weight-loss regimen.

Debbie Stone Lovett was one of an estimated 6 million Americans who took fen-phen, the fenfluramine portion of which was pulled off the market after it was found to cause heart valve damage in some patients and lung problems in others.

Her unexpected victory -- Lovett's own doctor testified against her -- could be disastrous for American Home Products, which said it would appeal. Already, 3,100 lawsuits have been filed against the pharmaceutical company nationwide, and legal experts said yesterday's verdict could encourage tens of thousands of new cases. The firm's stock dropped 11.9 percent after the verdict.

Miamian Sues Over Immigration Rules

MIAMI -- A Miami man has sued to stop the United States from repatriating Cuban boat people who are intercepted in U.S. territorial waters. An agreement with Cuba allows the United States to repatriate Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, while those who reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay.

Francisco Abreu, 33, sued, believing the Coast Guard had intercepted his wife and 4-year-old son, who left Cuba late last month but never arrived. Authorities confirmed that Abreu's wife and son were among a group of Cubans picked up in U.S. territorial waters off the Florida Keys this week and taken back to Cuba yesterday.

Marijuana Dispute Leads to Prison

SACRAMENTO -- In a clash between federal laws that ban possession of marijuana and California law that permits its medical use, a Vietnam veteran was sentenced by a federal judge to 27 months in prison for cultivating a marijuana crop the man claimed was legal under state law.

B.E. Smith, 52, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, obtained a prescription for medical marijuana after voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996. He became a "caregiver" to nine other patients, for which state law permitted cannabis cultivation.

Addenda

FRESNO, Calif. -- Cary Stayner, the motel handyman suspected of four killings around Yosemite National Park, pleaded not guilty to beheading Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26. Stayner could face the death penalty if convicted.

ROCKFORD, Ala. -- Two men who murdered a homosexual over unwanted advances will avoid the electric chair because the victim's family opposes the death penalty. Charles Butler Jr., 21, and Steven Mullins, 25, were sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing Billy Jack Gaither, who was beaten to death and then burned atop kerosene-soaked tires.