Conscientious Objector

Sentenced to 15 Months

FORT STEWART, Ga. -- An Army mechanic who refused to go to Iraq while he sought conscientious-objector status was acquitted of desertion Thursday but found guilty of a lesser charge and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 40, was also given a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private on the charge of missing movement. If he had been found guilty of desertion, he could have faced five years in prison.

Benderman did not deploy with his 3rd Infantry Division unit in January, 10 days after he told Fort Stewart commanders he was seeking a discharge. He has previously said he refused to deploy to Iraq after his first combat tour during the 2003 invasion made him opposed to war.

He said he did not mean for his actions to hurt his comrades. "I am not against soldiers," he said. ". . . Though some might take my actions as being against soldiers, I want everyone to be home and safe and raising their families. I don't want anyone to be hurt in a combat zone."

* PHILADELPHIA -- Police searched a park for any sign of a missing pregnant woman in a case that has turned up few leads since she disappeared 10 days ago. Authorities had no solid information linking the disappearance of LaToyia Figueroa, 24, to the park, but Philadelphia police Sgt. Ron McClane said police recruits, bike patrols and police dogs searched the grounds "just to maybe eliminate that area."

* FORT WORTH -- A series of explosions rocked a Valley Solvents & Chemicals plant, unleashing a pillar of black smoke that could be seen 20 miles away. At least four people were injured, officials said. The cause of the explosion was not known.

* GARY, Ind. -- Divers stopped their search of a river without finding any signs of a 2-year-old girl who flew through a window of a sport-utility vehicle during a crash and plunged at least 40 feet from a highway bridge into the water. Authorities said she is presumed dead. Divers spent several hours in the Grand Calumet River looking for Jatima Greene.

* BOSTON -- Nine U.S. Episcopal bishops plan to sue the bishop of Connecticut in religious court, a church spokesman said, over his support for the church's first openly gay bishop. Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith has suspended one priest and threatened five others who object to his support of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The priests had asked to be put under the leadership of another bishop, a step the church says it cannot take.

* JACKSON, Miss. -- The son of a black man who reportedly accompanied the white men who abducted and killed Emmett Till in 1955 is asking officials to grant his father immunity in the reopened case. Johnny Thomas said that his father, Henry Lee Loggins, still maintains that he had nothing to do with the lynching. But he thinks that if he is granted immunity, Loggins may tell more than he has.

* San Diego Zoo officials said that Bai Yun, one of their giant pandas, is expecting twins. The panda, whose name means White Cloud, has shown signs of pregnancy since mid-July, making a nest in the zoo's birthing den and spending more time indoors, officials said.

-- From News Services