Same-sex unions
signed into law

Civil unions for gay couples got the governor’s signature in Colorado on Thursday, punctuating a dramatic turnaround in a state where voters banned same-sex marriage in 2006 and restricted protections for gays two decades ago.

Cheers erupted as Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed the bill during a ceremony at the History Colorado Center near the state Capitol. The law takes effect May 1.

Colorado will join eight states that have civil unions or similar laws. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. The signing in Colorado comes less than a year after the proposal was blocked in the House by Republicans.

— Associated Press

new york
Man wins freedom
after years in prison

A man who spent more than two decades behind bars for the slaying of a Brooklyn rabbi was released Thursday after a reinvestigation by prosecutors cast doubt on evidence used to convict him.

“Sir, you are free to go,” a judge told a smiling, white-haired David Ranta, 58, moments after prosecutors announced they supported tossing out the 1991 conviction.

The dramatic turnabout came after the Brooklyn district attorney’s office filed paperwork on Wednesday saying it supported a defense motion to vacate the murder conviction and dismiss the indictment.

The case dated to Feb. 8, 1990, when a gunman botched an attempt to rob a diamond courier in Williamsburg. After the courier escaped unharmed, the man approached the car of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, shot him in the forehead, pulled him out of the vehicle and drove away in it.

— Associated Press

Chicago plans to shut
dozens of schools

Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday they plan to close 54 schools in an effort to address a $1 billion budget shortfall and improve a struggling educational system — a plan that drew the ire of parents and teachers.

District CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel say the closures are necessary because too many school buildings are half-empty.

— Associated Press

The nation’s third-largest district, CPS has about 403,000 students but has seats for more than 500,000, officials say. But opponents say the closures will disproportionately affect minority children and endanger students who may have to cross gang boundaries to attend school.

The plan will affect about 30,000 students, CPS officials said. They say money being spent to keep underutilized schools open could be better used to educate students elsewhere.

— Associated Press

Man gets 20 days in jail in Zumba case: An insurance agent who helped run a prostitution operation out of his mistress’s Zumba studio and watched sex videos made with a hidden camera will serve 20 days in jail for a scandal that rocked a the seaside community of Kennebunk, Maine. Mark Strong Sr. told the judge Thursday that he was sorry for the pain he caused his family.

Pot-sniffing dogs to be trained to ignore: The state patrol and some other police agencies in Washington state are now training drug-sniffing dogs to ignore marijuana. After voters in November legalized the possession of small amounts of the drug, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys advised police agencies to change their standards, Seattle’s KOMO TV station reported. The prosecuting attorneys’ association also told police that an “alert” from a drug-sniffing dog that had been trained to find marijuana is no longer enough evidence for a search warrant. Police will need other evidence, at least until the old dogs retire.

— From news services