NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) —
A Texas woman and former actress pleaded guilty Tuesday to sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, under a deal that her attorney has said would cap prison time at 18 years.
Shannon Guess Richardson entered her plea in federal court in Texarkana, Texas, to a federal charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin.
Richardson was arrested in June after authorities said she tried to implicate her ex-husband, Nathan Richardson, after he had filed for divorce. Prosecutors say Shannon Richardson mailed three letters from New Boston, outside Texarkana, then went to police and claimed that her husband had done it.
The letter to Obama, according to a federal indictment, said: "What's in this letter is nothing compared to what ive got in store for you mr president."
Prosecutors say investigators noted inconsistencies in Richardson's statements and later learned that she had purchased materials online to produce ricin, a toxin that can cause respiratory failure if inhaled.
Richardson, 35, has had minor roles in the television series "The Walking Dead" and the movie "The Blind Side." She also is the mother of six children — including one child born prematurely while she was in custody this year.
Her attorney, Tonda Curry, said last month that she and prosecutors agreed to a deal capping Richardson's sentence at 18 years. Prosecutors say Richardson faces life in prison for the charge to which she pleaded guilty.
A federal judge ultimately will sentence Richardson at a later sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.
"Shannon is anxious to admit her role in ordering the components to make the ricin, her role in the letters that contained the ricin, and to tell the government who else was involved in those offenses," Curry said.
Curry did not say more about Richardson's possible motives or whom she might name.
WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Merry Christmas, bah humbug? Not in Texas.
Just in time for the holidays, Texas is making sure everyone remembers that wishing someone "Merry Christmas" is now protected by law in its public schools — and conservatives are hoping similar measures will gain momentum across America.
Garnering national attention when it was approved by the state Legislature this summer, the bipartisan law removes legal risks from exchanging holiday greetings in classrooms. It also protects symbols such as Christmas trees, menorahs or nativity scenes, as long as more than one religion is represented and a secular symbol such as a snowman is displayed.
"I'm proud to stand in defense of Christmas and I urge other states to stop a needless, stilted overreaction to Christmas and Hanukkah," the law's sponsor, Houston Republican Dwayne Bohac, said at a news conference Monday.
Bohac, who has a sign at home that proclaims: "Be Merry and Stay That Way," said the law was meant to codify the religious freedoms of the First Amendment and keep "censorship of Christmas out of public schools." He said it will stop "ridiculous" past lawsuits against some Texas schools in the name of excessive political correctness.
"This is a real issue in our country," said Bohac, who said similar bills have been filed in state Legislatures in Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana and New Jersey, and that one is coming in Oklahoma.
Texas is the only state to so far approve such a law, which some civil libertarians have criticized as unnecessary given the First Amendment.
Bohac appeared Monday with his 8-year-old son Reagan and amid booming calls of "Ho! Ho! Ho!" from Santa Claus — aka Bill French of Houston — and a group called the Lone Star Santas. Bohac said Reagan inspired the bill when he was in first grade and was asked to decorate a "holiday tree" in class.
"A Winter Party; I don't even know what that means," said the elder Bohac. "We can celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, those are the traditional holidays Americans celebrate."
The law also states that schools are constitutionally barred from favoring one religious celebration over another, although it's known as the "Merry Christmas Law."
One of its co-sponsors, Laredo Democratic Rep. Richard Raymond, said Monday that "Christmas and Hanukkah obviously do have religious implications for so many" but they're "just part of America."
"I know that we should be sensitive to how people feel about different issues," Raymond said. "I think all of us up here are."
The issue has already flared up in Frisco, outside Dallas, where a recent PTA Internet posting directed an elementary school not to reference Christmas or use red and green or a tree during its holiday celebrations in order to keep from possibly offending anyone.
School district officials said it was a misunderstanding. But Jonathan Saenz, an attorney who heads the conservative advocacy group Texas Values, said such cases could spark future legal action because of the new law.
"We're hoping that, as a result of the Merry Christmas Law, we'll see more school districts taking advantage of this," Saenz said. "And, as a result, we'll see less school districts being naughty and more being nice."
DIANA HEIDGERD, Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) — Travel slowly began to return to normal as temperatures rose slightly in North Texas on Monday following an ice storm that forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights, closed schools and cut electricity to thousands of homes and businesses.
The Texas Department of Transportation said in a late Sunday statement that it had reopened all major highways in the areas hardest hit by the wintry weather. Many bridges remained icy and the agency urged drivers to use caution Monday as the National Weather Service forecast temperatures would be in the upper 30s, giving way to warmer conditions and sunny skies by Tuesday.
Over the weekend, church services were canceled, some businesses closed and grocery stores scrambled to keep up with demand in the Dallas-Fort Worth area due to the freezing temperatures.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines and American Eagle canceled 700 flights on Monday, mainly in North Texas. The carriers on a typical day operate about 3,500 flights, said spokeswoman Dori Alvarez.
About 650 people were stranded Sunday night at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, said David Magana, an airport spokesman. About 2,000 travelers were stranded there on Saturday night, while Friday night about 4,000 travelers were stranded, he said. Four of the five regularly used runways were open Monday.
"It's signs of progress," Magana said.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines operated a normal schedule Monday at Love Field, the carrier said in a statement.
Oncor, a Dallas-based electric utility, said about 6,000 homes and businesses were still without power Monday afternoon. Outages peaked at 270,000 at the height of the storm Friday.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which had halted train service since Friday due to ice on the tracks, offered a combination of rail and bus services Monday morning. DART said in a statement that it tested tracks, power systems and vehicles Sunday before resuming service.
Thousands of students in North Texas whose classes were canceled Friday were out of school again at the start of the week because of lingering icy conditions. The Dallas and Fort Worth school districts, along with the University of North Texas in Denton and UT-Arlington, also canceled classes.