March 29th, 2012
03:20 AM ET

Relatives visit detained Chinese lawyer for first time, group says

Relatives of Gao Zhisheng, an imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer, have been able to see him for the first time since the authorities took him away nearly two years ago, a nonprofit group said Wednesday.

Gao's brother and father-in-law visited him for half an hour at Shaya prison in a remote area of the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang, Texas-based nonprofit ChinaAid said in a statement, citing Gao's wife, Geng He, who now lives in the United States.

Gao made a name for himself representing disadvantaged Chinese citizens, like people who had lost land to big construction projects, protesting factory workers and followers of prohibited religious movements. But his activism attracted the attention of the authorities.

He was convicted of inciting subversion in 2006 and was put on probation for five years.


Filed under: World
March 29th, 2012
02:18 AM ET

Zimmerman's father says Trayvon Martin threatened to kill his son

The father of George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting and killing and unarmed black teen, says the teen threatened to kill Zimmerman and then beat him so badly that it forced Zimmerman to shoot the teen.

"Trayvon Martin said something to the effect of you're going to die now or you're going to die tonight, something to that effect," Robert Zimmerman told Orlando TV station WOFL. "He continued to beat George. At some point, George pulled his pistol. Did what he did."

In the interview Robert Zimmerman, his face obscured because he says he fears for his safety, vehemently defended the shooting that has caused outrage throughout the nation, moved President Barack Obama to call it a tragedy and prompted a federal investigation.

Robert Zimmerman told the news station that Martin confronted his son first and pummeled his son continually.

"He was punched in the nose. His nose was broken," Robert Zimmerman said. "He was knocked to the concrete. Trayvon Martin got on top of him and just started beating him. In the face. In his nose, hitting his head on the concrete."

Robert Zimmerman was not there the night of the shooting and did not say during the interview how he knew the details of the altercation.


Filed under: Crime • U.S.
March 29th, 2012
02:16 AM ET

Lindsay Lohan legal nightmares may be near end

Lindsay Lohan's probation hearing Thursday could be the last time in court for the actress, ending nearly five years of legal troubles that began with a drunken driving arrest.

Lohan's probation officer sent another good progress report to the judge, confirming that the actress has completed the 480 hours of community service and the four-times-a-month psychological counseling sessions ordered, a source familiar with the case said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sautner told Lohan in November that her formal probation would end March 29 if she met the probation requirements.

She would remain on informal probation for two more years on a misdemeanor shoplifting conviction, but her felony probation from two drunken driving convictions is set to end Thursday.


Filed under: Crime • U.S.
Performer addresses his Apple controversy with theater audience
Mike Daisey, the performer of "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," had his story retracted by "This American Life."
March 28th, 2012
08:51 PM ET

Performer addresses his Apple controversy with theater audience

A monologist whose story about Apple and factories in China has come under fire took questions from the public about the controversy Tuesday night in the Washington theater that held the debut for his piece.

Solo artist Mike Daisey has had plenty to say since it was revealed that he made up some things in “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” his tale of horrid labor conditions inside the Chinese manufacturer that makes Apple products.

A lot of it has been: “I’m sorry.”

The public radio show “This American Life” had run a version of his story, adapted from his theater show, and then retracted it this month after learning that he had fabricated information about his visits to the factories. Daisey has since taken a pummeling in the news media.


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Filed under: District of Columbia
Overheard on Gated communities modern necessity or bastion of exclusivity?
The gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida, is where Trayvon Martin was shot.
March 28th, 2012
07:54 PM ET

Overheard on Gated communities modern necessity or bastion of exclusivity?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Journalist Bonita Burton wrote an opinion piece about the implications of gated communities similar to the Sanford, Florida, neighborhood where the Trayvon Martin shooting took place. Our readers have much to say about this story.

Florida's problematic gated communities

Video commenter Dyana Glasgow of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says she lived off and on in Sarasota, Florida, for several years and now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She says she actually feels safer in an urban environment "where people look out for each other," and host events like block parties to interact. She said she wasn't a fan of Florida's gated communities.

"I think it draws attention. You're drawing attention to yourself that you're part of an elite class of people," she said. "It sends a message to anybody who doesn't belong to that community to stay out."

But Egberto Willies of Kingwood, Texas, says he doesn't believe gates fuel paranoia, but rather are a result of it in a tough economy.

EWillies1961: "Why not create your little enclave behind some walls where things can be the way they use to be? Welcome to what many would make America. Instead of a community of people who share their differences to create a much tastier existence, we isolate (ourselves) because of both externalities, paranoia, and you name it. That is the America we must not allow a migration (toward)." reader texas999 echoed that sentiment and said people have to be proactive about their safety. FULL POST

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Filed under: Economy • Florida • Housing • iReport • Overheard on • Trayvon Martin • U.S.
March 28th, 2012
06:06 PM ET

Grieving survivors describe Afghan massacre

Reporter Yalda Hakim of Australia’s SBS network has become the first western journalist to visit the villages where a U.S. soldier allegedly killed 17 people.

In a remarkable report she talks with some of the survivors and some Afghan guards on duty at the military camp from where Staff Sgt. Robert Bales left on his alleged killing spree.

The video at the top of this story is Hakim’s account of her journey to the remote villages near Kandahar and what she was told.


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Filed under: Afghanistan • U.S. Army • War • World
March 28th, 2012
05:47 PM ET

A collection of public documents in Trayvon Martin shooting

[Updated April 12] Police and other officials in Sanford, Florida, have released a number of documents relating to the investigation of the February 26 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin and the arrest of George Zimmerman on a charge of second-degree murder. In this post, we’ve collected some of the documents that show what police initially found at the scene, what authorities have told the public about the case, and other official documents.

Martin, a black 17-year-old, was unarmed when he was shot to death by Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, as Martin was walking back to the house of his father's fiancee in Sanford.

Zimmerman had called police to report a suspicious person and said he was following Martin, despite being told by a dispatcher he didn't need to do so. He says he killed Martin in self-defense after the teen attacked him in the gated community. Zimmerman was questioned but not charged, police said, because they lacked evidence to contradict his account.

The case has sparked a national debate about, among other things, race and self-defense laws. Between Zimmerman’s account to police, tapes of 911 calls and accounts from witnesses and others, much is in dispute. (See CNN’s breakdown of what witnesses say happened.)

The initial police reports

Sanford police have released initial reports from the officers who first responded to the shooting scene on February 26. The reports detail what the officers saw when they arrived, officers’ attempts to resuscitate Martin, and a very brief account from Zimmerman. They do not include statements from other witnesses or any investigative information beyond the officers’ initial observations.

The initial police reports describe the case as "homicide/negligent" and "manslaughter/unnecessary killing to prevent unlawful act." City officials have said that all reports need descriptions to help track types of incidents.

“This code does not indicate a formal charge that will be lodged against an alleged offender,” the city said in a news release on Tuesday. “It is used for internal processing and to type cases.”

Citing multiple sources, ABC News reported Wednesday that the lead investigator in the case recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter after the shooting, but the state attorney's office determined that there was not enough evidence to lead to a conviction.

February 27 letter to neighborhood

In this letter to residents of the neighborhood where Martin was shot, the Sanford Police Department informs the residents of the fatal shooting and gives a brief description of the incident. The letter is dated February 27, the day after the shooting.

It also tells residents that an investigation was being conducted and that the department would hold a community meeting.

Answers from police chief

On March 21, with national public interest in the case rising, the Sanford city manager released a letter in which the city police chief answered what he said were frequently asked questions about the shooting.

The letter addresses issues such as why Zimmerman was not arrested and why he was armed. It also answers why the city Police Department hasn't released 911 tapes, though readers should be aware the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office had done so.

Those tapes now can be heard on the city’s website.

City: Newspaper's report on Zimmerman’s account consistent with inquiry

More than a month after the shooting, the Orlando Sentinel, citing “authorities” as its source of information, reported that Zimmerman told police that he had lost sight of Martin after trying to follow him and that he was returning to his vehicle when Martin confronted him.

The Sentinel also reported that Zimmerman claimed to police that Martin attacked him before he shot Martin.

On Monday, the city of Sanford released a statement in which it condemned what it called "unauthorized leaks," but confirmed that the newspaper account "is consistent with the information provided to the State Attorney's office by the Police Department."

Affidavit: Zimmerman 'profiled' Martin

In an affidavit of probable cause, a Florida investigator says that the neighborhood watch volunteer "profiled" the victim, Martin, and disregarded a police dispatcher's request that he await the arrival of police.

Zimmermann arrested and booked

On April 11, Zimmerman turned himself in to authorities in Florida. He was was transported that evening to the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, charged with second-degree murder and booked into county jail. On April 12, 47 days after Martin was shot and killed, Zimmerman made his first court appearance. His arraignment was set for May 29.

In the meantime, Zimmerman will stay in jail, segregated from the other inmates. He has access to the commissary, where he purchased $79.84 worth of items.

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Filed under: Florida • Trayvon Martin
Mega Millions jackpot hits record $500 million
While the annuity jackpot prize for Friday night's Mega Millions drawing is $500 million, the cash option payout is $359 million.
March 28th, 2012
04:53 PM ET

Mega Millions jackpot hits record $500 million

Editor's note: The day after this story was published, the jackpot estimate rose to $540 million.

The jackpot in Friday's Mega Millions lottery drawing has risen to an estimated $500 million, the largest in the game's history, after Tuesday night's drawing produced no jackpot-winning ticket.

The latest estimate, announced around midday Wednesday, is even larger than lottery officials had announced just hours earlier. The initial estimate for Friday's drawing was $476 million, which also would have been a Mega Millions record.

Tuesday's numbers were 9, 19, 34, 44 and 51, with a Mega Ball of 24. That drawing was for an estimated $363 million jackpot, which would have been the game's third-largest.

Forty-seven tickets earned a pre-tax prize of at least $250,000 each by matching five numbers without matching the Mega Ball. Nine California winners will get $308,573 each because of parimutuel rules in that state.

The game's previous biggest jackpot was $390 million in a March 6, 2007, drawing. That jackpot was split by winners in Georgia and New Jersey.

The growing jackpot has drawn plenty of interest from would-be millionaires. On Monday, lottery officials announced that "stronger than expected sales" prompted them to push up Tuesday's jackpot up from an initial estimate of $356 million to $363 million.

"I see so many different faces every day, and it's not just Tuesday and Friday that they come in. It's every day of the week," Latasha Allen, a manager at a Columbus, Georgia, convenience store, told CNN affiliate WTVM-TV this week about the growing number of lottery players in recent days.


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Filed under: Lotto
March 28th, 2012
12:25 PM ET

JetBlue pilot charged in incident that prompted emergency landing

[Updated at 4:58 p.m. ET] The JetBlue pilot whose midair meltdown prompted his co-pilot to make an emergency landing on Tuesday was charged Wednesday in a federal criminal complaint with interference with a flight crew.

[Initial post, 12:25 p.m. ET] JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon has been suspended pending further investigation of Tuesday's incident in which a flight made an emergency landing, JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young told CNN Wednesday.

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Filed under: Air travel • Crime • Travel
March 28th, 2012
07:38 AM ET

Wednesday's live events

The race to the Republican presidential nomination remains up in the air.  Watch Live for all the latest news and views from the campaign trail.

Today's programming highlights...

8:30 am ET - Pro-Affordable Care Act briefing - The Supreme Court holds a third day of hearings on the legality of the Affordable Care Act.  The hearings are not televised, but there's plenty of action outside the courthouse.  Supporters of the law brief reporters this morning, then rally at 10:00 am ET.  Senate Democrats discuss the law at 12:00 pm ET, followed by their Republican colleagues at 2:00 pm ET.

10:30 am ET - Santorum talks health care - GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum campaigns in Wisconsin today, starting with a discussion on health care in Sparta.  He then goes bowling with College Republicans in La Crosse at 12:45 pm ET, followed by a restaurant rally in Onalaska at 2:00 pm ET.

11:00 am ET - Senators talk Syria resolution - Sen. John McCain and others unveil a resolution condemning the Syria's government for crimes against humanity.

12:45 pm ET - Biden talks economy -  It's not just Republicans on the campaign trail today, as Vice President Biden heads to Davenport, Iowa, to discuss the U.S. economy.

5:00 pm ET - Gingrich discusses Social Security - He may be laying off staff and charging for photos, but GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich isn't giving up on his presidential aspirations.  He'll talk the future of Social Security at an event in Washington. Live is your home for breaking news as it happens.

Filed under: Elections • Health • Health Care • Health care reform • Politics
March 28th, 2012
06:02 AM ET

Al-Assad accepts peace plan, but reports of more violence emerge

A day after news broke that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted a plan to forge peace, fresh clashes broke out once again across Syria on Wednesday, opposition activists said.

Three members of the Syrian security forces were killed and four defecting soldiers were injured from intense clashes at an entrance to the western city of Rastan, which security forces have been trying to storm, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group.

And fierce fighting erupted between the Syrian security forces and a group of defectors in the southern Daraa province, the observatory said. The group said clashes began after an army soldier threatened residents in the town of Busr el-Harir to hand over the group of defectors or face a military operation.

Opposition activists have said Busr el-Harir has endured shortages of food and medicine since the Syrian army surrounded the town weeks ago.

The reports of violence come after al-Assad accepted a plan laid out by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan to help end the bloodshed.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
March 28th, 2012
05:44 AM ET

U.S. and Pakistani generals to meet for first time since fatal airstrikes

Top U.S. and Pakistani military officials will hold face-to-face meetings in Islamabad on Wednesday, the first high-level talks since NATO airstrikes killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers, souring relations between the two countries.

Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Central Command, and Gen. John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, will meet with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, according to a statement from the Pakistani military.

The meeting will focus on the inquiry into the airstrikes on November 26, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Pakistani-Afghan border. U.S. and Pakistani officials have disagreed about the causes and circumstances of the episode.

In South Korea on Tuesday, President Barack Obama met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for the first time since the soldiers' deaths.

Obama expressed hope that the United States and Pakistan could arrive at a "balanced approach" to relations in the aftermath of the airstrikes.


Filed under: Politics • U.S. • World
March 28th, 2012
05:33 AM ET

Strauss-Kahn lawyers to argue immunity to dismiss civil sex assault case

Lawyers for former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn are expected to argue in a New York court Wednesday that a hotel maid's lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault should be thrown out because his then-job gave him immunity from civil cases.

Strauss-Kahn has denied Nafissatou Diallo's allegations that he sexually assaulted her, but nonetheless resigned as head of the powerful organization days after he was arrested last May.

The criminal case against Strauss-Kahn fell apart last year before it even reached a courtroom when New York prosecutors cited credibility issues with Diallo.

In September, Strauss-Kahn told French television station TF1 that what happened with the maid in a luxury New York hotel suite was a "moral weakness," but denied any violence or aggression.

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Filed under: Crime • Dominique Strauss-Kahn • France • Politics • U.S. • World
March 28th, 2012
05:14 AM ET

NY Police: Partially paralyzed woman beaten, held captive for months

Malnourished, bloodied, and bruised.

That's how authorities say they found a 58-year-old partially paralyzed woman who was held against her will in a Queens, New York, apartment by a couple who cashed her social security checks.

Prosecutors say Patrick Donovan, 42, and Mae Washington, 63, lured the victim from an assisted living facility, convincing their one-time neighbor to rent a room in their apartment to save money.

From the time she moved in on January 1 until last week when officers found her, the woman was repeatedly beaten; had her hands, legs and mouth bound with tape; forced to clean up after the couple's dog and cats despite her partial paralysis; and locked in an empty room that could only be opened from the outside, authorities said.

Afraid, the woman - who has not been identified - handed power of attorney for her finances to Washington, and the couple used her social security checks to buy things for themselves, the Queens District Attorney's Office said Tuesday.

"The defendants are accused of turning the victim's life into a living nightmare," District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement. "Once out of the safe and secure environment of her assisted living facility, the victim was allegedly betrayed by the defendants whom she thought she could trust."

The woman's niece who had not heard from her for months called police Thursday, concerned for her safety.

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Filed under: Crime • U.S.
March 28th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Iran announces date for nuclear talks but not venue

Stalled talks between Iran and world leaders over its nuclear ambitions will resume April 13 at a yet-undetermined venue, the country's state-run media reported Wednesday.

The announcement, by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, comes amid growing pressure from world powers over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Salehi made the announcement Wednesday at a ceremony welcoming Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran, the IRNA news agency reported.

A venue had not been set for the talks but Istanbul has offered to host, Salehi told the news agency.


Filed under: World
March 28th, 2012
04:29 AM ET

Hong Kong court overturns ruling allowing maids to seek residency

The Hong Kong Court of Appeals on Wednesday overturned a historic ruling that would have allowed overseas maids to seek permanent resident status in the affluent Chinese territory.

The decision is a setback for the rights of tens of thousands of maids from countries like the Philippines and Indonesia who often spend years working in the homes of Chinese and foreigners living in Hong Kong.

One Filipino maid, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who has been working in Hong Kong since 1986, mounted a legal challenge to a government ordinance that excluded domestic helpers from outside Hong Kong from obtaining permanent residency.

She and her lawyers argued that denying maids the possibility of seeking permanent status was unconstitutional under Hong Kong's Basic Law, which sets out the core rights of those living in the city.

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Filed under: China • Hong Kong • Indonesia • Philippines
March 28th, 2012
02:40 AM ET

China sentences Uyghur man to death after violence

A local court in the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang has sentenced to death a Uyghur man who it says led an attack in a busy street last month that left 15 people dead, Chinese state media reported.

The World Uyghur Congress, an exile group, condemned the sentence and contested the Chinese authorities' account of the violence. It also questioned whether the defendant, Abdukerem Mamut, received a fair trial.

The court in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region convicted Mamut of "organizing and heading a terrorist group, and intentional killing" and sentenced him to death on Monday, the Global Times, an English-language newspaper run by the Communist Party, reported.

It said Mamut and other members of the group killed 15 people and wounded 14 others "with axes and knives" in Yecheng County on February 28. The police detained Mamut at the scene and shot dead the other attackers, according to the report.

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Filed under: China
March 28th, 2012
01:51 AM ET

Fidel Castro asks for 'modest and simple' meeting with pope

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro says he has asked for a "modest and simple" meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Havana on Wednesday.

"I will gladly meet tomorrow morning His Excellency, the Pope, as I did when John Paul II visited," Castro wrote Tuesday in the official Cubadebate website.

Castro, who stepped down from power in 2006 due to illness, called the pope "a man whose contact with children and humble members of society has, invariably, raised feelings of affection."

In Havana, the pope will also celebrate Mass in the Cuban capital's Revolution Plaza.

His visit comes 14 years after Pope John Paul II addressed throngs of onlookers in the historic first papal visit to the island nation in 1998.

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Filed under: World
March 27th, 2012
08:06 PM ET

Overheard on Readers go back and forth as Supreme Court mulls health care law

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

As the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments about President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, our readers are making some arguments of their own. Some are even protesting. Comment below and share your thoughts and ideas about health care.

Supreme Court divided over health care mandate

We've been hearing from several readers, including a bunch of iReporters, about this measure.

"We need universal health care," says Matt Sky of New York. He suggests the insurance companies have a conflict of interest when treating people. Jannet Walsh of Murdock, Minnesota, says she likes the law in theory but is unsure that people will be able to pay for it. Houston, Texas, resident Vera Richardson says we're already required to purchase auto insurance, so why not health insurance?

Some, like Mark Ivy of Farmersburg, Indiana, suggested leaving health care programs to the states.

k3vsDad: "I say no to this being a federal mandate. To me this is a violation of the 10th Amendment. This is an issue that should remain with the states. The states have a much better handle developing health care programs tailored to their citizens. One size does not fit all. Every time the federal government overreaches, it is never better, but worse. Give health care back to the states."

Egberto Willies of Kingwood, Texas, says he believes Obama's plan was a compromise, and he might even like to see it go further. FULL POST

March 27th, 2012
07:02 PM ET

World contest, mountains next for 2-time U.S. memory champ

[Updated at 9:08 a.m. ET Wednesday] After winning his second straight U.S. memory championship, Nelson Dellis has had little time to think.

Since Saturday, when he successfully defended his USA Memory Championship title against 50 competitors in New York, he has done loads of interviews and answered many e-mails but still is finding time to savor his win after training for at least four hours daily over many weeks.

“I just did my first deck of cards since the competition this morning,” Dellis said Tuesday by phone from his home city of Miami, referring to part of his training routine. “I’m just taking it all in.”

Dellis, 28,  broke his own U.S. record in one of the events in which competitors memorize as many computer-generated digits as they can in five minutes.

He correctly recalled a string of 303 digits in that event, breaking his 2011 record of 248. Through that and other preliminary events, he qualified for the title round in which he memorized the order of two shuffled decks of playing cards in the five minutes given. (The runner-up, 2009 and 2010 U.S. champion Ron White, lost when making a mistake on the 67th card.)

Dellis, who was profiled on a day before the competition, began dabbling in mnemonics - the association techniques that memory competitors use to remember seemingly impossible strings of cards, words and numbers - in 2008, inspired in part by his desire to sharpen his mind after watching his grandmother suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. He’s since turned full time to memory-related ventures and has performed like no other American in the speed events, with records not only in speed numbers but also speed cards (officially 63 seconds for a deck of cards, but he says he once did it in 33.13 seconds in practice).

He might have been poised to break the speed-numbers record Saturday, but he said a few distractions hindered him. In one heat, he unexpectedly needed to remove two jokers while he was being timed (he says they were supposed to be taken out before he was given the deck), and in the second, someone took two flash photos in front of his face as he was studying the deck. His top speed cards time - the best of any competitor Saturday - was 87 seconds.

Dellis says he now has plenty to look forward to:

- Mountain climbing for Alzheimer's: Dellis will go to Peru in July to climb in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, part of a mountain-climbing series for his Climb for Memory charity, which raises awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. The climb will be preparation for a planned 2013 trip to scale Mount Everest and the nearby Lhotse peak - a trip in which he hopes to raise more than $290,000 (adding a zero to Mount Everest's roughly 29,000-foot peak) for Alzheimer's.


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Filed under: Florida • Health • New York
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