Sunday, January 6, 2008

Louis J Sheehan Esquire 30056

A blaze of X-rays from the center of our galaxy is the burp following a gargantuan (and rather messy) cosmic feast, astronomers reported in February: A massive black hole there devoured something the size of the planet Mercury, and in the process, let loose an outburst so intense that we still see the echoes six decades later.

When matter falls into a black hole, it grows hot and glows brilliantly before vanishing into oblivion. These days the Milky Way’s central black hole, called Sagittarius A*, seems fairly placid. But over the past five years, NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory has monitored “light echoes”—X-rays bouncing off nearby molecular clouds and reflecting back toward Earth—showing that Sagittarius A* had a planet-size banquet not so long ago. “It was about one thousand times brighter than anything we’ve seen from this black hole,” says Caltech astronomer Michael Muno, who led the project. “It’s possible that it could have been a larger mass that fell in.”

Based on the distance of the molecular clouds from Sagittarius A*, astronomers calculate that the original X-ray that burst from the black hole’s lunch must have lit up Earth’s skies 60 years ago—but astronomers did not have the necessary X-ray telescopes back then. Chandra has detected similar, far smaller black-hole snacks since 2000.

When the black hole starts its next planet-size meal, though, the light show will be hard to miss: Muno estimates the X-rays will be 100,000 times brighter than anything seen before. “It would be a spectacular thing to look at,” he says.

Chinese researchers announced in March that they had created glass that can be bent into right angles without shattering. But this isn’t glass as we know it: The new glass is opaque, twice as strong as window glass, and made of metal.

As solids, metals have an orderly atomic structure; in liquid metals, the arrangement becomes random, as in glass. To create metallic glass, scientists supercool liquid metals, effectively “freezing” the random array in place. These bulk metallic glasses, or BMG, are two to three times stronger than the crystalline form of the metals.

Superstrong BMG has already been used in the manufacture of high-tech golf clubs and tennis rackets; in 2001, the collector on NASA’s Genesis spacecraft, which caught particles from the solar wind, was made of BMG.

But since the 1980s, when scientists began making BMG, the materials have exhibited a fatal flaw. Paradoxically, the stronger they are, the more vulnerable they are to cracks, says Wei Hua Wang, a physicist who helped develop the new glass at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A tiny fracture in the original type of BMG spreads quickly and becomes catastrophic.

To create a glass that is both strong and flexible, Wang and his colleagues altered an existing BMG recipe, combining zirconium, copper, nickel, and aluminum. Realizing that small changes in the metal mixture would lead to large variations in brittleness, they sought a combination that would keep cracks from spreading. “The plasticity of the glass is very sensitive to the composition,” Wang explains.

After two years, the scientists produced bendable BMG. It contains hard areas of high density surrounded by soft regions of low density. The result: When a crack begins in one place, it dissipates quickly in the surrounding regions, leaving the whole flexible.

New Jersey gets all the bad press... which is further testament to how slimy Pennsylvania politics is --

Most priests take a vow of poverty, but bankruptcy records show that the Rev. Joseph F. Sica, a Scranton-area priest, took out enough loans to live large if he wanted to.

On an annual salary of $13,200, Sica amassed debts totaling more than $218,000. Most of that debt was owed to First Community National Bank, whose chairman is Sica's longtime friend Louis DeNaples.

DeNaples, a casino owner, is the subject of an ongoing Dauphin County grand jury investigation. Sica was arrested this week on a perjury charge that accuses him of lying to that same grand jury.

Since Sica's arrest, more details have emerged about the priest's financial relationship with DeNaples. Sica, who has been a priest since 1982, filed for bankruptcy in April 1997. The case was dismissed in June that year.

When Sica filed for bankruptcy, he was making $880 per month and had $250 in his checking account. Still, he was able to receive $147,702 in the form of loans from DeNaples' bank.

At the time of the filing, the priest owed First Community National Bank the following: $16,500 on a car loan for Sica's 1996 Eddie Bauer Chevy Blazer; more than $77,000 for a personal loan; and $54,000 for another personal loan.

Both of the personal loans were used for family expenses, according to court documents.

When Sica was arrested on Tuesday, he had $1,000 in cash on him, prosecutors said. He also owns a 2007 Jeep that has been paid off.

Sica's attorney Jane Penny would not comment on the bankruptcy case.

Kevin Feeley, DeNaples' spokesman, said that he was not in a position to discuss the priest's finances. He did say that First National Community Bank conducts all of its transactions in a standard business fashion and is regulated by a number of state and federal agencies.

The loans have piqued First Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo's curiosity. Chardo pointed to Sica's salary and the size of the loans.

"I don't know how someone qualifies for that sort of credit on that salary," Chardo said. "It would be relevant to our inquiry."

It may be relevant to the grand jury investigation, but Sica's relationship with DeNaples and his subsequent arrest have no bearing on whether the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board made the right call in giving DeNaples a slots license, said former board Chairman Tad Decker.

Although Sica appeared at several regulatory hearings with DeNaples, Sica never testified before the board and was not a character witness for DeNaples.

"We didn't consider him as a factor, at least in my mind," Decker said.

The only thing that would change Decker's mind on whether DeNaples should have been given a license is an indictment and conviction.

"I think people should emphasize the word convicted of a crime," Decker said. "The board will do what it has to do. We dealt with what we had in front of us. There was nothing in front of us that suggested Mr. DeNaples was unsuitable before that time."

Sica also isn't dwelling on the criminal charges against him. The priest, who was leaving the Dauphin County Courthouse on Friday, said that he was doing fine and he has received support and prayers from friends.

If Olga Shugar has a regret, it is that she will never see the fear of imminent death in the eyes of Theodore Solano, the man who murdered her 18-year-old daughter.

Shugar, of St. Petersburg, Russia, said she had hoped that Solano would be executed for the 1993 slaying of Natalia Andreevna Miller, a Russian immigrant he had wed in a marriage of convenience.

Instead, Shugar and her daughter Vera sat in a Cumberland County courtroom Friday, watching grim-faced as Solano, 49, pleaded no contest to third-degree murder and kidnapping charges in return for a 17- to 40-year state prison sentence.

It was Shugar's first glimpse of Solano, a convicted sex offender.

What she felt, she said, was revulsion.

"It was not a human being. It was not an animal," Shugar said. "It was strange."

She said she had hoped Solano would receive the death penalty and experience the "horror" her daughter must have felt as he strangled her.

President Judge Edgar B. Bayley's sentencing of Solano under a plea agreement fashioned by District Attorney David Freed was perhaps the final act in what was Cumberland County's most vexing cold case.

Miller's nude and battered body was found by hunters in woods along Whiskey Springs Road in Cumberland County's South Middleton Twp. in December 1993.

For more than a decade, investigators chased a series of fruitless leads. They weren't even able to identify Miller, who for years was known only as Jane Doe 24-275.

Freed said police even sent information from the woman's contact lenses to optometrists nationwide in hope of making an identification.

Finally, in 2004, they tied Solano, of Irondequoit, N.Y., to the slaying through DNA taken from semen and blood found on Miller's corpse, Freed said. Solano was required to provide a DNA sample to a police central records system because of a sex crime conviction.

Only then were local authorities able to identify Miller and notify Shugar, who on Thursday went with Coroner Michael Norris for her second visit her daughter's grave in Middlesex Twp.

Shugar fought back tears as she spoke of Natalia, an honor student and accomplished painter and pianist whom the Russian government had sent to study in Italy, France and the U.S.

While in the U.S., Shugar said, Natalia fell in love with an American student. Natalia turned 18 in 1993 and emigrated, intending to marry the American, but the romance fell apart, Shugar said.

In June 1993, Natalia met and married Solano, a carpenter and building contractor who was living in the Washington, D.C., area.

Freed said Solano's one-page prenuptial agreement with Miller stated that both were free to seek an uncontested divorce at any time.

Shugar said Natalia called Solano "my pink piggy" and seemed happy during her frequent phone calls home.

Then, her daughter abruptly stopped calling. Shugar said Solano denied knowing what had happened to Natalia and refused repeated demands to call the police.

Freed said investigators aren't sure what prompted Solano to kill Miller. They believe he strangled her with a brown leather belt, a piece of which was found beneath her body, he said.

Solano had no ties to the midstate and apparently dumped Miller's body at random, Freed said.

He said the plea deal was struck to ensure Solano will spend most, if not all, of the rest of his life in prison.

Freed initially sought a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty.

"There's nothing pleasant about resolving a murder case," he said. "We just hope this resolution will help [Miller's] family to go on."

Solano, who had been in county prison since 2005, apologized to Miller's family, but didn't admit to committing the murder.

He told Bayley he is a born-again Christian and will spend his prison time spreading the Gospel.

"I've come to the realization that this is my highest calling," Solano said.

Bayley, visibly angry, told Solano that Miller's slaying was "as despicable and heinous as I've ever seen."

Miller's sister, Vera, said nothing will make up for her slaying.

"It doesn't matter how long he will be in prison," she said. "She is dead. And he will be alive."


# Early 1993: Russian student Natalia Andreevna Miller comes the U.S. to marry an American she met while studying abroad. The relationship collapses.
# June 1993: Miller weds Theodore Solano in the Washington, D.C., area. Authorities describe it a marriage of convenience.
# Dec. 10, 1993: Miller's nude and battered body is found in South Middleton Twp. Cumberland County Coroner Michael Norris determines she had been raped and strangled.
# January 1994: Authorities bury Miller in LeTort Cemetery in Middlesex Twp. They still don't know her identity, so the grave marker bears the notation "Jane Doe 24-275."
# 1994-2003: Despite running down leads, investigators are unable to identify Miller.
# January 2004: Solano is charged in the murder and Miller is identified. Authorities say DNA in semen and a blood stain found on her body is linked to Solano, who is serving prison time in New York on child pornography charges.
# July 6, 2005: Investigators unveil a Russian-style headstone bearing Miller's photograph for her grave. Her mother, Olga Shugar, comes from St. Petersburg, Russia, to attend the ceremony.
# Friday: Solano pleads no contest to third- degree murder and kidnapping charges in return for a 17- to 40-year state prison sentence.

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