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Durbin: US, Cuba diplomatic ties 'long overdue'

CHICAGO (AP) — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba was long overdue.

The Illinois Democrat said during a news conference Wednesday that the 50-plus-year policy of isolation "didn't work" and a new approach was needed that would benefit both nations.

He spoke just hours after American prisoner Alan Gross was freed, followed by President Barack Obama's announcement that the two countries would restore diplomatic ties — a shift that could revitalize the flow of people and money between former foes.

Durbin says the efforts will "open up Cuba to the world," including by establishing Internet communications, giving the Cuban people "an appetite for change."

Durbin says he anticipates that detractors will file lawsuits claiming Obama's actions are unconstitutional, but he believes the president will prevail.


Central Illinois man convicted in double murder

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — Jurors have found a 30-year-old central Illinois man guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his second cousin and the cousin's wife in an execution-style shooting.

The (Decatur) Herald and Review reports that the Macon County jury reached a verdict at Demarta Cunningham's Wednesday after deliberating for about four hours over two days.

Prosecutors say Cunningham killed his 34-year-old second cousin, Freedom Cunningham, and 28-year-old Central Cunningham in 2012 in Decatur. They say Cunningham shot the couple because Freedom Cunningham owed him around $15,000 as part of a heroin deal.

Under Illinois law, Macon County State's Attorney Jay Scott says Cunningham will receive an automatic life sentence for killing two people. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6


Official: Convicted killer slain in Illinois prison

PONTIAC, Ill. (AP) — Authorities are investigating as a homicide the death of an Illinois prison inmate.

Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer says 36-year-old Fabian Carrillo was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell early Tuesday at the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center. Shaer says Carrillo later died at a hospital.

Shaer says no sharp or blunt objects were found in the cell, and there was no sign of the use of those kinds of objects on the victim. Investigators are awaiting results of toxicology tests.

Department of Corrections records show Carrillo was serving a 52-year sentence for a murder conviction out of Cook County and had been imprisoned since 2003.


U. of Illinois to sexual assault group starts work

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — A University of Illinois task force on sexual assault has started meeting and plans to survey the school's three campuses to assess the situation at each.

University spokesman Tom Hardy says the new task force met for the first time Wednesday. The group is supposed to finish surveys at the Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield campuses by the spring.

University President Robert Easter created the group in late October. He said in a letter at the time that the task force was started because "issues concerning sexual violence on college campuses have been in the national spotlight."

Sexual violence in college and the military has become a prominent national issue.

Hardy says the task force has about 18 members. They include students as well as public-safety officials, student-services staff and others.


NIU offering live video stream of dorm demolition

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Northern Illinois University is offering a live video feed of the ongoing demolition of a 51-year-old residence hall.

The stream offers viewers a wide shot of the scene at Douglas Hall so they can watch equipment and crews working to strategically dismantle the building. The goal is to salvage as many materials as possible by separating concrete and steel. NIU spokesman Paul Palian says about 80 percent of the building will be recycled.

He says some of the recycled materials will be used on a $4.5 million road expansion project to create a major east-west thoroughfare on campus.

Palian says interior demolition began last month and the building is expected to be gone at the end of March.

The Daily Chronicle reports the residence hall housed NIU students from 1963 until May.


Senate approves NATO-trial prosecutor for US bench

CHICAGO (AP) — The lead prosecutor in a state terrorism trial of three NATO protesters will fill one of two vacancies on the U.S. District Court bench in Chicago.

Sen. Dick Durbin's office says the Senate approved Cook County prosecutor John Blakey's nomination Tuesday evening. Cook County Judge Jorge Alonso was approved for the other vacancy.

President Barack Obama nominated them this year.

At trial this year, Blakey accused the activists of plotting attacks during a 2012 Chicago NATO summit. He dubbed them "Professor Molotov," ''Captain Napalm" and "Mr. Cop on Fire."

Critics say the terrorism charges were prosecutorial overreach. Jurors acquitted the three of terrorism but found them guilty of lesser charges.

Blakey helped craft Illinois' new anti-racketeering statute. Decades ago, his law-professor father, G. Robert Blakey, helped draft federal RICO laws.