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The Justice Department failed to submit evidence that might have helped the defense in the Bush administration's first major post-9/11 prosecution, a federal judge ruled. Legal analysts said the decision jeopardizes the conviction of three members of a terrorist cell in Detroit. The evidence includes a letter from a prison inmate claiming that the government's key witness confided he'd made up his story. The defendants are asking that their convictions be overturned.

A new trial was ordered for Lionel Tate, the youngest defendant to be sentenced to life in prison without parole in a Florida murder trial. A state appeals court ruled his mental competency should have been evaluated before trial. Tate's lawyers argued he was imitating pro wrestling moves when he kicked Tiffany Eunick to death four years ago. The court said Lionel, who now is 16, had "significant mental delays" and a below-average IQ. Tate and his mother have maintained his innocence and turned down a deal that would have given him a three-year sentence.

The military was preparing to fire a missile from an undisclosed location in the Pacific Ocean as the Monitor went to press, in another attempt to intercept a rocket launched from Hawaii. The test was to be the third of six to evaluate an upgraded Solid Divert and Altitude Control system, which was outlawed under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. President Bush ordered new testing after the US withdrew from the treaty in 2002. The last previous test, six months ago, was unsuccessful.

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With 20 minutes to spare, the US Supreme Court postponed a Texas prison inmate's execution Wednesday night, ruling that the use of pancuronium bromide, a muscle paralyzer, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Kevin Lee Zimmerman expressed disappointment at the ruling, saying through a Department of Corrections spokeswoman, "I was ready to go." The postponement was the second in Texas in 18 hours. The state executed 24 inmates in 2003, the most in the nation.

Singers Beyoncé and R. Kelly each took home four 2003 Billboard Music Awards in ceremonies Wednesday night. For the first time, the awards recognized sales of legally downloaded music and honored "Hey Ya!" by Outkast as the digital track of the year. The magazine's year-end chart listings, based on record sales and airplay, determine the winners.

Retail sales posted a 0.9 percent increase in November, boosted by purchases of motor vehicles and electronics, the Commerce Department reported. Separately, the Labor Department announced that first-time unemployment benefits claims also rose for the first week in December, tempering the good news.

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