Crude prices jump sharply, nearing $94

NEW YORK - Oil futures surged to a new record near $94 Monday, propelled by the weak dollar and news that Mexico's state oil company had suspended a fifth of its oil production due to stormy weather.

Crude futures rallied late in the session as the euro rebounded against the dollar, analysts said. The euro hit a record high against the dollar early Monday morning, then declined only to rally back later in the day.

Slaying suspect assumes cellmate's identity, leaves jail

SAN ANTONIO - A slaying suspect escaped from jail by assuming the identity of another inmate and was on the loose for more than six hours before authorities realized he was gone, officials said. He was still at large Monday.

The man who escaped, David Sauceda, 27, walked out of jail early Sunday morning when he recited the personal information of his cellmate, Michael Garcia, according to the sheriff's department.

Mafia girlfriend: FBI used mob to crack '64 civil rights case

NEW YORK - The FBI used mob muscle to solve the 1964 disappearance of three civil rights volunteers in Mississippi, a gangster's ex-girlfriend testified Monday, becoming the first witness to repeat in open court a story that has been underworld lore for years.

Linda Schiro said that her boyfriend, Mafia tough guy Gregory Scarpa Sr., was recruited by the FBI to help find the volunteers' bodies. She said Scarpa later told her he put a gun in a Ku Klux Klansman's mouth and forced him to reveal the whereabouts of the victims.

The FBI has never acknowledged that Scarpa, nicknamed 'The Grim Reaper,' was involved in the case.

Firefighters keep eye on weather

SAN DIEGO - Firefighters aided by damp weather made progress against the last of Southern California's big wildfires Monday, hoping to squelch the remaining flames before the possible return of Santa Ana winds this week.

There was a chance of weak-to-moderate Santa Anas on Friday and Saturday, but the National Weather Service said wind speeds should be 'half or less' than those of the dry, withering blasts that fanned conflagrations last week.

Clinton top pick for scariest costume

Once again, Hillary Rodham Clinton leads in a poll. This time, she's the top choice when people are asked which major 2008 presidential candidate would make the scariest Halloween costume.

Thirty-seven percent in an Associated Press-Ipsos survey this month chose the New York senator. Fourteen percent selected former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Beach house fire may have started on deck

OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. - For the group of college buddies spending a late-season weekend at a friend's beach house, the deck overlooking a canal was the center of their good times.

It was where they talked, listened to music and danced late into the night. But investigators fear the deck just two blocks from the beach may also have been the starting point of a fast-moving fire that killed six students from the University of South Carolina and one from Clemson University. Six other South Carolina students in the house survived.

Explosion, fire send firefighters to Iowa chemical facility

DES MOINES, Iowa - An explosion and fire Monday at a chemical plant northeast of Des Moines sent plumes of thick smoke into the sky and forced officials to close two interstate freeways.

Sheriff's Chief Deputy Neil Schultz said one minor injury was reported and all the plant's employees were accounted for.

Astronauts asked to take closer look at solar wing gears

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA asked its orbiting astronauts Monday to take a closer look at the gears that control the international space station's solar wings to try to find out what's grinding inside and causing steel chips to clog the system.

The impromptu work - 'exploratory surgery' as the station's program manager calls it - will keep shuttle Discovery in orbit an extra day.

Trial begins for couple accused of keeping slaves

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. - A pair of Indonesian women brought to the United States to work as housekeepers were starved, deprived of sleep and repeatedly stabbed and beaten by a millionaire couple, prosecutors said Monday at the couple's trial.

Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, and his wife, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 45, have pleaded not guilty to a 12-count federal indictment accusing them of conspiracy, involuntary servitude and other charges.

Accused gunman to plea in Simpson case

LAS VEGAS - A man whose lawyer says he can testify that O.J. Simpson asked him to bring guns to a confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers told a judge on Monday that he'll accept a plea deal and testify against Simpson and two other men.

Michael McClinton, 49, of Las Vegas, became the third man to agree to plead guilty to reduced charges in return for his testimony.

Spokesman loses new job over fake news conference

WASHINGTON - The man who staged a fake Federal Emergency Management Agency news conference has lost a chance to be National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell's top public information officer.

In letters sent over the weekend, FEMA administrator R. David Paulison scolded the public affairs staff involved in the incident. Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said Monday there may be more disciplinary action yet. Knocke has been transferred temporarily to the FEMA press shop.

John P. 'Pat' Philbin, FEMA's former external affairs director, who had been scheduled to move into the new job at the director of national intelligence office on Monday, will not be getting the job. The staged question-and-answer session was harshly criticized by both the White House and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department oversees FEMA.

Blackwater guards received immunity in deadly shooting

WASHINGTON - The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month's deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

As a result, it will likely be months before the United States can - if ever - bring criminal charges in the case that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

Supreme Court agrees to review Exxon Valdez case

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Exxon Mobil Corp. should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages to victims of the huge oil spill that fouled more than 1,200 miles of Alaskan coastline in 1989.