NATION IN BRIEF: Toyota disputes critic who blames electronics for acceleration



WASHINGTON -- Toyota gave detailed evidence Monday that it said disproves claims that electronics may cause the unwanted acceleration that led to the recall of more than 8 million cars and trucks.

Toyota was attempting to counter tests by an Illinois engineering professor who said Toyota engines could rev without a driver pressing on the gas. The automaker said mechanical problems, not electronics, are to blame.

Chris Gerdes, director of Stanford University's Center for Automotive Research, and a consulting firm, Exponent Inc., said the professor had tampered with wiring to create electronic glitches that could never occur on the road.

The professor's work ''could result in misguided policy and unwarranted fear,'' Gerdes said.

NH man accused of killing landlord for motorcycle

BRENTWOOD, N.H. -- Prosecutors said a New Hampshire man obsessed with getting a Harley-Davidson motorcycle beat his landlord to death, assumed his identity and stole his pickup truck so he could trade it for the bike.

The attorney for defendant Paul McDonald doesn't dispute her client killed Richard Wilcox. But she said he did it in self-defense after waking up to find Wilcox raping him.

Wilcox was found dead in June 2008 in the basement of the Danville home where McDonald lived as his tenant. He had wounds authorities said were caused by a hammer or ax. His skull was crushed.

Prosecutors said McDonald traded his landlord's new truck for the motorcycle and an older truck and fled to Vermont, where he was arrested.

Obama pitches health plan with lively appearance

GLENSIDE, Pa. -- Stirring memories of his campaign for the White House, President Barack Obama made a spirited, shirt-sleeved appeal for passage of long-stalled health care changes Monday as Democratic congressional leaders worked behind the scenes on legislation they hope can quickly gain passage.

''Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp,'' the president implored his audience at Arcadia University, the first outside-the-Beltway appearance since he vowed last week to do everything in his power to push his health care plan into law.

The president's pitch was part denunciation of insurance companies -- ''they continue to ration care on the basis of who's sick and who's healthy,'' he said -- and part criticism of his Republican critics. ''You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?'' he taunted members of a party that held the White House for eight years and control of Congress for a dozen.

The outcome could affect almost every American, changing the ways they receive and pay for health care -- and extending coverage to tens of millions more people -- if the legislation gains final approval.

Girls Gone Wild associate fined $5,000; no prison

RENO, Nev. -- A Hollywood associate of Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis was fined $5,000 Monday but spared prison time for his role as the ''bag man'' in the bribery of jail guards to help Francis when he was held in Reno on tax evasion charges in 2007.

Aaron Weinstein, 45, originally faced a felony bribery charge but agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of providing contraband in prison.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks said Weinstein avoided up to six months in prison because he cooperated with authorities in prosecuting Francis and two former guards at the Washoe County jail who acknowledged accepting thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.

Three charged with gas pump ID theft in Calif.

LOS ANGELES -- Three men are accused of stealing $2 million by installing devices on gas station pumps that harvested credit card access codes.

The men pleaded not guilty Monday in Los Angeles to two dozen charges of conspiracy, identity theft, grand theft and computer access fraud. They face up to 20 years each in prison if convicted and remain jailed on $2 million bail each.

Prosecutors contend the men installed skimmers on computerized gas pumps that recorded credit card, debit card and PINs that later were used to withdraw cash from ATMs.

Los Angeles County prosecutors said the men had 10,000 stolen numbers when they were arrested on Feb. 25. Authorities also seized $40,000 and fancy cars, including a Ferrari.