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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: UW-RF student found dead last week near Stillwater has been identified

A University of Wisconsin-River Falls student found dead last week has been identified as Bayport native Alyssa Funke.  The 19-year-old graduated from Stillwater Area High School in 2012 and was studying biology at UW-River Falls.  Police have not disclosed when or how Funke died.  Her body was found near an access point at Big Carnelian Lake in May Township last Wednesday.

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Opening arguments got under way yesterday in the Little Falls murder trial of 65-year-old Byron Smith, who is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer.  The teens broke into Smith's home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.  The prosecution told jurors that Smith was lying in wait in his basement with a book, some snacks and two guns, and had set a trap for the teens.  Defense lawyer Steven Meshbesher told the court that Smith had been victimized by burglars multiple times over the previous year and had taken to carrying a gun with him around his house as protection.  Defense lawyers are trying to show Smith has been cooperative and has nothing to hide in the case, but prosecutors are trying to convince the jury that Smith is a cold-blooded killer who fired an excessive number of shots at the teens even after they no longer presented a threat.  Testimony continues as day two of the trial gets back underway in Little Falls today (Tue).

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A northwest Iowa man received a 50-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the death of a Jackson, Minnesota woman.  Prosecutors dropped a first-degree murder charge against Tailer Handsaker of Spirit Lake as part of the plea agreement.  Handsaker admitted to striking Sara Grimmius in the face, skull and arm with a pool cue and golf club on December 6th, 2013 at a home near Spirit Lake.  Her body was found later at the residence.  Handsaker must serve at least 35 years before being eligible for parole.  

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Medical marijuana activists will announce the support of more than 100 doctors and clergy today at a state Capitol news conference (Tues10am).  Attendees includes a pastor from the Duluth Congregational Church, the executive director of the Minnesota AIDS Project, a Minnesota Nurses Association representative, AFL-CIO Union officials, and patients.  The coalition will voice support for a bill that would allow people with cancer, H-I-V/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy to access marijuana under a doctor's recommendation.  A Senate committee held a hearing and tabled the medical marijuana bill prior to the Easter/Passover break.  

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Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is the keynote speaker for tonight's (Tues) annual "Building U.S. - China Bridges Lecture" at the University of Minnesota.  Huntsman is a former U-S ambassador to China and a 2012 Republican presidential candidate.  He will discuss the future of U.S-China relations, the role of education, new trends in trade and the collaboration between the two countries.  (McNamara Alumni Center 5-6:30pm)  

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A Rochester teenager was locked up at the juvenile detention center Friday after a list of bad behavior that includes bringing a gun to school.  Police say the parents of the 14-year-old alternative school student were contacted when he was caught smoking marijuana on the school bus.  While in the principal's office the boy's parents searched his backpack and found the unloaded gun, bullets and some drug paraphernalia. The parents told investigators they don't own any guns and it's not known where the student obtained it.  The teen is expected to face charges.

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The name of the Columbus Day holiday could soon be changed in Minneapolis.  The City Council is expected to vote Friday morning on a resolution changing the name to "Indigenous Peoples Day" for this October 13th and beyond.  Supporters of the change say it's overdue because of the doubt that Christopher Columbus ever set foot in what later became the United States, and add it honors the Native Americans who were here before European settlers.

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The deposition of the Archbishop of the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in a clergy child sex abuse lawsuit will be released today.  Defense attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan of Anderson and Associates say Archbishop John Nienstedt testified under oath for four hours early this month about the way church officials handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests.  A statement from the archdiocese immediately after the deposition claimed that Nienstedt testified that the safety of children was the highest priority of church officials, but defense lawyers said Nienstedt ended his testimony abruptly when he was asked to turn more church files over to police.  The deposition was part of a lawsuit by a victim who claims he was abused by Reverend Thomas Adamson even after the church knew about the priest's sexual abuse of previous victims.  Last week a church appointed panel strongly criticized the handling of child sex abuse by the archdiocese.

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The wife of a former Minnesota Viking serving time for the 2011 death of a man on an I-94 exit ramp will leave prison this week.  Amy Senser will be transferred from the state prison in Shakopee to a work release facility after serving 21 months of a 41 month sentence.  Senser was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong, who was hit and killed while refilling his gas tank on an exit ramp in Minneapolis.  She will be on work release until October, then on supervised release until December of 2015. Senser is the wife of former Vikings tight end Joe Senser.

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State officials say 550 Minnesota motorists got tickets for texting while driving during a stepped-up distracted-driving enforcement campaign April llth through the 20th.  Traffic Safety Office Director Donna Berger says those number of citations in just 10 days shows far too many drivers still make poor choices while behind the wheel.  Minnesota law enforcement agencies also issued nearly 14-hundred tickets for not wearing seatbelts and 25 citations for not using child restraints.  And 15 drivers were arrested for D-W-I during the 10-day period.

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State lawmakers are back at the Minnesota Capitol after their Passover/Easter break.  The main task legislators must finish before the May 19th adjournment deadline is a bonding bill for state buildings and public works projects.  Some Democrats are talking about a higher dollar amount than legislative leaders agreed on last year -- but Republicans would probably want something in return, like larger tax cuts or less spending.  The DFL-controlled House and Senate have already passed bills for a second round of tax cuts, but still have to work out their differences -- and the cuts aren't as big as Republicans want.  Both chambers also need to hammer out a compromise on bills they both passed to spend part of the state's budget surplus.  Republicans want that bill whittled down substantially.  And the question remains, will the legislature pass any sort of medical marijuana bill this session? 

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 Opponents of frac-sand mining deliver over six thousand petition signatures to Governor Dayton this afternoon (1240pm) calling for a two-year moratorium on frac-sand operations in southeastern Minnesota.  Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer says lawmakers and the governor need to take a strong look at whether frac-sand mining should be done at all in that part of the state.  A spokesman says Governor Dayton strongly supported a moratorium on frac-sand mining but the proposal didn't pass the legislature and a state agency is now working on new regulations.  Frac-sand industry groups say current laws will protect Minnesota's environment.  (Frac sand mining opponents have news conferences this morning in Winona (745am) and Red Wing (940am) before heading to the State Capitol.)

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The U-S Army Corps of Engineers has re-opened its three Minneapolis locks to recreational traffic again.  They were closed April 11th due to increased flows on the Upper Mississippi River.  Army Corps Spokesman George Stringham is reminding boaters that they share the river with commercial tows, and to keep an eye out for them because they can't stop as quickly as other traffic.  Stringham says boaters need to use caution because river currents are still high.  The navigation season opened April 16th this year, which is second-latest ever on the Upper Mississippi.  

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To mark Earth Day, a group of Clean Up the River Environment or "CURE" volunteers will be sprucing up a two-mile stretch of Highway 212 near Wegdahl at Chippewa County Park on the Minnesota River (starts 5:15).  The group's Peg Furshong says it's important to show our appreciation for the land we live in, and give the next generation opportunities to learn about stewardship.  Furshong says everyone is welcome to join in the cleanup effort and food and refreshments will be available afterward. 

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The University of Minnesota's baseball pitching coach is in the midst of a ten-week fundraising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Minnesota.  Todd Oakes is competing for the organization's Man of the Year Award.  Oakes himself was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in 2012 and is now in complete remission.  Meanwhile former Gopher pitcher and current Twins closer Glen Perkins is donating 100 dollars for every strikeout he has this month, and the Twins and the MLB Players Association are matching the funds.  The general public can also donate.  (Info is available at www.mwoy.com/mn.  Oakes will find out if he wins the award next month.

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