National editor's pick of the top news stories in the nation and world at this hour:
Christian Gerhartsreiter might have gotten away with murder, had he not made a national splash when unmasked as an impostor who had posed as an heir to the Rockefeller oil fortune for 20 years. His 15 minutes of infamy in the late 2000s, publicized in books, magazines and TV movies, prompted Southern California police to reopen a 1985 cold case, and on Wednesday a jury found the German immigrant guilty of killing John Sohus in San Marino in 1985. John's new wife, Linda, also disappeared, but her body was never found, while John's bones were unearthed during excavation of a swimming pool in 1994. Gerhartsreiter, who at various times called himself Clark Rockefeller, Chris Chichester, Chris Crowe and Chip Smith, had been living in a guest cottage belonging to John Sohus' mother. A friend said Linda Sohus once described the tenant in the cottage owned by John's mother as "creepy" and said she and her husband never spoke to him. Gerhartsreiter faces 25 years to life in prison for the murder conviction, plus two additional years on other charges.
Two senators announced a bipartisan deal to expand gun background checks, making it unlikely that a filibuster threat will keep the issue from coming to the floor. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., two of the most conservative members of their parties, said a deal requiring background checks for all commercial sales -- including gun shows and online sales but not private, not-for-profit transactions -- would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. The Senate will vote Thursday on whether debate can proceed, now seen as a likely yes, though the ultimate fate of the legislation remains in doubt given the opposition of the National Rifle Association and a substantial number of senators. "Truly the events at Newtown changed us all," said Manchin, referring to the Dec. 14 school shooting in Connecticut. "Americans on both sides of the debate can and must find common ground." Added Toomey: "I don't consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it's just common sense."
Tax the rich and the smokers, cut Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and reduce payments to Medicare providers -- these proposals are at the core of a $3.8 trillion spending blueprint released Wednesday by President Barack Obama billed as a "grand bargain" to tame deficits. The budget projects deficit reduction of $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years, despite a spending increase of 2.5 percent for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The plan would raise $580 billion over 10 years by tax increases on the rich, primarily by limiting the tax deductions they can take. The revenue figure approaches $1 trillion when combined with a near doubling of the federal tax on cigarettes (to 94 cents a pack), the slowing of inflation adjustments to income tax brackets, elimination of oil and gas subsidies, an estate tax increase and a "financial crisis responsibility" fee on banks. "The American people deserve better than what we've been seeing, the shortsighted, crisis-driven spending cuts that are already hurting a lot of communities out there," Obama said at the White House. Republican reaction was predictable, with House Speaker John Boehner saying, "The president got his tax hikes in January. We don't need to be raising taxes on the American people."
A medium-range, nuclear-capable missile with a range of 600 miles was launched Wednesday -- but don't worry, it was only Pakistan. The potential missile launch that most of the world is focused on, by North Korea, is very likely to happen soon, South Korea's defense minister said Wednesday, calling the probability of a medium-range missile test "considerably high." Keep an eye on Monday, April 15, the 101st birthday of North Korea's founding father Kim Il Sung, as the North frequently times big events to coincide with anniversaries. Analysts still say that despite a daily dribble of martial rhetoric, there are no signs that the North is preparing to start a war, much less a nuclear war.
The 78-year-old man tied the puppy to the railroad tracks because his family didn't want it anymore and didn't know what else to do with it. But this tragedy in the making had a happy ending for Banjo, the 10-month-old poodle-terrier mix, when a Union Pacific engineer near Mecca, Calif., threw on the emergency brake April 2 and stopped the train. Union Pacific Special Agent Sal Pina said the unidentified man who tied up the dog was detained and questioned but not charged because he appeared to be senile and "didn't fully understand what he had done." As for Banjo -- named after old train traffic signals -- Riverside County animal control issued a statement Tuesday saying the pup is up for adoption.
The Wire, a summary of top national and world news stories from the Associated Press and other wire services, moves weekdays. Contact Karl Kahler at 408-920-5023; follow him at twitter.com/karl_kahler.