LIBERTY, Texas — Jurors on Thursday convicted a man of taking part in the repeated sexual assault of a Texas middle school student and sentenced him to 99 years in prison.
Eric McGowen wasn’t in court when jurors found him guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child or later when they returned with the sentence, which also included a $10,000 fine. The 20-year-old had been free on bail and he skipped out during a break in proceedings Wednesday, the first day of testimony.
The judge issued an arrest warrant for McGowen Wednesday and allowed testimony to resume Thursday.
Prosecutors say the girl, who was 11 years old at the time, was sexually assaulted on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010 by 20 men and boys from her town, Cleveland, about 45 miles from Houston. Police began investigating after one of the girl’s classmates told a teacher he saw video of her being sexually assaulted in an abandoned trailer.
All six of the juveniles and two of the 14 adults charged in the case pleaded guilty. McGowen was the first defendant to stand trial.
Jupiter-bound spacecraft set for key maneuver
PASADENA, Calif. — A Jupiter-bound spacecraft prepared to fire its engine Thursday for an important maneuver intended to bring it back toward Earth.
The engine burn was the first of two planned to set up NASA’s Juno spacecraft to use Earth’s gravity to accelerate it toward the outer solar system. The second engine firing will occur next week.
Launched last year, Juno is zooming toward an encounter with the giant gas planet in 2016.
More than half a dozen spacecraft have visited the solar system’s largest planet since the 1970s, but Juno promises to venture closer for a deeper study into Jupiter’s evolution.
Montana wildfires burn homes, cause injuries
BILLINGS, Mont. — Firefighters struggled Thursday to gain control of major Montana wildfires that burned houses and caused injuries, even as crews rushed to tamp down new blazes before the flames spread.
The toll from the latest spate of fires remained uncertain. But at least three evacuation orders were in place and well over 150 homes were threatened by blazes that in some cases burned unchecked.
One new fire was reported south of Ashland, and two others erupted in Gallatin Canyon south of Bozeman. Authorities moved quickly to squelch them and said one of the Gallatin Canyon fires was extinguished by late afternoon.
High temperatures and erratic winds made the fight more difficult. And with nine large fires burning in Montana, officials said there was increasing competition for adequate equipment and personnel.
Five Australian troops killed in Afghanistan
KABUL — Five Australian troops were killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan on Wednesday and Thursday, adding to growing concern about attacks on foreign troops by rogue Afghan soldiers.
Three troops were relaxing at their base in southern Uruzgan province when they were shot at close range by an Afghan man wearing a military uniform, the vice chief of Australia’s Air Defense Force told reporters in Sydney.
The shooter escaped by scaling a fence after the incident late Wednesday, Air Marshal Mark Binskin said. Two Australian soldiers were wounded.
Binskin said two other Australian troops died Thursday when their helicopter rolled over in Helmand province, a militant stronghold also in the south. The NATO-led coalition said the incident is under investigation.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the loss of the five military personnel the single worst day for her country in a war since the Vietnam conflict.