National editor's pick of the top news stories in the nation and world at this hour:
A military jury at Fort Hood, Texas, on Wednesday sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death for killing 13 people in a 2009 shooting rampage at the Army base. Hasan acknowledged that he was the gunman and presented virtually no defense at his trial, where he represented himself. Lawyers appointed to monitor the case on his behalf complained to the judge that Hasan was seeking conviction, execution and martyrdom. Although some observers thought he should be deprived of his wish, military prosecutors said they believed any sentence short of death would deny justice to Hasan's victims and their families. Before an execution date is set, the sentence will face years, if not decades, of appeals.
Taking a break from preparations to attack Syria, President Barack Obama will speak at the National Mall in Washington on Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Among the crowd gathered for the commemoration, marchers opened a drizzly day walking behind a replica of the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white man. Andrew Young, a civil rights pioneer and former U.N. ambassador, urged the crowd to sing along to an anthem of the movement: "I woke up this morning with my mind on freedom." King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III, said blacks can rightfully celebrate his father's work and the election of the first black president, but even today, he said, "many young people, it seems, are first judged by their color and then the content of their character." Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will be in attendance, and George W. Bush sent a statement of support but is recuperating from a heart procedure. Also part of the day's events were Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a longtime leader of civil rights battles. The stars of "The Butler," Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker, were there as well.
U.N. chemical weapons experts took biological samples Wednesday from victims of last week's apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria, as the U.S. and allies ramped up to a punitive military strike. Israel called up reserve troops and distributed gas masks in anticipation of possible retaliation from Syria. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said no action should be taken until the inspectors finish their mission, and Syrian allies Russia and Iran warned of severe consequences if Syria is attacked. U.N. inspectors Wednesday visited the eastern Damascus suburbs of Mleeha and Zamalka, activists said, taking hair and skin samples from five victims. Britain was to introduce a resolution Wednesday in the Security Council authorizing "necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria. The use of military force would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia, but a French diplomatic official said the British resolution was being introduced to show that all diplomatic measures had been exhausted.
The giant Rim Fire on the western edge of Yosemite National Park was 23 percent contained Wednesday, up from 20 percent a day before, as its footprint grew to 293 square miles and the number of structures destroyed reached 111. Fire officials said they expect to fully contain the fire in three weeks, but it will burn for much longer than that. "It's looking better every day," said incident spokesman Glen Stratton. "So far everything is holding." He said the fire is burning itself out as it approaches Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco's drinking water, partly because of back fires set to deprive it of fuel. Pushed by winds blowing northeast, the largest fire in the Sierra's recorded history has unleashed a smoky haze that has worsened air quality more than 100 miles away in Nevada. The California National Guard launched an MQ-1 drone Wednesday to give firefighters a bird's-eye view of the fire. Incident commander Mike Wilkins said crews will use the drone's information to decide in real time where to deploy resources. They also hope to use it to detect any changes on the ground that could threaten crews.
Just a few months after Michael Douglas praised wife Catherine Zeta-Jones for the progress she was making in controlling her bipolar disorder, People magazine reports that the two have separated. "They're taking a break," one source said. The actors haven't been photographed together since April 22, and they've vacationed separately with their kids and walked red carpets alone. On April 29, Zeta-Jones admitted herself for 30 days of treatment for bipolar disorder type II, the milder of two types of the disorder, but she checked out at least a week early. Douglas said at the time, "She's doing a really good job of getting balanced. I'm proud of her." But a friend told People, "The stress has taken a toll on their marriage." Neither star has filed for divorce or moved toward a legal separation, sources said. Douglas, 68, and Zeta-Jones, 43, have been married since 2000 and have two children together. "They want the best for their kids, no matter what happens," a family friend told People.
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.