Good morning. Here are some of the stories we’re following today:
1. Confederate Flag Debate Reaches Frenzy Across America
The South Carolina Legislature took its first steps Tuesday toward removing the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds after the massacre at a black church in Charleston. Lawmakers will allow debate on the issue later this summer, although the exact timing is not immediately clear. Meanwhile, sales of the rebel banner spiked Tuesday while big-name retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sears and eBay dropped their flag-emblazoned products. Read more in NEWS.
2. Slain Charleston Church Pastor to Lie in State
The body of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine victims in the church shooting and a state senator, will lie in state Wednesday for public viewing at the Capitol. As funerals for the victims are planned, more details about shooter Dylann Roof have emerged, including that he bought the semiautomatic handgun he used in the attack at a gun store just 25 miles from his home. Read more in NEWS.
3. Prison Worker Smuggled Escape Tools in Meat: Prosecutor
Joyce Mitchell, the New York prison seamstress who allegedly helped two inmates escape nearly three weeks ago, embedded various tools into ground beef, which was then given to the convicts, prosecutors say. The surprising detail came to light Tuesday, after DNA from both of the escapees was found in a cabin in the town of Owls Head, leading authorities to believe they were still traveling together. Read more in NEWS.
4. Powerful Storms Sock Northeast, Trigger Outages
Tens of thousands of people were waking up without power Wednesday after ferocious thunderstorms triggered widespread outages across the Northeast. The severe weather also caused chaos on the roads and in the air, with more than half a dozen of the country's busiest airports halting flights late Tuesday. After 17 reports of tornadoes across the Plains and Midwest, there's more wild weather in store for Wednesday. Read more in NEWS.
5. Will Boston Bomber Take the Stand at Sentencing?
The outcome of Wednesday's sentencing hearing, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. ET, is not in doubt: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be formally condemned to die for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings. But the question remains whether he will address the court. During the trial, the public only heard from the 21-year-old indirectly. Read more in NEWS.
6. White House to Announce Major Change to Hostage Policy
The Obama administration will unveil changes to its hostage policy Wednesday, including that the government will no longer criminally prosecute families of American hostages who pay ransom to get loved ones back from terror groups. The move comes after families of captives have said that they felt confused by conflicting government guidance about negotiating with terrorists. Read more in POLITICS.
7. France Demands Answers After Alleged NSA Spying
French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday that the alleged spying on him and two predecessors was "unacceptable." France was alerted to the allegations after Wikileaks published documents late Tuesday claiming the NSA had eavesdropped on three French presidents. There was no immediate comment from the White House. Read more in NEWS.
'Titanic' composer James Horner, who helped to write soaring scores for more than 100 films, died in a plane crash in Southern California. Hollywood luminaries took to Twitter to express their condolences.