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Prosecutors: Novelist killed wife to keep couple's money

Durham, N.C. -- A novelist beat his wife to death and tried to pass it off as an accidental fall to cash in on a $1.4 million life insurance policy, prosecutors said as his murder trial opened Tuesday.

Dist. Atty. Jim Hardin said blood spatters at the scene suggested Michael Peterson, 59, beat Kathleen Peterson, 48, over the head, but an attorney for the novelist argued the evidence showed she fell downstairs after consuming alcohol and Valium.

The Petersons had $143,000 in credit card debt at the time.

Peterson, who earned the Silver Star for bravery, has written novels including "A Time of War" in 1990 and a 1995 sequel, "A Bitter Peace." He sold the movie rights to one of his books weeks before his wife's death.

Environmentally friendly donation

Cate Blanchett has given a "substantial" donation to Forest Guardians, an environmental group based in Santa Fe, N.M.

John Horning, director of Forest Guardians, wouldn't disclose the amount.

Blanchett, who was in New Mexico recently filming Ron Howard's "The Missing," said the donation was made on behalf of the cast and crew "to help preserve the state's natural splendor for generations to come."

Forest Guardians development director Dustin Garrick said Monday that the group hoped the donation would fuel its campaign to safeguard at least 25 preserves in the Four Corners region.

Not much of an idol

Justin Guarini was ticketed by police in Grand Prairie, Texas, after witnesses said he almost ran over a young girl with a personal watercraft at Joe Pool Lake, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Guarini, 24, was the runner-up on Fox's "American Idol" last year. He was with winner Kelly Clarkson -- his co-star in the new film "From Justin to Kelly" -- and about five friends Saturday at the lake when the incident allegedly occurred.

The citation was issued at Loyd Park on the lake's west side about 7 p.m. Saturday, said Sgt. Chris Chopin, lake patrol supervisor.

Clint Heizer said Guarini ran the watercraft up on shore, stopping a few feet short of his 5-year-old daughter, Allison.

If convicted of unsafe boat operation, Guarini faces a fine of up to $2,000 and a maximum 180 days in jail, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site.

Divorce plans on hold

Los Angeles -- Actress and model Rachel Hunter has withdrawn her request for divorce from singer Rod Stewart.

Hunter, 33, and the veteran British rocker were married in 1990, but split four years ago.

She filed for divorce on June 16 and sent her withdrawal three days later. She didn't specify a reason, and Hunter's attorney wouldn't comment Wednesday. Stewart's spokesman, Arnold Stiefel, said he was unsure why Hunter withdrew her petition but added that the two have not reconciled.

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