NEW YORK – As 2004 comes to a close, the FOX News Channel is counting down the top stories of the year.
Read below to find out what some of the most important stories were.
10. Tell It to the Judge
The 10th biggest story of 2004 was the slew of famous faces that went before a judge for one crime or another. Former New Jersey Nets basketball star Jayson Williams (search) was acquitted of manslaughter, while Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant (search) sweated through a rape case that was later dropped.
Stewart is serving a five-month prison term for lying to investigators about a personal sale of stock in biotech company ImClone Systems Inc. in late 2001. The founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. remains the company's controlling shareholder through her ownership of special voting stock. After her expected release from prison in March, she is to serve another five months in home confinement.
A California jury recommended the death penalty for Peterson in December after finding him guilty of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child, Conner. Laci was eight months pregnant when she disappeared just before Christmas in 2002. Her mutilated body was later found washed up along the San Francisco Bay.
9. It's a Twister Out There!
Charley, Frances, Ivan, then Jeanne. The ninth biggest story of the year is how one after another, four mammoth hurricanes followed largely the same path in a single hurricane season. Florida lost 117 lives in the storms, while thousands more were killed in Haiti and Jamaica.
Damage was so substantial that Florida faced a $42 billion clean-up bill — that's $15 billion more than 1992's Hurricane Andrew. In August and September, coastal and inland residents repeatedly boarded up their homes and businesses before heading out, and 140,000 volunteers from around the world helped victims salvage what they could.
"Governors asked me what I needed ... that defines our country," said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
President Bush handed down 27 major disaster declarations while handing out water to devastated residents. The president ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for 90 percent of costs that local agencies racked up because of the four hurricanes that hit Florida. FEMA previously paid 75 percent of costs not covered by insurance.
8. With Arafat Gone, Let There Be Peace
Palestinians mourned the loss of their leader, Yasser Arafat (search), but experts believe his death may be bringing new hope to the Middle East peace process. Arafat died on Nov. 11; doctors' details on exactly how remain sketchy.
Israel and the United States described Arafat as an obstacle to peace, accusing him of backing militant attacks against Israel. President Bush has repeatedly said the "roadmap for peace" will be a top priority of his and that he wants to see two states — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace.
On Jan. 9, the Palestinian presidential vote will be held; both Israel and the international community have given tacit support to interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search). The United States has given $3.5 million in election assistance, the European Union has allocated about $18.6 million, while Japan has committed $1.1 million and will send electoral observers.
Diplomats say the ultimate goal is to resume talks on the "road map," an internationally backed peace plan that seeks to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel next year. They also warn that the road forward has potential hazards.
7. Spain's Sept. 11
Exactly 911 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, bombs tore through commuter trains and at stations at the height of Madrid's morning rush, killing 191 people and injuring 2,000. It may have been in March, but it will be remembered as Spain's Sept. 11.
Police say the bombs were left on the trains in backpacks and set off by cell phones. Spain originally thought the Basque separatist group ETA (search) was responsible for the bombings, which happened just days before Spain's national elections. Officials later said a group of Moroccans with ties to Al Qaeda were the killers. Investigators are holding at least 19 people in connection with the attacks, and a 16-year-old boy who helped obtain the dynamite has been sentenced to six years in a detention center.
The bombings helped lead to the stunning defeat of the Popular Party of Jose Maria Aznar (search), one of the United States' most solid allies in the War on Terror. The new Socialist government immediately pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq when Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (search) took office.
The United States offered a $5 million reward for an Al Qaeda operative it considers key in the bombings, Mustafa Setmariam. Spanish officials say one of the suspect's lieutenants helped plan not only the March 11 bombings, but also the Sept. 11 attacks.
6. 'Your Government Failed You'
When America was struck by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, everyone asked how such a thing could happen in the United States. Our sixth biggest story of the year is how, three years later, the Sept. 11 commission got some of those answers and issued recommendations on how to prevent similar attacks.
The commission probing the attack pored through 2.5 million documents, interviewed 1,200 people — including private interviews with Bush and former President Bill Clinton. Other members of both administrations testified at public hearings. The result was a 575-page report that concluded that neither administration "understood the gravity" of the terror threat.
"Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you," said Bush and Clinton's former counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke (search).
"If anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States," testified Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice (search).
The panel went on to say that even three years after the attacks, America still was not safe and that panelists "do not believe it is possible to defeat all terrorist attacks against Americans, every time and everywhere." The group had 37 recommendations for preventing future attacks, including the creation of a national counterterrorism center to analyze all terror data from the CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security, as well as a national intelligence director to oversee intelligence activity. Congress passed — and Bush signed into law — an intelligence reform (search) bill in December that enacted many of the recommendations.
FOX News' Liza Porteus contributed to this report.