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Federal appeals court upholds sentence in Jan. 6 case after claims of jury bias

A federal appeals court in Washington upheld the conviction of a former New York City Police Department officer who was charged for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, after he claimed that he couldn’t get an impartial jury in Washington, D.C.

Thomas Webster, the former NYPD officer, was found guilty in 2022 of assaulting a police officer during the riot. Webster sought to have his case moved out of the nation’s capital, raising concerns about political bias by the jury pool, but a federal district court denied his request. His legal arguments echoed public comments about the partisan bent of DC from Trump and his allies about the criminal case the former president faces in the nation’s capital for his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

However, the unanimous three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a ruling Tuesday that Webster was wrong when he argued that the jury pool in the District of Columbia was too Democratic, too tied to the federal government and too surrounded by news coverage of the Capitol attack to produce 12 unbiased jurors who would decide his case.  The opinion was written by Barack Obama-appointed Judge Patricia Millett and joined by Judges Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao, both Trump appointees. According to ABC News, the judges found that nothing in the record suggested that the jury pool had preconceived notions about Webster or knew who he was, and also determined that he failed to show that the district’s jury pool is incapable of producing fair juries for people facing charges that stem from the Jan. 6 attack. Millett wrote: “Webster asserts that the District overwhelmingly voted for President Biden and historically votes for Democratic candidates. That may be. But the political inclinations of a populace writ large say nothing about an individual’s ability to serve impartially in adjudicating the criminal conduct of an individual .. Webster’s focus on the jury pool’s opinion of January 6th and its perpetrators misses the point. We expect jurors to view significant criminal events in their hometown with an unapproving eye, whether it is the January 6th attack on the Capitol, a murder, or an armed robbery spree. Generalized disapproval of criminal conduct — even the specific conduct at issue in a defendant’s case — says nothing about a juror’s ability to be impartial in deciding whether a particular individual committed a crime or not.”

Webster was among the crowd of Trump supporters who attended the rally outside the White House on Jan. 6 and marched to the Capitol. Wearing body armor and carrying a Marine Corps flag, he confronted police officers outside the Capitol and was involved in an altercation with a member of the Metropolitan Police Department, knocking him to the ground and pushing his gas mask into his face.

In addition to upholding Webster’s conviction, the panel affirmed his 10-year prison sentence – one of the longest among hundreds of Capitol riot cases. He was the first Jan. 6 defendant to be tried on an assault charge and the first to present a self-defense argument.

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Pope Francis issues apology after reported use of homophobic slur

Pope Francis is apologizing after reports surfaced that the pontiff had used a homophobic term for LGBTQ+ people in a closed-door meeting with bishops. The Vatican issued a statement on Tuesday on behalf of Pope Francis, which said in part: “In the Church there is room for everyone, for everyone! Nobody is useless, nobody is superfluous, there is room for everyone. Just as we are, all of us.” Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, added: “Pope Francis is aware of articles that recently came out about a conversation, behind closed doors, with the bishops of the [Italian Bishops Conference]. The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of a term reported by others.”

CBS News reported that the Pope Francis had used derogatory language at the Italian Bishops’ Conference when asked if gay men should be allowed to train as priests if they remain celibate. The pope reportedly said gay men should not be allowed to train as priests even if they pledge to remain celibate, and he used a homophobic slur – reinforcing longstanding Church instruction against allowing homosexual men to enter the seminary to train for the priesthood.

The remarks were first reported on the Italian tabloid website Dagospia and then by other Italian news agencies, who said that Pope Francis was reportedly speaking in Italian, which is not his first language. The Vatican’s statement continued: “The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he extends his apologies to those who were offended by the use of a term, reported by others.”

Pope Francis has previously been respectful publicly towards the LGBTQ+ community, stating that priests should be able to bless same-sex couples in some circumstances, but stressing that the blessings would be for individuals in the couples, and not the couples themselves.

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Post Malone and Morgan Wallen hit No. 1 with ‘I Had Some Help’

Post Malone has earned his second No. 1 single of the year with his collab with Morgan Wallen, “I Had Some Help.” Malone recently hit No. 1 in April alongside Taylor Swift on the single, “Fortnight” (off Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department”), which remains in the Top 10.  “I Had Some Help” follows Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” as the second country song to top the Hot 100 this year

Wallen and Malone’s country pop anthem “I Had Some Help” debuted during a duet performance at Wallen’s headlining set at the Stagecoach festival.  The song opens with 76.4 million streams, replacing “Fortnight” as the song with the most single-week streams this year.  Per Billboard, “I Had Some Help” arrives as the 1,172nd No. 1 in the Hot 100’s history, and the 80th to debut in the top spot. It concurrently hit No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart, marking Post Malone’s first No. 1 on the country charts, and Wallen’s eighth.

Additionally, Wallen’s 2023 LP “One Thing at a Time” returned to the top five, hitting No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with 75,000 album units, while his 2021 album, “Dangerous: The Double Album,” moved to No. 5.

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Imagine Dragons team up with J Balvin in the remix for ‘Eyes Closed’

Imagine Dragons have released a remix of their new single “Eyes Closed” featuring Colombian reggaetón star J Balvin, rapping in Spanish and delivering some of his best lyrics in recent memory.

Billboard reports that Balvin raps to Imagine Dragons’ rock beats, delivering lines like: “La tormenta no ha podido sacudir mis palmas […]Los que dieron la espalda se les vio la falda […] Si la fe es creer antes de ver, parcero, yo no nací pa perder” (The storm has shaken my palm trees; those who turned their backs on me showed their real colors […] if having faith means believing before seeing, parcero, I wasn’t born to lose.”

Check out the video of the “Eyes Closed” remix with Balvin – here.

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Suspect in custody after stabbing attack injures 6 in Massachusetts

A suspect is in custody after a stabbing attack injured four girls (aged 9-17) at a movie theater, and two additional people at a McDonald’s in Massachusetts.

The suspect, identified as 26-year-old Jared Christian Ravizza of Martha’s Vineyard, is accused of the unprovoked attack on Saturday before leading police on a car chase to Cape Cod. He will face charges including assault with intent to murder, and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Ravizza is currently in a local hospital receiving medical treatment for non-life-threatening injuries.

According to a statement from the Braintree, MA police, the suspect entered AMC Braintree 10 around 6 p.m. where he suddenly attacked and stabbed four girls before he ran out of the theater and drove away in what appeared to be a black SUV. The girls were taken to Boston hospitals for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, according to police. Shortly after that incident, a vehicle matching the description was reportedly involved in a similar assault at a McDonald’s at the Route 3 rest area in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Responding medical personnel found a 21-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man, both of whom had non-life threatening knife lacerations; both were hospitalized for treatment.

State police said that Ravizza was arrested around 7:15 p.m. after leading police on a car chase that ended in a fiery crash in Sandwich, Massachuetts, and was taken into custody.  In addition to the stabbing incidents in Massachusetts, Ravizza has also been linked to a murder investigation at a home in Deep River, Connecticut, with Connecticut State Police sharing in a statement that officers responded to a report of a disturbance at a Deep River address where upon arrival, they located a dead body. While Ravizza was not identified by name, Connecticut State Police said “a suspect in this investigation has been taken into custody in the State of Massachusetts.”

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Former ‘General Hospital’ actor Johnny Wactor fatally shot after attempted robbery in Los Angeles

Actor Johnny Wactor, best know for his role on the long-running ABC soap opera ‘General Hospital,’ was shot and killed on Saturday after he interrupted three male suspects who were allegedly attempting to remove a catalytic converter from his parked vehicle.

Per ABC NEWS, the Los Angeles Police Department said that the incident happened around 3:25 am PT on Saturday. The actor’s mother, Scarlett Wactor, said her son saw someone at his car after he finished work at a rooftop bar, and initially thought his car was being towed. As he approached his car, one of the suspects, who was wearing a mask, later opened fire at him, adding that the police told her Wactor did not do anything wrong. While the suspects fled to an unknown location following the shooting, Wactor was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No arrests have yet to be made, and the case remains under investigation by the LAPD Central Division Homicide.

The 37-year-old Wactor has nearly 50 film and television credits to his name on IMDB, appearing on shows including “Criminal Minds,” “Siberia” and “Westworld,” among others. He is best known for his performance as Brando Corbin on General Hospital from 2020-2022. The show said in a statement on X: “The entire General Hospital family is heartbroken to hear of Johnny Wactor’s untimely passing. He was truly one of a kind and a pleasure to work with each and every day. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones during this difficult time.”

Scarlett Wactor said in a statement about her son: “There are not enough words to tell what a beautiful soul he was. He was a kind loving son and brother, he lived life to the fullest. He set goals and went after them. There is a very large hole on our hearts and lives.”

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Lenny Kravitz announces exclusive ‘Blue Electric Light’ engagement in Las Vegas

Lenny Kravitz has announced an exclusive, limited Las Vegas engagement dubbed Blue Electric Light Las Vegas.

A post on social media read: “The Blue Electric Light Tour is coming to the US, only in Las Vegas. October 18-26, 2024 at Dolby Live at Park MGM.   The singer/musician, who just turned 60 years old, will perform a series of concerts held October 18, 19, 23, 25 and 26, 2024 at Dolby Live at Park MGM.

The Blue Electric Light show shares a name with Kravitz’s 12th studio album which just dropped, featuring the singles “TK421” and “Human,” along with 10 other songs. The album is Kravitz’s first in nearly 6 years, since 2018’s Raise Vibration. 

Kravitz said in a new interview with Flaunt magazine that his “sole purpose in music and in art is to amplify love. That is what I love to do. That’s the message to continually project. There’s not enough. It’s endless. I could write about love for a thousand years. Love is endless.”

Tickets for Kravitz’s Blue Electric Light Las Vegas engagement are on sale now via Ticketmaster.

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‘Bridgerton’ Season 3 soundtrack includes covers of BTS, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift/Lana Del Rey and more

The soundtrack for Season 3 of Netflix’s Bridgerton was revealed, which will feature string quartets playing modern day pop songs. Artists covered in Season 3 include Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey, BTS, Nick Jonas and Billie Eilish.

A string version of Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” is included, The Vitamin String Quartet covering additional Eilish songs, as well as BTS’s “Dynamite” and Sia’s “Cheap Thrills.”  In addition, The Atwood Quartet covers Swift and Del Rey’s “Snow on the Beach,” and Jonas’s song, “Jealous.”

For the first time, Bridgerton will feature an original song, “All I Want,” Rogét Chahayed, Wesley Singerman, Taylor Dexter and Nicole Cohen. Tori Kelly will perform the song live at Bridgerton events this month, while an instrumental version of “All I Want,” adapted by composer Kris Bowers, will appear in Part 2.

“Bridgerton” Season 3 will include a total of eight episodes that are split into two parts. Part 1, comprised of four episodes, premieres Thursday, May 17; with Part 2 to debut the additional four episodes beginning on June 13. The soundtrack will also be released in two parts, with Part 1 dropping on May 16.

“Bridgerton” Season 3 music supervisor Justin Kamps said to Netflix’s Tudum website: “I start to try to think of songs from the past that could maybe work for this and then also current hits that could possibly make sense .. It’s really down to the script and then the themes. And sometimes initially it’s about what matches the choreography and then later it’s about what matches the scene and the emotion.”

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RNC accuses Secret Service of ignoring security concerns around party convention in Milwaukee

The Republican National Committee is accusing the US Secret Service of ignoring its security concerns surrounding the party’s July convention in Milwaukee, warning that the agency was putting the event at risk. The convention, slated for July 15-18 in Milwaukee, includes a perimeter that encompasses a nearby park, Pere Marquette.

The Trump campaign sent a letter on Thursday to U.S. Secret Service Director Kim Cheatle, demanding she fix a “critical flaw” in the security perimeter of this summer’s Republican National Convention, claiming that attendees’ safety is at risk as protesters plan to descend on the area. Per CNN, the RNC has raised concerns over the proximity of planned protest zones to the pathway that convention attendees must walk to access the venue. The party has proposed an alternative location for the First Amendment Zone that would ensure attendees would not have to walk past protesters.

Todd Steggerda, counsel to the Republican National Committee, wrote in the letter that the Secret Service is ignoring their concerns and multiple attempts of outreach about adjusting the security perimeter, adding that the security environment around the convention was “rapidly deteriorating” and demanding action:  “To date, the local USSS team has been unresponsive to the RNC’s reasonable proposal, as set out in my April 26 letter, to alleviate these safety risks through a very modest alteration of the Perimeter — namely, to expand a small portion of the Security Perimeter approximately one block to the East to encapsulate the Park … Rather than dissipating, the overall security climate has worsened significantly over the past month of the USSS’s inaction,” Steggerdas said, adding that Cheatle’s “failure to act now to prevent these unnecessary and certain risks will imperil tens of thousands of convention attendees.”

Steggerda cited statements made by organizers for the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024 suggesting protesters may ignore law enforcement orders related to where they can demonstrate. In addition, many top Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, have reached out to the Secret Service to discuss their concerns. Said Steggerda: “With less than two months before the convention and even less time before the USSS finalizes the plan, it is imperative you take personal and immediate steps to fix this unacceptable flaw in the design of the security perimeter.’

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Bipartisan border bill fails to advance in Senate for second time

A bipartisan border security bill failed to advance on the Senate floor on Thursday for a second time. Republicans first blocked earlier this year after former President Donald Trump came out publicly against it; the measure fell short in a 43 to 50 vote, which need the 60 votes needed to advance in the upper chamber.

The bill, negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, was already rejected by most Republicans in February when it was linked to a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies. Republicans have argued that the president already has the power to stop the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, claiming that the bipartisan deal to expand his authority would do little. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Thursday in a floor speech that “unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what law is on the books if the administration is not going to enforce the ones that already exist.”

Democrats, on the other hand, have attempted to use Republicans’ opposition to the bill in order to shift public opinion in their favor, as voters have been critical of President Biden’s handling of immigration. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday afternoon that “the contrast between Democrats and Republicans is clear today and will be even clearer in November. Democrats want to fix the border and get something done. Republicans want to give speeches, let the border fester and do absolutely nothing to fix the problem.”

In a statement after Thursday’s vote, President Biden said Republicans “put partisan politics ahead of our country’s national security .. Congressional Republicans do not care about securing the border or fixing America’s broken immigration system. If they did, they would have voted for the toughest border enforcement in history,” Biden said, adding that he is “committed to taking action to address our broken immigration system.”

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