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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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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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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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RNC Washington headquarters evacuated, locked down after blood vials addressed to Donald Trump are found

The Republican National Committee’s Washington headquarters was briefly evacuated and locked down on Wednesday as police investigated a package containing two vials of blood that had been delivered and addressed to former President Donald Trump.

A hazardous materials unit with the U.S. Capitol Police traveled to the site after a suspicious package was found; police say the package contained two vials of blood, with sources telling CNN that it also contained two ice packs and a Korean Bible. According to Fox 5 DC, officials believe the ice packs inside the package were leaking. It was unclear if anyone came into contact with the blood and to whom it belonged, but police said that no injuries were reported in connection with the incident. It remains under further investigation.

U.S. Capitol Police spokesperson Brianna Burch said the suspicious package was cleared Wednesday morning just before 10 a.m.  Capitol Police also said on X, “This morning, we responded to the 300 block of First Street, SE, for the report of a suspicious package. The package was cleared by our Hazardous Incident Response Division. It contained two vials of blood. The source of the package & its contents will be further investigated.”

The RNC confirmed the lockdown was cleared and staff had resumed normal duties. RNC Chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement, “Today, vials of blood were sent to RNC Headquarters in DC. We are thankful to law enforcement, who responded quickly and ensured everyone’s safety.” 

Wednesday’s situation comes less than two months from the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Trump is slated to become the party’s official 2024 nominee. Trump’s handpicked leadership recently took over the RNC; which includes his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump as the party’s national vice chair, and former North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley as RNC chairman. Trump campaign senior adviser, Chris LaCivita, has taken over as the RNC chief of staff.

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Former employee arrested in shooting at company that killed 2, injured 3 in Chester, PA

Authorities in Pennsylvania said that a disgruntled employee opened fire at a linen company near Philadelphia on Wednesday, killing two coworkers and injuring three others.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said that the shooting took place at about 8:30 a.m, when the suspect, an employee at Delaware County Lenin in Chester, PA (about 18 miles south of Philadelphia) allegedly walked into the facility with a handgun and opened fire without warning. Police said the suspect left the building after the shooting but authorities stopped a vehicle that matched its description in Trainer, Pa., near the facility later that morning. The suspect, who has not been publicly named, was taken into custody.

DA Stollsteimer said the workers had shortly arrived to work when the shooting happened, and that two of the workers died at the scene of the shooting that happened outside of the building, as well as inside. Stollsteimer said: “This is a story that plays out too often across the United States of America. [The shooting is] an absolute tragedy.” Stollsteimer said according to its initial investigation, no one could point to an immediate motive for the shooting or anticipated the possibility of the incident.

Chester Mayor Stefan Roots said: “It speaks to guns in America. Violence is always unpredictable. We don’t know what conditions people are under, in a city that’s impoverished like ours … We can’t have guns in the hands of the wrong people. There had to be some type of mental health issue that would have an employee walk into his workplace on a day of work and take out his anger in such a violent way — to not just the boss, but his coworkers, who he probably worked side-by-side with for years.”

Chester Police Commissioner Steven Gretsky said during a news conference that one of three people hospitalized in the shooting was listed in critical condition.

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Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies plead ‘not guilty’ to felony charges in Arizona election interference case

Former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was among the 11 allies of former President Trump who pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in Arizona to nine felony charges related to their involvement in a plan to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state. The 11 people arraigned Tuesday were among 18 people charged last month by a state grand jury over the plan. They include Giuliani and so-called “fake electors” who signed documents claiming to be Arizona’s Electoral College electors.

The ten others, who also pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, forgery and fraud charges related to the case, include former Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward and her husband Michael Ward; state legislator Anthony Kern; Robert Montgomery, the former head of the Cochise County GOP; Republican Party activists Samuel Moorhead, Nancy Cottle and Loraine Pellegrino; Greg Safsten, the former Arizona GOP executive director; former Trump attorney Christina Bobb; and Tyler Bowyer, the Republican National Committee’s Arizona committeeman and the chief operating officer of the Trump-aligned Turning Point Action.

Giuliani, Bowyer, Cottle, Montgomery, Pellegrino and Bobb appeared virtually for the arraignment that was held in a Phoenix courtroom. Giuliani and Kelli Ward’s trials are scheduled for Oct. 17, about 3 weeks before the U.S. election. Giuliani said during his remote appearance that he did not have an attorney at this time, but when asked by the court whether he needed counsel appointed for the arraignment, he said: “No, no, I think I am capable of handling it myself.” Arizona authorities had tried unsuccessfully over several weeks to serve Giuliani notice of the indictment against him, but he was finally served as he was walking to a car after his 80th birthday celebration in Palm Beach, Florida last Friday.

Several of those charged in the Arizona case have also been arraigned on similar charges in Georgia, where prosecutors also allege that Trump allies tried to overturn the election there.

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Elvis Presley’s granddaughter Riley Keough files lawsuit to protect Graceland after it is sent to foreclosure

Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, actress Riley Keough, is fighting the court-approved sale of Graceland, the late singer’s compound in Memphis, Tennessee.

Keough, identified in the court filing as Danielle Riley Keough, filed a claim in Tennessee civil court that alleges the creditor behind the foreclosure claim used forged signatures. According to an apparent foreclosure notice, Graceland had been set to be auctioned off at the Shelby County courthouse in Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday this week, however court documents show that a Memphis judge blocked the sale after Keough sought a temporary restraining order and filed a lawsuit.

The foreclosure allegedly occurred after Elvis’ daughter, the late Lisa Marie Presley, used Graceland as collateral to secure a $3.8 million loan from a company called Naussany Investments and Private Lending in 2018, but she failed to pay it off before she died last year.  Keough was granted virtual control of Graceland Mansion and much of Elvis’ estate after her mother, Lisa Marie Presley, died.  She alleges in the suit that the creditor’s paperwork on a $3.8 million loan to Graceland trustees, with a deed of trust on the compound pledged as collateral, is fraudulent. Keough claims in the lawsuit that Naussany Investments “appears to be a false entity created for the purpose” of defrauding her family. The lawsuit also says Keough’s mother “never borrowed money” from the company, or gave them a deed of trust to Graceland, and further alleges that documents claiming otherwise “are forgeries.” The suit alleges the foreclosure sale would thus be “non-judicial” and based on lien paperwork that violates Tennessee law.

In a statement, Elvis Presley Enterprises, the entity that runs Graceland and the assets of the Elvis Presley Trust, suggested the sale is a scheme: “Elvis Presley Enterprises can confirm that these claims are fraudulent. There is no foreclosure sale. Simply put, the counter lawsuit has been filed is to stop the fraud.”  According to CBS affiliate in Memphis WREG, an attorney for Keough says a temporary restraining order was granted Monday. A judge will consider Keough’s court filing in a hearing on Wednesday.

Built in 1939, Graceland Mansion was purchased by Elvis in 1957, where he lived until his death in 1977.  Five years later it was opened to the public as a music history theme park, where it currently attracts roughly 600,000 visitors a year, according to the venue.  Graceland was named to the American National Register of Historic Places in 1991; it is also the final resting place for Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie.

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