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Man, 37, sets himself on fire outside Trump’s trial in Manhattan

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                New York law enforcement and fire department personnel inspect the scene where a man lit himself on fire in a park outside Manhattan criminal court, today in New York.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York law enforcement and fire department personnel inspect the scene where a man lit himself on fire in a park outside Manhattan criminal court, today in New York.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Former President Donald Trump appears at the hush money trial in New York today.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Former President Donald Trump appears at the hush money trial in New York today.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                New York law enforcement and fire department personnel inspect the scene where a man lit himself on fire in a park outside Manhattan criminal court, today in New York.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Former President Donald Trump appears at the hush money trial in New York today.

NEW YORK >> A man set himself on fire this afternoon near the lower Manhattan courthouse where jurors were being chosen for the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump.

The man, who had lingered outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse earlier this week, doused himself with accelerant around 1:35 p.m. in Collect Pond Park, across the street from the building. Onlookers screamed and started to run, and soon, bright orange flames engulfed the man. He threw leaflets espousing anti-government conspiracy theories into the air before setting himself on fire.

People rushed to extinguish the flames, but the intensity of the heat could be felt several hundred feet away.

After a few minutes, dozens of police officers arrived to smother the blaze. The man was loaded into an ambulance and rushed away. The New York Fire Department said he was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

A high-ranking New York Police Department official identified the man as Max Azzarello, 37, of St. Augustine, Florida. The official requested anonymity because the man had not been publicly identified.

Azzarello had appeared outside the courthouse Thursday with a sign displaying the address of a website where the same pamphlets were uploaded. The top post of the website says, “I have set myself on fire outside the Trump Trial.”

In an interview Thursday, Azzarello said his critical views of the American government were shaped by his research into Peter Thiel, the technology billionaire and political provocateur who is a major campaign donor, and into cryptocurrency.

People who witnessed the fire said they were in disbelief as they saw Azzarello, who was in an area of the park reserved for supporters of Trump, toss the pamphlets into the air and then flames shoot toward the sky.

Azzarello, who was wearing jeans and dark gray T-shirt, fell to the ground amid the fire.

Some of the pamphlets referred to New York University as a “mob front” and also mentioned former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Al Gore and lawyer David Boies, who represented Gore in the 2000 presidential election recount.

Al Baker, a spokesperson for the court system, said the trial schedule would not be affected, though one court officer had been taken to hospital because of the effects of smoke inhalation.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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From the Associated Press

NEW YORK >> A person who was on fire in a park outside the New York courthouse where Donald Trump’s hush money trial is taking place has been rushed away on a stretcher.

The fire was extinguished today shortly after a jury and alternates had been seated in Trump’s criminal case. A person could be seen lying on the ground on fire. People then rushed over to douse the person with a fire extinguisher and try to bat the flames away. Emergency responders then rushed the person away on a stretcher.

A full jury of 12 people and six alternates had been seated in Trump’s hush money case just minutes earlier, drawing the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president a step closer to opening statements.

The fire happened in a park across the street from the courthouse that has been a gathering point for protesters and media outlets covering jury selection for Trump’s trial.

Lawyers spent days quizzing dozens of New Yorkers to choose the panel that has vowed to put their personal views aside and impartially judge whether the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is guilty or not. The jury includes a sales professional, a software engineer, an English teacher and multiple lawyers.

The trial will place Trump in a Manhattan courtroom for weeks, forcing him to juggle his dual role as criminal defendant and political candidate against the backdrop of his hotly contested race against President Joe Biden. It will feature salacious and unflattering testimony his opponent will no doubt seize on to try to paint him as unfit to return as commander in chief.

Trump has spent the week sitting quietly in the courtroom as lawyers press potential jurors on their views about him in a search for any bias that could preclude them from hearing the case. During breaks in the proceedings, he has lashed out about the allegations and the judge to cameras in the hallway, using his mounting legal problems as a political rallying cry to cast himself of a victim.

Over several days, dozens of members of the jury pool were dismissed after saying they didn’t believe they could be fair. Others expressed anxiety about having to decide such a consequential case with outsized media attention. The judge has ruled that their names will be known only to prosecutors, Trump and their legal teams.

One woman who had been chosen to serve on the jury was dismissed Thursday after she raised concerns over messages she said she got from friends and family when aspects of her identity became public. Today, another woman broke down in tears while being questioned by a prosecutor about her ability to decide the case based only on evidence presented in court.

“I feel so nervous and anxious right now,” the woman said. “I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t want someone who feels like this to judge my case either. I don’t want to waste the court’s time.”

As more potential jurors were questioned today, Trump appeared to lean over at the defense table, scribbling on some papers and exchanging notes with one of his lawyers. He occasionally perked up and gazed at the jury box, including when one would-be juror said he had volunteered in a “get out the vote” effort for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Another prospective juror got Trump’s attention when he mentioned that he follows the White House Instagram account, including when Trump was in office. Trump shot a grin at one man who was asked if he was married and joked that he had been trying to find a wife in his spare time, but “it’s not working.”

Judge Juan Merchan is also expected to hold a hearing today to consider a request from prosecutors to bring up Trump’s prior legal entanglements if he takes the stand in the hush money case. Manhattan prosecutors have said they want to question Trump about his recent civil fraud trial that resulted in a $454 million judgment after a judge found Trump had lied about his wealth for years. He is appealing that verdict.

The trial centers on a $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, made to porn actor Stormy Daniels to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump from becoming public in the final days of the 2016 race.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of the payments in internal records when his company reimbursed Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018 and is expected to be a star witness for the prosecution.

Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He could get up to four years in prison if convicted, though it’s not clear that the judge would opt to put him behind bars. Trump would almost certainly appeal any conviction.

Trump is involved in four criminal cases, but it’s not clear that any others will reach trial before the November election. Appeals and legal wrangling have caused delays in the other three cases charging Trump with plotting to overturn the 2020 election results and with illegally hoarding classified documents.

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