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Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty in Chicago, expected Back in Court in March

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Just when it looked as though former Empire star Jussie Smollett may have dodged the criminal charges that were filed last year and later dropped in the controversial case in which he allegedly faked an assault, he’s back in court again. This time, a Chicago grand jury indicted Smollett on six new charges as of Tuesday, which, according to court documents, allege that the actor “planned and participated” in staging a hate crime against himself.

Jussie Smollett entered a plea of not guilty in criminal court Monday nearly a year to the day that he appeared in the same court on similar charges related to allegations of a staged hate crime attack.

Earlier this month, a grand jury returned a six-count indictment accusing the 37-year-old former “Empire” actor of lying to Chicago police.

Smollett, dressed in all black and wearing sunglasses, arrived at court with an entourage and walked past dozens of reporters gathered in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building on the city’s southwest side. He was accompanied by family members who had flown in from California, Smollett’s lawyer Tina Glandian told reporters.

Smollett first appeared before Presiding Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. Smollett and his family quietly occupied a row in the courtroom gallery, waiting for his name to be called. At one point, a woman leaving the courtroom spotted Smollett, stopped and pointed, and yelled, “Hey, you were good in Empire!” Smollett smiled.

Martin assigned Smollett’s case to Associate Judge James B. Linn, and dozens of people rushed upstairs to Linn’s seventh-floor courtroom. Two other judges that Martin called were out sick.

Upstairs, Glandian entered Smollett’s not guilty plea and told Linn that she has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to put a stay on the case. She told Linn that she has filed a motion to dismiss the charges as “double jeopardy.”

“Previously he did forfeit his bond in the amount of $10,000. That, in essence, was a punishment stemming from the criminal proceedings and, therefore, trying to punish him again a second time around is not permitted under the double jeopardy clause. You don’t just get a do-over,” Glandian told reporters after the hearing.

Linn said Smollett wasn’t a flight risk and set a $20,000 personal recognizance bond, meaning that Smollett does not have to pay the bond so long as he shows up to scheduled court appearances. Smollett was not taken into custody.

Lawyers set a court date for March 18.

“He’s obviously frustrated to be dragged through this process again,” Glandian said. “It’s really hard to believe that we’re all here, one year later.”

Glandian said that Smollett would not be entering any plea other than not guilty. “If that requires us to go to trial, we will,” she said.

Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, the brothers who claim Smollett hired them to stage the attack, were present in court Monday, raising some questions about why they were present. Should Smollett’s case go to trial, the brothers would be key witnesses.


The brothers who claim they were paid to stage the attack, Olabinjo Osundairo, left, and Abimbola Osundairo, showed up at the courthouse on Monday.

Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, who represents the brothers, said that they were present to support the criminal justice process.

“They will be here ’til the very end of this process. They are committed to the public healing. They are committed to the public knowing the truth,” she said. “They want the city of Chicago to be made whole.”

Smollett faces six felony counts of disorderly conduct, charging the actor with making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers “related to his false claims that he was the victim of a hate crime, knowing that he was not the victim of a crime,” special prosecutor Dan Webb said in a statement.

Last March, Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts of filing a false police report, but prosecutors in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dropped the charges three weeks later, angering police and City Hall officials and leading to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate.

The special prosecutor said the investigation into why Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx dropped the charges is ongoing.

Glandian released a statement saying the new charges call into question the fairness of the investigation.

“This indictment raises serious questions about the integrity of the investigation that led to the renewed charges against Mr. Smollett, not the least of which is the use of the same CPD detectives who were part of the original investigation into the attack on Mr. Smollett to conduct the current investigation, despite Mr. Smollett’s pending civil claims against the City of Chicago and CPD officers for malicious prosecution,” she said.

Jussie Smollett arrives at court on Monday

Foxx, meanwhile, is weeks away from an election. Her campaign questioned the timing of the special prosecutor’s indictment.

“What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision, just 35 days before an election, which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive,” the Foxx campaign said in a statement.

It all began in January of 2019 when Smollett told police that attackers yelled homophobic and racist slurs at him, threw liquid on him and draped a noose around his neck. Smollett alleged that the attackers screamed “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

But after several weeks of investigation, Chicago police claimed he made the whole thing up, hiring the Osundairo brothers to pretend-attack him in order to boost his profile and paycheck on the Fox show “Empire.”

The city of Chicago went to state court in April to sue Smollett to recoup the cost in police overtime – set at $130,000 – in investigating his original claims. The lawsuit was later moved to federal court after Smollett’s attorneys argued that is the proper venue because Smollett, who lived in Chicago while filming “Empire,” is actually a California resident.

Smollett’s lawyers sought to have the lawsuit thrown out on multiple grounds, including that Smollett did not direct Chicago police to spend weeks investigating his claim and could not have known how much time and money would be spent. 

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall, however, said “it isn’t unreasonable to think” the Chicago police would make a strong effort to investigate a purported racist and homophobic attack, especially given Smollett’s celebrity and the “volatile climate” of the city.

In June, Chicago police released video of Smollett with the rope around his neck and of supplies being purchased for the allegedly staged attack. Other files released include surveillance footage collected by police and footage of the brothers, who say they were paid to orchestrate the attack.

Smollett has insisted he is innocent and was exonerated.

“Empire” is in its sixth and final season, and Smollett lost his role on the show shortly after the scandal hit headlines.

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Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala D. Harris as his running mate

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Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has chosen Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, elevating a former presidential candidate whose most electric campaign performance came when she criticized his record on school integration during a debate.

Harris will be the first Black woman and first Asian American to run for vice president, representing a historic choice at a moment when the country is grappling with its racial past and future. The announcement was made in a text and a tweet from Biden.

“Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau,” Biden tweeted, referring to his late son, then the attorney general of Delaware. “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

Harris, 55, is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. The first-term senator previously served as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.

Her prosecutorial record has drawn attacks from party liberals, who have criticized her past stances as too harsh and contend that her record does not meet a moment when police misconduct has rocketed into the national conversation.

But Harris also has built a reputation in Washington as a sharp questioner in Senate hearings, particularly of Trump administration nominees. She has been a forceful advocate for Black families during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and she helped draft a bill ending qualified immunity for police.

Harris kicked off her presidential campaign little more than two years after joining the Senate, with an electrifying Oakland, Calif., rally that drew more than 22,000 supporters. But she struggled to define herself to voters, shifting from one message to the next. She failed to take off in the polls and dropped out in early December, citing financial problems.

Harris and Biden have known each other for several years, and Harris worked closely with Biden’s late son, Beau, when both served as attorneys general.

That made it all the more shocking to Biden and his team when, at the first Democratic primary debate, Harris went after Biden for his nostalgic talk about working with two segregationist senators.

“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said during the debate. She also took Biden to task for his opposition to mandatory busing.

On the debate stage, she described a little girl who had benefited from her city’s busing program. “And that little girl was me,” she said. Within hours, her campaign was selling shirts emblazoned with the words and a childhood picture of Harris.

Biden’s wife, Jill, has described that moment as being “like a punch to the gut.” But since then, the two have publicly made up, with Harris acting as a surrogate for Biden and appearing with him and his wife in campaign events.

In a June appearance on the “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Harris jokingly defended her performance, saying: “It was a debate! The whole reason — literally, it was a debate. It was called a debate.”

“I’d be honored, if asked, and I’m honored to be a part of the conversation,” Harris told Colbert. “Honestly, let me just tell you something: I will do everything in my power, wherever I am, to help Joe Biden win.”

In late July, Biden was photographed with notes he had written to himself about Harris on his personal stationery. Included were: “talented,” “great help to campaign” and “do not hold grudges.”

Biden said on July 28 that he would name his running mate by the end of the first week of August, after extending his initial pledge to name the pick around Aug. 1. Aides then said it had slipped further. For weeks, advisers have been vetting the candidates in interviews and via extended searches into their backgrounds, records and personal experiences.

He had promised months ago to pick a woman, reflecting the dominance of female voters in the party and his effort to make a historic choice. Were he to win, the nominee would become the first female vice president.

The nominee also will come under heightened security because of Biden’s age; he will be 78 at the time of the next inauguration. Either he or his November opponent, President Trump, will be the oldest American president.

The selection process has been a mix of transparency and secrecy. While Biden has held his thoughts closely, with many allies saying he has been deliberately vague about his preferences, the parade of prospective candidates has played out publicly.

Several have broken with past practice and acknowledged an interest in the job; others, such as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), have taken themselves out of the mix in a similarly public way.

Biden has sought the same kind of “simpatico” relationship with his pick that he shared with former president Barack Obama, in which he served as the last adviser on big administration decisions. He also has put a high premium on loyalty, according to those familiar with the search.

But his choice was also affected by events coursing across the nation.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) once looked like a front-runner, but the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people put a spotlight on her record as a prosecutor, which has drawn criticism from Black activists. Klobuchar eventually removed herself from the running, saying that Biden should pick a woman of color for the ticket.

Biden also faced pressure to delay the pick until closer to the Democratic convention, which begins Aug. 17, to build a sense of momentum for an event that will largely be virtual, lacking the balloon-and-bunting atmosphere of the traditional convention celebrations.

In normal times, the two running mates would barnstorm around the country after the announcement, trying to lift the enthusiasm level of their own partisans and potentially attract new supporters. But Biden has held no large events since March, and has none planned.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee will formally be named at the national party convention, which will be largely virtual. The newly named nominee will debate Vice President Pence on Oct. 7 in Utah. The presidential debates — three are currently scheduled — will begin in September, barring any adjustments to the schedule. Two of them have already changed locations after the original host colleges determined it was unsafe to sponsor the event.

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U.S. Marines ID all 9 people killed in sea-tank sinking

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The U.S. Marine Corps has identified all nine people killed when a Marine landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off the Southern California coast.

Only one of their bodies was found, despite an intense days-long search involving helicopters and boats ranging from inflatables to a Navy destroyer.

Found at the scene was Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels Texas. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit announced on Sunday that the others, from California, Texas, Wisconsin and Oregon, are “presumed dead.”

They include: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.

“Literally every asset we have available” was mobilized in the search for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Friday.

They were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that was heading back to a Navy ship Thursday evening after a routine training exercise when it began taking on water about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from Navy-owned San Clemente Island, off San Diego.

Other assault vehicles quickly responded but couldn’t stop the 26-ton, tank-like vehicle from quickly sinking, Osterman said.

“The assumption is that it went completely to the bottom” several hundred feet below, Osterman said. That was too deep for divers, and Navy and Coast Guard were discussing ways to reach the sunken vehicle to get a view inside it, Osterman said.

Seven other Marines were rescued from the water; two were in stable condition at a hospital, authorities said.

All the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at nearby Camp Pendleton. They ranged in age from 19 to early 30s and all were wearing combat gear, including body armor, and flotation vests, Osterman said.

The vehicle, known as an AAV but nicknamed an “amtrac,” for “amphibious tractor” is used to take Marines and their gear from Navy ships to land.

The sunken craft, one of 13 involved in the exercise, was designed to be naturally buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches, Osterman said.

The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said Friday they did not know the age or other details of the one that sank.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined.

This is the third time in recent years that Camp Pendleton Marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises.

In 2017, 14 Marines and one Navy sailor were hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line, igniting a fire that engulfed the landing craft at Camp Pendleton.

In 2011, a Marine died when an amphibious assault vehicle in a training exercise sank offshore of the camp.

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Son of Federal Judge killed After Gunman Opened Fire at Her New Jersey Home

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The son of US District Court of New Jersey Judge Esther Salas has died after a gunman opened fire on her North Brunswick home Sunday.

Chief Judge Freda Wolfson said Sunday that Salas’ son Daniel Anderl, 20, was killed in the shooting and her husband, Mark Anderl, was injured. Salas was unharmed, Wolfson said.

Both the US Marshals and FBI are investigating the shooting. Initial reports from law enforcement said Daniel Anderl opened the door with his father right behind him. The door opened to a hail of gunfire and the gunman fled.

“We are looking for one subject,” the FBI said in a statement. “We are working closely with our state and local partners and will provide additional updates when available.”

Police respond to reports of a shooting at the home of federal Judge Esther Salas in North Brunswick, New Jersey, July 19, 2020.

A law enforcement official with direct knowledge said that the gunman appeared to be wearing a FedEx uniform.

It is not yet known whether the gunman was a FedEx employee or someone posing to be an employee.

“We are aware of the media reports and are fully cooperating with investigating authorities,” Jonathan Lyons, a spokesman for FedEx, said in an email statement.

Law enforcement has not been aware of any threats against the judge and right now investigators don’t know the motive.

Daniel Anderl, 20, was shot and killed at his New Brunswick home on Sunday evening.

“Judge Salas and her family are in our thoughts at this time as they cope with this senseless act,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “This tragedy is our latest reminder that gun violence remains a crisis in our country and that our work to make every community safer isn’t done.”

Democratic U.S Senator Bob Menendez, who said he was proud to have recommended Judge Salas to former President Barack Obama, also issued a statement sending his prayers to the family.

“My prayers are with Judge Salas and her family, and that those responsible for this horrendous act are swiftly apprehended and brought to justice,” Menendez said.

North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack spoke Sunday night that Judge Salas’ husband Mark Anderl is “one of the most straight-up honest attorneys” he has dealt with.

“He’s a very very exuberant, vibrant, one hundred percent pleasant person,” Womack said. “He loves to talk about his wife, and he loves to brag about his son, and how his son would excel in baseball, and how great he was doing in college in Washington … I’m just very sorry to see him going through this.”

The FBI urged anyone with relevant information to call FBI Newark at 973-792-3001.

This is a developing story: We’ll give updates on the situation as we learn more.

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