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Man sets self on fire outside New York court where Trump trial underway (updated)

aftermath of a person covered in flames outside ny courthouse of former u.s. president trump's criminal hush money trial
Emergency personnel respond to a report of a person covered in flames, outside the courthouse where former U.S. President Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial is underway, in New York, U.S., April 19, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A man set himself on fire on Friday outside the New York courthouse where Donald Trump’s historic hush-money trial was taking place, but he did not appear to have been targeting Trump, officials said.

The man burned for several minutes in full view of television cameras that were set up outside the courthouse, where the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president is being held.

“I see a totally charred human being,” a CNN reporter said on the air.

Officials said the man survived. “The victim is in critical condition but is alive and intubated,” said New York Fire Department Commissioner Laura Kavanagh.

Witnesses said the man pulled pamphlets out of a backpack and threw them in the air before he doused himself with a liquid and set himself on fire. One of those pamphlets, titled “The True History of the World (Haunted Carnival Edition),” included references to “evil billionaires” but portions that were visible to a Reuters witness did not mention Trump.

Officials said the man, who they said lived until recently in St. Augustine, Florida, did not appear to be targeting Trump or others involved in the trial.

“Right now we are labeling him as sort of a conspiracy theorist and we are going from there,” Tarrik Sheppard, a deputy commissioner with the New York Police Department, said at a news conference.

Witnesses on the scene said they were disturbed by the incident.

“It’s hard to even process in your brain,” one witness, who declined to give his name, told Reuters.

A smell of smoke lingered in the plaza shortly after the incident, according to a Reuters witness, and a police officer sprayed a fire extinguisher on the ground. A smoldering backpack and a gas can were visible.

The downtown Manhattan courthouse, heavily guarded by police, drew a throng of protesters and onlookers on Monday, the trial’s first day, though crowds have dwindled since then.

JURY SELECTION COMPLETED

The shocking development came shortly after jury selection for the trial was completed, clearing the way for prosecutors and defense attorneys to make opening statements next week in a case stemming from hush money paid to a porn star.

The 12 jurors, along with six alternates, will consider evidence in a first-ever trial to determine whether a former U.S. president is guilty of breaking the law.

The jury consists of seven men and five women, mostly employed in white-collar professions: two corporate lawyers, a software engineer, a speech therapist and an English teacher. Most are not native New Yorkers, hailing from across the United States and countries like Ireland and Lebanon.

Trump is accused of covering up a $130,000 payment his former lawyer Michael Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she says they had a decade earlier.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and denies any such encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in three other criminal cases as well, but this is the only one certain to go to trial ahead of theNov. 5 election, when the Republican politician aims to again take on Democratic President Joe Biden.

A conviction would not bar him from office.

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