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Alligator on runway at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida captured, released into nearby river

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A large alligator made its way onto the runway at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida where it had to be captured and taken away for release in a nearby river, officials said.

The toothy reptile was spotted Monday morning beside the landing gear of a KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft, officials at the base in Tampa posted on Facebook.

Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were summoned. They captured the animal and then released it into the nearby Hillsborough River.

According to wildlife officials, alligators become more likely to wander into unfamiliar territory in April as they search for mates.


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College students, inmates and a nun: A unique book club meets at one of the nation’s largest jails

CHICAGO (AP) — For college senior Nana Ampofo, an unconventional book club inside one of the nation’s largest jails has transformed her career ambitions.

Each week, the 22-year-old drives a van of her DePaul University peers to Cook County Jail to discuss books with inmates and recently, the well-known activist Sister Helen Prejean. Ampofo comes prepared with thought-provoking questions to launch the conversations at the Chicago jail about the most recent books they’ve been reading together.

One club rule is clear: Discussions about personal lives are encouraged, but no questions are permitted about why other members are in jail.

“That’s part of dehumanizing people. You want people to tell you their own story and have their own autonomy,” Ampofo said. “When you go in with an open mind, you see how similar people are to you.”

The student-led volunteer effort started years ago as an offshoot of a DePaul program offering college credit classes at the jail on the city’s southwest side for students and detainees. The book club, with a new cohort each academic quarter, tackles books that resonate personally with group members who are nearly all Black or Latino.

Associated Press journalists were allowed into the jail Monday to observe the current club’s final meeting to discuss Prejean’s book “Dead Man Walking,” where the Louisiana anti-death penalty activist made a special appearance. The book, which was also adapted into a movie and an opera, is about her experiences as a spiritual adviser to a pair of men on death row in the 1980s.

Sitting in a circle inside a window-filled jail chapel, 10 inmates in tan jail-issued uniforms sat among four college students and Prejean, who visits the Catholic university in Chicago each year.

Ampofo, who advocated for Prejean’s visit, cried when she talked about how important the group members and their discussions are to her. Laughter erupted when Prejean told a vulgar joke involving Louisiana bayou folk characters. And there were fierce nods when Steven Hayer, a detainee, discussed why many inmates return to jail.

“Our society doesn’t invest in solutions,” he said. “And when they get out, they will go back to what they know.”

Book club members seized the chance to ask Prejean questions, including differences between the book and movie and what it’s like to watch people die.

The 85-year-old nun has been present for seven executions. Her archival papers are housed at DePaul, including script notes for the 1995 movie starring Susan Sarandon.

After witnessing her first execution, Prejean said she threw up, but decided that being with people in their final moments was a privilege.

“When you’ve been a witness to something then that fire begins to burn in your heart for justice that we’ve got to change this,” she said.

As a white woman who grew up in the South, Prejean said her prison work opened her eyes about racism.

Most of the detained members of the book club are Black, mirroring demographics of the jail, which houses nearly 5,000 detainees. Roughly 70% of inmates are involved in some type of educational programming like the book club, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

But having college student participation sets the book club apart from other activities.

“When you all of a sudden have students from the outside, sitting next to you, you start thinking of yourself different,” said Dart. “It changes mentalities.”

Detainees are invited to participate based on their interests, he said. Their behavior on the inside determines their ability to join, not what they are serving time for, he added. Health issues are also taken into consideration.

The jail’s wait list to get into the club has been up to 40 people.

Jarvis Wright, who has been detained at Cook County for two years, said he’s a reader but had never been in a book club before. The 30-year-old reads at night when it’s quiet at the jail. The other book club picks included “The Color of Law,” which delves into housing segregation.

“Even though we’re sitting in here incarcerated doing time, awaiting trial for our cases, this gives us something positive to look forward to,” Wright said. “We’re not in here just wasting time.”

DePaul has offered college classes through a national program called the Inside-Out Prison Exchange since 2012. Classes are held at both the Cook County Jail and the Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum security men’s prison about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Chicago.

During book club, security guards are present, but no one is shackled.

Helen Damon-Moore, who oversees the jail education programs at DePaul, says there has never been a security issue.

“They are all equal when they’re inside,” Damon-Moore said.

Stanley Allen, a 36-year-old detainee, said he was drawn to the club because it was linked to a college. He hopes to take classes for credit in the future. For him, the most surprising part of the club was meeting the college students and Prejean.

“There’s really good people out there,” he said.

Other book club members say the experience has brought them close.

“I feel like I’m talking to a bunch of my brothers,” Seven Clark, a DePaul sophomore from Chicago, told the group. “They way you talk is so familiar. It feels like home.”

Ampofo will return to the jail by week’s end when a new club focusing on Black women’s writing begins. It’s a topic that resonates with her as the American-born daughter of a Ghanian immigrant mom.

The first to graduate high school in her family, Ampofo is planning on graduate school to further pursue museum studies. She dreams of improving access to museums for incarcerated people and their families.

“I want to take care of people,” she said. “And I found the people I want to take care of.”


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Man charged with starting a fire outside U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Vermont office pleads not guilty

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The man charged with starting a fire outside independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Vermont office earlier this month pleaded not guilty to a federal charge on Tuesday.

Shant Michael Soghomonian, 35, was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of maliciously damaging or attempting to damage and destroy by fire a building used in interstate commerce.

Surveillance video shows the man throwing a liquid April 5 at the bottom of a door opening into Sanders’ third-floor office in Burlington and setting it on fire, according to an affidavit filed by a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Sanders was not in the office at the time. Seven employees working in the office were able to get out unharmed. The building’s interior suffered damage from the fire and water sprinklers.

Soghomonian, who was previously from Northridge, California, had been staying at an area hotel for nearly two months, according to the special agent’s report.


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Someone fishing with a magnet dredged up new evidence in Georgia couple’s killing, officials say

McRAE-HELENA, Ga. (AP) — Someone using a magnet to fish for metal objects in a Georgia creek pulled up a rifle as well as some lost belongings of a couple found slain in the same area more than nine years ago.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says driver’s licenses, credit cards and other items dragged from Horse Creek in rural Telfair County are “new evidence” in a murder case that’s still awaiting trial.

A citizen who was magnet fishing in the creek on April 14 discovered a .22-caliber rifle, the GBI said in a news release Monday. The unnamed person returned to the same spot two days later and made another find: A bag containing a cellphone, a pair of driver’s licenses and credit cards.

The agency says the licenses and credit cards belonged to Bud and June Runion. The couple was robbed and fatally shot before their bodies were discovered off a county road in January 2015.

Authorities say the couple, from Marietta north of Atlanta, made the three-hour drive to Telfair County to meet someone offering to sell Bud Runion a 1966 Mustang.

A few days later, investigators arrested Ronnie Adrian “Jay” Towns on charges of armed robbery and murder. They said Towns lured the couple to Telfair County by replying to an online ad that the 69-year-old Bud Runion had posted seeking a classic car, though Towns didn’t own such a vehicle.

Georgia courts threw out Towns’ first indictment over problems with how the grand jury was selected — a prolonged legal battle that concluded in 2019. Towns was indicted for a second time in the killings in 2020, and the case was delayed again by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has pleaded not guilty.

Court proceedings have also likely been slowed by prosecutors’ decision to seek the death penalty, which requires extra pretrial legal steps.

Towns’ defense attorney, Franklin Hogue, did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Prosecutors are preparing for Towns’ trial to start as soon as August, though no date has been set, said District Attorney Tim Vaughn of the Oconee Judicial Circuit, which includes Telfair County. He said the newly discovered evidence should prove useful.

“It was a good case already,” Vaughn said Tuesday, “but this makes it an even better case.”

He said the rifle from the creek is the same caliber as the gun that killed the Runions, though investigators are still trying to determine whether it’s the weapon used in the crime.

The items found in the creek also led investigators to obtain warrants to search a Telfair County home where they recovered additional evidence. The GBI’s statement gave no further details and Vaughn declined to comment on what was found.


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New Fort Wayne, Indiana, mayor is sworn in a month after her predecessor’s death

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Democrat Sharon Tucker was sworn in Tuesday as the new mayor of Indiana’s second-most populous city, nearly a month after her predecessor’s death.

Tucker, who had been a Fort Wayne City Council member, took the oath of office Tuesday morning at the Clyde Theater, three days after she beat out six other candidates to win Saturday’s Democratic caucus in the northeastern Indiana city.

The mayor’s office became vacant when Mayor Tom Henry, a fellow Democrat, died March 28 after experiencing a medical emergency related to his stomach cancer. He was 72.

Karl Bandemer, who acted as Fort Wayne’s mayor in the interim, swore in Tucker before she and her husband, Timothy Barbour, embraced each other, The Journal Gazette reported.

“Y’all, they’re getting ready to put me to work already. I get to do my first job,” Tucker said before swearing in Bandemer to his previous role as deputy mayor.

Tucker had been a member of the City Council, but she resigned Sunday after her caucus win. She had previously served as a member of the council for Allen County, of which Fort Wayne is the seat.

Henry was elected in November to his fifth term as mayor of the city of about 270,000 residents. He announced his diagnosis of late-stage stomach cancer during a news conference Feb. 26 and started chemotherapy at the beginning of March.

Tucker, the first Black person to serve as Fort Wayne mayor, will serve the remainder of Henry’s mayoral term. It runs through Dec. 31, 2027.


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Ex-gang leader’s account of Tupac Shakur killing is fiction, defense lawyer in Vegas says

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The defense attorney representing a former Los Angeles-area gang leader accused of killing hip-hop music icon Tupac Shakur in 1996 in Las Vegas said Tuesday his client’s accounts of the killing are fiction and prosecutors lack key evidence to obtain a murder conviction.

“He himself is giving different stories,” attorney Carl Arnold told reporters outside a courtroom following a brief status check with his client, Duane “Keffe D” Davis, in front of a Nevada judge. His trial is scheduled for Nov. 4.

“We haven’t seen more than just his word,” Arnold said of Davis’ police and media interviews since 2008 in which prosecutors say he incriminated himself in Shakur’s killing — including Davis’ 2019 tell-all memoir of life leading a street gang in Compton, California.

Prosecutor Binu Palal did not immediately comment outside court about Arnold’s statements. Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson has said evidence against Davis is strong and it will be up to a jury to decide the credibility of Davis’ accounts.

Arnold said his client wanted to make money with his story, so he embellished or outright lied about his involvement in the car-to-car shooting that killed Shakur and wounded rap music mogul Marion “Suge” Knight at a traffic signal near the Las Vegas Strip in September 1996.

Knight, now 59, is serving 28 years in a California prison for killing a Compton businessman with a vehicle in 2015. He was not called by prosecutors to testify before the grand jury that indicted Davis last year.

Arnold said Davis will not testify at trial, but he intends to call Knight to testify. The defense attorney said police and prosecutors lack proof that Davis was in Las Vegas at the time of Shakur’s killing, and don’t have the gun and car used during the shooting as evidence.

“We’ve seen video of everybody else here. Where’s video of him?” Arnold said of Davis. “There’s just nothing saying that he was here.”

Davis has been jailed on $750,000 bail since his arrest in September. Arnold said Tuesday that Davis has been unable to raise the 10% needed to obtain a bond to be released to house arrest.

Davis, 60, is originally from Compton. Police, prosecutors and Davis say he is the only person still alive who was in the car from which shots were fired.

Davis pleaded not guilty in November to first-degree murder. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

In his book, Davis wrote that he was promised immunity from prosecution when he told authorities in Los Angeles what he knew about the fatal shootings of Shakur and rival rapper Christopher Wallace six months later in Los Angeles. Wallace was known as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls.

Shakur had five No. 1 albums, was nominated for six Grammy Awards and was inducted in 2017 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He received a posthumous star last year on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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This story has been updated to correct that Marion “Suge” Knight is in prison for killing someone with a vehicle, not a fatal shooting.


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Houston-area program to give $500 monthly payments to some residents on hold after Texas lawsuit

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Harris County, which includes Houston, to put on hold a guaranteed income program that would provide $500 monthly cash payments to roughly 2,000 residents.

The program has become a target of Republican Texas Attorney General Paxton, who has accused local Democratic leaders of trying to “score political points” through the initiative and filed a lawsuit this month in an effort to block its implementation. The program is the latest rift between state and local leaders in the Houston area, where Democrats in recent years have gained political ground.

The Texas high court — which is made up entirely of Republican justices — made no ruling on the merits of the program, known as Uplift Harris. Still, the nine justices ordered the county to put the program on pause while the justices weigh its legality.

If implemented, Harris County would become one of the largest counties in the country with guaranteed income programs that have been replicated since the pandemic. Other major Texas cities, including Austin and San Antonio, have previously offered guaranteed income programs but did not face a lawsuit by the state.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said Tuesday that he was not optimistic the county would “get a fair shake” from the Texas Supreme Court, which could permanently shut down the program.

“What we are seeing is the attorney general selectively enforcing the Texas Constitution against the county that he thinks he can make the most headlines off of,” Menefee said, adding that the lawsuit appeared to be a political move against an area with rising Democratic political power.

The program would provide cash payments to more than 1,900 qualifying county residents for 1 1/2 years. Eligible recipients must reside in an area identified with a high poverty rate and have a household income below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is about $30,000 for a single-person household.

It is funded by $20.5 million from President Joe Biden’s 2021 pandemic relief package and follows in the footsteps of dozens of cities and counties across the country that have implemented guaranteed income programs to reduce poverty and inequality.

Paxton argued that the program, which he calls the “Harris Handout,” violates a line in the state constitution that prohibits local governments, political corporations or state entities from granting “public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual.”

“Harris County officials cannot continue to abuse their power and the people’s money to score political points, and we will fight every step of the way to hold them accountable,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday following his appeal to the state’s highest civil court.

Meanwhile, Harris County officials continued to push back, arguing that the decision was politicized and pointed to orders by two lower courts, which did not pause the program.

According to Harris County officials, the county received more than 82,000 applications for the program by the February 2 deadline and distribution of the funds was set to begin tomorrow.

The lawsuit comes as the county has remained at odds with state Republican leaders for years, leading to multiple legal battles.

In 2021, state lawmakers passed voting legislation which targeted programs — implemented by the county the previous year — to facilitate voting during the COVID-19 pandemic for the county’s more than 2 million voters.

During the state’s next legislative session in 2023, GOP lawmakers passed new laws seeking more influence over Harris County elections.

Last year, state education leaders took over the Houston school district, the state’s largest, after years of complaints over student performance.


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Explainer-What is behind the pro-Palestinian protests at U.S. universities?

(Reuters) – Student protests in the U.S. over the war in Gaza have intensified and expanded over the past week, with a number of encampments now in place at colleges including Columbia, Yale, and New York University. Police have been called in to several campuses to arrest demonstrators.

Here are some details on the protests:

WHAT ARE THE PROTESTERS DEMANDING?

Across campuses where protests have broken out, students have issued calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, an end to U.S. military assistance for Israel, university divestment from arms suppliers and other companies profiting from the war, and an amnesty for students and faculty members who have been disciplined or fired for protesting.

WHO ARE THE PROTESTERS?

Pro-Palestinian protests have drawn students and faculty of various backgrounds, including of Jewish and Muslim faiths. The groups organizing the protests include Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

The encampments have also attracted a diverse array of teach-ins, interfaith prayers, and musical performances.

Organizers have widely disavowed violence against pro-Israel counter-protesters, although some Jewish students have said they feel unsafe on campus and unnerved by chants they say are antisemitic. 

WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE FROM AUTHORITIES?

School administrators and local law enforcement have cracked down on the protests.

Columbia and the affiliated Barnard College have suspended dozens of students involved in the protests. More than 100 protesters have been arrested at Columbia, where University President Minouche Shafik called in New York Police to clear the encampment a day after she testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee. She said the encampment violated rules against unauthorized protests.

Yale police arrested more than 60 protesters on Monday, after giving them “several opportunities to leave and avoid arrest,” according to the university. 

The New York Police Department said officers arrested 120 people at NYU late on Monday. University officials said they requested their intervention because protesters had not dispersed and were “interfering with the safety and security of our community.”

WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT ON REGULAR CAMPUS LIFE?

After holding all classes virtually on Monday, Columbia announced most courses would be offered with both virtual and in-person attendance options for the rest of the semester. Shafik said in a statement that she would not permit any group to disrupt graduation.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, canceled in-person classes until Wednesday after students barricaded themselves in an administrative building and demanded the school disclose all ties and holdings with Israel and cut ties with Israeli universities.

The University of Michigan said it would allow free expression and peaceful protest at its early May graduation ceremonies but would stop “substantial disruption.”

HOW ARE POLITICAL LEADERS RESPONDING?

Democratic President Joe Biden, who has been criticized by the protesters for supplying funding and weapons to Israel, told reporters on Monday that he condemned both “antisemitic protests” and “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

Former President Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for the 2024 election, called the campus protest situation “a mess” as he walked into the second day of his criminal trial in New York. 

(Reporting by Julia Harte in New York, Kanishka Singh in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, and Andrew Hay in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)


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Tabloid publisher says he pledged to be Trump campaign’s ‘eyes and ears’ during 2016 race

NEW YORK (AP) — A veteran tabloid publisher testified Tuesday that he pledged to be Donald Trump ‘s “eyes and ears” during his 2016 presidential campaign, recounting how he promised the then-candidate that he would help suppress harmful stories and even arranged to purchase the silence of a doorman.

The testimony from David Pecker was designed to bolster the prosecution’s premise of a decades-long friendship between Trump and the former publisher of the National Enquirer that culminated in an agreement to give the candidate’s lawyer a heads-up on negative tips and stories so they could be quashed.

The effort to suppress unflattering information was designed to illegally influence the election, prosecutors have alleged in striving to elevate the gravity of the first trial of a former American president and the first of four criminal cases against Trump to reach a jury.

Pecker is the first witness against Trump, who faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments meant to prevent harmful stories from surfacing in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

With Trump sitting just feet away in the courtroom, Pecker detailed his intimate, behind-the-scenes involvement in Trump’s rise from political novice to the Republican nomination and the White House. He explained how he and the National Enquirer parlayed rumor-mongering into splashy tabloid stories that smeared Trump’s opponents and, just as crucially, leveraged his connections to suppress seamy stories about Trump, including a porn actor’s claim of an extramarital sexual encounter a decade earlier.

Pecker traced the origins of their relationship to a 1980s meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and said the friendship bloomed alongside the success of the real estate developer’s TV show “The Apprentice” and the program’s subsequent celebrity version.

Their ties were solidified during a pivotal August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower involving Trump, his lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen, and another aide, Hope Hicks, in which Pecker was asked what he and the publications he led could do for the campaign.

Pecker said he volunteered to publish positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents. But that wasn’t all, he said, telling jurors how he told Trump: “I will be your eyes and ears.”

“I said that anything I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself, or if I hear about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen,” so that the rights could be purchased and the stories could be killed.

“So they would not get published?” asked prosecutor Joshua Steinglass.

“So they would not get published,” Pecker replied.

To illustrate their point, prosecutors displayed a screenshot of various flattering headlines the National Enquirer published about Trump, including “Donald Dominates!’ and “World Exclusive: The Donald Trump Nobody Knows.” The jury was also shown disparaging and outlandish stories about Trump’s opponents, including surgeon Ben Carson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Pecker painted Cohen as a shadow editor of the National Enquirer’s pro-Trump coverage, directing the tabloid to go after whichever Republican candidate was gaining momentum.

“I would receive a call from Michael Cohen, and he would direct me and direct Dylan Howard which candidate and which direction we should go,” Pecker said, referring to the tabloid’s then-editor.

Pecker said he underscored to Howard that the agreement with the Trump operation was “highly, highly confidential.” He said he wanted the tabloid’s bureau chiefs to be on the lookout for any stories involving Trump and said he wanted them to verify the stories before alerting Cohen.

“I did not want anyone else to know this agreement I had and what I wanted to do,” the ex-publisher added.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges related to his role in the hush money payments. He was once a confidant of Trump’s, but their relationship deteriorated in spectacular fashion. Cohen is expected to be a star government witness, and he routinely posts profane broadsides against Trump on social media.

Trump’s lawyers are expected to make attacks on Cohen’s credibility a foundation of their defense, but in opening with Pecker, prosecutors hoped to focus attention on a witness with a less volatile backstory. Besides maintaining that Trump is innocent, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told jurors that Cohen cannot be trusted and has “an obsession with getting Trump.”

Pecker’s testimony Tuesday followed a hearing earlier in the day in which prosecutors urged Judge Juan M. Merchan to hold Trump in contempt and fine him $1,000 for each of 10 social media posts that they say violated an earlier gag order barring attacks on witnesses, jurors and others involved in the case.

Merchan did not immediately rule, but he seemed skeptical of defense arguments that Trump was merely responding in his posts to others’ attacks and had been trying to comply with the order.

Prosecutors allege that Trump sought to illegally influence the 2016 race through a practice known in the tabloid industry as “catch-and-kill” — catching a potentially damaging story by buying the rights to it and then killing it through agreements that prevent the paid person from telling the story to anyone else.

In this case, that included a $130,000 payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels to silence her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter that Trump denies. Prosecutors also described other arrangements, including one that paid a former Playboy model $150,000 to suppress claims of a nearly yearlong affair with the married Trump, which Trump also denies.

In another instance, Pecker recounted a $30,000 payment from the National Enquirer to a Trump Tower doorman for the rights to a rumor that Trump had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower. The tabloid concluded the story was not true, and the woman and Trump have denied the allegations.

As Pecker described receiving the tip in court, Trump shook his head.

Pecker said upon hearing the rumor, he immediately called Cohen, who said it was “absolutely not true” but that he would look into whether the people involved had indeed worked for Trump’s company.

“I made the decision to purchase the story because of the potential embarrassment it had to the campaign and to Mr. Trump,” Pecker said.

In response to the prosecutor’s question about who he understood the boss to be, Pecker replied: “Donald Trump.”

Explaining why he decided to have the National Enquirer foot the bill, Pecker testified: “This was going to be a very big story. I believe it was important that this story be removed from the marketplace.”

If he published the story, Pecker said it would be “probably the biggest sale of the National Enquirer since the death of Elvis Presley.”

Jurors viewed an internal Enquirer email and invoice describing the payments to the doorman to kill his story. One document describes the funds coming from the publication’s “corporate” account. An invoice references an “immediate” $30,000 bank transfer payment for “‘Trump’ non-published story.”

Trump’s 34 felony counts arise from reimbursements that prosecutors say Trump’s company made to Cohen for hush money payments and that were falsely recorded as legal expenses.

The charges are punishable by up to four years in prison, though it’s unclear whether Merchan would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

___

Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of former President Donald Trump at https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump.


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Transgender Louisianans lost their ally in the governor’s seat. Now they’re girding for a fight

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As transgender people in Louisiana watched surrounding states in the deeply conservative South implement a slew of laws targeting nearly every facet of their lives in recent years, they counted on their ally in the governor’s office to keep their home a relative oasis.

Former Gov. John Bel Edwards, the only statewide elected Democrat at the time, was indeed able to block most of the bills.

But this year, nothing stands in the way. Edwards has been replaced by Gov. Jeff Landry, a Republican backed by former President Donald Trump who has shown support for such legislation. And the GOP holds a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature. That means previously introduced legislation hostile to transgender people now has a clear path forward, as do new proposals.

“These bills are absolutely going to become law,” said SarahJane Guidry, executive director of the LGBTQ+ rights group Forum for Equality. “And that is such a tragedy, but it doesn’t end there. We are going to continue to fight.”

As the only Democratic governor in the Deep South at the time, Edwards used vetoes to block anti-transgender legislation, including one broadly barring teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, a type of policy critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay”; and a measure requiring public school teachers to use the pronouns and names students were assigned at birth.

In a veto message, Edwards described the bills as discriminatory, extremist and harmful to a group “comprised of the most vulnerable, fragile children” in Louisiana.

He was unable to keep the Legislature from overriding his veto of a ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. And he blocked a 2021 bill seeking to restrict transgender athletes’ access to sports, but allowed it become law the next year, knowing a veto would probably be overridden.

Now that Edwards is out of office because of term limits, the Republican-controlled Legislature is advancing the “Don’t Say Gay” and pronoun and name proposals; definitions of male and female that could effectively legally erase transgender people; and restrictions on the use of bathrooms and changing rooms in schools, domestic violence shelters and prisons. President Joe Biden’s administration has said a new federal rule could clash with such bathroom restrictions.

The situation in Louisiana mirrors a national flood of bills that have targeted transgender people, and especially youths, in recent years, a movement some observers say seeks more to motivate conservative voters than to solve real problems.

A report released Tuesday by the Williams Institute, a research center at UCLA Law, estimates that about 93% of transgender youths ages 13-17, or about 280,000, live in states that have proposed or passed laws restricting their access to health care, sports, school bathrooms and facilities, or the use of gender-affirming pronouns.

The institute estimates that in Louisiana, about 4,000 people ages 13-17, or 1.3% of that age group, identify as transgender.

Landry’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment on this year’s legislation. But he has made no secret of his support for, among other things, restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors. In 2023, when he was running for governor, he posted on X: “As attorney general for 8 years I have worked hard to protect our children. I urge the full Senate to take up and pass” the law. It eventually passed and was vetoed but overridden.

Advocates in the Bayou State are organizing their fight, looking to other states that have blocked similar measures in court, educating their communities on the imminent laws, seeking sanctuary city policies, and recruiting more residents to their cause.

“We’re not going to look to the apocalypse, we’re going to look to the revolution,” Guidry said.

Advocates want the city council in liberal New Orleans to create local protections for transgender people, such as refusing to enforce state laws targeting them. Other cities like Austin, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, have already taken similar actions, though it’s not clear how effective the protections have been.

Last month, hundreds marched in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Transgender residents continue to testify in the Capitol. Advocates try to work with conservative lawmakers to create amendments to soften legislation. Students took to the Capitol steps in Baton Rouge last month to perform a play they wrote, based on their own experiences about how the bills would affect them.

“It’s almost like the Twilight Zone,” said William Leighton, who drove four hours to the Capitol this month with his 13-year-old transgender daughter, Arielle, who was not in the play.

“It’s not fair. I really don’t like the fact that people like me are being discriminated (against) for being different,” said Arielle, who is in eighth grade.

William Leighton had already prepared a letter to send to Arielle’s teachers, granting permission to use her name and pronouns, but he decided that was not enough and needed to get more politically active.

He was recently elected to the state’s Democratic State Central Committee. Among his priorities are to get more Democrats to vote and find candidates who, if elected to the Legislature, would work to repeal legislation targeting transgender and other LGBTQ+ people.

Like their counterparts in the South and elsewhere, advocates in Louisiana will also look to courts for guidance and to keep legislation from taking effect.

Five transgender youths and their families filed a lawsuit this year against the state’s ban on gender-affirming medical care, as reported by The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. The suit is pending in Orleans Parish Civil Court.

“Nothing is off the table,” Guidry said. “If we cannot protect our students, we will continue to work, and if that includes litigation, we will take those steps when we need to.”


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