Ex-Va. officer, W.Va. lawmaker plead guilty in Capitol riot

Ex-Va. officer, lawmaker plead guilty in Capitol riot

A former Virginia police officer pleaded guilty on Friday to storming the U.S. Capitol with another former officer who is scheduled to be tried next month on charges related to the riot.

Former Rocky Mount, Va., police officer Jacob Fracker, who was fired by the town after his arrest, has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, his attorney said. A date for his sentencing wasn’t immediately set.

Meanwhile, a former West Virginia state lawmaker pleaded guilty Friday to his role in the riot. Derrick Evans was a Republican member of the House of Delegates but never served a day. Evans resigned after his arrest in January 2021, a month before the start of the legislative session.

Fracker, the former police officer, pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, the joint session of Congress that convened on Jan. 6, 2021, to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. The felony charge is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Fracker’s co-defendant, Thomas Robertson, has a trial scheduled to start on April 4. The town of Rocky Mount also fired Robertson after the Capitol siege.

Fracker and Robertson were off duty when they drove with a neighbor to Washington, D.C., on the morning of Jan. 6. Fracker’s indictment says Robertson brought three gas masks for them to use.

After listening to speeches near the Washington Monument, Fracker, Robertson and the neighbor identified only as “Person A” walked toward the Capitol, donned the gas masks and joined the growing mob, according to the indictment. Robertson was carrying a large wooden stick and used it to impede Metropolitan Police Department officers who arrived to help Capitol police officers hold off the mob, the indictment says.

April 4 jury selection set for Florida school shooter case

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jury selection in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz is on track to begin April 4, the judge said Friday during a status conference with the lawyers.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer also set aside full days on March 30 and 31 to address any issues either side might have before the jury selection begins. The hearings will take place in the courtroom where the trial will take place so attorneys can become familiar with the technology being used during the trial.

“We have a very good organizational plan, and most of the issues have been addressed,” Scherer said. “That’s a very good start.”

Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. But a jury must still decide whether he will be executed or receive a life sentence without parole. The penalty trial is expected to last at least two months.

Scherer and attorneys from the defense and prosecution discussed how jurors will be selected and what the judge will say as they try to determine whether members of the jury pool can be fair and impartial.

They set jury selection to begin on April 4 and continue through April 6, with April 7 and 8 set aside for the completion of any depositions of the numerous possible witnesses.

It was Valentine’s Day in 2018 when Cruz opened fire on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus in Parkland, Fla., killing 14 students and three staff members. The shooting also injured 17 others.

Defamation suit by brothers in Smollett case gets OK

CHICAGO — A judge in Chicago ruled Friday that an attorney for Jussie Smollett might have defamed two Black brothers who testified that they participated in a fake racist and homophobic attack on the actor when she suggested they had been wearing “whiteface.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland’s ruling centers on comments Tina Glandian made on NBC’s “Today” show in March 2019, shortly after the Cook County State’s Attorney announced it was dropping charges accusing Smollett of lying to police about the incident two months earlier.

Ex-Va. officer, W.Va. lawmaker plead guilty in Capitol riot

Discussing how Smollett had told police that one of his attackers was white, Glandian said that the very dark-skinned brothers might have “put makeup on” to disguise their color. Further, she criticized Chicago police for their alleged failure to investigate an online video showing one of the brothers “in whiteface doing a joke monologue with white makeup on.”

Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo filed a defamation lawsuit, alleging that the comments were part of a effort to portray them as racist, homophobic and violent men who truly attacked Smollett.

VW recalls over 246,000 SUVs due to braking

DETROIT — Volkswagen is recalling more than 246,000 SUVs in the U.S. and Canada because faulty wiring harnesses can make them brake unexpectedly, sometimes while in traffic.

The recall comes three days after The Associated Press reported that 47 people had complained to U.S. safety regulators about the problem, some reporting nearly being rear-ended by other vehicles.

Many reported that warning lights and alarms would go off, the driver’s side windows would roll down and the SUVs would suddenly brake while in traffic.

Volkswagen says in documents posted Friday by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the recall covers certain Atlas SUVs from the 2019 through 2023 model years, as well as the 2020 through 2023 Atlas Cross Sport.

The documents say the electrical contacts on a wiring harness in either of the front doors can corrode, interrupting electrical connections. The problem can cause the side air bags to deploy late in a crash, and the parking brake can come on unexpectedly.

Volkswagen says in documents that the SUVs can brake at speeds below 1.8 miles per hour.

Manslaughter charges for bridgetender in fatality

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida bridgetender who raised a drawbridge to Palm Beach before a 79-year-old woman walking her bicycle reached the other side has been has charged with manslaughter in her death, police said.

West Palm Beach police arrested the 43-year-old bridgetender at her home on Thursday, police said in a news release.

She opened the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on Feb. 6 as the cyclist walked across. The woman almost made it, slipping from the grasp of a bystander who tried to pull her to safety before plunging to her death.

The Florida Department of Transportation said in its report released Thursday that the bridgetender said she checked multiple times and did not see the woman before opening the span that afternoon.

Surveillance video will show that that account is false, according to attorney Lance C. Ivey, representing the dead woman’s family.

— The Associated Press

FDOT report said she told investigators that she walked out on the balcony before and after turning on the red lights and lowering gates to stop traffic, made two announcements on loudspeakers, and ultimately stepped outside three times to make sure no one was on the bridge, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Surveillance video will show that this account is false, according to attorney Lance C. Ivey, representing the dead woman’s family.

“I believe that when we get the video evidence of this incident, it will reveal unequivocally that the bridge tender’s statement doesn’t align with the true facts,” Ivey told WPTV.

The police statement said investigators searched the bridgetender’s cellphone and determined she had not been using it at the time.

She was interviewed by detectives again on Thursday after being brought to police headquarters. She was then taken to jail, where she was booked on one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence.