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ST. LOUIS – After a hiatus due to the pandemic, feats of daring and wonder have resumed in Grand Center. Normally performed in early Summer, Circus Flora is back for its 35th season under the iconic Big Top.
“Typically, we’re in June. But because of the pandemic, we, like everybody else, had to adjust our timetables and the way we do things,” said managing director Karen Shoulders. “So we decided to try this fall run and, so far, it’s been lovely.”
The European-style one-ring circus blends modern performance with traditional circus arts. This year, it’s the “Trial of the Century,” where the Big Top becomes the courtroom and the acrobats become the evidence.
“There are some courtroom hijinks. The wonderful audience is the jury this year so there is a little bit of a whodunit that you might need to solve when you come out.”
Circus Flora has brought together acts from around the globe and from right here in St. Louis. Pennsylvania-based comedian and contortionist Jonathan Burns is one of them.
“It’s my first time performing at Circus Flora. It’s my first time ever being in the circus,” he said.
Burns, like so many performers, is excited to be back at his craft after COVID-19.
“For the past year and half, I’ve been performing to a camera in my basement,” he said. “So, this is nice to be out and actually hear laughter. People laughing at me in person and on purpose.”
Circus Flora is requiring proof of vaccination for everyone 12 and up or a negative COVID-19 test. Masks are also required.
“We have the tent walls off…up. So, it’s nice and safe and open air. It’s been really wonderful, and the audiences are coming back,” Shoulders said.
And it’s the energy of those audiences that makes these performers so grateful to be back
“This is what we do best: bring the magic of the circus to everybody. We need to interact with our audiences. We want to leave this tent feeling better than when they came in,” Shoulders said.
Tickets for “Trial of the Century” begin at just $15 and performances run through the end of October. Circus Flora hopes to return to its regular June scheduling in 2022.
By DON BABWIN
CHICAGO (AP) — Jussie Smollett staged a racist and homophobic assault and told police he was the victim after the television studio where he worked didn’t take hate mail he had received seriously, a prosecutor said during opening statements in the ex-“Empire” actor’s trial Monday.
Smollett has maintained he was the victim in the January 2019 attack in downtown Chicago. But special prosecutor Dan Webb said the actor recruited two brothers he worked with to help him carry out the fake attack. He then reported it to Chicago police, who classified it as a hate crime and spent 3,000 hours on the investigation.
“When he reported the fake hate crime that was a real crime,” Webb said.
Two brothers say Smollett paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers on a frigid night in January 2019.
Webb was named as special prosecutor in the case after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped the original charges filed against Smollett. A new indictment was returned in 2020.
Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago Monday with his mother and other family members, is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been charged with felony disorderly conduct. The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.
Twelve jurors plus three alternate jurors were sworn in late Monday in a trial Judge James Linn said he expects to take about one week. During jury selection, Linn asked potential jurors if they have been the victim of a hate crime, if they have watched “Empire” or TMZ, a program and website about celebrities, or if they belong to any civil rights or pro-police organizations. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom and the proceedings are not being livestreamed, unlike in other recent high-profile trials.
Whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will take the witness stand where they are expected to repeat what they have told police officers and prosecutors: that they carried out the attack at Smollett’s behest.
Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty supply shop hours earlier.
Smollett’s attorneys have not spelled out how they will confront that evidence. Lead attorney Nenye Uche declined to comment ahead of this week’s proceedings. But there are clues as to how they might during the trial.
Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from an area resident who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”
Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.
Given there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements, that they participated in the attack, it is unlikely that Smollett’s attorneys will try to prove they did not take part. That could lead the defense to contend that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack at the hands of the brothers, perhaps with the help of others, who now are only implicating the actor so they won’t be charged.
The $3,500 check could be key, although Smollett says he wrote it to pay one of the brothers to work as his personal trainer.
“I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that,” said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense attorney not involved with the case.
What they will almost certainly do is attack the brothers’ credibility, reminding jurors that they are not facing the same charges as Smollett, despite admitting they took part in the staged attack.
“Everything Smollett is responsible for, they are responsible for,” said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law and is not involved in the case.
Finally, Smollett’s career could take center stage. Prosecutors could make the same point that then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson made when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: that Smollett thought the attack would win him more fame and a pay raise.
But Lopez said the defense attorneys might ask the jury the same question he asked himself.
“How would that help him with anything?” he asked. “He’s already a star.”
Associated Press reporter Sara Burnett contributed to this report.
Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.
In Zach Wilson’s return off a knee injury, the No. 2 overall pick struggled. Wilson threw for under 150 yards with a rushing touchdown and an interception.
But the coaching staff stepped up and Wilson allowed him to manage the game as the Jets snagged their first road win of the season over the Texans in Week 12.
While there was some disappointment from the fan base on Wilson’s outing, Robert Saleh was pleased with the performance of his rookie.
“Was it his best game? No. Did he do a lot of things? Did he get comfortable as the game went on? Absolutely,” Saleh said. “He orchestrated two 13-play drives that led the scores where we were able to lap them. Scored before the half, scored after the half and another eight-plus-play drive. So, he orchestrated three pretty long drives and did enough to win the football game and that’s what’s most important.”
Wilson wasn’t happy with his performance, but Saleh looked at those emotions as a positive because of his quarterback eagerness to improve.
“I love that he’s hard on himself,” Saleh said. “His desire to get better is up there with anybody. I mean, he works his tail off at it.”
Saleh added that when Wilson struggles, it isn’t all on the rookie.
“But at the same time, coaches also, we’re hard on ourselves, too. It’s our job to help him get better and do everything we can for him,” Saleh said.
And to the coaching staff’s credit, they helped Wilson in the second half. Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur realized the flow of the game and took the pressure off of Wilson.
In the first half, the Jets were more balanced as they ran the ball 11 times for 49 yards and Wilson threw it 12 times as he completed six passes for 44 yards with an interception.
LaFleur realized his quarterback was struggling and his running attack was working and leaned on the run game.
They ran the ball 23 times for 108 yards in the second half. That alleviated pressure off Wilson. His first pass out of the half was a play action throw to Elijah Moore for 22 yards. Moore was wide open on his deep curl route because the linebackers bit on the fake.
That running attack allowed Wilson to manage the half as he went 8-for-12 for 101 yards in the second half.
“The run game, defense, special teams, that’s what travels. And especially in this time of year, in cold weather, when people are hurting,” Saleh said. “And so, the offense to run the ball the way it did yesterday, the o-line was moving people, there was space, the backs were finding the creases, they were hitting it hard, they were breaking tackles, they were awesome all the way across the board. And so, yeah, whenever you get the run game going, it takes pressure off of everybody.”
And Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s gameplan shut down the Texans offense as they mustered 202 yards, and held them to 45 yards in the second half.
Gang Green defense shut down the Texans’ rushing attack by holding them to 96 yards. And on passing downs, they exploited the weak offensive line with a four man rush, the style Saleh wants to play.
They sent four on 71% of Texans QB Taylor’s dropbacks and he went 11-for-19 for 112 yards with one interception and one touchdown. Taylor had a passer rating of 70 and was sacked three times.
While Wilson worked off the rust, the parts around him showed up.
Mike White tested positive for COVID last week and missed the game against the Texans. He’s still in the protocol and isn’t expected to be available against the Eagles.
Joe Flacco was placed on the COVID list because he was deemed a close contact. Flacco didn’t test positive but he missed the Texans game. He was activated on Monday.
Denzel Mims was inactive against the Texans as he worked back from COVID. Saleh says he will practice on Wednesday.
Mekhi Becton has been out because of a knee injury he suffered Week 1 against the Panthers. Becton is on track to do field work as he works his way back to practice.
Tight end Trevon Wesco suffered an ankle injury on Sunday and is out two to four weeks.
An investigation launched last week by the city of Brighton into the conduct of Councilman Kris Jordinelli stemmed from an incident in August in which police say Jordinelli drove drunk to a city council meeting, and when later questioned at his home, identified himself as an elected official and told the officer “you don’t want to mess with me.”
The Aug. 17 incident is outlined in a 12-page police report obtained by The Denver Post. Jordinelli, who was elected to the council in November 2019, was charged with misdemeanor DUI. The case is scheduled for a Feb. 7 hearing in Adams County.
The city’s investigation, for which the law firm of Wilson Williams LLP was hired as a special prosecutor, is limited to looking at whether Jordinelli’s alleged statement to police broke any ethical standards or municipal laws. The city is paying the firm $250 an hour for its work.
The decision by city council last week to appoint the firm to look into the matter was unanimous. Jordinelli was absent for the vote. Brighton officials declined to disclose the identity of the councilman under investigation at the time of the city council vote.
The police report states that Jordinelli, 64, arrived for the meeting “disheveled” in shorts and a polo shirt and “was walking with an unsteady gait.” Several officers described a strong smell of alcohol on his breath and video surveillance later obtained by police showed that Jordinelli had driven to city hall right before the meeting and parked his Buick “at an angle occupying two parking spaces.”
After being escorted downstairs by a fellow councilman from a hallway outside council chambers, Jordinelli was walked to his nearby home by two city staff members, the report said.
When police contacted him at home to ask him about his car being at city hall, they described Jordinelli as having “red watery eyes,” “slurred speech” and being “unsteady on his feet.” In the report, police said Jordinelli opened his garage door in an apparent effort to show officers that his car was at home. The garage was empty.
Jordinelli, according to the report, then asked the officers if they knew who he was. After informing the officers that he was a city councilman, he said “You don’t want to mess with me.”
Jordinelli on Monday said the case “arises out of my suffering a serious medical event prior to a meeting and one of my political opponents trying to use that event now, several months after it occurred, to try to oust me from office.”
“I am sad to see how low others have gone to try and get rid of me just because we may not agree on political issues,” he said in an email. “I look forward to being vindicated of this baseless charge in court.”
He did not identify who his political opponents are.
Jordinelli was chastised by his colleagues on the council last year. During a September 2020 virtual council meeting, he delivered an incoherent rant after which he was censured by the council. They said his conduct was “inconsistent with the values and ideals of the Council or the City of Brighton.”
Jordinelli attributed his behavior during that meeting to being under the influence of alcohol and medication and apologized.
Mayor Gregory Mills on Monday declined to comment on the current case, citing an active investigation. Councilman Adam Cushing told The Denver Post that Jordinelli’s alleged statement to police was “deeply concerning to me.”
“There is no special privilege granted to elected officials in Brighton, and in my opinion, quite the opposite,” he said. “We should be held to a high standard and should encourage and support efforts from our law enforcement to investigate any possible violations of the law, especially when it involves an elected official.”
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