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Man who set himself alight outside Trump trial dies

Published April 20, 2024last updated April 20, 2024

The man shared leaflets before dousing himself in a liquid and setting himself on fire. The gruesome scene was caught by TV cameras outside the New York court, which is set to hear about the Stormy Daniels affair.

Emergency personnel respond to a report of a person covered in flames, outside the courthouse where former US President Donald Trump's trial is taking place, in New York, US, on April 19, 2024
Emergency crews rushed to the New York court where the trial of former President Donald Trump is taking placeImage: Brendan McDermid/REUTERS

A man has died after setting himself on fire near the New York courthouse where former US President Donald Trump's hush money trial is taking place, US media reported Saturday, citing the police.

The New York police department said the man, who burned for several minutes in full view of television cameras, did not appear to have been targeting Trump.

An ambulance awaits outside a New York courthouse where a man set himself of fire on April 19, 2024
The man, in his late 30s, was rushed to hospital after the self-immolationImage: Michael M. Santiago/AFP/Getty Images

What happened outside the courthouse?

On Friday, a witness told AFP news agency he saw a man throwing pamphlets in Collect Pond Park, directly opposite the courthouse where the criminal trial of Trump is currently taking place. 

The man, who was in his late 30s, then doused himself with an unspecified liquid and set himself on fire.

Video footage posted on social media showed a person standing engulfed in flames, then falling to the ground as police and plainclothes officers rushed to beat out the blaze. 

The man, later named by police as Max Azzarello of St. Augustine, Florida, was initially taken to hospital by ambulance where he was said to be in critical condition

He was pronounced dead at the hospital, NBC reported, citing the police, 

The motives for the self-immolation remain unclear. 

Police said the man 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," Tarik Sheppard, a deputy commissioner with the Police Department, said at a news conference.

The courthouse was cordoned off and numerous police officers were stationed outside.

What is Trump's hush-money trial about?

Trump is accused of covering up a $130,000 (€122,000) payment his then-lawyer Michael Cohen made to porn actor Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

The money was allegedly paid to hush up a sexual encounter Daniels says she and Trump had a decade earlier.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records and denies any such encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Stormy Daniels at Exxxotica Miami 2019 at the Miami Airport & Convention Center in Miami, Florida, United States, on September 6, 2019
Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, says she was paid to hush up a sexual encounter with TrumpImage: SMG/ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

The trial is the only one certain to go ahead before the November 5 US presidential election, when the Republican politician seeks a repeat duel with Democratic President Joe Biden.

The self-immolation took place shortly after jury selection for the trial was completed, clearing the way for opening statements next week.

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

Prosecutors intend to call at least 20 witnesses, according to Trump's defense lawyer Susan Necheles.

Trump may testify on his own behalf, in a risky move that would open him up to cross-examination.

mm/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Editor's note: If you are suffering from emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, seek professional help. You can find information on where to find help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: www.befrienders.org