United States

Man Identified As Maxwell Azzarello Sets Himself Ablaze Outside New York Courthouse Amid Trump Hush-Money Trial

The streets outside a New York courthouse became the scene of a shocking event as a man, identified as Maxwell Azzarello, set himself ablaze amidst the backdrop of Donald Trump's hush-money trial. Witnesses describe a harrowing sequence of events that unfolded just after jury selection concluded.

Man sets himself on fire outside New York courthouse Photo: Reuters

Witnesses reported on Friday that a man set himself on fire outside the New York courthouse where Donald Trump's historic hush-money trial was underway.

During a press briefing, investigators said they received a 911 emergency call at approximately 13:30 local time (18:30 GMT), reporting a man setting himself ablaze.

The individual was identified as Maxwell Azzarello, who had recently traveled from his residence in Florida to New York. Azzarello has no prior criminal record in New York, and his relatives in Florida were unaware of his trip to the city.

According to a witness at the scene, the sequence of events began with the man tossing pamphlets into the air, followed by him dousing himself from a can and igniting the flames. "At that point, I said, 'Oh shoot, what am I going to see?'" the witness recounted to Reuters.

Identified as Dave, the witness (who declined to give his last name) mentioned that the man burned for several minutes.

A CNN reporter described witnessing "a totally charred human being."

According to a New York emergency official, a person was transported on a stretcher after apparently self-immolating. The motive behind the incident remains unknown.

Additional witnesses noted that the man seemed composed before applying a liquid to himself.

Shortly after the incident, a Reuters witness noted a lingering smell of smoke in the plaza, while a police officer deployed a fire extinguisher on the ground. Additionally, a smoldering backpack and a gas can were visible.

After aiding in extinguishing the blaze, three NYPD officers and one court officer sustained minor injuries. Authorities announced plans to review and enhance security measures around the courthouse in light of the incident.

Police promptly taped off the area where the incident occurred. Nearby, a pamphlet was spotted containing references to "evil billionaires" and urging people to "expose this corruption." However, the portion visible to the Reuters witness did not specifically mention Trump.

The downtown Manhattan courthouse, heavily guarded by police, attracted a crowd of protesters and onlookers on Monday, the trial's inaugural day, although attendance has since diminished.

According to Dave, the initial witness interviewed by Reuters, several pro-Trump protesters outside the courthouse dispersed when the self-immolation incident occurred. Speaking with trembling hands, Dave expressed his shock at the event.

The startling development unfolded shortly after the completion of jury selection for the trial, paving the way for prosecutors and defense attorneys to deliver opening statements next week. The trial revolves around hush money paid to a porn star.

The jury, comprising 12 jurors and six alternates, will evaluate evidence in a landmark trial to determine if a former U.S. president violated the law.

The jury comprises seven men and five women, primarily employed in white-collar professions, including two corporate lawyers, a software engineer, a speech therapist, and an English teacher. Many jurors are not native New Yorkers, originating from various parts of the United States, as well as countries such as Ireland and Lebanon.

Trump stands accused of concealing a $130,000 payment made by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, allegedly to silence her about a past sexual encounter.

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

Trump has pleaded not guilty in three other criminal cases, but this trial is set to precede the November 5 election, where he aims to secure the Republican nomination to run against Democratic President Joe Biden.

A conviction in this trial would not disqualify him from holding office.