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Some Rioters Already Freed as Supreme Court Reviews Jan. 6 Charge

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Follow live coverage of the Jan. 6 obstruction case at the Supreme Court.

The review of an obstruction law by the Supreme Court that has been heavily utilized in cases related to the January 6 Capitol riot has already had significant consequences for some of the individuals involved in the insurrection.

Despite the fact that a decision on the case is not expected for several months, a handful of individuals convicted under this law have either been released from custody or are on track to be freed.

In recent weeks, federal judges in Washington have authorized the release of approximately 10 defendants who were serving prison sentences due to the obstruction law. These individuals have been allowed to await further proceedings at home while the court reevaluates the appropriateness of utilizing this law to detain them.

One of those individuals who has already been freed is Matthew Bledsoe, a Tennessee moving company owner who climbed a wall outside the Capitol and proceeded to walk through the building with a Trump flag, eventually placing it in the arm of a statue of President Gerald R. Ford.

Other defendants, such as Kevin Seefried, a drywall installer from Delaware who carried a Confederate flag into the Capitol, and Alexander Sheppard, an Ohio man who breached police lines to enter the building, are also expected to be released soon.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of these interrupted sentences, which could be reinstated based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, is just one of the complexities arising from the court’s scrutiny of the obstruction statute, formally known as 18 U.S.C. 1512. This charge has been wielded against over 350 rioters, including individuals like Jacob Chansley, the QAnon Shaman, and members of extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.

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Legal experts have expressed concerns about how a ruling that narrows the scope or invalidates the use of this law in Jan. 6-related cases could impact the Justice Department’s efforts to hold accountable the numerous individuals involved in the attack.

However, in recent months, judges and prosecutors involved with Capitol riot cases have adapted to the potential consequences of a Supreme Court decision, mitigating the once-feared catastrophic effects on the overall prosecution of these cases.

It has been noted that currently, no defendants are solely facing the obstruction charge according to the Justice Department. Each individual indicted on this count is also facing other charges, meaning that even if the obstruction law is no longer applicable in Jan. 6 prosecutions, no cases would completely vanish.

Should the court rule that the obstruction count does not pertain to the Capitol attack, the primary impact would be on the sentences handed down to the defendants. While few rioters have received the maximum penalty of 20 years in prison under this statute, many have still been sentenced to several years behind bars.

Certain judges have indicated that they would increase sentences stemming from other charges if the obstruction count was deemed inapplicable. For instance, in February, Judge Royce C. Lamberth denied an early release for Leo Kelly, an Iowa man sentenced to 30 months in prison on the obstruction count and six other misdemeanors.

Judge Lamberth justified his decision by stating that even if the Supreme Court ruled against sentencing Kelly for obstruction, he could lengthen the defendant’s total prison term by imposing consecutive rather than concurrent sentences on the misdemeanor charges.

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Massive Landslide in Papua New Guinea Leaves Hundreds Presumed Dead

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A devastating landslide in rural Papua New Guinea has left at least three people dead and hundreds more feared to have perished under the rubble and debris. The disaster struck three villages early Friday morning, engulfing them in a massive landslide that buried homes and trapped residents. Local officials, including Sandis Tsaka, the provincial administrator for Enga, have expressed grave concerns over the high death toll expected due to the densely populated nature of the area.

The death toll could be in the hundreds, making it one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region. Prime Minister James Marape described it as possibly the country’s biggest landslide, attributing the catastrophe to prolonged and extraordinary rainfall in recent months.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by the unstable terrain and ongoing rain, complicating the search for survivors. Nearly 4,000 people inhabit the affected villages, primarily subsistence farmers in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea.

The landslide, comparable to the size of three or four soccer fields, has caused significant damage to the area, including the main thoroughfare, the Porgera Highway. International aid organizations and the country’s defense forces are mobilizing to provide assistance to the affected communities.

Despite challenges such as tribal conflicts and delays in aid delivery, efforts are underway to rescue those trapped under the debris. The region’s unstable geology, exacerbated by heavy rainfall, has made it prone to landslides, posing a constant threat to the expanding villages.

President Joe Biden and Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, have pledged support for Papua New Guinea’s rescue and recovery operations. The global community is standing in solidarity with the affected population, offering assistance and aid to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

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As the search for survivors continues and the death toll rises, it is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of communities in disaster-prone regions. The resilience and unity shown in times of crisis highlight the strength and compassion of humanity in facing such tragedies.

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