Ceremony honors 49 lives lost in Pulse nightclub massacre


ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told a crowd of hundreds at Pulse nightclub Tuesday night that the club’s legacy was not defined by the man who killed 49 people there two years ago — but by the community’s response.


“Pulse was a violent act carried out by a single individual, but the response to that act of evil and act of hate has been made up by thousands and thousands and thousands — maybe even millions — of individuals deciding to show what the opposite of evil looks like, and it looks like love,” Dyer said.


Dyer said it will be up to individuals to decide how to honor Pulse’s legacy, be it through political action, or urging others to vote, supporting a nonprofit or combating gun violence.


But Pulse “can’t simply be a memory of something terrible that happened,” Dyer said.


“It has to be more,” Dyer said. “Each of us has a responsibility and a duty to decide how we’re going to create the Pulse legacy, how we’re going to honor the victims, how we’re going to honor the families.”


Dyer was one of several speakers at an evening memorial service for the 49 people who were killed in a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub, two years ago.


Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the tragedy of Pulse united Orlando around a universal principle: “We really are one people, and we really have one dream, and we have one goal as human beings, and that’s to be treated equally,” she said.


Dyer and Jacobs later stood together to read a joint proclamation declaring that each June 12 will be known as Orlando United Day: A Day of Love and Kindness.


—Orlando Sentinel


Do politics belong in Southern Baptist Convention? Some say vice president’s visit too divisive


DALLAS — The topics on the first official day of the Southern Baptists’ annual meeting Tuesday spanned from the fate of a seminary’s trustee board to whether to withdraw an invitation to Vice President Mike Pence.


The meeting here is the best reminder that the Southern Baptist Convention is a voluntary affiliation of local churches without a strong top-down hierarchy, with opinions that vary considerably for a denomination considered strictly conservative. The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.


The convention elected a new president, and it wasn’t close: J.D. Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in North Carolina, beat Ken Hemphill of South Carolina with 68 percent of the vote. Greear’s win is seen as a victory for the younger generation of Southern Baptists.


The business took place in Exhibit Hall F of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center , a sprawling space with the ambiance of an airplane hangar, packed with rows of chairs (padded, an amenity), four broadcast screens and a stage with a piano and bleachers for a choir to sing the national anthem. But the most important feature were the open microphones, scattered throughout the hall and marked by foot-high number signs for official messengers — those sent by their local churches — to come and propose their motions.


The first messenger to offer a motion wasted no time in wading into divisive territory. Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican, had just announced the day before he’d be speaking at the convention on Wednesday, its last day. Garrett Kell, a pastor from Alexandria, Va., made a motion to replace Pence’s speech with a time for quiet reflection and prayer.


“Whether rightly or wrongly, this current administration provokes strong reactions and in some cases great hostility in many regions of the world,” he wrote in his motion. “By publicly aligning our workers with this, or any administration, we are putting our workers at risk of being the recipients of anger against the administration.”


It was voted down by about a 60-40 margin.


The announcement of Pence’s impending speech irritated many attendees. Pence was too divisive for a convention already reeling from sexual abuse issues, people said. For that matter, sexual abuse allegations against President Donald Trump made it such that inviting his second-in-command was the wrong message to send to women.


With the downfall of Kell’s motion, several more followed to propose that the Southern Baptist Convention withdraw invitations to politicians altogether at its annual meetings, save perhaps host mayors.


—Fort Worth Star-Telegram


Judge denies new trial for Texas woman sentenced to 5 years for illegal voting


FORT WORTH, Texas — The same judge who originally sentenced her to five years in prison for casting an illegal ballot while being a felon under supervision has denied Crystal Mason’s motion for a new trial.


Mason, of Rendon, south of Fort Worth, was convicted March 28 and sentenced to a five-year prison stint by State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez.


Gonzalez denied her petition late Monday in a 16-page ruling.


Since her conviction, Mason has been at the center of controversial arguments about the existence of white privilege and voter suppression efforts, with more than 38,000 signatures on a petition to have all charges against her dropped, numerous news stories and editorials and a deluge of social media posts in support of and against the sentence imposed in her case.


Mason’s attorney, Alison Grinter, said that she and other groups who thought the prison sentence was harsh were disappointed. Obviously, it was an uphill struggle to get the judge who made the initial ruling to change his mind.


But no one is more disappointed than Mason, Grinter said.


“She’s one step closer to going to prison for a vote that didn’t even count,” Grinter said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get this case before fresh eyes in the appellate court and have a better outcome.”


—Fort Worth Star-Telegram


Dark web’s ‘OxyMonster’ pleads guilty to drug trafficking, faces 20 years in prison


MIAMI — At first, he sold Oxycodone and Ritalin on the dark web under the moniker “OxyMonster.”


Frenchman Gal Vallerius gained such a name for himself on Dream Market’s eBay-like site that he was hired as a “senior moderator” to manage transactions between buyers and sellers of multiple kilos of cocaine, heroin and other narcotics — all paid for with the virtual currency bitcoin.


“The defendant, through his actions, rose through the ranks,” federal prosecutor Alden Pelker told U.S. District Judge Robert Scola at Vallerius’ plea hearing Tuesday. “There is a five-star vendor rating system.”


After his promotion on the Dream Market site was clarified for the judge, the 36-year-old Vallerius pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute drugs and commit money laundering between 2013 and 2017 and now faces 20 years in prison at his sentencing on Sept. 25 under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.


Vallerius, who spoke in Hebrew during his plea hearing, is perhaps one of the most unique drug trafficking defendants to appear in Miami federal court, a place that has seen its share of colorful characters, from Colombian kingpins to cocaine cowboys. Vallerius, a cyber whiz who is from the Brittany region of France and has French, Israeli and English citizenship, was arrested last August in Atlanta en route to a world beard-growing competition in Texas.


Vallerius was still wearing his long reddish-brown beard on Tuesday, along with a yarmulke atop his head.


Under his plea agreement, Vallerius is cooperating with federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration in the hope of reducing his ultimate sentence in exchange for his insider knowledge. At the time of Vallerius’ arrest last August, the Dream Market “was one of the largest dark web criminal marketplaces,” according to a statement filed with his plea deal.


The site had 94,236 listings for an array of illegal drugs, paraphernalia and digital services.


—Miami Herald


Support at home helps Trudeau stay the course amid Trump threats


OTTAWA, Canada — If Donald Trump was counting on Justin Trudeau to bend to U.S. trade demands after a series of verbal attacks on the Canadian prime minister, it’s not working so far.


Trudeau is staying out of the fray, trying to forge ahead on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement as his country and key allies rally around him in the face of unprecedented criticism from his neighbor and chief trading partner.


“From day one, we have said that we expected moments of drama and that we would keep calm and carry on throughout those moments,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday in Ottawa. She will visit Washington beginning Wednesday, speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and possibly meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.


U.S.-Canada relations have rarely been more strained. Trudeau’s closing news conference at the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Quebec this weekend sparked a flurry of reactions from the Trump administration after the prime minister said the U.S. decision to impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum on national security grounds was “insulting.”


Though Trudeau had made these comments many times before, Trump and his advisers quickly responded. The president tweeted from Air Force One that Trudeau was “dishonest,” and weak. His advisers went further, with White House trade adviser Peter Navarro saying there was a “special place in hell” for leaders like Trudeau who negotiate with Trump in bad faith. Navarro apologized Tuesday, saying he used language that was “inappropriate.”


Trump took another poke at Trudeau from Singapore after his summit on North Korea. “I have a good relationship with Justin Trudeau — I really did, other than he had a news conference that he had because he assumed I was in an airplane,” the U.S. president said at a news conference. “He learned. That’s going to cost a lot of money for the people of Canada.”


Several leaders from the G-7 meeting — including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s Theresa May and France’s Emmanuel Macron — either expressed support for Trudeau or criticized Trump. “There is a special place in heaven for Justin Trudeau,” European Council President Donald Tusk said.


—Bloomberg