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breaking spotlight
KKK leader sentenced to four years in prison for firing gun during Aug. 12 rally

Richard Preston, a self-identified Ku Klux Klan leader from Maryland, will serve four years in prison for firing a gun during the Unite the Right rally.

On Tuesday, Preston, 53, was sentenced to eight years in prison with four years suspended for discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of The Park School. After he pleaded no contest in May, he faced a possible sentence of two to 10 years behind bars.

Preston had seen counter-protester Corey Long light an aerosol spray can as rallying white supremacists exited what is now Market Street Park. Preston brandished a pistol at Long before lowering it again. Suddenly, he pulled the firearm up and aimed it in Long’s direction. He fired the gun and, prosecutors said, the projectile hit the dirt near Long’s feet but did not injure him.

On Monday, Long appealed his misdemeanor disorderly conduct conviction related to the use of an improvised flamethrower.

In court Tuesday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania argued that Preston was lucky the conflict did not escalate after he fired his gun.

“It’s difficult to describe how poorly that could have gone,” he said.

Platania asked Judge Richard E. Moore to impose an eight-year sentence, noting Preston’s lack of remorse.

Preston’s attorney, Elmer Woodard, tried unsuccessfully to argue that his client was defending himself and his friends from “a wall of flames.”

“When flamethrowers come out, the rules have to be thrown out the window,” he said.

However, Moore disagreed with these claims, pointing to Preston’s visible anger in the video evidence presented in May, comparing his demeanor to that of a middle-schooler standing on a hill.

“This whole thing was driven by anger and belligerence, not fear,” Moore said. “I don’t find you were saving anyone’s life.”

Additionally, Moore did not find that the video showed the flames from Long’s aerosol can were close enough to Preston to cause harm.

Though not as violent as the Aug. 12 beating of DeAndre Harris in the Market Street Parking Garage, given the “powder keg” in downtown Charlottesville that day, Preston could have easily caused a much more chaotic situation, Moore said.

“I think you came looking for a fight and you got what you were looking for,” Moore said.

Woodard declined to comment after the sentencing.

Platania said the prosecution was happy with the judge’s verdict.

“What was important from the commonwealth’s perspective is that we avoided the risk of going to a jury trial,” he said.

Murray High School joins consortium as it rethinks grading

Murray High School is no stranger to unconventional grading, but now the school is helping to develop a new type of transcript, as well.

This summer, Murray High School joined the Mastery Transcript Consortium, a collection of schools seeking to change the college admissions process by pivoting away from the conventional letter-grade transcript. Instead, MTC schools rely on more qualitative transcripts that show students have “mastered” a subject.

Initially only open to the most elite private schools, MTC opened up membership to public schools this summer. Murray High School is the first public school in the state to join.

“Murray has long been a leader in advancing student-centered education and will be a powerful voice in our conversation about creating a high school transcript that better reflects the unique skills, strengths and interests of each learner,” Ben Rein, senior director of outreach and partnerships for MTC, said in a statement.

According to Murray Principal Chad Ratliff, part of the reason the MTC was initially only open to elite private schools is because of its sway over the admissions process at Ivy League universities such as Harvard University, which recently announced it would weigh mastery transcripts equally in its admissions process.

Representatives from MTC did not respond to interview requests about their structure or work.

The idea behind MTC already fits with the school’s educational structure, said Ratliff. Though this year the school is focused more on learning how to develop a mastery transcript than implementation, he said it opens up an interesting future of change for college admissions.

“MTC began just a year ago, and it’s designed to fundamentally change the application process and influence college admissions processes across the country,” he said. “We see that in turn as fundamentally changing the high school experience for students across the country.”

However, in this first year, MTC raises more questions than answers for Murray High School, Ratliff said, and transcripts for the 110 students at the school are unlikely to change yet.

“We’re in the process of figuring out how best we can apply the thought behind MTC and what it can add to how we already teach,” he said.

College admissions requirements have driven the high school requirements for decades, Ratliff said, and often letter-grade requirements don’t accurately reflect a student’s abilities or retained knowledge.

For its entire 30-year existence, the charter school has been focusing on showing students have “mastered” all their subjects and assignments, with mastery only being given for work that receives a B or higher.

Cathy Glover, an English teacher at Murray High School, said one of the benefits of mastery learning is it forces students to give their full effort on every assignment. This is particularly helpful for subjects like mathematics and foreign language that build off previous lessons, she said.

“Many of them don’t understand that when we say that you need to master every single assignment, that means you need to do them at an A or B level,” she said. “A lot of us know that in a typical system you can game the system and skip assignments you don’t want to do, but that’s not possible with mastery grading.”

Keeping with the spirit of putting students’ passions and interests first, Murray High School went through some upgrades to its building this summer.

Among the redesigns are learning spaces for students to meet and collaborate, a fully functional kitchen, a workshop complete with a multitude of tools, and a mobile classroom that doubles as a recording studio. While final touches are being made, Ratliff said, the school will be fully finished for the first day of school Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the Albemarle County School Board renewed Murray High School’s 10-year charter. Ratliff and the Murray teachers have dubbed this new era “Murray 3.0” and plan to focus on helping develop student passions into viable classes and projects.

Much like the county schools’ Virginia 2022 plan, which involves the creation of high school centers that focus on hands-on learning structured around specific-student interests, Glover said Murray will seek to give students the tools they need to pursue their interests.

“How often do we actually ask kids what they’re interested in,” she asked.

Prosecutors said to prep charges against Cohen


NEW YORK — Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, could be charged before the end of the month with bank fraud in his dealings with the taxi industry and with committing other financial crimes, two people familiar with the federal probe said Monday.

The people confirmed reports that federal prosecutors in Manhattan were considering charging Cohen after months of speculation over a case that has been a distraction for the White House with the midterm elections approaching.

The New York Times reported Sunday, based on anonymous sources, that prosecutors have been focusing on more than $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that Cohen and his family own.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors have subpoenaed records from Sterling National Bank, one of the institutions that loaned Cohen money with his ownership in taxi cabs as collateral, one of the people said. The material was sought because it's suspected Cohen falsified some of the paperwork, the person said.

The people, who weren't authorized to discuss the case and spoke on Monday on condition of anonymity, refused to answer questions about speculation that Cohen still might strike a plea deal with prosecutors requiring his cooperation.

Absent a quick resolution, it's believed that prosecutors would put off a decision on how to go forward with the case until after the election in compliance with an informal Justice Department policy of avoiding bringing prosecutions that could be seen as political and influence voters.

Both the U.S. attorney's office and an attorney for Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment Monday. A spokesman for Sterling National Bank declined to comment.

Cohen had gained notoriety as Trump's loyal "fixer" before FBI agents raided his officies and a hotel where he was staying while renovations were being done on his apartment in a Trump developed building.

Prosecutors were initially silent about why Cohen was under investigation. Some details became public after lawyers for Cohen and Trump asked a judge to temporarily prevent investigators from viewing some of the seized material, on the grounds that it was protected by attorney-client privilege.

The search of Cohen's files sought bank records, communications with the Trump campaign and information on hush money payments made in 2016 to two women: former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who received $150,000, and the porn actress Stormy Daniels, who got $130,000.

At the time, Trump branded the raid "a witch hunt," an assault on attorney-client privilege and a politically motivated attack by enemies in the FBI.

The president's initial support for Cohen degenerated over the summer into a public feud, prompting speculation that, to save himself, Cohen might be willing to tell prosecutors some of the secrets he'd help Trump keep.

Davis, Cohen's lawyer, has been sending signals of his own.

First, he went on CNN with a tape of Trump talking about the McDougal payment. Then, over the weekend, he revealed that he's been having conversations with John Dean, the White House lawyer who helped bring down President Richard Nixon.

Davis said Monday that he sees major parallels between Cohen and Dean and that he wanted to hear what he'd learned from Watergate and his perspective on what Cohen is going through. Cohen hasn't spoken to Dean, Davis said.

Manafort guilty on eight counts


ALEXANDRIA — Paul Manafort, the longtime political operative who for months led Donald Trump's winning presidential campaign, was found guilty of eight financial crimes Tuesday in the first trial victory of the special counsel investigation into the president's associates.

A judge declared a mistrial on 10 other counts the jury could not agree on.

The verdict was part of a stunning one-two punch of bad news for the White House, coming as the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was pleading guilty in New York to campaign finance charges arising from hush money payments made to two women who say they had sex with Trump.

The jury returned the decision after deliberating four days on tax and bank fraud charges against Manafort, who led the Trump election effort during a crucial stretch of 2016.

Manafort, who appeared jovial earlier in the day amid signs that the jury was struggling in its deliberations, stared intently at the panel as the clerk read off the charges. He stared down blankly at the defense table, then looked up, expressionless, as the judge finished thanking the jury.

Manafort was found guilty of five counts of filing false tax returns on tens of millions of dollars in Ukrainian political consulting income. He was also convicted of failing to report a foreign bank account and of two bank fraud charges that accused him of lying to banks to obtain millions of dollars in loans after his income dried up.

The outcome, though not the across-the-board guilty verdicts the prosecutors sought, almost certainly guarantees years of prison for Manafort. It also appears to vindicate the ability of special counsel Robert Mueller's team to secure convictions from a jury of average citizens despite months of partisan attacks — including from Trump — on the investigation's integrity.

The verdict raised immediate questions of whether the president would seek to pardon Manafort, the lone American charged by Mueller to opt for trial instead of cooperate. The president has not revealed his thinking but spoke sympathetically throughout the trial of his onetime aide, at one point suggesting he had been treated worse than gangster Al Capone.

The trial, presided over by the colorful and impatient U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, captured Trump's attention as he sought to undermine Mueller's investigation through a constant Twitter barrage and increasingly antagonistic statements from his lawyer-spokesman, Rudy Giuliani.

But the Trump campaign comprised but a fraction of the trial as jurors instead heard detailed and sometimes dull testimony about Manafort's finances and what prosecutors say was a years-long tax-evasion and fraud scheme.

Manafort decided not to put on any witnesses or testify himself. His attorneys said he made the decision because he didn't believe the government had met its burden of proof.

Manafort's defense team attempted to make the case about the credibility of longtime Man a fort protege Rick Gates, who served as the government's star witness. They attacked him as a liar, embezzler and instigator of any crimes as they tried to persuade jurors that Manafort didn't willfully violate the law.