Sunday, 23 June

Trump criminal case: Full 12-person jury seated in Manhattan

World News
Donald Trump

A full 12-person jury has been sworn in for ex-US President Donald Trump's historic criminal trial in New York City.

"We have our jury," Justice Juan Merchan declared after seven men and five women were selected for the panel. Two jurors had to be excused earlier.

Some thought jury selection might take weeks, but things moved quickly after Mr Trump's team ran out of challenges.

The court could hear opening arguments as soon as Monday.

The trial, the first ever in which a former US president is the defendant, stems from a hush-money payment to a porn star.

Stormy Daniels was given $130,000 (£105,000) before the 2016 election to buy her silence about an affair she claims she had with Mr Trump - an affair that Mr Trump denies having.

The payment itself was not illegal, but Mr Trump has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat. He has pleaded not guilty.

As Mr Trump left court on Thursday evening, he showed dozens of printed media articles criticising the charges, which he said were "political".

"It's a very unfair, very bad thing," said the Republican, who will challenge President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for the White House in November's election.

"The whole world is watching this hoax." He also took issue with the temperature in the courtroom, saying it is "freezing in there".

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The day's jury-selection session faced an initial setback after Justice Merchan dismissed two members of the panel who had been seated this week.

The judge announced that Juror #2 had realised she could no longer be impartial after friends and family gleaned from media reports that she had been chosen for the panel. They began to bombard her with messages, she said.

"I don't believe at this point that I can be fair and unbiased," she said, as it might be difficult not to let outside opinions affect her decision in the courtroom.

Justice Merchan swiftly excused her, and subsequently limited the information reporters could use for descriptions of jurors to make them less identifiable.

"We just lost what probably would've been a very good juror for this case," he said.

She was not the only one to be dismissed.

Justice Merchan said that after conducting some research, lawyers for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office discovered that Juror #4 may have lied about having no criminal history.

The judge said it appeared he had been arrested in the 1990s for tearing down political advertisements, while his wife may have been involved in a corruption case investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

After a long and private discussion with the legal teams and Justice Merchan, this juror was excused.

Jeremy Saland, a former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office who now practises criminal defence, told the BBC it is "very uncommon" for jurors to be seated then dismissed less than 48 hours later.

Anna Cominsky, a professor at the New York Law School, said that the day's dynamics showed this was no typical criminal case, and the public pressure on those involved would be unprecedented.

"The real issue here is not keeping the jurors' or potential jurors' identifying information for the parties," she said. "It's keeping that from the public. That's the difference."

The hunt for impartial and willing jurors continued in the afternoon. A new batch of 96 potential jurors was brought into the courtroom.

By the end of the day, seven of them would be sworn in as jurors before the judge. An additional juror was sworn in as an alternate, and the process of finding five more standbys will continue on Friday.

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It took a great deal of winnowing to get there.

As was the case in the opening stages of jury selection, Justice Merchan first made a sweeping dismissal of dozens of jurors, who said they could not judge Mr Trump impartially.

One prospective juror, who was born and raised in Italy, was excused after he said he associated Mr Trump with Italy's former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Trump watched from the sidelines with his arms crossed as his legal team grilled the panel about whether they had strong feelings about him.

"I disagree with most of his policies," one said.

"I don't like his persona," another prospective juror said.

A third - a Brooklyn native - admitted she also "had opinions" on Mr Trump.

"I spent my whole life knowing about Donald Trump," she said, adding that she once saw him and his ex-wife Marla Maples shopping for baby items.

But most - including some with "neutral views" on the former president - insisted that their thoughts on him as a politician would not sway their assessment of him in court.

The defence team raised concerns about old social media posts from one prospective juror, in which she called Trump a "racist, sexist, narcissist".

Justice Merchan forced her to read the post aloud to the court. "Oops, that sounds bad," she said, when coming across the word racist.

"I was in a disturbed frame of mind in that election cycle," she said. "I do not hold those positions today."

Ultimately, Justice Merchan said it was not worth "taking the chance" with the juror, and she was dismissed.

Another juror was excused when a surprise personal connection to the case came to light.

A woman said she met one of Mr Trump's lawyers, Susan Necheles, 15 years ago.

"She stayed at my house overnight," Ms Necheles told the court.

Under questioning, the prospective juror confirmed she stayed there once.

 

She was dismissed.

Source: BBC