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Full jury panel seated on third day of Trump’s New York hush-money trial

In News, World
April 19, 2024

Twelve jurors and one alternate have been sworn in to serve in the criminal trial against former United States President Donald Trump, as the third day of his New York court proceedings concludes.

Thursday saw Trump return to court after Wednesday’s weekly break. There, lawyers for both the defence and prosecution continued haggle over which candidates to select from the jury pool.

But the proceedings started with a setback. Seven jurors had been selected and sworn in on Tuesday — only for two of those jurors to be dismissed during Thursday’s hearing.

One claimed to face pressure from family and friends about her appointment to the jury. The other was scrutinised for allegedly misrepresenting his previous interactions with the justice system.

But jury selection quickly got back on track — and a process that sometimes can stretch for weeks was wrapped up in a couple of hours, with seven more jurors picked for the 12-person panel.

Then it was time for the lawyers and the presiding judge, Juan Merchan, to turn their attention to the alternates.

Merchan has indicated he plans to have six alternate jurors for Trump’s trial, in case any of the principle members of the jury needs to be replaced. By the end of the Thursday, one had been sworn in, with five more slated to be picked as early as Friday.

Trump stands accused of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, in relations to hush-money payments he allegedly made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 elections. He has pleaded not guilty.

Selecting a jury to render a fair and impartial verdict has been a key hurdle in the proceedings so far. Here are the highlights from day three of the historic trial:

Trump sits at the defence table in a Manhattan courtroom
Former President Donald Trump attends the start of the court proceedings on April 18 [Jeenah Moon/AP Photo, pool]

A full panel of jurors

The defence and prosecution quickly whittled down a second batch of 96 potential jurors on Thursday, with many being promptly dismissed after saying they could not be fair and impartial.

The rest filled out the 42-point questionnaire, asking them about their employment, their educational background and their media consumption habits.

The prosecution and defence then had an opportunity to speak and question the potential jurors in a process called “voir dire”. Both sides reminded the jury pool about their responsibilities to the court.

“The problem with biases is they colour the way you look at the world. What you may believe and may not,” said Susan Necheles, a lawyer for Trump’s defence. “We wouldn’t allow someone who has a strong dislike for a certain type of people to sit on a jury of that type of person.”

Ultimate, seven more jurors were selected, filling out the 12-member jury. One alternate was named.

Another group of prospective jurors was sworn in before the end of the day, in anticipation of Friday’s continued search for alternates.

A sketch of Todd Blanche whispering into Donald Trump's ear.
A courtroom sketch shows defence lawyer Todd Blanche whispering to Donald Trump in court on April 18  [Jane Rosenberg/Reuters]

First dismissed juror describes public pressure

But Thursday’s additions to the jury panel came after some losses.

A nurse who had been previously selected to serve on the jury earlier this week was dismissed after she explained that friends, coworkers and family members had deduced her identity from media reports.

The jury in the Trump trial is supposed to be anonymous. But the woman explained she had started to face questions from her contacts about her participation in the trial.

“I don’t believe at this point that I can be fair and unbiased and let the outside influences not affect my decision-making in the courtroom,” the juror said.

Judge Merchan ultimately excused her from the jury panel. He reiterated that, “after sleeping on it overnight, she had concerns about her ability to be fair and impartial in this case”.

Portrait of Juan Merchan
Judge Juan Merchan is presiding over Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York City [File: Seth Wenig/AP Photo]

Questions raised about second dismissed juror

But the nurse was only one of two seated jurors from Tuesday to be dismissed. The second faced questions about the veracity of the information he provided to the court.

Prosecutors early in the day raised concerns that the juror, identified in media reports as an IT professional, may have misrepresented himself when answering a question about whether he had ever been accused or convicted of a crime.

He had answered he had not. But on Thursday, prosecutors noted that a man with the same name had been arrested in the 1990s for tearing down political posters in Westchester County, a suburban area north of New York City.

Without offering details, Judge Merchan ultimately excused the juror. “He does not need to come back and should not come back Monday morning,” he told the court.

With that, the original seven jurors seated on Tuesday dropped down to five.

Joshua Steinglass walks through a hall in a suit and tie.
Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass led the prosecution’s ‘voir dire’ on Thursday [File: John Minchillo/AP Photo]

Warnings about protecting the jury pool’s identity

With one of the formerly seated jurors citing privacy concerns as a reason for leaving, Judge Merchan issued a stern warning to the court about protecting the jury pool’s privacy.

“There’s a reason that this is an anonymous jury,” Merchan said. “It kind of defeats the purpose of that when so much information is put out there that it is very easy for anyone to identify who the jurors are.”

Last month, Merchan ruled that the jury would not be publicly named, given the sensitivity of the case — and the risk of jurors being harassed or intimidated.

Aside from the judge and court administrators, only the prosecution and the defence are allowed to know certain personal details about the candidates, in order to make informed decisions about jury selection.

But that creates a dilemma for media outlets covering the trial, as they seek to document other details about the jury candidates — without divulging their identities.

On Thursday, Judge Merchan tightened the restrictions further, calling on journalists to stop reporting on the physical appearance of potential jurors, as well as specifics about their employment history.

“We just lost what probably would have been a very good juror,” the judge said of the woman who had been previously seated on the jury. “She said she was afraid and intimidated by the press, all the press.”

Susan Necheles walks out of the courthouse, which is barricaded by a temporary metal fence.
Defence lawyer Susan Necheles, centre left, is seen entering the Manhattan criminal courthouse on April 18 [Jeenah Moon/AP Photo, pool]

A literal chill falls over the courtroom

The comfort of the jury pool cropped up in a different sense later in the day, as the judge addressed the chilly conditions in the courtroom.

The Manhattan criminal courthouse where the trial is unfolding is an Art Deco building that is more than 80 years old: Construction was completed in 1941.

Judge Merchan cited the older infrastructure in brushing aside a request from Trump lawyer Todd Blanche to raise the thermostat.

“There’s no question it’s cold, but I’d rather be a little cold than sweat,” the judge said.

But complaints continued, notably from Trump himself. As he left for lunch, the former president stopped by the rows of reporters seated in the courtroom and asked, “Is it cold enough?”

The frosty temperatures were also enough to merit a second comment from Judge Merchan later in the day.

“I want to apologise that it’s chilly in here,” Merchan said, earning chuckles from the court. “We’re trying to do the best we can to control the temperature, but it’s one extreme or the other.”

Donald Trump holds up a stack of printed articles outside a Manhattan courthouse.
Former US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters about articles covering his New York criminal trial [Timothy A Clary/Reuters, pool]

Witnesses under wraps

In one of the final moments before Thursday’s proceedings ended, Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche asked the prosecution for the names of the first witnesses it planned to call.

But a lawyer for the prosecution, Joshua Steinglass, declined to provide the names, pointing out that Trump had a habit of bashing witnesses on his social media account.

Blanche maintained that Trump could “commit to the court and the people” that he would not write posts about any witnesses.

Judge Merchan, however, cast doubt on that argument. “That he will not tweet about any witnesses? I don’t think you can make that representation,” he said before the proceedings adjourned for the day.

Trump left the courtroom, and when he appeared outside, he carried a stack of articles to show reporters.

“These are all stories over the last few days from legal experts,” he said, flipping through the thick bunch of pages. “All of these stories are from legal experts saying how this is not a case. The case is ridiculous.”

Trump is currently facing a total of four criminal indictments, including the New York case. April’s proceedings make him the first US president, past or present, to stand trial on criminal charges.

The former president has denied wrongdoing in all the cases. He is also running for re-election this November.

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