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End of jury selection in Trump trial caps frenetic first week as case enters new phase

The jury selection process for former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York concluded Friday, in a whirlwind of activity that marked the end of a dizzying first week in the historic proceedings .

The trial will enter a new phase Monday with the start of opening statements, the first opportunity for prosecutors and defense attorneys to make their case to the full jury.

Friday saw the selection of the final five jurors from six alternates, who would replace the 12 main jurors if necessary during the trial. Elsewhere, another judge denied any attempt by Trump to halt proceedings and move the trial out of Manhattan.

But events inside the courtroom were briefly overshadowed by a shocking turn of events outside, where a the man burst into flames in a park across the street shortly after the jury finalized.

Police officials told the man: later identified as Max Azzarello, entered the park, opened a backpack and scattered papers and brochures on the ground. He then poured what appeared to be a liquid accelerant on his head and ignited. Images from the scene showed flames shooting high into the air before emergency workers put out the fire. He was evacuated on a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital, where authorities said he was in critical condition.

Officials confirmed that Azzarello appeared to have posted a statement on social media. An official at the briefing described the papers he tossed in the park as “some sort of conspiracy theory pamphlet.”

The incident cast a shadow over the rest of the day, during which Trump’s prosecutors and lawyers argued over what questions might be asked of the former president if he chose to take the stand for his own defense.

Day 4 of the Trump trial

Former President Donald Trump attends the fourth day of jury selection for his trial in New York on April 19, 2024.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On Friday, both sides resumed questioning potential replacements who said they could remain impartial. Several were fired after saying they suffered from anxiety or no longer believed they could judge the case fairly.

Those concerns emerged a day after two jurors who were previously seated were excused. One said she became concerned about her ability to be impartial after people close to her found out she was a juror based on details reported about her in the press. Another was fired after prosecutors discovered legal issues that had not been disclosed.

Questioning of the remaining potential alternates continued Friday afternoon until all five seats were filled.

The court then held a pretrial hearing to discuss what topics prosecutors would be allowed to discuss if Trump decided to testify.

Prosecutors said in a filing released Wednesday that they wanted to question Trump about a series of high-profile court defeats in order to attack his credibility. The list includes a nearly half-billion-dollar civil fraud judgment recently handed down by another New York court, two unanimous verdicts by federal civil juries finding him liable for defamation and sexual abuse of writer E . Jean Carroll, violations of the order of silence, and sanctions for what a judge concluded was a “frivolous and bad faith lawsuit” against Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s lawyers say all of those topics should be off-limits in the case, which revolves around reimbursing former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for a “secret” payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors say Trump hid the reimbursements in order to distance himself from the payment, days before the 2016 presidential election, temporarily buying Daniels’ silence about an alleged affair. He also denied having the affair.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records. He has denied all allegations in the case.

The judge delayed ruling on what Trump could be questioned about, saying he would make a decision on Monday.

11 a.m. call

As Merchan pondered that question, Trump lawyer Clifford Robert was in another New York courthouse, arguing before a mid-level appeals court judge that the jury selection process had revealed that Manhattan was too biased to accommodate a fair trial and that the process had been carried out. too fast.

“I think stating the obvious, thinking that a jury could be selected in three days, even in what I would call a garden-variety New York crime case, would be unusual,” said Robert, who also represents Trump’s sons. in a separate civil fraud case.

Robert called Trump’s New York criminal case “one of the most important cases, if not in New York, in the history of this country” and asked the judge to put the case on hold while Trump seeks to change location.

It was the second time in two weeks that Trump went to the First Department’s Appellate Division to request a stay. Steven Wu, an attorney for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, said that was reason enough to reject the effort, since defendants are only allowed to make that request once.

Robert noted that more than two-thirds of potential jurors said they could not be impartial and were dismissed. Wu countered, saying the dismissal rate was proof that the system was weeding out people who shouldn’t be on the jury.

“What this shows is the work of jury selection,” Wu said.

Wu also defended the pace of the process, noting that potential jurors responded to a 42-response questionnaire that was “much longer than the usual questionnaire.” He said the 30 minutes given to each side to question potential jurors was also much longer than the norm.

Robert cited one of the seated jurors who asked to be excused Thursday, the woman who expressed concerns about her identification in the media. He said it was further proof that Manhattan was not the right place.

Wu said Trump himself “amplified and fueled the media coverage” that led to his departure. He pointed to a social media post by Trump that he said was a veiled reference to that juror.

The judge, Marsha Michael, quickly denied the request for a stay, without explanation.

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