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

Full jury seated in Trump criminal trial
Full jury and alternates seated in Trump criminal trial 02:13

The jury selection process in former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York came to a close on Friday, part of a flurry of activity that marked the end of a dizzying first week in the historic proceedings.

The trial will enter a new phase on Monday with the beginning of opening statements, the first chance that prosecutors and defense attorneys will have to make their case before the complete jury.

Friday saw the selection of the final five of six alternate jurors, who would step in for the 12 main jurors if needed during the trial. Elsewhere, a different judge denied a last-ditch effort by Trump to halt the proceedings and get the trial moved out of Manhattan.

But the events inside the courtroom were briefly overshadowed by a shocking turn of events outside, where a man lit himself on fire at a park across the street shortly after the jury was finalized. 

Police officials said the man, later identified as Max Azzarello, walked into the park, opened a backpack and scattered papers and pamphlets on the ground. He then poured what appeared to be a liquid accelerant on his head and ignited himself. Footage from the scene showed flames shooting high in the air before emergency personnel extinguished the blaze. He was rushed away on a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital, where officials said he was in critical condition.

An account on the platform Substack that appeared to belong to Azzarello posted a rambling statement regarding a wide range of conspiracy theories before Azzarello set himself ablaze. The pamphlets Azzarello dropped on the ground were unrelated to Trump or his criminal case.

The incident cast a sobering pall over the rest of the day's proceedings, which saw prosecutors and attorneys for Trump argued over what the former president could be asked about if he chooses to take the stand in 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.
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

Friday got underway with both sides resuming questioning of potential alternates who said they could remain impartial. Several were dismissed after saying they were suffering from anxiety or no longer believed they could judge the case fairly.

Those concerns arose one day after two jurors who had previously been seated were excused. One said she became concerned about her ability to be impartial after people in her life figured out she was a juror based on details reported about her in the press. Another was dismissed after prosecutors discovered legal issues that hadn't been disclosed.

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

The court then proceeded to a pretrial hearing to discuss the topics prosecutors would be allowed to broach if Trump decides to take the stand. 

Prosecutors indicated in a filing made public Wednesday that they want to question Trump about a host of high-profile legal defeats to attack his credibility. The list includes an almost half-billion-dollar civil fraud judgment recently handed down in another New York court, a pair of unanimous civil federal jury verdicts finding him liable for defamation and sexual abuse of the writer E. Jean Carroll, gag order violations, and sanctions for what a judge concluded was a "frivolous, bad faith lawsuit" against Hillary Clinton.

Trump's attorneys believe all those topics should be out of bounds in this case, which revolves around reimbursements to former Trump attorney Michael Cohen for a "hush money" payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors say Trump covered up the reimbursements in order to distance himself from the payment, days before the 2016 presidential election, which temporarily bought Daniels' silence about an alleged affair. He has also denied having the affair.

Trump has entered a not guilty plea to 34 felony counts of falsification of business records. He has denied all allegations in the case.

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

11th-hour appeal

As Merchan weighed that issue, Trump attorney Clifford Robert was at a different New York courthouse, arguing to a mid-level appeals court judge that the jury selection process revealed that Manhattan is too biased to host a fair trial, and that the process was conducted too quickly.

"I think to state the obvious, to think that a jury could be selected in three days, even in what I'd call a garden-variety felony case in New York, 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 consequential cases in, if not New York, this country's history" and asked the judge to pause the case while Trump pursues a change of venue. 

The effort was the second time in two weeks that Trump had gone to the Appellate Division, First Department to seek a stay. Steven Wu, a lawyer 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 the system was weeding out people who shouldn't serve on the jury.

"What it is showing is jury selection works," Wu said.

Wu also defended the pace of the process, noting the potential jurors answered a 42-prompt questionnaire that was "much longer than the usual questionnaire given." 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 being identified through media reports. He said it was more proof Manhattan was the wrong venue.

Wu said Trump himself "amplified and stoked the very press coverage" that led to her 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 stay request, without explanation.

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