Jury Begins Deliberations to Decide Verdict in Trump’s Criminal Case

May 29, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
Jury Begins Deliberations to Decide Verdict in Trump’s Criminal Case
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York, Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump’s guilt or innocence on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records is now in the hands of a New York jury.

Judge Juan Merchan started Wednesday’s court session by giving the seven men and five women instructions on how they should decide whether to convict the former president.

“You must set aside any personal opinions you have in favor or against the defendant,” Merchan said.

Defense and prosecuting attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments Tuesday with emotional statements that started in the morning and continued into the early evening.

Merchan’s jury instructions went on for nearly an hour Wednesday morning. The jury began deliberating just before noon.

Part of the instructions focused on explaining to the jury that they must unanimously agree “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Trump knew he was lying for each count for which they might find him guilty.

“It is not sufficient to prove that the defendant is probably guilty,” Merchan said.

The alleged sexual affairs that led to Trump’s prosecution are not the main issue in the case. 

Trump is accused of falsifying records of invoices, checks and business ledgers to cover up hush money payments to two women who claim they had sex with him before he was president.

Trump denies the sexual affairs with former adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. He also denies that he knowingly hid records of hush money payments to the women.

He acknowledges making payments to his former attorney, Michael Cohen, under a belief they were for “legal expenses.”

Cohen told a much different story during the trial. He said Trump wrote checks on his personal account knowing that the money was payment for nondisclosure agreements with Daniels and McDougal. Daniels said she received $130,000; McDougal, $150,000.

Cohen was the prosecution’s star witness. Trump’s defense team said he was a liar.

The judge told the jury they cannot convict Trump on Cohen’s testimony alone because he was an accomplice in the hush money payments. They could reach a guilty verdict if they believe Cohen’s testimony was corroborated by other evidence during the 20 days of testimony, Merchan said.

The other evidence included more than 200 documents and recordings as well as testimony from 22 witnesses.

One of them was Daniels, who said she had sex with Trump in 2006 and received the $130,000 payment.

Another witness was the former publisher of the National Enquirer who described himself as a friend of Trump and supporter of his 2016 political campaign. He said he sometimes helped Trump by buying the exclusive publication rights to stories that might embarrass him but never publishing them.

McDougal, who says she had a 10-month affair with Trump, was one of the people who allegedly received payment from the National Enquirer’s parent company for exclusive publication rights. The scheme to squelch the scandalous stories was called “catch-and-kill.”

Part of the action surrounding the trial occurred outside the courtroom.

Trump’s supporters and critics shouted insults at each other on the sidewalk and in the street.

One of them was actor Robert De Niro, who announced he thinks Trump is guilty. He called Trump’s supporters who tried to shout him down “gangsters.”

As the jury started its deliberation, Trump spoke to the media with another round of complaints about being a political martyr.

He called the charges against him “disgraceful.”

“It’s a weaponized deal for the Democrats to hit their political opponents,” Trump said.

He added, “This trial is rigged.”

The jury includes two lawyers, two financial sector workers, three computer industry experts, a teacher and an apparel industry executive.

After three hours and 40 minutes of deliberating, the jury sent the judge a note asking for a transcript of testimony about meetings between Trump, his former attorney and a business associate.

The transcripts they requested touched on key questions of whether Trump conspired in hush money payments and a cover-up of them.

The jury sent the judge a second note asking to rehear his instructions.

The judge sent the jury home Wednesday afternoon with plans to have the transcripts read to them when they return Thursday morning.

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