Berliner Tageblatt - Glowering, threats and Al Capone: what faces the Trump jury

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Glowering, threats and Al Capone: what faces the Trump jury
Glowering, threats and Al Capone: what faces the Trump jury / Photo: © POOL/AFP

Glowering, threats and Al Capone: what faces the Trump jury

Terrorists, mafia bosses -- and Donald Trump. The common thread? When they go on trial, the jurors have such a tough task that they have to be kept anonymous for their own safety.

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Being one of the 12 New Yorkers sitting in judgment on arguably the most controversial politician in modern US history -- a past president and strong contender to regain the White House this November -- was never going to be straightforward.

This is a case "that could well be important to who wins the presidency," University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said.

Aside from the pressure of being thrown into a supreme legal-political drama, the five women and seven men chosen will have to worry about something more basic: their safety.

The charges against Trump -- he is accused of falsifying business records while covering up an affair with a porn star -- are hardly at the level of drug kingpins and mass bombers.

But Judge Juan Merchan still ordered the anonymity measure more typical of those cases in order to prevent the "likelihood of bribery, jury tampering or of physical injury or harassment of the juror."

Trump, who has been put under a gag rule preventing him from attacking witnesses and others involved in the trial, presents a glowering presence in court.

Before going inside Friday, he launched a diatribe to TV cameras about the "hoax" trial and earlier this week angered Merchan by muttering in the direction of jurors as they were being chosen.

"I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom," Merchan reprimanded.

Trump has a long history of using his influence to belittle, insult and make often false, yet provocative, comments about anyone crossing him.

In 2019, then-president Trump caused shock when he denigrated the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, on social media right as she was testifying in Congress about his impending impeachment for allegedly blackmailing the Ukrainian president.

"It's very intimidating," she said when informed, live on television, of the attack on her character.

Anonymity will be vital over the six to eight weeks of the trial, "because jurors must be focused completely on their task of rendering a fair verdict," Tobias said.

- 'Stressful' -

Two-thirds of Americans say serving on a jury is an important part of being a good citizen, according to the Pew Research Center, yet not everyone is enthusiastic. Around nine percent say they have lied to get out of jury service, a YouGov survey found.

In the Trump trial, jurors face not only an unusually long time stuck in a dingy Manhattan courthouse but the fear of getting caught up in the Trump political pressure cooker -- or worse.

"I'm sorry. I thought I could do this," said one woman, bursting into tears as she asked to be excused from jury duty Friday. "This is so much more stressful than I thought it was going to be."

For those getting through the highly intrusive screening, anonymity will only go so far.

Only defense attorneys, prosecutors and the court know jurors' names. But the screening process has made public so many biographical details -- occupations, hobbies, spouses -- that uncovering the identities may not prove difficult for internet sleuths, journalists or indeed Trump supporters.

One previously empaneled juror came back to court the following day and told the judge she wanted to pull out because friends and family had been asking her so much about the case.

She "probably would have been a very good juror," lamented Merchan.

- Al Capone -

A physical threat to jurors is a real concern in a nation where political violence is on the rise. Trump's hardcore fans include armed militias and hundreds of people convicted in the January 6, 2021 storming of Congress.

A New York man this week admitted sending death threats to the judge who oversaw Trump's blockbuster civil fraud case earlier this year. And grand jurors who voted to indict the real estate magnate in the 2020 election interference case in Georgia have also been threatened online.

If it all sounds a little reminiscent of gangsters, that's because Trump revels in the comparison.

"I got indicted more than Alphonse Capone," he proudly told a rally in October, referring to the murderous boss of a Prohibition-era crime gang.

"Al Capone, he was seriously tough, right?"

"If you looked at him the wrong way... he blew your brains out. He was only indicted one time, I was indicted four times."

A.Gasser--BTB