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Full jury of 12 people and 6 alternates is seated in Trump’s hush money trial in New York

Former President Donald Trump and his lawyer Todd Blanche appear at Manhattan criminal court in New York, Friday, April 19, 2024.

Former President Donald Trump and his lawyer Todd Blanche appear at Manhattan criminal court in New York, Friday, April 19, 2024.

Mark Peterson / Pool/AP

A full jury of 12 people and six alternates was seated Friday in Donald Trump’s hush money case, setting the stage for expected opening statements next week in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Lawyers spent days quizzing dozens of New Yorkers to choose the panel that has vowed to put their personal views aside and impartially judge whether the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is guilty or not. The jury includes a sales professional, a software engineer, an English teacher and multiple lawyers.

Just after the jury was seated, emergency crews responded to a park outside the courthouse, where a person was on fire. People rushed over with a fire extinguisher and worked to bat the flames away before the person was taken away on a stretcher. The person’s condition was not immediately known.

The trial will place Trump in a Manhattan courtroom for weeks, forcing him to juggle his dual role as criminal defendant and political candidate against the backdrop of his hotly contested race against President Joe Biden. It will feature salacious and unflattering testimony his opponent will no doubt seize on to try to paint him as unfit to return as commander in chief.

Trump has spent the week sitting quietly in the courtroom as lawyers press potential jurors on their views about him in a search for any bias that could preclude them from hearing the case. During breaks in the proceedings, he has lashed out about the allegations and the judge to cameras in the hallway, using his mounting legal problems as a political rallying cry to cast himself of a victim.

Over several days, dozens of members of the jury pool have been dismissed after saying they don’t believe they can be fair. Others have expressed anxiety about having to decide such a consequential case with outsized media attention. The judge has ruled that their names will be known only to prosecutors, Trump and their legal teams.

One woman who had been chosen to serve on the jury was dismissed Thursday after she raised concerns over messages she said she got from friends and family when aspects of her identity became public. On Friday, another woman broke down in tears while being questioned by a prosecutor about her ability to decide the case based only on evidence presented in court.

“I feel so nervous and anxious right now,” the woman said. “I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t want someone who feels like this to judge my case either. I don’t want to waste the court’s time.”

As more potential jurors were questioned Friday, Trump appeared to lean over at the defense table, scribbling on some papers and exchanging notes with one of his lawyers. He occasionally perked up and gazed at the jury box, including when one would-be juror said he had volunteered in a “get out the vote” effort for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Another prospective juror got Trump’s attention when he mentioned that he follows the White House Instagram account, including when Trump was in office. Trump shot a grin at one man who was asked if he was married and joked that he had been trying to find a wife in his spare time, but “it’s not working.”

Judge Juan Merchan is also expected to hold a hearing Friday to consider a request from prosecutors to bring up Trump’s prior legal entanglements if he takes the stand in the hush money case. Manhattan prosecutors have said they want to question Trump about his recent civil fraud trial that resulted in a $454 million judgment after a judge found Trump had lied about his wealth for years. He is appealing that verdict.

The trial centers on a $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, made to porn actor Stormy Daniels to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump from becoming public in the final days of the 2016 race.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of the payments in internal records when his company reimbursed Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018 and is expected to be a star witness for the prosecution.

Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He could get up to four years in prison if convicted, though it’s not clear that the judge would opt to put him behind bars. Trump would almost certainly appeal any conviction.

Trump is involved in four criminal cases, but it’s not clear that any others will reach trial before the November election. Appeals and legal wrangling have caused delays in the other three cases charging Trump with plotting to overturn the 2020 election results and with illegally hoarding classified documents.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of former President Donald Trump at https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump.

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