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Jury excused after first day of deliberations in Trump hush money trial

Former President Donald Trump is charged in New York with 34 counts of falsifying business records.
Trump Hush Money
Posted at 7:44 AM, May 29, 2024

The judge presiding over the hush money trial involving former President Donald Trump excused the jury after more than four hours of deliberations on Wednesday.

The 12-person jury will resume their deliberations on Thursday.

Trump faces 34 charges of falsifying business records.

While deliberating, the jury sent the judge two different notes. One of those notes asked to review testimony from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker. Pecker had testified about a so-called catch-and-kill scheme to suppress potentially damaging stories about Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The second request was to hear the jury instructions again.

On Wednesday morning, Judge Juan Merchan gave the jurors their instructions, informing them that they could not penalize Trump for not testifying, as the burden of proof rests with the prosecution.

"You must find the defendant not guilty unless the evidence shows the people have proven beyond a reasonable doubt," Merchan said. "You may consider all the evidence presented. Remember, even though the defendant introduced evidence, the burden of proof is on the people."

During closing arguments Tuesday, Trump's lawyers attacked the prosecution's star witnesses, especially former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, as liars and asserted the former president could not be convicted of crimes that never occurred. However, the prosecution argued that Trump orchestrated a scheme to illegally falsify business records to cover up damaging stories to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The case against Trump may come down to whether the jury believes Cohen.

He testified that Trump directed him to make a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair. Prosecutors say Trump's reimbursement to Cohen was disguised as a legal expense, violating state election law.

Under the law, Merchan said Cohen is considered an accomplice.

"Defendant may not be convicted by the testimony from the accomplice unless it is supported by corroborating evidence," Merchan said.

Merchan said the jury can consider whether a witness had a motive to lie. They can also consider whether the witness can expect a benefit from testifying and whether it impacts their testimony. Similarly, he says they can consider whether they have an interest in the outcome of the case.

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Outside the courtroom, Trump maintained that the case was "rigged" and that Merchan is "corrupt."

"Mother Teresa couldn't beat these charges, but we'll see," Trump said. "What is happening here is weaponization at a level never seen before ever and it shouldn't be allowed to happen."

Trump complained that the trial has kept him off the 2024 presidential campaign trail. Even so, Trump said he has seen his poll numbers improve since the start of the trial.

"I think the people of this country see this is a rigged deal, this is a weaponized deal for Democrats to hit their political opponent," he said.

What are the potential outcomes?

Three potential outcomes could come from the jury: conviction, acquittal or mistrial.

To reach a conviction, all 12 jurors must believe beyond a reasonable doubt the former president falsified business records to commit or conceal a crime. As Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying records, the jury could find Trump guilty on all or some counts.

If the jury finds Trump guilty, jurors would not decide his punishment as that would be left to the judge. Trump faces up to four years in prison, but with no criminal record, he could get something less severe like probation.

If jurors unanimously agree Trump is not guilty, this legal battle is officially over. He can declare vindication and spend more of his time campaigning and on his other criminal cases.

Another possible outcome is a hung jury. For this, all it takes is one juror to dissent. The former president would avoid punishment and walk free, but the prosecution could request a retrial.