Risks, reward lay ahead for Trump trial jurors

Risks, reward lay ahead for Trump trial jurors

NEW YORK: They sat in judgement on one of the most powerful and controversial men in the United States, protected only by court-ordered anonymity.

Now that thin armor is gone and the 12 jurors who convicted Donald Trump must resume their normal lives in a country where politically motivated harassment — and even violence — are growing facts of life.

Following their verdict on Thursday, Judge Juan Merchan spent considerable time thanking the jury, telling them they “were engaged in a difficult and stressful task.”

After overcoming the rigors and tensions of the sprawling case, jurors now face the threat of retribution, experts say.

Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said she anticipated the jurors’ identities would “come out — and that they’ll come out via the defendant.”

Though granted anonymity, the prosecution and defense attorneys were made aware of jurors names. In parallel there were efforts underway on social media to out the jurors, with some users threatening violence.

“That will put them in a state of danger, just as we saw with election workers — it could be a real point of concern,“ Finkelstein told AFP.

AFP sought comment from the courts service on what protective measures if any would be taken to ensure the safety of jurors following their marathon five-week service.

The chair of the New York state Senate’s judiciary committee, Brad Hoylman-Sigal, said that jurors’ safety would be of the “utmost importance.”

“Their protection, and this ruling, will demonstrate to the nation, and to the world, that we are indeed a nation governed by the rule of law,“ the Democratic senator said.

“They could actually post security at their homes, they could relocate (them) and if it got really bad, they could put them into the witness protection program. I hope it doesn’t get to that,“ said professor Finkelstein.

Like a mobster trial

Trump’s response to the jury and their decision could have a significant bearing on the intensity of the attention jurors are subject to.

At the outset of the trial, Judge Merchan slapped Trump with a partial gag order that barred him from attacking the jurors — among others — in his public statements.

Though still in force, the judge could lift the gag order, which also applies to witnesses, Merchan’s own family, and that of the prosecutor, at sentencing which is scheduled for July 11.

On Thursday Merchan released the jurors from his order that they not mention the trial outside of the court.

“The choice is yours,“ he said, encouraging them to think carefully about their decision.

Jurors in other high-profile cases have braved the glare of public and media scrutiny to tell their stories.

Following the blockbuster 1995 trial of American football star O.J. Simpson, one juror published a book on the experience while another contributed to a documentary on the case.

“The jurors are free to discuss the case, their views about the evidence, and their deliberations,“ said law professor and former prosecutor Bennett Gershman.

“(But) I don’t see the Trump jurors as stealth jurors seeking to cash in on their experience.”

In Trump’s case, one juror who had been selected from a pool of around 200 to join the panel of 12 dropped out of the trial after telling the judge that media reports had led her to be identified.

The judge pleaded with journalists to exercise caution and not give detailed physical descriptions of the jury that could lead to them being identified.

Throughout the trial Trump was joined in court by a revolving entourage of backers including, at one point, former Hells Angels leader Chuck Zito.

“Clearly (Trump) was trying to intimidate the members of the jury, in advance of the verdict,“ Finkelstein added.

“This was really like a mobster trial.”

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