Jury to begin deliberating on Trump's fate at NY trial

Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up a fist as he returns from a break as closing arguments continue in his criminal trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 28, 2024. [AFP]

Jurors in Donald Trump's hush money trial begin deliberating Wednesday on whether to return the first criminal conviction of a former president -- a momentous decision that could upend the November presidential election.

After weeks of testimony from more than 20 witnesses, the piercing glare of the legal spotlight now shifts firmly to the anonymous 12-member panel that holds Trump's fate in its hands.

After receiving final instructions from the judge, the jury will retire to consider a verdict that -- whichever way it goes -- will have an outsized impact on Trump, and the country as a whole.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse a $130,000 payment to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels, when her account of an alleged sexual encounter imperiled his 2016 presidential campaign.

If Trump is found guilty, the political repercussions would far outweigh the seriousness of the charges as, barely five months before the presidential election, the candidate would also become a convicted criminal.

In a full day of closing arguments on Tuesday, his defense team insisted the evidence for a conviction simply did not exist, while the prosecution countered that it was voluminous and inescapable.

"The defendant's intent to defraud could not be any clearer," said prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, urging the jurors to use their "common sense" and return a guilty verdict.

To return a guilty or not guilty verdict requires the jury to be unanimous -- one holdout means a mistrial.

If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in prison on each of 34 counts, but legal experts say that as a first-time offender he is unlikely to get jail time.

A conviction would not bar him from the November ballot.

'Hatred for Trump' 

In its concluding remarks to the jury, the defense has painted star prosecution witness Michael Cohen as a convicted liar consumed by "outright hatred for Trump."

"There was no intent to defraud and beyond that there was no conspiracy to influence the 2016 election," said Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche.

Steinglass countered that there was a mountain of corroborating evidence in addition to Cohen's testimony.

Speaking to reporters before entering the Manhattan courtroom Tuesday, Trump called it a "very dangerous day for America."

Trump chose not to testify in his defense.

Instead, he used his trips to court to claim the trial is a Democratic ploy to keep him off the campaign trail.

Polls show Trump neck and neck against President Joe Biden and the verdict will inflame passions as the White House race intensifies.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He also faces charges in Florida of hoarding huge quantities of classified documents after leaving the White House.

The New York case is the only one likely to come to trial by election day.