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Jury deliberations begin in Donald Trump’s hush money trial

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NEW YORK (AP) — The jury began deliberations in Donald Trump's hush money trial on Wednesday, leaving the outcome of this historic case in the hands of a dozen New Yorkers committed to fairness and impartiality in the face of their unprecedented task.

NEW YORK (AP) — Jury deliberations began Wednesday in Donald Trump's hush money trial, leaving the outcome of this historic case in the hands of a dozen New Yorkers who have vowed to be fair and impartial in the face of their unprecedented task.

The jury of seven men and five women was sent to a private room shortly before 11:30 a.m. to begin deliberating in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president. Jurors' discussions will be secret, but they can send notes to the judge and ask to rehear testimony or see evidence. This will also be their way of informing the court of a verdict or letting them know if they can't reach one.

“It is not my responsibility to judge the evidence here. It is yours,” Judge Juan M. Merchan told the jury.

Trump struck a pessimistic tone after leaving the courtroom following an hour-long reading of jury instructions, reiterating his claims of a “very unfair trial” and saying, “Mother Teresa could not disprove these charges. These charges are rigged.”

Trump, his lawyers and the prosecutors were instructed to remain in the courthouse during deliberations. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as Merchan told jurors earlier in the day that he would need about an hour to read the instructions. As the instructions continued, he took notes, which he showed to one of his lawyers.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records at his company. The accusation is that he covered up potentially embarrassing stories about himself during his 2016 Republican presidential campaign.

The charge, a felony, relates to repayments to Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen after he paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money to silence her claims that the two had sex in 2006. Trump is accused of passing off Cohen's repayments as legal fees to conceal that they were related to the payment of hush money.

Trump pleaded not guilty, claiming the payments to Cohen were for legitimate legal advice. He also denied alleged extramarital sexual contact with Daniels.

To convict Trump, the jury must unanimously find that he made a fraudulent entry in his company's records or caused someone else to do so and that he did so with the intent to commit or cover up another crime.

Prosecutors argue that the crime committed or concealed by Trump violated a New York election law that makes it illegal for two or more conspirators to “promote or prevent the election of any person to public office by any unlawful means.”

While the jury must unanimously agree that something illegal was done to further Trump's election campaign, it does not have to agree on what the illegality was.

The jury – a diverse cross-section of Manhattan residents and professionals – often seemed riveted by the trial testimony, including that of Cohen and Daniels. Many took notes and watched intently as witnesses answered questions from Manhattan prosecutors and Trump's lawyers.

Jurors began deliberating after a marathon day of closing arguments that included one prosecutor speaking for more than five hours, underscoring the burden on prosecutors to prove Trump's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A defense attorney spoke for about half of that time. To avoid conviction, Trump's team does not have to prove his innocence, but rather rely on at least one juror concluding that the prosecution has not sufficiently proven its case.

Earlier Wednesday, Merchan briefed the jury on legal issues. He gave some guidance on the factors the panel can use to evaluate witness testimony, including its plausibility, its consistency with other testimony, the witness's demeanor on the stand and whether the person has a motive to lie.

However, according to the judge, “there is no specific formula for evaluating the truthfulness and accuracy of another person’s testimony.”

The principles he laid out are standard, but perhaps all the more relevant after Trump's defense relied heavily on challenging the credibility of key prosecution witnesses, including Cohen.

Merchan also briefed jurors on the concept of accessory liability, which allows a defendant to be held criminally liable for the actions of another person.

This is a central part of the prosecution's theory in this case. Because while Trump signed some of the checks in question, employees of his company processed Cohen's invoices and entered the transactions into the accounting system.

According to Merchan, in order to hold Trump liable for these actions, the jury would have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that he incited, encouraged or ordered the individuals in question to engage in such conduct and that he acted intentionally.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass addressed the issue of aiding and abetting liability in his closing argument on Tuesday, telling jurors: “No one is alleging that the defendant actually sat down at the computer and typed in the false receipts, stamped the false invoices or printed the false checks.”

“But he set in motion a chain of events that led to the creation of the false business records,” Steinglass said.

Each verdict must be unanimous. During deliberations, six alternate jurors who have also attended every minute of the trial will be housed in a separate room in the courthouse in case they are needed to replace a juror who is ill or otherwise unavailable. In that case, deliberations will begin again as soon as the alternate juror is in office.

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Michael R. Sisak, Jennifer Peltz, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press