22 May 2024, 08:05

Bearing witness: the citizens lining up to watch Trump trial

NEW YORK, May 22, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - A handful of courtroom hopefuls have braved all kinds of weather as they queue to catch a glimpse of Donald Trump's seismic New York criminal trial, sometimes paying lavishly for "sitters" to hold their places in line.

Teacher Richard Partington, 43, described the trial as "one of the most fascinating and exciting experiences of my life," arriving outside the imposing courthouse two days before proceedings to boost his chances of getting inside.

After running the gauntlet of strict security checkpoints, ancient elevators and a long fluorescent-lit corridor, Partington and six or seven others have each day been able to watch the first ever criminal case play out against a former US president.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to hide a reimbursement to his former lawyer Michael Cohen for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom it is claimed the property tycoon had a sexual encounter.

On hard wooden benches, the public spectators have joined around 50 journalists and Trump's entourage of Republican grandees, supporters and family to see the twists and turns of the historic court case.

"I learned a lot from the news, but I think there's some truth that you really pick up when you're in the courtroom -- you see Donald Trump walking by eight times a day, you see the judge (and) the jury," said Partington.

"The result of this trial will likely sway this election in one way," he added, affirming his fear of a second Trump presidency.

Along with some protesters -- both anti- and pro-Trump -- eager courtroom spectators have come from across the four corners of the United States.

Retired lawyer Peter Osetek traveled almost 3,000 miles from San Diego on the other side of the country to visit his son in New York and to see "history being made."

- 'Pay to play' -

Trial followers often have more luck in an overflow room, where a live feed is streamed to around 30 members of the public and journalists unable to be in the main trial space.

Justin Ford, an IT worker from Connecticut, said he was drawn to line up for a chance to see "a former president of the United States (who) is on trial, and it's not televised. I want to witness it with my own eyes."

Ford, 42, missed the chance to get inside the trial -- despite arriving in the middle of the night.

He has forensic knowledge of the trial's ins and outs, avidly reading the verbatim transcripts that are posted on the court's website daily.

The line to get in operates on a strictly "first come, first served" basis, fueling a booming market for line sitters.

For around $50 an hour, professional queue holders will stand in for court hopefuls, with the best spots in the line re-sold for as much as $2,000 when Trump's arch-nemesis Cohen testified.

Ford called the "pay to play" phenomenon "pretty sad."

Funke Sangodeyi, who described herself as a "total political junkie," said she paid $700 for a spot in the overflow room.

"It was amazing to witness the American justice system holding a president accountable. It's a historical moment," said Sangodeyi, 48, a consultant from Brooklyn.

Like most of those who spoke to AFP, Sangodeyi sees the justice system as capable of preventing Trump's return to the White House, saying she hopes a conviction will put off crucial swing voters.

More than anything, the trial highlights that "no one is above the law," said pediatrician Cindy Mobley who traveled two and a half hours by train from Baltimore.

"It feels like it is the last frontier, the last thing that can hold us together," said the 64-year-old, who spent part of the night in a sleeping bag at the foot of the courthouse.


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