Only minutes after the first potential juror took the witness stand, Roger Stone abruptly left the courtroom, apparently ill. Moments later, a spectator started moaning and collapsed.
Everyone from the judge to the spectators — which included alt-right media activist Milo Yiannopoulos — was left baffled.
It was a fittingly unpredictable opening to the trial of the longtime conservative provocateur, a three-week affair that’s expected to be heavy on spectacle and colorful characters. Stone is fighting charges he lied to Congress and obstructed its 2016 Russia investigation, and Tuesday was slated for jury selection.
But the two rapid-fire events forced a 45-minute delay right off the bat, after the questioning of only the first of 80 potential jurors.
And that first juror was an only-in-D.C. character, a former Obama-era press secretary for the Office of Management and Budget whose husband still works at the Justice Department division that played a role in the Russia probe that ultimately snagged Stone. She even acknowledged to having negative views of President Donald Trump, and said she had followed the media coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Still, the woman said she did not have strong views about Stone, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the case, denied a request from Stone’s lawyers to strike the woman as a potential juror.
It was after that exchange that the proceedings on the second floor of the federal courthouse in Washington D.C., got strange. First, Stone got up and asked his wife to join him as he left the courtroom. With the defendant absent, the packed room got quiet while the judge appeared confused.
Then a spectator sitting in the back row moaned loudly and collapsed. Jackson adjourned the proceedings and cleared the courtroom while medical personnel and Stone’s daughter, a trauma nurse, attended to the sick man. After about 15 minutes, the man walked out of the courtroom on his own and the D.C. fire department took him out of the building on a stretcher.
Court personnel wearing rubber gloves arrived and started cleaning the area in the courtroom where the man fell ill, as well as in the hallway outside the courtroom.
The proceedings resumed with Stone back at the defense table, though he appeared visibly shaken and a bit ashen. Three more potential jurors were deemed qualified.
At one point, Stone was resting his head on one of his hands. That prompted some private consultations at the judge’s bench, followed by Jackson calling for a lunch break. She said she hoped proceedings would resume “more energetically after an hour and some fresh air.”
Stone exited the courtroom walking arm-in-arm with his wife and daughter. The trio and one of Stone’s lawyers proceeded directly to the ground floor and entered the courthouse’s health unit.
The Stone trial has all the makings of a D.C. circus. Outside the courthouse Tuesday morning, protesters chanted “Roger Stone did nothing wrong!” as the longtime Trump associate entered the courthouse.
As the public lined up outside the courtroom, Bill Christensen, a local political activist who has been holding up signs at Mueller-related hearings for the last two-plus years called out to Stone as he walked past: “Hey, you’re going to get to see Manafort.”
Stone supporters like Yiannopoulos and former Trump 2016 campaign adviser Michael Caputo attended the first day of jury selection, as well.
In all, 80 potential jurors arrived Tuesday for the start of the Stone trial — slightly more women than men. Jackson told the group that whoever gets picked can expect the trial to last two to three weeks and that they should be prepared to be on duty through Thanksgiving week.
But Jackson said the jurors would not have to come to court the Wednesday before the holiday unless they agreed to it.
“Turkey will be enjoyed,” she said.
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