Jury in trial of convicted crypto tycoon Robert Bankman

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Jury in trial of convicted crypto tycoon Robert Bankman

The first day of the trial began Tuesday, without a jury being seated, though a few dozen potential jurors were excused. At the end of the day, almost 50 people were left in the pool, Kaplan said, before dismissing the prospects in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 12 jurors and six alternates will be selected Wednesday, and the judge said he expects opening arguments to begin shortly after.

As he has been in most previous hearings, Bankman-Fried was present Tuesday, wearing a suit and sporting a haircut sans his trademark curly mop. Besides his last court appearance, he was not shackled walking in. He spent most of the day on a laptop chatting with his lawyers.

The one-time power broker of the cryptocurrency sector is accused of conducting what prosecutors have characterized as one of the largest financial frauds in history. Last November, his two crypto companies FTX and Alameda collapsed because of customer withdrawals, which exposed an $8 billion hole in their balance sheets. He faces several years in prison if convicted.

Most of Tuesday was spent weeding out potential jurors based on their response to general questions such as their religious beliefs and physical disabilities, as well as potential financial difficulties that could complicate their participation in the trial expected to last six weeks. Several of them lost money investing in crypto, including one that was nearly ruined by a twin brother.

One strange moment saw a juror who knew about FTX through work tell Judge Kaplan that she couldn't reach a guilty verdict if the penalty for Bankman-Fried was a death penalty. While jurors are instructed to render their judgements irrespective of the defendant's resulting punishment, Judge Kaplan broke that norm to ensure her that death was not on the table in a financial crimes case.

When Kaplan asked if any of the jurors came to court on Tuesday with 'personal knowledge' of Bankman-Fried, several raised their hands in the affirmative. When questioned individually, most of these people recalled learning about the case in the media.

Kaplan probed the jury pool for whether they had any biases that would make it difficult for them to be impartial. 'I'm not sure how unbiased I could be about crypto given how negative I feel about it,' said one potential juror.