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Jury Selection Starts in Bryant Case

Lawyers survey the 300 candidates who show up, as the NBA player's sex assault trial starts.

August 28, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

EAGLE, Colo. — Prospective jurors formed a convoy of cars on the narrow street leading to the Eagle County Justice Center on Friday, in the first step in Laker star Kobe Bryant's sexual assault trial.

Three hundred of the 999 county residents who were summoned showed up to fill out a lengthy questionnaire, but court spokeswoman Karen Salaz said that was a typical percentage.

"I felt like the people who did come were taking their responsibility very seriously," Salaz said. "They were all wide awake."

Cars streamed into a parking lot adjoining the courthouse until midafternoon.

The jury candidates were handed clipboards and ushered into a courtroom, where Judge Terry Ruckriegle told them they were forbidden from speaking to the media until they were released from service.

The form had 82 questions, whittled in recent days from 115 by prosecutors and defense lawyers. Legal analysts said the questions sought to reveal bias and addressed topics including the NBA, interracial relationships and marital infidelity.

Bryant, 26, is accused of raping a woman at an Edwards, Colo., mountain resort where she worked and he was a guest June 30, 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the woman. If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation plus a fine.

The attorneys will spend the weekend reviewing the completed questionnaires and meet Sunday with Ruckriegle to decide on groups of 25 to 30 prospective jurors to interview in closed court for two or three days beginning Monday.

The judge has barred the media from the courtroom during the next round of questioning as well, although there will be an audio feed to two trailers located outside the courthouse. The courthouse was off limits to the media Friday.

However, lawyers for news organizations have protested the ban and Ruckriegle scheduled a hearing early Monday morning to allow arguments before jurors were questioned.

Ruckriegle's concerns were made evident when he prohibited a wire service photographer from publishing a photo of a prospective juror's shadow.

Bryant must be in court beginning Monday. The woman who has accused him will not be present for jury selection.

Court officials estimate that opening statements will begin Sept. 7.

Neither side has filed a motion requesting that the jury be sequestered, Salaz said.

In a federal court filing Friday in Denver, lawyers for the accuser asked Judge Richard P. Matsch that the woman be referred to by the pseudonym "Jane Doe" throughout her civil case against Bryant.

"As the criminal case has shown, [Bryant] will likely be using his unlimited financial resources and considerable access to the media to shamelessly and publicly attack and accuse the victim," attorney John Clune said.

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