First wave arrives to fill out questionnaires

Originally Published: August 27, 2004
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- Attorneys in Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case are spending the weekend scrutinizing 300 questionnaires filled out by prospective jurors, the first step in seating a panel that will decide whether the NBA star is guilty of rape.

The questionnaires were filled out by Eagle County residents who arrived Friday at the courthouse in waves so they did not disrupt other business in the building.

Many shielded their faces from cameras while others smiled and waved at reporters and photographers. Members of the media are under a court order to stay away from the jury candidates and not to take their pictures.

Bryant was not at the courthouse. Jury selection probably will take most of next week. Opening statements are not expected until Sept. 7.

Bryant has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with a then-19-year-old employee of the Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

The county issued 999 jury summonses, easily the biggest jury call in its history. About 165 could not be delivered, and about 150 people were excused primarily because they are no longer county residents or U.S. citizens.

The prospective jurors filled out 82-item questionnaires that defense attorneys, prosecutors and their consultants have agonized over for weeks and will remain sealed until at least next week.

The questions include, according to a report by KCNC-TV, whether jurors follow professional basketball, their feelings on interracial relationships and whether they think rich people are treated better by the courts.

State courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz declined to release the questionnaire, which is expected to be made public Monday. She said the questions obtained by the television station were not the final version given to potential jurors.

Attorneys in the case will scrutinize the answers over the weekend, developing lists of potential jurors they want eliminated and those they want to talk to.

"They are gearing up for a very, very long couple of days," said Richard Gabriel, a Los Angeles-based jury consultant with Decision Analysis.

At least in the early stages, attorneys will focus on whom to eliminate from the pool, he said.

"Jury selection is really jury de-selection; eliminating those people you feel would be most harmful to your case," Gabriel said.

Attorneys are expected to begin closed-door questioning of individuals Monday, starting with 25 to 30 prospective jurors. The same number will return Tuesday and more might be scheduled Wednesday, depending on progress, Salaz said.

Attorneys for news organizations including The Associated Press have asked the judge to open much of the questioning, and a hearing on the request is scheduled Monday.

Media attorneys are also asking the judge to unseal statements Bryant made to investigators who interviewed him the night after the alleged attack. Defense attorneys oppose the request, saying the evidence could hurt Bryant's right to a fair trial.

Also on Friday, another filing was released that stated Bryant's accuser is entitled to remain anonymous in her civil case against the star because of her privacy rights and past threats made against her. News organizations had objected to efforts by the woman's lawyers to seal details in the lawsuit.

The attorneys said they agreed many details in the civil case could be released -- as long as the woman's name remains secret. Most media organizations have not reported her name. It has appeared online and twice been published accidentally on a state courts Web site.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press