Jury selection reflects mixed reactions only

Updated: August 27, 2004, 7:53 PM ET
By Shelley Smith | Special to ESPN.com

"I just left the courtroom," the voice on the other end of the phone said breathlessly. "I filled out the questionnaire."

"Wait, stop," I interrupt. "Don't tell me anything more." The "voice" belongs to one of the prospective jurors in the Kobe Bryant trial and because of a strict order from the judge, any conversation about the trial -- even the 82-item questionnaire he had just filled out as part of jury selection -- is off limits. Violate the order, and I stand to lose my seat to cover the trial in the courtroom, which is right behind the defense team. The "voice" says the judge told him not to discuss the questionnaire, either, and he doesn't want to get bounced from the jury pool.

Terry Ruckriegle
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle, left, was on hand at the Eagle County Justice Center as prospective jurors began arriving.

He is a 20-ish construction worker who lives with his girlfriend in a small town about 10 miles from the courthouse in Eagle. When he got his summons -- one of 999 that were sent out -- he was thrilled, wanting badly to become one of the 12 who will decide whether Kobe Bryant is a rapist or merely an adulterer. Not because he has an overt opinion either way, but because this trial is shaping up to be one of the biggest stories of the year and he simply thinks it would be a cool thing to do.

"Can we get a couple of drinks later?" he asked. "Sure," I said. "I don't think drinking with jurors is prohibited. Just talking about the case." Exactly 300 people filed into the courthouse throughout the day clutching their summonses in their hands and trying to ignore the gauntlet of media standing 100 feet away. They were young and old, large and small, male and female and, from my count from my perch on our set, white. Which is of no surprise to anyone who knows Eagle County, where my family has lived for almost 40 years. One local attorney I know has tried more than 100 jury trials here and not once has he had an African-American in the jury pool, much less on the jury. But there are plenty of very wealthy people who live here, meaning Bryant can still get a jury of his peers.

Another of the potential jurors I know is a 50-ish man, married with two teenage sons, who wants nothing to do with this trial. Another is a single man in his 60s who owns a prominent business and doesn't care one way or the other whether he's chosen. Jury consultants say they'd have to know more about each to make a prediction as to whether any of them would be ideal jurors -- for either side. Our legal analyst, Roger Cossack, believes that views on religion and politics will become important, as well as views on extramarital sex and sexual assault.

Attorneys for both sides were given copies of the completed questionnaires and will likely spend every minute over the weekend trying to weed out the good from the bad, the pro from the con and hopefully expose those who have an agenda.

The "Voice" remains hopeful.

ESPN reporter Shelley Smith has been covering the events leading to the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case since July 2003.

Shelley Smith

SportsCenter correspondent
Shelley Smith joined ESPN in January 1997 after working part-time as a reporter for the network since 1993. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS championship game, the Stanley Cup playoffs, golf and tennis championships and more.

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