82-item questionnaire released

8/30/2004 - Kobe Bryant

EAGLE, Colo. -- Racial prejudice. Star power and wealth.
Trust in the judicial system and the media. Familiarity with rape.

All those topics are covered in an 82-item jury questionnaire
released Monday as attorneys and the judge in the Kobe Bryant
sexual assault case went behind closed doors for one-on-one
discussions with people who could end up deciding whether the NBA
star is guilty of rape.

Individual questioning began after District Judge Terry
Ruckriegle rejected a media request for access. The judge said he
wanted candidates to feel they could answer questions about
potentially embarrassing topics without scrutiny by the press.

He also said Bryant's right to a fair trial and the potential
jurors' right to privacy outweigh "qualified" First Amendment
rights of access.

Attorneys and the judge questioned prospective jurors
individually for nearly 10 hours Monday. Court officials would not
comment on their progress.

Bryant walked out of the Eagle County Courthouse at approximately 8:51 p.m. MT Monday night (10:51pm ET) -- nearly 13½ hours after he arrived in court.

Bryant, 26, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault,
saying he had consensual sex with a then-19-year-old employee at a
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.

Among other things, the questionnaire asks candidates how they
feel about interracial relationships, whether they have had "any
negative experience with an African American" and whether they are
biased against mental health professionals.

Trial consultant Howard Varinsky of Varinsky Associates said he
believes the defense is particularly concerned with people's
feelings on whether a defendant must prove he is innocent or
whether he should be required to testify.

Prosecutors, he said, will be wary of people who have had
negative experiences with law enforcement or the court system.

"Both sides are looking for who to kick," he said.

In fact, the questionnaire probably does not provide an accurate
glimpse of arguments that will come up at trial, said Richard
Gabriel, a Los Angeles-based trial consultant with Decision

"It probably has more to do with what one side anticipates the
other side's themes and issues are going to be and wanting to
clearly find out if people are going to be amenable to it," he

Late Monday, Denver television station KCNC released some
details of the sealed, 150-person witness list. The station
reported it included the accuser and her parents and many of
her acquaintances from Eagle and from the University of Northern
Colorado in Greeley where she was a student until fall 2003.

Also on the list, the station said, was Jeff Shapiro, who wrote
a book about the case; and people from Calgary, Alberta, where the
supermarket tabloid Globe published what it said were pictures of
the accuser celebrating in a bar a few months after the

"On the eve of trial, we are once again reminded that no
protections are assured and little efforts are made to correct the
evident flaws that have defined this case," said attorney John
Clune, who represents the accuser.

Ruckriegle said private questioning will be limited, covering
topics including potential jurors' personal experience with sexual
assault, any potential racial prejudice they harbor, whether
pretrial publicity has prompted them to form an opinion on Bryant's
guilt or innocence, and any familiarity they may have with the

In all, the jury pool includes 276 Eagle County residents -- 205
of whom filled out questionnaires Friday and were called back for
more questioning this week after attorneys reviewed the answers
over the weekend and eliminated about one-third of the original
pool of 300. Seventy-one more potential jurors filled out
questionnaires Monday.

Jury selection will be private until at least Wednesday, when
reporters will be able to watch and listen through closed-circuit
television. By then, the jury pool will likely have been whittled
considerably. Opening statements are expected Sept. 7.

Experts said the questionnaire was typical, both in length and
topics covered, for a trial of a high-profile defendant.

Trial consultant Beth Bonora of Bonora D'Andrea said both sides
are probably interested in learning about candidates' experience
with sexual assault. She said it was appropriate to discuss those
matters in private.

"You can't ask jurors to talk about really private things in
front of a panel including the media," she said. "People will be
offended and upset and that's not good for anyone in a case."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.