Bryant case near jury selection

Prosecutors and defense attorneys in Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case get a chance this week to see potential jurors eye-to-eye for the first time.

About 100 Eagle County residents will be individually questioned as attorneys and the judge in the case work to seat a jury. That process was to begin yesterday.

Three-hundred people filled out questionnaires Friday to give prosecutors and defense attorneys their initial sense of the jury pool. An additional 100 people are expected to join the jury pool this week, state courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said Sunday.

Salaz said the addition of the new possible jurors, who also will have to fill out the questionnaires, should not make jury selection take longer than previously expected. Opening statements are expected Sept. 7.

Salaz had said Friday that officials were satisfied with the pool of 300. However, she said Sunday that the new people — who were summoned for another case that suddenly was settled — would improve chances of seating an impartial jury.

Attorneys spent much of the weekend scrutinizing answers to the 82 questions asked of each of the first 300 potential jurors. Lawyers met with the judge Sunday to make up a list of those who were to be called back beginning yesterday for individual, closed-door questioning.

“The job of the attorneys and consultants is to come up with what attitudes might lead to a bias against our side,” said trial consultant Beth Bonora of Bonora D’Andrea.

While lawyers ask questions, other attorneys and consultants will be watching the potential jurors carefully for clues to their attitudes in their body language and facial expressions, said former prosecutor Craig Silverman.

Following individual questioning, remaining candidates are expected to be brought into a courtroom as a group as early as tomorrow for the public portion of jury selection.

In an unusual move for Colorado courts, the judge closed the individual questioning to the public. Because of the numbers of people involved in the largest jury call in Eagle County history, the public will not be allowed in the courtroom for the open-court portions of the process. Instead, reporters and the public will observe the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle scheduled a hearing early yesterday to discuss a request by news organizations, including The Associated Press, to open the individual questioning to the public.

Bryant, 26, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the 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.

Prosecutors likely will look for people who view the case as a clear-cut question of whether the alleged victim consented to sex with Bryant, said jury consultant Richard Gabriel of Decision Analysis. He said defense attorneys probably want jurors who can appreciate nuances of behavior and personal interactions.

“You’re really trying to analyze how a juror is going to put the evidence together to arrive at a conclusion,” Gabriel said.