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Basketball: Kobe's jury selection begins

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posted on Aug, 27 2004 @ 08:56 AM
After 14 months of sordid headlines and days of hearings that left unanswered questions, the sexual assault trial of NBA star Kobe Bryant was to begin with hundreds of people scheduled to arrive Friday for the first wave of jury selection.

About 500 Eagle County residents were expected to appear at the courthouse to fill out 82-item questionnaires that defense attorneys, prosecutors and their consultants have agonized over for weeks.

Determining what questions to ask is a crucial part of a process in which both sides will jockey to seat jurors they believe are sympathetic to their arguments. To do that, attorneys will have to quickly learn a wide variety of details about people who might be uncomfortable in providing them, trial consultant Beth Bonora said.
"You need to understand more than just surface things about someone," she said. "All the social science work done in our field suggests that decision-making based on demographics alone is a futile endeavor. People are more complicated than that."

Meanwhile, prosecutors will be working to refine their last-minute request for the judge to hold a hearing so they can challenge DNA evidence the defense says shows the accuser had sex with someone else hours after leaving Bryant.

During a brief hearing Thursday, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle chastised prosecutors for waiting until the last minute to file a request he said was incomplete. He said he should deny it because the hearing likely would delay the trial, but then gave prosecutors until Tuesday to file a new request with more information.

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

Prosecutor Dana Easter told Ruckriegle that DNA test results from laboratories hired by Bryant's attorneys indicate there was contamination in control samples intended to ensure accurate testing.

She said that threw into question the reliability of conclusions made by defense DNA expert Elizabeth Johnson, who has testified she believes the alleged victim had sex with someone else soon after her encounter with Bryant. The woman's attorneys have denied that claim.

Easter said she could not have questioned the results earlier because the defense dragged its feet in providing information needed to evaluate DNA test results.

"We have acted as well as we can," she told the judge. "The prosecution has not had $12 million to pay for experts."

Defense attorney Hal Haddon said prosecutors' requests for the hearing and for information he says has already been provided them were made primarily to inflame public opinion on the eve of trial.

"These motions are humbugs designed to distract us from trial preparation, designed to generate cheap headlines and most of all designed to confuse the jury," he said.

Ruckriegle ordered prosecutors to turn over laboratory logs of actions taken to correct any problems

Of the 999 jury summonses mailed out earlier this month, 165 could not be delivered and 150 people were excused primarily because they are no longer county residents or U.S. citizens, state courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said.

Attorneys were expected to begin closed-door questioning of individual candidates Monday, but attorneys for news organizations including The Associated Press asked the judge to open much of that part of the process.

Attorney Christopher Beall said the First Amendment requires courts to open jury selection procedures to the public. He said portions of the questioning can be closed to the public if a potential juror asks for a private hearing to answer questions regarding his or her personal history.


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