Jury selection called critical in Bryant case | VailDaily.com
YOUR AD HERE »

Jury selection called critical in Bryant case

Cliff Thompson

If you were Kobe Bryant and facing sexual assault charges, who would you want on a jury that’s about to decide your fate? Or, if you were trying to convict Bryant, who would you choose?It’s far from an exact science and may become the wild card in the high-profile trial that begins Friday. It will take a unanimous jury to convict Bryant. With jury selection starting Friday morning, attorneys for both the prosecution and defense will decide which of the 999 summoned jurors they want to hear the case. It’s a deadly serious business. If convicted of the charges which stemmed from a June 30, 2003 incident at the Lodge at Cordillera, Bryant, who turns 26 Monday, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation and a fine up to $750,000. He pleaded not guilty and said the sex with the then 19-year-old Eagle woman was consensual.”Jury selection is a crap shoot,” said David Lugert, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor who also works as a media analyst on the case. “You don’t select jurors. You de-select them.”Finding 12 jurors that fit a profile – those presumed to be sympathetic to Bryant’s guilt or innocence – requires expert help, and both the prosecution and defense sides have it. Studies have shown that 90 percent of jurors have made their decision about guilt or innocence by the end of the trial’s opening statements, Lugert said.”The interesting thing about picking a jury is both sides look in the jury’s eyes and say what they’re after is a fair and impartial jury,” said defense attorney and former prosecutor Jim Fahrenholtz. “They’re really looking for people who will be partial to their side.”Not easyFormer Denver District Attorney Norm Early, now a television analyst on high-profile crime cases, said jury selection is tough and critically important.”Picking a jury is the most important aspect of any criminal case. You can try a case before one jury and lose and then try it before another one and win easily,” he said. “I don’t like to pick juries based on profession or ethnicity. I think it’s best to pick them based on how you relate to them and how they relate to the victim or your client.”Equally important is the opening statement, Lugert said.”You have to come out and make the most dramatic opening statement you can,” Lugert said. “You really have to get after it. “In the Bryant trial you can expect to see some real dramatics,” he added.It’s not easy to pick a juror for a high-profile case. To do so, lawyers often create a profile of the hypothetical best and worst juror and see how the jury pool matches up, Lugert said. “It’s impossible to know what somebody’s like in five minutes when you’re under pressure,” said Lugert. “You have to look for the little details that tell you about a person.”One thing neither side wants is a juror eager to serve, Fahrenholtz said.”There’s a lot of people eager to be on a jury in a high-profile case,” he said. “The biggest danger is in how truthful these people are.”Experts weigh inThat’s when jury selection experts can help the lawyers. They carefully observe how potential jurors react during interviews, how old they are, how they dress, what their body language indicates and other attributes, as well as studying their backgrounds. Each juror will be subjected to up to 100 questions on a juror’s form that will be used to judge their suitability for the case. Those questions will be distributed to the media once the jurors have received them, court officials said.But there’s more to the selection process than just who serves on the jury, Lugert said. During the juror interviews, attorneys for both sides will begin to try and win jurors over.”They’ll preview the strengths and weaknesses of their case by asking questions,” he said. “They want to ingratiate themselves with the jury pool, talk to them like they were talking over a cup of coffee to build friendship, trust and rapport.”During jury selection, lawyers will also try to minimize the weak points of their case, Lugert said. “You try to explain away some of the weaknesses,” he said. “To minimize what you know is potentially damaging evidence.”Opening statements in the Bryant case are scheduled to begin Sept. 7 and the trial is expected to take as long as five weeks. Judge Terry Ruckriegle has issued a gag order on all trial participants.Who will get picked?What sort of jurors will the two sides in the Kobe Bryant case want to fill the 12 seats in the district courtroom? Here’s what three lawyers who have helped pick plenty of juries had to say:Dave Lugert, attorney and former prosecutorWhat the prosecution wants:”You’re not looking for someone who fits in an age or sex category. You are interested in occupation and in people who are decision makers. You want no-nonsense, hard-working people who have the ability and willingness to make hard choices and the ability to live with them and people who believe in individual accountability.”You are looking for people who believe in and have had positive experience with government and law enforcement. You also want people who have suffered some loss and know suffering.”Lugert said he’d expect to see the prosecution choose doctors, dentists, pilots, construction workers or business executives.What the defense wants:”The defense will be looking for people who can’t make a decision or people that tend to be forgiving and come up with explanations. Elementary school teachers or sociologists or nurses. They have seen terrible things and may not want to make things worse for poor Mr. Bryant. It will be tough for them to make a decision about his guilt.”Norm Early, former prosecutorWhat the prosecution wants:”I don’t think there’s a stereotypical juror as far as the prosecution is concerned. The case has so many dynamics that makes it almost impossible to categorize jurors. What they probably don’t want is someone who is extremely opinionated because they can sway a jury or hang it. The defense might want that. The prosecution would never want that.”What the defense wants:”The secondary attributes of a juror that the defense would like to see is having NBA fans and people who have a knowledge of the game. They are basically looking for someone who will give (Bryant) some deference because he is an NBA star.”Jim Fahrenholtz, defense attorney and former prosecutor What the prosecution wants:”The prosecution will want people who favor law enforcement and people that have an affiliation with women’s resource centers or rape prevention centers. It don’t think it matters to the prosecution if the jury is white or blue collar.”What the defense wants:”I think the defense may tend to want to have more women over 40 on the jury. Women over 40 are going to be less tolerant of the promiscuity issue they’re bringing up about (the alleged victim). They tend to be harder on women than men. They won’t accept what she did. The defense will be seeking well-educated jurors that doesn’t have a prejudice against blacks.” Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


Support Local Journalism