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Kobe Jury Prospects To Be Grilled

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers player, outside the courthouse in Eagle, Colo., for a pretrial hearing on the sexual assault charge he faces, 6-21-04
AP
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.

Some 25 to 30 prospective jurors who filled out questionnaires in court on Friday were being called back for individual interviews starting Monday, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Frank. Before this phase of jury selection began, Judge Terry Ruckriegle rejected a media motion to open the interview process to make public more information about the people being considered.

Friday, 300 people who answered summons were asked to answer 82 items on a questionnaire, reports Rick Sallinger of CBS station KCNC-TV. Among them was, "describe your opinion of professional basketball players," "do you think people who make a lot of money are treated better by our court system," and "have you ever been afraid of or had any negative experience with an African-American?"

Another question asked how they feel about interracial relationships. While Bryant is an African-American, the woman who has accused him of rape is white.

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 the answers to the questionnaire. Lawyers met with the judge Sunday to make up a list of those who were to be called back beginning Monday for individual, closed-door questioning.

"The idea is turn away people who have preconceived notions about the case, the crime, about the defendant. But also, each side is trying to get an insight as to how people feel about certain issues," said CBS News Early Show legal analyst Mickey Sherman, a defense attorney.

Sherman thinks the defense will try to seat women on the jury, but former prosecutor Wendy Murphy, also an Early Show legal analyst, disagrees that all women will be good jurors for the defense.

"I think some would easily say 'I would have gone up there to try to get his autograph, too. That doesn't mean I was looking to have sex with this man,'" she said. "That's the kind of juror that I think the prosecution is looking for."

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 Wednesday 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.

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.

Even though opening statements are scheduled for next week, both CBS News legal analysts think it's still possible the case will not go to trial — but for different reasons.

"If the judge allows other victims to come forward and testify in this case, if the judge rules in the prosecution's favor, that's going it put a lot of pressure on Kobe Bryant to plead guilty," said Murphy.

"I think is there a still likelihood that she's going to pull out of this thing and say 'I'm done with this. The court keeps losing all of my material or sending it out to the public. I'm done. I'll sue the guy in court, leave me alone,'" said Sherman.