EAGLE, Colo. – Kobe Bryant's (search) trial began Friday with 300 prospective jurors arriving at the county courthouse to fill out questionnaires, the first step toward choosing 12 people who will decide whether the NBA (search) star is guilty of rape.
Many arrived by car, though one rode her bicycle to the courthouse despite a chilly breeze and streets wet with overnight rain. Some appeared to know each other, chatting and laughing as they walked up the circular driveway. All are from Eagle County.
Bryant was not at the courthouse. Jury selection will probably take most of next week. Opening statements are not expected until Sept. 7.
Bryant, 26, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with a 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.
The county issued 999 jury summonses, easily the biggest jury call in its history. About 165 could not be delivered, and about 150 people were excused primarily because they are no longer county residents or U.S. citizens.
The prospective jurors filled out 82-item questionnaires that defense attorneys, prosecutors and their consultants have agonized over for weeks and will remain sealed until at least next week.
Attorneys in the case will scrutinize the answers over the weekend, developing lists of potential jurors they want eliminated and those they want to talk to.
"They are gearing up for a very, very long couple of days," said Richard Gabriel, a Los Angeles-based jury consultant with Decision Analysis.
At least in the early stages, attorneys will focus on who to eliminate from the pool, he said.
"Jury selection is really jury de-selection; eliminating those people you feel would be most harmful to your case," Gabriel said.
Attorneys are expected to begin closed-door questioning of individuals Monday, starting with 25 to 30 prospective jurors. The same number will return Tuesday and more might be scheduled Wednesday, depending on progress, state courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said.
Attorneys for news organizations including The Associated Press have asked the judge to open much of the questioning, and a hearing on the request is scheduled Monday.
Media attorneys are also asking the judge to unseal statements Bryant made to investigators who interviewed him the night after the alleged attack. Defense attorneys oppose the request, saying the evidence could hurt Bryant's right to a fair trial.
In the filing released Friday, media attorney Steven Zansberg (search) noted that much of what Bryant said that night has been ruled admissible as evidence and said Bryant has not shown that "the disclosure of the evidence could actually jeopardize the fairness of his upcoming trial."
Also on Friday, another filing was released that stated Bryant's accuser is entitled to remain anonymous in her civil case against the star because of her privacy rights and past threats made against her. News organizations had objected to efforts by the woman's lawyers to seal details in the lawsuit.
The attorneys said they agreed many details in the civil case could be released — as long as the woman's name remains secret. Most media organizations have not reported her name. It has appeared online and twice been published accidentally on a state courts Web site.