EAGLE, Colo. – Prospective jurors in the Kobe Bryant (search) rape case were asked their feelings on racial prejudice, interracial relationships, marital infidelity and justice for the rich and famous in an 82-item questionnaire released Monday.
The potential jurors filled out the surveys Friday, and lawyers began questioning them individually behind closed doors Monday after District Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) rejected a request to let the media listen in.
Ruckriegle said he wanted the prospective jurors to feel they could answer questions about potentially embarrassing topics without scrutiny from the media. He said the prospective jurors' right to privacy and Bryant's right to a fair trial outweigh the First Amendment right of access.
Bryant, 26, who appeared at the courthouse Monday, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with a then-19-year-old employee at a Vail-area resort last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers (search) star could get four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000.
Attorneys and the judge questioned prospective jurors for nearly 10 hours Monday. Court officials would not comment on their progress.
Prospective jurors were asked about their impressions of pro basketball players, and whether they believe wealthy people are treated better by the courts.
The questionnaire asks candidates how they feel about interracial relationships, whether they have had "any negative experience with an African American" and whether they are biased against mental health professionals.
It also asks whether they have been "affected by or involved in" marital infidelity.
Bryant is a married father of one. He is black; his accuser is white.
Richard Gabriel, a Los Angeles-based trial consultant with Decision Analysis, said the questionnaire probably does not provide an accurate glimpse of arguments that will come up at trial.
"It probably has more to do with what one side anticipates the other side's themes and issues are going to be and wanting to clearly find out if people are going to be amenable to it," he said.
Late Monday, Denver television station KCNC released some details it had obtained of the sealed, 150-person witness list. The station reported it included the alleged victim, her parents and many of her acquaintances from Eagle and from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where she was a student until fall 2003.
Also on the list, the station said, was Jeff Shapiro, who wrote a book about the case; and people from Calgary, Alberta, where the supermarket tabloid Globe published what it said were pictures of the alleged victim celebrating in a bar a few months after the alleged attack.
Attorney John Clune, who represents the accuser, criticized the leak, one of several in the case so far.
"On the eve of trial, we are once again reminded that no protections are assured and little efforts are made to correct the evident flaws that have defined this case," Clune said.
In all, the jury pool consists of 276 Eagle County residents -- 205 who filled out questionnaires Friday and were called back for more questioning, and 71 who were added on Monday.
Jury selection will be private until at least Wednesday, when reporters will be able to watch through closed-circuit television. By then, the jury pool will probably have been whittled down considerably.
Opening statements are expected Sept. 7.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys argued against opening the questioning to the media, saying potential jurors might be inhibited in answering questions.
Media attorney Steve Zansberg noted Bryant's right to a fair trial but said the media and the public have a right to access under the First Amendment. The judge, however, disagreed.