UPDATE: Jury Selection Almost Complete in Tony Cercy Trial
UPDATE: 3:30 - Despite concerns of the defense not being able to get a fair and impartial jury, only two prospective jurors were excused because they said they could not set aside their personal views of Cercy or the alleged crime.
Under questioning by chief defense attorney Pamela Mackey everyone else in the pool of 34 prospective jurors was able to say they understood...
-the presumption of innocence
-proving of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is the full responsibility of the prosecution,
-that they will consider only the evidence submitted at trial, and disregard what they have seen in the press or heard from people
-that a woman can make up an accusation of sexual assault
-that they had no problem with Cercy being wealthy and hiring attorneys
-that Tony Cercy does not have to testify and the jury cannot hold that against him under the US constitution
UPDATE: 12:15 p.m. -- The primary group of 34 jurors was seated this morning on the left side of the courtroom; and another group at least that size was seated on the left hand side.
Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey opened the session with the pledge of allegiance.
Forgey outlined some of the logistical issues with this larger-than-usual jury pool. He introduced himself, Clerk of District Court Gen Tuma, the bailiff and court reporter. He then introduced Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen, and defendant Tony Cercy, and his defense team of Pamela Mackey, Jeffrey Pagliuca and Ian Sandefer.
Forgey said this was a criminal case and Cercy has been charged with first-degree, second-degree and third-degree sexual assault. Cercy has pleaded not guilty.
He thanked the jury pool for their service, adding jury duty is a responsibility of our democratic society.
Several oaths were administered. Basic questions about the ability to serve were asked including if jurors were 18 or older, if they are U.S. citizens, if they have been residents of Natrona County for 90 days or more, if they possessed their natural faculties, know the English language, and if they have ever been convicted of a felony.
Two jurors were dismissed, as allowed by Wyoing law, because they were older than 72. Two others were dismissed for other issues.
Jurors seated on the right side of the courtroom were moved to the left side to replace them.
Four jurors were called to the bench for private discussions with Forgey, Blonigen and Mackey to review answers they gave on their pre-trial questionnaires.
One man was dismissed. The woman called from the right side of the courtroom to replace him also was interviewed at the bench and dismissed. Another person from the right side of the courtroom was called to complete the group of 34.
Blonigen then began a general questioning of the 34 prospective jurors.
He asked them if they knew Cercy. One woman said she knew his daughter, another said he worked for Cercy's former company Power Service, one worked for a wholesaler that supplied parts for contractors working for Cercy, and one played volleyball with his daughter.
All said their personal knowledge of him was distant, and they could fairly and impartially hear the evidence.
Blonigen said Cercy is a "man of means," that is, wealthy, and asked the jurors if the justice system treats people like that differently, or conversely, if the justice system singles them out.
He said the case began before the popular #MeToo movement in which many women have come forward to discuss their experiences with sexual assault.
Blonigen also asked whether their views would be affected by the testimonies of people connected with the alleged crime who had been drinking alcohol.
He asked if any of the prospective jurors had been sexually assaulted, and whether they would expect somebody who's been sexually assaulted to immediately report the incident.
At that point, Mackey asked Forgey to meet with her and Blonigen for a brief conference. After a few minutes, Blonigen returned to his questions.
Blonigen then said this was a sexual assault case that didn't involve force.
He asked the group if any of them had served on jury duty before, and about half of them said they had. Those cases included sexual assault, drugs, and a civil case.
Blonigen asked a general question about the media and social media, and if they wold be able to set aside what they have read or seen about this case.
Several of the people recounted their personal experiences with sexual assault, whether that happened to them individually, if they knew or worked with people who had. A couple of them said they knew people including family members who had been convicted of sexual assault crimes.
At this point, several people -- two men and one woman -- went forward to be interviewed privately with the judge and the attorneys.
The trial was recessed for lunch and will resume at 1:30 p.m.
UPDATE: 11:15am - Jury selection is going very slowly in the Tony Cercy sexual assault trial that began today.
After the change of venue motion by the defense was denied by Judge Forgey, jury selection began in earnest. To our reporter, the pool appears to have slightly more men than women in its makeup, and initially, some jurors are being called to the bench for private questions.
The standard jury queries though, consist of making sure jurors are over 18, citizens, at least a 90 day resident of the county, can speak English, and have never been convicted of a felony.
It appears that selection of a jury will take most of this first day.
A judge on Monday morning denied a last-minute motion by the attorneys of Casper businessman Tony Cercy to change the location of the sexual assault trial in Natrona County District Court beginning today
District Court Judge Daniel Forgey said the request by defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca did not rise to a level that the pre-trial publicity and answers on a questionnaire by potential jurors warranted moving the scheduled six-day trial to another county.
The reporting on the case since it began in late July has been straightforward -- although sometimes with errors -- and not sensationalistic, Forgey said.
With that, the judge called a recess before jury selection would begin.
Cercy is charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault (rape), one count of second-degree and one count of third degree sexual assault on a 20-year-old woman at Alcova Lake in June. If convicted on all counts, he faces between seven and 85 years of imprisonment.
Pagliuca and Cercy's other defense attorneys filed the 123-page motion to change the venue Friday afternoon, and Natrona County District Attorney filed a short response after that.
Monday, Pagliuca said a person has a constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial.
But that can't happen in Natrona County with Cercy because of the nature and extent of the pre-trial publicity, and the difficulty of finding unbiased jurors, he said.
Much of the reporting has been one-sided and biased, and some has been inaccurate, and some of it dealt with evidence that will not be submitted during the trial, he said.
The motion identified 47 stories.
However, Forgey said that most of those occurred before the general motions deadline.
Pagliuca responded that the rest of them were cited after many of the questionnaires were returned, and they showed just how much the media influenced the potential jurors.
Besides the publicity, many of the prospective jurors who answered the questionnaires said they knew Cercy and his family, had business dealings with him and/or the family of the alleged sexual assault victim, or knew potential witnesses.
"The pre-trial publicity and knowledge of people makes it impossible to pick a fair and impartial jury," Pagliuca said.
He added that in his 35 years as an attorney, he's never seen a case with a jury pool like this, nor has he ever asked for a change of venue.
Blonigen responded saying there's been a lot of media coverage, as well as a lot of commenting on social media, but other cases have had similar treatment.
Most of the media sources are statewide, and changing location won't eliminate the effect of the coverage. Likewise, Cercy himself has injected himself into the public arena in Natrona County and throughout the state, Blonigen said.
And some of those who responded to the questionnaires said they had high opinions of Cercy, he said.
Pagliuca said the existing pool of jurors will require the defense to exercise all of its challenges to the potential jurors, leaving some jurors with biases against Cercy to hear the case. "All we want, your honor, is a fair chance."
But Forgey agreed with Blonigen that the threshold had not been reached regarding an inherently biased jury pool that could not fairly hear the case.