Court News

Feb 7, 2013 4:24 PM by Irina Cates - KPAX News

Jury selection set to begin in Missoula rape trial

MISSOULA - The trial for University of Montana's suspended quarterback Jordan Johnson begins Friday morning when prosecutors and the defense will begin a daunting task of picking 12 unbiased jurors out of a jury pool of 400 people.

Reporter Irina Cates spoke with a Missoula attorney who broke down the jury selection process in this case.

Perspective jurors will be converging at the Holiday Inn Friday morning in downtown Missoula, because the courthouse doesn't have a room big enough for the unusually large jury pool summoned for the rape case.

The trial is sometimes moved to another city to make it easier to find an unbiased jury in highly publicized cases like this one.

"In a lot of cases the defense is worried about publicity and they don't want it. For [a] real egregious crime, you'll hear about how a community has already made up their mind about, for example that somebody must be guilty, or this, or that," attorney Paul Ryan explained.

"In this case I think it actually works against the prosecutor, because there are so many people that are supportive of the program of somebody that now is being charged with a crime," he added.

Moving venues is also difficult, and Ryan says in this case, it might not make a difference.

"The University of Montana football program has become a statewide known entity, and I don't think you're going to eliminate any of the same problems you'd have in Missoula versus any other community," Ryan added.

Since the case generated so much interest, Johnson's trial required a special jury questionnaire to eliminate any bias.

"The purpose of it [of] the early questionnaires is try to eliminate people up front that are going to have a bias. So probably of the 400 they sent out, my guess is that a 100 to 200 won't even be asked to come because they've already have too much of a connection," Ryan said.

Once the jury is picked, the case will move back to the Missoula County Courthouse for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last about three weeks.

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