About 200 potential jurors filed through the county courthouse Wednesday in the first day of jury selection in the trial of suspected serial rapist Toby Eugene Griego.
Griego, who turns 42 years old Thursday, will be tried on 27 counts in connection to a string of home-invasion robberies, sexual assaults, kidnappings and an attempted sexual assault between the end of January and beginning of July last year. He has denied all the charges.
The first wave of about 100 jurors started the selection process at 9 a.m., and the second wave started at about 1 p.m.
The potential jurors had to check in and leave their cellphones with bailiffs. People were then split between two packed courtrooms, where they filled out two questionnaires relating to the trial. They were then scheduled for individual or group voir dire, which is the process that legal counsel and the presiding judge use to determine if the potential jurors are able to deal with the issues of the case without bias.
District Judge Russell C. Fagg, who is presiding over the trial, ordered the potential jurors not to discuss the case with anyone and not to view any media coverage of the jury selection process.
Griego, dressed in a light blue shirt, dark tie, beige slacks and wing-tipped shoes, was introduced to the potential jurors along with his attorneys, David Duke and J. Thomas Bartleson.
Duke is the head of the Billings office of the state public defender. Bartleson is with the special crimes unit of the office of the state public defender in Helena.
The potential jurors were also introduced to the prosecutors assigned to the case, Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Juli M. Pierce and Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Rod Souza.
The potential jurors will continue with voir dire through Thursday, Friday and Monday morning.
The trial, which is to be heard by a 12-person jury and three alternate jurors, is expected to begin about 11 a.m. Monday morning.
Griego is to be tried on 27 counts involving four victims. The state’s trial brief states that all four victims will be among the at least 29 witnesses scheduled to testify on behalf of the state. Two of Griego’s ex-girlfriends are also listed as witnesses for the state.
Griego faces 10 counts of sexual intercourse without consent, six counts of robbery, four counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of assault with a weapon, two counts of intimidation and one count of attempted sexual intercourse without consent — all felonies. He also faces a misdemeanor count of surreptitious visual observation or recordation in a residence.
The state originally charged Griego in August with 26 felonies and three misdemeanors related to the rapes of two women in their homes in May and July.
Later, those charges were amended to include a total of 40 charges involving four victims.
On March 24, the state amended the charges again to include the 27 counts Griego will go on trial for Monday.
Griego’s defense counsel previously filed several motions in the case requesting to suppress some evidence, to have the trial moved out of Yellowstone County and to have some of the charges against Griego tried separately.
Judge Fagg ruled the trial would be held in Yellowstone County. He has agreed to exclude from trial the testimony by one of the state’s witnesses pertaining to Griego’s criminal history in New Mexico, where he was convicted of robbery, assault and raping a 16-year-old girl.
The judge also agreed to have some of Griego’s charges tried in a separate trial.
Souza said Wednesday whether the state pursues a second trial on those charges will depend on the result of next week’s trial, which is expected to last about a week.
Court records indicated that if convicted of the rape, kidnapping or robbery charges, Griego faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole because of his prior rape conviction in New Mexico. He would have faced the same sentence had he pleaded guilty to any of the same charges.