Former Montana QB's rape trial begins with jury selection

2013-02-08T17:22:00Z 2013-04-11T20:51:32Z Former Montana QB's rape trial begins with jury selectionBy GWEN FLORIO Missoulian The Billings Gazette
February 08, 2013 5:22 pm  • 

MISSOULA — Several had heard entirely too much about the case in bars. One said she was a die-hard University of Montana Grizzlies fan, probably unable to be impartial. And another felt deeply uncomfortable with what he saw as the “he said-she said” nature of some date rape cases.

So it went Friday as one potential juror after another in the rape trial of former Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson was dismissed during questioning of the jury pool.

Prosecution questions took most of the day; the defense began its part of the voir dire process just after 4:30 p.m. The trial recessed at 5 p.m., with jury selection to resume Monday in the Missoula County Courthouse.

Friday’s voir dire was held at the Holiday Inn Downtown because of the unusually large jury pool of 400 people originally summoned for the case. When the trial began Friday morning, that number had been whittled to about 170, with many others dismissed throughout the day — some during voir dire, others after private consultations with Missoula County District Court Judge Karen Townsend and the attorneys.

Throughout the day, Johnson sat at the defense table, flanked by defense attorney Kirsten Pabst and paralegal Becky Murphy. Co-counsel David Paoli repeatedly held up, so that it faced jurors, what appeared to be a large poster of a railroad train.

The other side was covered with sticky notes with information about individual jurors; the prosecution had a board identical in every respect but one — the side of the board without the notes was blank.

Most of the day consisted of questions from Assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson to a batch of 39 potential jurors from whom 12 jurors and five alternates eventually will be chosen. The faces of many of those 39 people changed throughout the day as some were excused and others replaced them.

Questions focused on matters of fairness and impartiality, and attitudes and beliefs about rape, especially acquaintance or date rape.

Johnson, 20, is accused of raping a fellow UM student on Feb. 4, 2012, as the two watched a movie in her home.

Did people agree, Thompson wondered, with the statement, “If a woman gets the engine started, she’s kind of stuck with the consequences.”

In the jury box, people shook their heads.

“At what point can a woman say no to sex?” Thompson asked. “At any point? Even during?”

“No means no,” several, both men and women, responded to that and similar questions.

Thompson also asked potential jurors about whether they thought a woman must physically resist an assault. Although some said they couldn’t imagine not fighting, they said they’d be willing to listen to expert testimony as to how victims might react in different scenarios.

Potential jurors told both Thompson, and — during his brief turn Friday at posing the questions, Paoli — that they’d also welcome testimony from experts on topics such as injuries that might or might not be suffered, and how someone’s psychological history, both before and after a sexual assault, might come into play.

Before Paoli began his questions, he asked Johnson to stand.

“This is Jordan Johnson. This is the man that we’re talking about, the young man. He’s a football player. This is not about football,” Paoli said. “He’s a man who’s fighting for his life.”

Paoli continued in that vein for a few more moments, until Thompson objected on the grounds that Paoli had veered into opening-statement territory.

Townsend agreed, and Paoli launched into his questions. As long as a jury is seated by a reasonable hour Monday, actual opening statements will be held then.

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