ST. LOUIS • After the first of three days of jury selection in the criminal trial of Gov. Eric Greitens, the judge told lawyers on both sides he was optimistic about finding enough jurors.
By just before 7 p.m., 17 jurors had passed an initial screening that weeded out those who couldn’t serve or who said they had already formed an opinion about the governor based on information they had heard.
Gov. Eric Greitens arrives at the Civil Courts building for day 2 of jury selection on Friday, May 11, 2018 downtown St. Louis.
Lawyers will be back in court at 8:15 a.m. to discuss data recovered from Greitens’ phone or email, or both, and jury selection will resume after that.
The governor sat quietly in the courtroom Thursday, taking notes and whispering to his legal team as lawyers on both sides probed potential jurors’ hardships, conflicts and prior knowledge of the case against Greitens, who is accused of taking a semi-nude photo of a woman without her consent when he had an affair with her more than three years ago, before he was elected governor.
She told her ex-husband, in a conversation that he tape-recorded surreptitiously, that during a sexual encounter in the basement of his Central West End home, Greitens told her, “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise there will be pictures of (you) everywhere.”
Prosecutors acknowledged in court Wednesday that they still do not have the photo the woman said Greitens took. They are expected to attempt to show that transmission of the alleged photo — a requirement for invasion of privacy to be a felony — was simultaneous to its being stored into a smartphone’s memory bank.
Since the first-term governor and former Navy SEAL was indicted in February, he has declined to say whether he took a picture but has denied blackmailing the woman and has labeled the investigation a “political witch hunt.”
Greitens, 44, arrived at the courthouse in the back of a dark SUV about 8:30 a.m. and pulled into a gated driveway from Chestnut Street on the north side of the Civil Courts building in downtown St. Louis. Greitens was greeted with handshake and a hug from St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts and was flanked by his own security guards as he walked into the courthouse.
At least seven sheriff’s deputies and one of the governor’s security personnel were outside the seventh-floor courtroom of St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison, where the trial will be held.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens arrives at court in St. Louis on Thursday, May 10, 2018, for the first day of jury selection in his felony invasio…
The governor sat at the end of a table, wearing a dark blue suit, white dress shirt and a solid, violet-colored tie with a white pocket square and black leather cowboy boots. He had a brown leather satchel at his feet. He wore a wedding band on his left ring finger, but there was no sign of his wife in or near the courthouse.
Greitens sat next to lawyer Michelle Nasser and with two other defense lawyers, Scott Rosenblum and Jim Bennett. At least five other defense lawyers also have been present.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, First Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Steele, an intern and Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard law professor working with prosecutors, sat at the opposite table in the courtroom. Also in the courtroom were a few spectators, several sheriff’s deputies, several reporters and one security guard each for Greitens and Gardner.
A pool of 160 St. Louis residents was summoned for Greitens’ trial, scheduled to start with opening statements Tuesday.
Burlison called for 40 jurors Thursday morning and 40 more in the afternoon, with the same timeline for Friday. Each juror was to complete a questionnaire meant to find out each person’s knowledge of the case. The first 40 filled out questionnaires Thursday, which resulted in the dismissals of six people who cited being caregivers or having health problems or job or travel conflicts.
Shirley Cunningham, who was dismissed because of a hardship, said that she didn’t want to serve — not because it was the governor’s case but because she felt would be able to focus only on the ailing relative who needs her. Cunningham said she was aware that Greitens had an extramarital affair and allegedly took a picture of the woman but said she didn’t know details.
A woman who made the cut for the jury Thursday said in court that she only knew Greitens had been indicted from scrolling through news on her Facebook feed and said she had not formed an opinion on the case. Asked if she believed a picture was taken, she said she did, but felt she could set aside her opinions and decide the case based on the evidence.
“I really don’t know a lot about the case, or details,” she said.
At least 14 people had been struck for cause, meaning that they had already formed opinions about the case or about Greitens.
Asked by Rosenblum if she believed Greitens to be “responsible” for what he’s accused of, one woman answered, “Yes,” but later said she was only “leaning” in that direction.
Another woman disliked one of Greitens’ campaign ads. “Rubbing me the wrong way is probably too strong” to say, she told Rosenblum, but added that she thought the ad was “kind of a jerky thing to do.” She insisted she could put her opinions aside, but she was struck from the jury.
A man said that he’s seen information in the newspaper and heard stuff about the case from neighbors, and his mind is “kinda stuck that way.” He was eliminated. Another man said decisions regarding the pretrial motions seemed to be favoring prosecutors and that he had a negative opinion of Greitens. He too, was eliminated.
One woman was dismissed after she said her opinion was not favorable to the governor, who she thinks is “not truthful.” Another woman was eliminated after she said she had heard reports that prosecutors “maybe weren’t as thorough as they needed to be,” referring to the state’s handling of evidence and of William Don Tisaby, the ex-FBI agent hired by the circuit attorney’s office to investigate the governor. The defense has repeatedly accused Tisaby of perjury and prosecutors of misconduct.
One man said he had read or watched various news sources in order to become “less biased” about the case but said details reported about it had swayed him “against the governor.” He was dismissed.
By 3 p.m. Thursday when it was clear that lawyers had questioned fewer than 30 people, the judge had the afternoon group of 40 prospective jurors fill out questionnaires to allow lawyers to review them before they returned Friday.
The judge had hoped to finish with 80 people Thursday. But by the end of the day, he said that based on the number of jurors that had already been seated, they may need to question only 80 or 90 to get enough.
The trial may run through next week.