Cercy Trial Begins with Controversy
The sexual assault retrial of Casper businessman Tony Cercy began in the Hot Springs County Courthouse on Friday with the Natrona County District Attorney making a serious faux pas as he began to address the jury pool.
In his introduction about the case, Mike Blonigen said Cercy is charged with one count of third-degree sexual assault and the trial was moved to Hot Springs County.
"He is presumed guilty," Blonigen told the potential jurors.
That brought an immediate response from one of Cercy's defense attorneys, Jeffrey Paglicua, who said Blonigen misspoke.
Blonigen asked if the comment about third-degree sexual assault was wrong.
He and Pagliuca met with Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey.
After a couple of minutes, Forgey told the jury that Cercy has pleaded not guilty to the charge and he is presumed innocent.
Blonigen resumed speaking, said Cercy is presumed innocent and apologized for the gaffe. and resumed the introduction to the jury selection.
In February, a jury acquitted Cercy of one count of first-degree sexual assault (rape) and one count of second-degree sexual assault of a 20-year-old woman at his house at Alcova lake on June 25, 2017.
District Court Judge Daniel Forgey declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict on the third-degree sexual assault.
The family of the woman asked, and Natrona County District Attorney Blonigen agreed, to file that charge again.
In June, Forgey granted Cercy's request for a change of venue to hold the trial in Thermopolis. Cercy's attorneys argued he could not get a fair trial in Natrona County because of the the pervasive media coverage from his arrest in July 2017 leading to the trial in February, during the trial and afterwards.
On Wednesday, the Wyoming Supreme Court denied a last-minute petition from Cercy's defense team, which argued that the charge and retrial on the third-degree sexual assault count would violate his Fifth Amendment right to not be tried twice for the same crime.
Friday, 74 potential jurors began arriving shortly after 8 a.m. at the Hot Springs County Courthouse, checked in, and waited in the hall while Forgey, Blonigen, Pagliuca, other attorneys and Natrona County Sheriff's Deputies met with Forgey to take care of some logistical issues, Forgey said after the jurors were seated -- one in a primary group and one in a secondary group.
Blonigen, after apologizing for the "presumed guilty" gaffe, then began asking them if any of them had been employed by Cercy's former company Power Service in Mills, whether justice is different between rich people and poor people, if they had heard of the #MeToo movement, whether they could judge the case on its merits, knew of anyone charged with a similar crime, or knew of any victims of sexual assault.
To the last question, several responded they knew of victims. Some victims approached the bench and spoke with the judge and attorneys privately about their experiences.
Blonigen noted a number of the potential jurors had served on juries before, and they told him of their experiences.
He asked if they had read or seen stories about the case either in print or on broadcast or on social media, and drew some laughs when he asked if the media ever get anything wrong.
Blonigen finished after a few more questions about whether they could set aside any possible biases, whether they knew any of those who investigated the case or potential witnesses.
Pagliuca then went to the podium and again asked of any of the potential jurors had heard about the case in the media and asked them to raise their hands.
Approximately one dozen who raised their hands.
He then called each of them forward to speak privately with him and the other defense attorneys, the judge and Blonigen.
Only one of the potential jurors was dismissed.
Forgey called a lunch recess, and jury selection will continue this afternoon.
The family of the alleged victim is not in Thermopolis yet.