Jury Seated For Trial Of Casper Businessman Accused Of Rape
It took nearly the whole day, longer than normal for most trials in Natrona County District Court, but a jury was empaneled Monday for the trial of Casper businessman Tony Cercy who is charged with three counts of sexual assault.
That happened, despite the concern of Cercy's defense that wanted to change the location of the trial in a last-minute motion hearing before the jury pool entered the courtroom.
Cercy is charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault (rape), one count of second-degree and one count of third degree sexual assault on a 20-year-old woman at Alcova Lake in June. If convicted on all counts, he faces between seven and 85 years of imprisonment.
During the 8:30 a.m. change of venue motion hearing, defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca said pre-trial questionnaires completed by prospective jurors showed how much the media influenced them.
Likewise, Pagliuca said many of them wrote they knew Cercy and his family, had business dealings with him and/or the family of the alleged victim, knew potential witnesses, or had their minds made up and could not set those biases aside to fairly hear the evidence.
"The pre-trial publicity and knowledge of people makes it impossible to pick a fair and impartial jury," Pagliuca said.
Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen responded, saying there's been a lot of media coverage, as well as a lot of commenting on social media, but other cases have received similar treatment.
District Court Judge Daniel Forgey agreed, saying Pagliuca's concerns did not warrant moving the scheduled six-day trial to another county.
About 10:20 a.m., the jury pool entered the courtroom with 34 jurors assigned to seats on the left side and a like number assigned to seats on the right.
Five were excused: two for age; one for a upcoming complicated surgery; and two for unknown reasons after private conferences with Forgey and the attorneys.
Blonigen was first to question the jurors about their knowledge of Cercy; whether his wealth may affect their decision; whether their views would be affected by testimonies from those who drank alcohol; their experiences with sexual assault themselves, their families or knowing others; their past jury duty; and media exposure.
Lead defense attorney Pamela Mackey started with whether jurors understood the legal concept of "presumption of innocence."
She also made these points, and nearly everyone in the jury pool agreed:
- One of a juror's most important jobs is to judge the credibility of witnesses and evidence.
- The prosecution has the full responsibility of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the threshold needed to convict.
- Jurors must consider only the evidence submitted at trial, and disregard what they have seen in the media or heard from others.
- A woman can make up an accusation of sexual assault.
- That Cercy's wealth and ability to hire attorneys is irrelevant.
- That Cercy does not have to testify according to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the jury cannot hold that against him.
She also said the defense will be that the alleged assault did not occur.
Mackey focused on several prospective jurors whose answers in the questionnaires concerned her.
One said he knew both Cercy and his family, as well as the family of the accused victim.
Mackey told him that he's in a hard spot and whatever decision he makes will upset one side, to which he responded, "this is a job I'm here to do."
One said he followed the news because that's part of his job as a teacher, but added he can set aside media reports.
During Mackey's questioning, one said he could not serve because his daughter would be very upset if he found Cercy not guilty.
And another was excused after he said he worked for Cercy's former company Power Service, adding he and his coworkers believed Cercy was guilty.
The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday with opening statements from the prosecution and defense.