Woman’s history with defendants ruled admissible

John R. Carter

Pre-trial motions and preliminary jury selection began Monday in the trial of two University football players charged with sexually assaulting a fellow student.

Steven Watson and Mackenzy Toussaint are charged with the first- and third-degree sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in Roy Wilkins Hall on July 6.

Hennepin County Judge Tanya Bransford ruled Monday that evidence indicating any prior consensual sexual relationship between Watson and the alleged victim, and Toussaint and the alleged victim, is admissible in court.

“Overall, I think the rulings are pretty obvious,” said Joe Friedberg, Watson’s attorney. “It’s a ruling under the statute that’s pretty clear.”

Earl Gray, Toussaint’s attorney, told the court he will call witnesses who will testify to a previous sexual relationship between Toussaint and the alleged victim.

Gray said the alleged victim performed consensual oral sex on Toussaint in mid-June – two or three weeks prior to the alleged assault.

Karel Moersfelder, assistant Hennepin County attorney, argued any previous sexual encounters between the alleged victim and any partners should not be admissible.

“The facts would only be admitted to outweigh and inflame the jury,” Moersfelder said to the judge.

While the prosecution wanted the prior relationship ruled inadmissible, Gray argued the circumstances of the June incident were similar to July 6, and therefore relevant.

Bransford also ruled a January 2001 consensual encounter in which Watson allegedly penetrated the woman with his fingers can also be used as evidence.

“The time was more remote, but it’s still relevant,” Bransford said in court, comparing Watson’s encounter with Toussaint’s.

The defense will use the two incidents to argue the July 6 incident was consensual.

The judge ruled in favor of the prosecution on one motion: The woman’s sexual history with other individuals will not be permitted in court.

In addition, the prosecution and defense agreed none of the witnesses should be allowed in the courtroom at any time during the trial except when they are on the witness stand.

Before attorneys argued their pre-trial motions Monday morning, 50 potential jurors were introduced to the case and asked to fill out a 13-page questionnaire.

The judge and three attorneys will make their jury selections Tuesday morning after they have an opportunity to question the potential jurors.

“The defense wants a more conservative jury, and the prosecution probably wants a more liberal jury, if you can categorize it that way,” Friedberg said. “And neither one of us wants a fair jury. We want a jury that will vote for our side.”

Opening arguments are scheduled to begin following jury selection Tuesday afternoon.