Jurors selected in Watson, Toussaint sexual assault trial

by John R. Carter

Jury selection concluded Tuesday afternoon in the trial of two University football players charged in the sexual assault of a fellow student.

After several hours of questioning, 12 jurors and one alternate were selected. The panel is comprised of eight men and five women.

The exact racial makeup of the jury could not be determined but appears to be almost entirely white.

Steven Watson and Mackenzy Toussaint were charged with first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct in the July 6 sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman.

Third-degree sexual assault involves penetration through force or coercion. First-degree sexual assault charges usually involve injuries to the victim but were filed in this case under a two-or-more-perpetrators provision.

The 50 potential jurors answered a 13-page questionnaire Monday. The judge and the attorneys for both sides reviewed the questionnaires overnight.

The parties met in the judge’s chambers Tuesday morning to narrow the jury pool down to 29.

During questioning, Earl Gray, Toussaint’s attorney, told the jurors they should evaluate whether or not they will be able to remain impartial throughout the trial. He said this decision was as important as the verdict.

Attorneys from both sides repeatedly asked the potential jurors about any circumstances that would prevent them from being unbiased.

For example, attorneys asked the potential jurors what types of crime they found most disturbing.

Assistant Hennepin County attorney Karel Moersfelder individually questioned potential jurors about their experiences judging a person’s credibility.

“Every trial becomes some sort of credibility battle,” said Joe Friedberg, Watson’s attorney, to the potential jurors.

Following questioning, each defense lawyer struck five potential jurors, and the prosecution struck six potential jurors from the list.

Hennepin County Judge Tanya Bransford gave the jury preliminary instructions. The panel will be sworn in Wednesday morning, when opening arguments are set to begin.

“They are American citizens, the finest and fairest in the world,” Friedberg said of the jurors.

Both Gray and Moersfelder declined comment outside the courtroom.