People with negative impressions of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens are being weeded out of his potential juror pool for a felony invasion-of-privacy trial alleging Greitens took a compromising photo of a woman with whom he had an affair as he was preparing to run for governor.
Jury selection began Thursday and was to continue Friday — and likely into next week — in a case that has the potential to send the first-term Missouri governor to prison, if he is convicted.
Greitens, 44, is accused of taking and transmitting a nonconsensual photograph of a blindfolded and almost entirely naked woman while she was bound to exercise rings in the basement of his St. Louis home in March 2015.
The woman, a hairdresser who has been identified only as K.S. in court filings, told investigators she saw a flash through the blindfold and heard what sounded like a photo being taken. She said Greitens suggested the photo would be distributed if she mentioned his name but later told her he deleted it.
Greitens has declined to directly answer questions about whether he took the photo but has acknowledged having a consensual affair and denied any criminal wrongdoing. The penalty for first-degree invasion of privacy is up to four years in prison.
Greitens' trial proceedings began Thursday with St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison reviewing hardships that could keep prospective jurors from serving. Greitens' attorneys also sought to dismiss people whose answers to jury questionnaires indicated a potential bias against the governor.
One person who was dismissed had questioned Greitens' truthfulness. Another had described an unspecified Greitens campaign ad as "kind of a jerky thing to do" but had said she could be impartial during his trial.
In addition to the invasion-of-privacy case, Greitens faces a separate criminal charge in St. Louis of tampering with computer data for allegedly disclosing the donor list of The Mission Continues to his political fundraiser in 2015 without the permission of the St. Louis-based veterans' charity he founded. No trial date has been set for that case.
The Legislature also is to convene in a monthlong special session May 18 to consider whether to try to impeach Greitens. If the House does so, the Senate then would appoint a panel of seven judges to preside over a trial on whether to remove him from office.
Attorneys representing the governor's office said Thursday that they want the House to establish rules allowing for public hearings in which Greitens' attorneys can call and question witnesses and present evidence, similar to what would occur in court. During typical legislative hearings, only those lawmakers who are members of the committee question witnesses.
"The notion of potentially disciplining a governor is an incredibly rare and serious thing," said Ross Garber, a Washington-based attorney hired to represent Greitens' office. "It needs to be done solemnly and carefully and in a way that is fair and the public accepts the results."
Garber is being paid $320 an hour from taxpayer funds. The Graves Garrett law firm in Kansas City also is representing the governor's office at a rate of $340 an hour. Greitens also is being represented personally by the Dowd Bennett law firm from St. Louis, which is handling his criminal defense.
A special House committee investigating Greitens has so far conducted nearly all of its work in secret while publicly releasing two reports containing allegations against Greitens of sexual misconduct and misusing charity resources for political purposes.
House Speaker Todd Richardson said parts of the investigation — such as interviewing witnesses whose names had not publicly been released — had to be done privately.
"But as we move into special session those things will be conducted in a very open, transparent manner," Richardson said.