Ten men and four women were chosen as jurors Wednesday for the trial of Peter Nardi, a longtime Aspen bartender standing trial this week and next for the alleged sexual assault of his former girlfriend. Two of the 14 jurors will be alternates.
Opening arguments are expected to begin at 9 a.m. today in Pitkin County District Court following the two-day jury selection process. The trial is scheduled to last until April 18. Since his arrest on April 6, 2013, following an incident at the woman’s home, Nardi has maintained that he is innocent.
He is being represented by Roaring Fork Valley attorneys John Van Ness and Colleen Scissors. Handling the case for the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office are Andrea Bryan and Jason Slothouber, who work out of Aspen.
The voir dire process, in which attorneys from both sides winnow out potential jurors they find objectionable, was conducted privately in District Judge Gail Nichols’ chambers on Tuesday. The pool of 107 Pitkin County residents who showed up for jury duty Tuesday morning was narrowed down to about 45 by 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the open courtroom.
Finally, at 4:40 p.m., following two days of sometimes tedious, occasionally comical interaction between the attorneys and prospects, both sides agreed to go with the 14 who were in the jury box — and the other 20 who remained in the audience emitted an audible sigh of relief.
It was clear from Scissors’ questions to potential jurors that the defense team plans to paint a picture of Nardi, 51, as the victim in a highly dysfunctional relationship.
For example, she asked them:
• “When you hear the expression, ‘It takes two to tango,’ what does that mean to you?”
• “You’re going to hear about the law on ‘self defense’ — and that you don’t have to walk away (from an aggressor).”
• “Is there anyone here who doesn’t think that women can be physically aggressive in a relationship?”
• “Do you think that sometimes adults in their arguments can be as childlike as children?”
• “How many of you know a drama queen?”
• “If someone were to have a drama- queen event, would you be interested in knowing what preceded that drama?”
Some of the jury hopefuls, and others who weren’t so eager for a seat, admitted they were slightly nervous, especially given the nature of the charges against Nardi. In addition to the felony sexual-assault charge, he faces a single count of attempted assault, also a felony, as well as misdemeanor charges of assault and false imprisonment.
But they didn’t always agree with the assertions made by their questioners. And in some instances, they injected small doses of humor into the inherently repetitious proceeding.
For example, when Scissors asked one man if he had ever known anyone in a manipulative, abusive relationship, he shot back, “I see it on TV all the time.” He then added, “They write songs about it.”
The man ended up with a seat on the jury.
Earlier, Scissors asked a woman, in the hypothetical tone of the afternoon, “What would you rather be, a prosecutor or a defense attorney?”
Somewhat innocently, the woman replied, “Can I just be a juror?”
The audience howled with laughter. The woman ended up being excused a little later.
Because many local newspaper articles about Nardi have been published in the past year, Scissors also sought to make a point about media coverage with a few people who said they had read about the case.
“How many of you think newspaper stories are accurate?” she asked, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
But one man noted that reporters have the job of trying to make a story as interesting as possible when they haven’t necessarily been given enough information to provide balance.
“Newspapers aren’t obligated to go out and do their own investigations,” one prospective juror said.
Scissors acknowledged that jury selection is “a painful process,” but said the overall goal was important: finding a cross-section of people in the community “who have the ability to think.”
“When you hear the expression, ‘It takes two to tango,’ what does that mean to you?”
\t Question from Colleen Scissors, co-counsel for Peter Nardi, to potential jurors