THERMOPOLIS — A court clerk swore in 12 jurors and two alternates Friday on the first day of Tony Cercy’s sexual assault trial.
Cercy is on trial for the second time this year, accused of performing oral sex on a woman who had passed out on the couch at his Alcova lake house in June 2017.
In February, a Natrona County jury found him not guilty of two counts of sexual assault. Jurors deadlocked on the final count and Judge Daniel Forgey declared a mistrial.
Prosecutor Michael Blonigen charged Cercy again on the final count, third-degree sexual assault, and Cercy’s defense attorneys successfully argued that pre-trial publicity would make it difficult for him to receive a fair trial in Natrona County, prompting Forgey to move the trial to Hot Springs County.
A court clerk swore the jurors in after about four hours of selection that winnowed a pool of more than 70 people down to 14.
The relatively quick selection process began unusally, as Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen mistakenly told prospective jurors that Cercy was presumed guilty.
After introducing himself to jurors, Blonigen named the defendant and the charge in the case. He then mistakenly said Cercy is “presumed guilty under our system of law.”
In the U.S. justice system, defendants are presumed innocent.
After Blonigen’s remark, defense attorney Jeff Pagliuca stood and quickly requested a bench conference, after which Judge Daniel Forgey corrected Blonigen’s statement and said defendants are presumed not guilty. Blonigen appeared unaware that he had misspoke.
The remainder of the day’s proceedings were markedly less eventful. The crowd of potential jurors thinned slowly throughout the morning as Forgey dismissed people from jury duty for cause. Blonigen ceased questioning potential jurors about an hour before noon, and then Pagliuca began questioning the Hot Springs County residents.
Attorneys spoke behind a white noise generator with about a dozen people who said they had been exposed to media coverage of the case. One was dismissed.
The court clerk swore the remaining candidates in as jury members a minute before 2:30 p.m. and they were quickly excused from the courtroom.
Once the jurors had left, Pagliuca renewed a legal argument concerning the definitions governing sexual assault statutes. Forgey told the defense attorney he could register an ongoing objection to certain types of evidence and preserve Cercy’s ability to appeal the case.
The judge also told attorneys they could not reference Cercy’s February acquittals, saying it could confuse jurors.
Natrona County sheriff’s deputies arrested Cercy in July 2017, about a month after the then-20-year-old woman made the allegations.
Prosecutors charged Cercy with one count each of first-, second- and third-degree sexual assault. At his first trial, Cercy’s accuser told jurors that she woke to him performing oral sex on her. She described pushing Cercy away immediately and testified that Cercy said he had been trying to wake her by performing sexual acts on her.
Cercy also testified in February. He denied having any sexual contact with the woman. He told jurors that he was asleep at the time the woman alleged he’d sexually assaulted her.
The trial is set to continue at approximately 8:30 on Tuesday morning in Thermopolis.