STILLWATER — The long-awaited trial of Oklahoma State basketball player Darrell Williams finally began on Monday at Payne County Courthouse, with both sides cross-examining potential jurors during the early stages of a lengthy selection process.
Quietly sitting between defense attorneys Cheryl Ramsey and Willie Baker, Williams intently listened to back-and-forth banter among a crowded courtroom of jurors, media members and supporters.
The questioning was extensive and personal, ultimately leading to the dismissal of eight potential jurors for various reasons, including two who admitted that the nature of the case, dealing with sexual abuse, would sway their bias against the defendant.
Williams is being charged with four counts of rape by instrumentation and one count of sexual battery, dating back to an alleged incident that took place on Dec. 12, 2010 during a house party at the 400 block of S. Lewis Street. He was formally charged on Feb. 7, 2011.
Because of various delays and setbacks, the trial was pushed back more than a year, finally commencing on Monday morning.
Although neither side went into the specifics of their case on day one, both hinted at the direction of their arguments, using hypothetical analogies when examining the jurors.
Assistant district attorney and prosecutor Jill Tontz spoke first, questioning the jury members about their personal life and motives.
Tontz hit on what seem to be the key points of her case, stating that the alleged victims are the most important witnesses because they know exactly what happened and that reporting a sexual assault days after it happened, like in this case, is common for multiple reasons.
Also, not directly referring to Williams but seeming to imply him, Tontz said that although someone may be portrayed as a great person, that doesn't necessarily mean they haven't made a criminal mistake.
Once Tontz was done, at around 3 p.m., defense attorney Cheryl Ramsey took the stage.
She spoke of how easily it can be to misidentify people, especially in a crowded basement at a party with only a black light.
Ramsey also discussed the possibility of people targeting athletes, before lecturing the jury on the seriousness of the trial.
“Mr. Williams' life livelihood is on trial and it's very important that you take that serious,” Ramsey sternly told the courtroom.
Throughout it all, Williams sat at the defense table, remaining silent but looking calm and content, occasionally nodding to those who came to support him.
Center Phil Jurick was the only current Cowboy player at the courtroom on Monday.
But among the long list of potential witnesses who may come to the stand, many current and former OSU basketball players and coaches were listed, including Travis Ford, Keiton Page, Marshall Moses, Markel Brown and Fred Gulley.
And in an unlikely circumstance, OSU athletic director Mike Holder was part of the jury pool, taking oath at the beginning of the trial and staying through the first session. But after the lunch break started, Holder, with an obvious conflict of interest, was dismissed from duty.
The jury selection process continues Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., with witnesses expected whenever that is done. Both the judge and attorneys continually indicated to jury members that this trial could extend into next week, or even longer.