ST. LOUIS (AP) – Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens appeared in court Thursday as jury selection got underway in a criminal trial accusing him of taking a compromising photo of a woman with whom he has acknowledged having an affair.
The Republican governor faces the potential of prison time if convicted of the felony invasion-of-privacy charge but has consistently denied any criminal wrongdoing.
His trial proceedings began with St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison reviewing hardships that could keep prospective jurors from serving through the entire trial, which is expected to last through next week.
Six of the first 40 potential jurors were released because of hardships. Of those who remained, five additional people had been dismissed by midday at the request of Greitens’ defense attorneys after expressing negative opinions about the governor.
One questioned Greitens’ truthfulness and another was aware of legislative discussions about his impeachment. One dismissed woman 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.
Greitens, 44, listened attentively to the questioning of potential jurors, occasionally taking notes. Attorneys are sorting through as many as 160 potential jurors during their multiday selection process.
Greitens arrived at the courthouse through a back entry and was greeted with a handshake and hug by a local law officer who was waiting there for him. The governor, who often wears blue jeans at the Capitol, was wearing a suit and tie for his trial.
He is accused of taking and transmitting an unauthorized photograph of a blindfolded and partially naked woman while she was bound to exercise rings in the basement of his St. Louis home in 2015, before he was elected. The woman, a hairdresser with whom Greitens has admitted having an affair, told investigators she saw a flash through the blindfold and heard what sounded like a photo being taken.
Greitens allegedly told her, “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise there will be pictures of (you) everywhere.”
The woman, whose name has not been released by authorities, said that she became upset and that Greitens later told her he deleted the picture. Prosecutors acknowledged in court earlier this week that they have not found such a photo. Greitens has repeatedly declined to say if he took a picture and has referred to the affair as an “entirely consensual relationship.”
The penalty for first-degree invasion of privacy in Missouri is up to four years in prison.
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 yet for that case.
The Legislature also is to convene in special session May 18 to consider whether to try to impeach Greitens. That session could last up to 30 days. If Greitens were impeached, the Senate then would appoint a panel of judges to preside over a trial on whether to remove him from office.
Greitens’ administration has said state government continues to function as usual, even as the governor has pared back his public interactions with the media.
As Greitens was in court Thursday, his administration pumped out news releases displaying continued government action. One touted a proclamation Greitens had signed Wednesday declaring Friday as “Public Service Recognition Day.”
Greitens’ Department of Revenue also released an update on how quickly it is processing income tax refunds. The agency said it’s been completing the task in an average of just under 10 days, compared with nearly 19 days at the same point in time last year.
Associated Press reporter David A. Lieb contributed from Jefferson City.