About 135 potential jurors for Shawn Oakman’s sexual assault trial filled out questionnaires Friday, in part, so a judge can determine if the former Baylor University football player can receive a fair trial in McLennan County.
Alan Bennett and Jessi Freud, attorneys for the former defensive end, filed a motion to move Oakman’s trial from Waco, alleging that fallout from the Baylor sexual assault scandal, the trials of two former Baylor football players and the case against a former Baylor fraternity president have combined to create a “toxic environment” that will prevent Oakman from getting a fair trial in McLennan County.
The questionnaires ask 25 questions, with many pertaining to prospective jurors’ connections to Baylor, their level of sports devotion, their knowledge of the case, if they know a victim of sexual assault and more.
Court officials initially summoned 500 potential potential jurors to report Friday. After bad mailing addresses, exemptions and disqualifications, that cut the list to 316 who were supposed to report. About 175 showed up, and 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother excused 30 to 35 more for various reasons, including two with upcoming weddings.
Among those who filled out a questionnaire was Brad Livingstone, husband of Baylor President Linda Livingstone, and several Baylor professors.
One question asks, “Would your present or past employment at Baylor University, or any connection or loyalty you have to Baylor affect your ability to be a fair juror if a Baylor student-athlete were the defendant?”
Oakman is indicted on charges he sexually assaulted a Baylor student at his apartment in April 2016, after his football career at Baylor was over. He has said he dated the woman previously and that they had a consensual sexual encounter.
Strother deferred his ruling on the change of venue motion and said he wanted to see the results of the questionnaires. If the results are not compelling, he said he will wait until actual jury selection starts Feb. 25 to see if a fair and impartial jury can be selected in Waco.
Oakman rejected a plea bargain from prosecutors that called for him to be placed on deferred probation in exchange for his guilty plea. Bennett said Oakman turned down the offer because he is not guilty and wants to clear his name in court.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Moody said he and prosecutor Hilary LaBorde will meet Monday with Bennett and Freud to review the results of the questionnaires and to see, with the judge’s approval, if potential jurors should be excused based on their answers.
Bennett said he is eager to see the questionnaires but declined additional comment.
One question asks if the prospective jurors read the Tribune-Herald, Sporting News, ESPN.com, NBC Sports, Fox Sports, Baylorfans.com, sbnation.com or Bleacher Report and to list other media sources they watch or read regularly.
Another asks if they have formed an opinion about Oakman’s guilt or innocence “based upon any information you have about the case.”
One asks their familiarity with the sexual assault cases of former Baylor football players Tevin Elliott, who is serving 20 years in prison, and Sam Ukwuachu, who a 54th State District Court jury placed on probation.
It also asks if they are familiar with the controversial plea agreement reached by former Baylor fraternity president Jacob Anderson, who was charged with sexually assaulting a student but who pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint in exchange for deferred probation.