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Watkins' Trial to Open Today

Jury Selected to Hear Rape Charges Against Law Student

By Joshua A. Gerstein

Jury selection for the trial of a Law School student charged with raping a Harvard undergraduate in December 1988 was completed yesterday, clearing the way for witnesses to take the stand this morning.

Kevin T. Watkins, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was indicted last year on charges that he raped his former girlfriend, who was a first-year student at the time. An additional charge of assault and battery against Watkins has been dropped, a court clerk said yesterday.

During yesterday's two-hour hearing, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Paul Chernoff said that the trial would probably last three or four days. The victim and a number of Harvard police and health service employees are among those who likely will be called to testify, Chernoff said.

Chernoff questioned potential jurors yesterday on several topics to determine whether they would be impartial if assigned to the case. Chernoff asked the 51 members of the jury pool if they knew any of the parties to the case, if they had ever been raped or accused of rape or if they were friendly with police officers.

A question about Harvard affiliation drew the largest number of hands. Ten potential jurors indicated that they or a close friend or member of their family had attended the University or was employed at Harvard.

Chernoff interviewed jurors who gave positive responses to his questions and excused them if he determined that they might be biased.

In addition, Assistant District Attorney George Fisher and defense attorney Willie Davis were allowed to remove six potential jurors apiece without giving any reason. The attorneys' selections were whispered to a court clerk, making it impossible to determine which lawyer was eliminating a particular juror.

Davis, Fisher and Chernoff eventually settled on 14 country residents to decide the case. Two of the 14 are alternates, who will hear the evidence against Watkins but will not participate in deliberations unless another juror is excused during the trial.

In a brief interview after the hearing, Davis said that he and Watkins are "very glad" that the case is finally coming to trial. Since the first legal charges were filed in June, Watkins' case has been delayed several times. At least some of those delays stemmed from difficulty in finding a judge without ties to Harvard.

According to the indictment read aloud by Chernoff, Watkins allegedly raped the undergraduate woman after she went to his apartment to demand the return of a sexually explicit videotape made earlier in their relationship.

Davis said he had not yet decided whether to introduce the tape. "We'll sort of play it by ear," he said.

Fisher said he also was not sure whether the tape would be played for the jury.

Last August, Watkins filed a $150-million civil suit in U.S. District Court in New York City against Harvard and several law school officials, charging that they botched any investigation into his conduct and violated his rights. The lawsuit has been transferred to Boston's federal court.

As a matter of policy, The Crimson does not print the names of alleged victims of rape or sexual assault.

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