Missouri governor Eric Greitens trial to start in sex scandal amid pressure to resign

ST. LOUIS, May 10 (Reuters) - The trial of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens over a sex scandal was scheduled to begin on Thursday as the Republican politician faced mounting pressure to resign.

Jury selection was due to get under way in a state circuit court in St. Louis, and opening statements were expected to begin early next week in a case that has state lawmakers weighing impeachment.

Greitens is charged with felony invasion of privacy in connection with an admitted extramarital affair in 2015 before his election. He has said he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing and called the relationship in question consensual. He has vowed to remain in office while he fights to clear his name.

The governor, 44, is accused of taking a photo of his lover in a state of undress without her consent and making it accessible by computer to use as retaliation should she divulge their relationship. He has denied threatening to blackmail her.

RELATED: A look at Eric Greitens

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Republican Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri
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Republican Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri
Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens walk through the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, after viewing some of the damage done last weekend when more than 150 headstones were overturned. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
Eric Greitens kisses his wife, Sheena, before giving his victory speech after winning the Missouri governor's race on November 8, 2016, at his election watch party at the Double Tree Hotel in Chesterfield, Mo. Greitens has admitted he had an extramarital affair in 2015. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Eric Greitens Founder and CEO, The Mission Continues speaks at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Robin Hood Foundation)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens and wife Sheena hold their children, Jacob (left) and Joshua, while addressing the media after casting their vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 at the St. Louis Public Library Schlafly branch in St. Louis, Mo. (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Former Deputy Commissioner for Counter Terrorism of the NYPD Michael Sheehan and Navy SEALs Lieutenant Commander Eric Greitens appear on NBC News' TODAY show (Photo by Heidi Gutman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNIVERSITY CITY, MO - FEBRUARY 22: Anita Feigenbaum, executive director at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery speaks to the crowd on February 22, 2017 in University City, Missouri. Governor Eric Greitens (R) and US Vice President Mike Pence (L) were on hand to speak to over 300 volunteers who helped cleanup after the recent vandalism. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a nationwide spike in incidents including bomb threats at Jewish community centers and reports of anti-semitic graffiti. (Photo: Michael Thomas/ Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Author and Navy Seal Eric Greitens attends the 2013 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 09: (L-R) Chris Marvis, Greg Grunberg, Eric Greitens and Christopher Gorham attend Got Your 6 and The Mission Continues Service Project Event at The Globe Theater inside Universal Studios Hollywood on November 9, 2012 in Universal City, California. (Photo by JC Olivera/Getty Images)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens makes his ballot selections on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 at the St. Louis Public Library Schlafly branch in St. Louis, Mo. (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Author and Navy Seal Eric Greitens attends the 2013 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 03: (L-R) E.A. 'Buddy' Grantham, Director of the Office of Veterans Affairs for City of Houston, Erika Putinski, Home Depot, Eric Greitens, The Mission Continues and Frederick Wellman of ScoutComms at The Home Depot Foundation & The Mission Continues Partner to repair and rennovate American Legion Post #416 on November 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26: Eric Greitens and guest attend GQ's Gentlemen's Ball Presented By Gentleman Jack, Land Rover, Movado, and Nautica at The Edison Ballroom on October 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for GQ)
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The alleged offense occurred in March 2015, the year before Greitens, a married father of two and former U.S. Navy SEAL commando, was elected governor. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.

The backlash against Greitens, a onetime Republican Party rising star, grew after he was charged in a separate case with computer tampering. Prosecutors allege he obtained and transmitted a donor list from a military veterans charity he founded in 2007 without the charity's consent to aid his political fund-raising.

The Republican-controlled Missouri legislature will convene a special session on May 18 to consider impeachment or other discipline. No Missouri governor has ever been impeached.

Greitens has cast himself as the victim of a "political witch hunt" in both cases, which were brought by Kim Gardner, the Democratic Circuit Attorney for the city of St. Louis.

Greitens' lawyers have noted the alleged photograph has never been produced. The woman testified to state lawmakers she believes the picture was taken while she was bound, blindfolded and partially nude in Greitens' basement.

The woman, a hair stylist, described in a state legislative report released last month a tumultuous, months-long affair punctuated by instances of physical abuse, jealous rage and manipulative behavior by Greitens.

The scandal may tarnish the Republican Party and dim its hopes of ousting Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat regarded as one of the more politically vulnerable senators in the upcoming November congressional elections. (Reporting by Sue Britt, writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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