Philadelphia News & Search
PITTSBURGH — Three men and two women were chosen Monday as the first jurors for Bill Cosby’s sexual-assault trial.
Like most of the 100 prospective jurors summoned to the Allegheny County Courthouse, all five said they knew something about the scandals that have bedeviled the 79-year-old entertainer since late 2014, but vowed to put aside what they had heard.
Their selection came on the first day of one of the most expansive jury selection processes ever here: the search for 12 jurors and six alternates whose opinions had not been tainted by media coverage of claims against the longtime celebrity icon.
One of those chosen was a woman who was the first to be questioned. She acknowledged having heard about the Cosby investigation, but said she did not have a fixed opinion about it.
“I have a life,” the woman told Judge Steven O’Neill.
Once selected, the panel will be transported and sequestered in Norristown for the trial, scheduled to begin June 5 in Norristown. The jury is coming from western Pennsylvania because Cosby’s lawyers successfully argued that pretrial publicity made it more difficult finding a fair and impartial jury in Montgomery County. They also sought a jury pool from a more diverse, urban community.
But each of the five chosen Monday is white. And only 14 of the first 100 prospective jurors called to the courthouse were African American. Eighty-six said they had heard about the charges against the entertainer once known as “America’s Dad,” and more than a third said they already had an opinion about Cosby’s guilt or innocence.
The trial is the only criminal case against Cosby, who has been accused of sexual misconduct in decades past by dozens of women. Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele will seek to prove Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, then the operations director for Temple University’s women’s basketball program, at his Cheltenham home in 2004.
“Justice in this case isn’t done by anybody else but the 12 jurors in that deliberation room,” O’Neill told the group of prospective jurors as he explained the process.
As Cosby entered the courtroom, the jury pool fell silent – some members straining their necks to look at the defendant, clad in a tan checkered blazer, tie, and gold pocket square.
His lawyers have repeatedly chronicled Cosby’s failing health, but he remained alert as the judge individually questioned potential jurors. He leaned forward, laughed with his lawyers, and at one point spoke up.
“I’m sorry, I’m having a problem hearing,” he said, raising his hand.
“Is it my answers?” the potential juror, an older white woman, asked him.
“Yes,” Cosby replied.
Another man picked for the panel, who appeared to be in his 20s, said he had heard about the case but had not given it much thought.
“To be honest, I don’t have one,” he said when asked whether he had an opinion about the charges.
Twenty reporters sat in on the individual questioning, while television trucks crowded a parking lot outside the courthouse.
O’Neill has ruled that the names of the jurors will not be publicly released. The judge and lawyers strove not to reveal any identifying information during the questioning.
O’Neill referred to jurors only by their juror numbers and gave them the option of answering sensitive questions in private, such as whether they or a close friend or family member had been a victim of sexual assault.
One middle-aged man acknowledged his sister had been a victim of a sexual assault, but said he could set that experience aside. He was among the five chosen for the panel.
Another prospective juror who also said he had a sister who had been sexually assaulted was struck from the jury by defense lawyers Brian J. McMonagle, Angela Agrusa and Fortunato Perri. The lawyers used four of the seven “strikes” they are allotted to reject jurors for any reason. Their other three strikes used Monday were to exclude two young woman and one middle-aged woman.
Prosecutors used strikes to dismiss one man and one woman, both middle-aged.
Other potential jurors were excused by the judge for reasons including being a single mother, having vacations planned during the trial, or being unable to take time from work. One woman said she had a set opinion about the case, and was dismissed with cause.
O’Neill began Monday’s proceedings with an informal explanation for the jurors – and some warnings.
“No one should make any effort to be on this jury and no one should make any effort to be off this jury,” he said.
He asked questions to the jury pool members about their ability to be fair and impartial and then read a list of more than 30 potential trial witnesses, including Cosby’s longtime pilot, his private chef, several members of Constand’s family, and expert witnesses on sexual abuse counseling and memory.
Thirty-five prospective jurors said they or a close friend or family member had been a victim of a sexual assault, and 25 said the nature of the charge itself would make them unable to remain unbiased. Two-thirds of the jury pool said traveling to Montgomery County would be an undue hardship.
Fifty additional jurors will be called up for Tuesday, if needed, after 42 more jurors from Monday’s group are individually questioned.
Philadelphia News & Search