Q&A: What to expect as Bill Cosby’s jury selection continues
Jury selection in Bill Cosby’s upcoming sex assault case got off to a quick start Monday with the selection of the first five jurors. Three are white men and the other two white women.
Hundreds of potential jurors are being called to a Pittsburgh courthouse this week as the search for panel that will decide the comedian’s sex abuse trial gets underway. The hearing resumes Tuesday morning.
A dozen jurors and six alternates will be selected in all — then shipped across the state to serve in what is expected to be a two-week trial beginning June 5 on allegations the entertainer molested a Temple University basketball team manager at his home near Philadelphia in 2004.
Here’s what you need to know about jury selection:
Q: How do potential jurors feel about the case?
A: One-third of the potential jurors questioned Monday said they’ve formed opinions about Cosby’s guilt or innocence while the majority said it would be difficult to spend several weeks sequestered across the state. And 35 of the 100 people questioned said they or a family member or close friend has been the victim of a sexual assault. Two of them made the jury after saying they could set that aside and still be fair.
Q: What do we know about the jurors chosen?
A: Judge Steven O’Neill is not disclosing any information in court about the jurors’ names, ages or occupations. The potential jurors were seated with their backs to the press when they were questioned by lawyers in court. They ranged in age from a man perhaps in his 70s who, like Cosby, uses a cane to a young man with a hipster style.
Q: What will it be like to serve on the jury?
A: In a rare move, the jury will be sequestered near the courthouse in Norristown, some 300 miles (482 kilometers) away from their homes in western Pensylvania. The judge said they can use their cellphones and laptops but they cannot discuss the case on social media. The trial is expected to last about two weeks, but could go longer if rebuttal witnesses are called or the jury struggles to reach a verdict.
Q: Why is the jury being picked in Pittsburgh?
A: Cosby’s lawyers sought an outside jury because the case had been a flashpoint in the 2015 race for Montgomery County district attorney. Former prosecutor Bruce Castor, the Republican candidate, had declined to charge Cosby a decade earlier. First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele, a Democrat whose office had reopened the case, attacked Castor over the Cosby case in campaign ads.
Q: What type of juror does the defense seek?
A: The defense might seek jurors who are black, male, older and perhaps celebrity worshippers, in the view of jury consultant Howard Varinksy, who advised prosecutors in the murder trials of Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife; Timothy McVeigh; and others. Black jurors may be more willing to doubt police and prosecutors, while older jurors may blame the victim for being in the married Cosby’s home, he said. Celebrity worshippers may be sympathetic or try to form a connection to the star, relating to the fact they once saw them in a store or they come from the same hometown or have children the same age.
Q: How about the prosecution?
A: Younger jurors may have more modern views of sexual assault cases, especially those, like Cosby’s, that involve acquaintance situations or a delay in contacting police. The five chosen Monday included two in their 30s or younger.
Q: How much leeway does each side have to pick jurors?
A: Either side can ask the judge to strike a potential juror for cause, without it counting against them. That might include jurors who admit having a biased view of the case or have a hardship — a medical condition, family obligation or financial or job situation — that prevents them from serving. After that, each side can strike seven jurors and three alternates without cause, simply because they fear they would hurt their sides. The defense on Monday used four such strikes, while prosecutors used two.
Q: What should I watch for?
A: —Jurors too eager to serve in a celebrity case. Some may even hope to write a book afterward, if past cases are any guide. However, two-thirds of those questioned Monday sought a hardship to keep them from being sequestered across the state for several weeks.
—Can the parties find 18 people without strong feelings about the case or Cosby’s career? About one-third questioned said they had an opinion of his guilt or innocence. Do they express fond memories of benevolent TV dad Cliff Huxtable or cartoon character Fat Albert? Or are they bitter about Cosby’s scolding of the young black community?
—What’s the final breakdown in terms of men/women; old/young; black/white/other? gay/straight? (Cosby is 79, black, long-married, a father of five, American and a career entertainer. Trial accuser Andrea Constand is 43, white, single, gay, Canadian and a basketball professional-turned-massage therapist.)
Q: Will jurors hear from Cosby during the trial?
A: Cosby told an interviewer this past week that he does not expect to testify, given his fear of wading into trouble while trying to be truthful during cross-examination.