Cosby in Pittsburgh: What to expect at jury selection

- By JOE MANDAK, MARYCLAIRE DALE and DAKE KANG
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The panel that will decide Bill Cosby's fate in his sex assault trial began to take shape Monday with the selection of five jurors, three white men and two white women.

The search for 12 jurors and six alternates got off to a brisk start, even though a third of the initial jury pool had an opinion about Cosby's guilt or innocence and an equal number said they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted. Lawyers on both sides are contemplating a person's race, sex, age, occupation and interests as they weigh their likely sympathies, experts said.

"You're looking for what people already believe," said University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor David Harris. "People don't take in new information and process it. They filter it into what they already know and think."

The actor-comedian once known as America's Dad for his portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable on "The Cosby Show" is charged with drugging and molesting a Temple University women's basketball team manager at his home near Philadelphia in 2004. He calls their encounter consensual.

Dozens of other women have made similar accusations against Cosby, and the judge is allowing only one of them to testify at the June 5 trial in suburban Philadelphia. The jury from Pittsburgh will be sequestered nearly 300 miles from home.

Cosby, 79, has said he thinks race "could be" a motivating factor in the accusations lodged against him.

The jurors' names, ages and occupations were being kept private. The oldest person chosen for the panel was perhaps in his 70s and, like Cosby, uses a cane. The youngest was a young man with a hipster style. He and a middle-aged man selected said they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted, but they insisted they could judge the case fairly. That's sometimes harder than it seems, one law professor said.

"Can we trust them (to be fair)? That's really the question," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor. "Sometimes it's not so easy. It's one thing to set aside intellectually what you know, but it's another to set it aside emotionally."

The case against Cosby has attracted worldwide publicity that the judge hopes to shield from jurors during the trial. More than 80 percent of Monday's jury pool said they were familiar with the case, and two-thirds said it would be difficult to spend several weeks sequestered across the state. But not all of their hardship claims held up. Two people selected had initially voiced job concerns but later said they could serve.

"No one should make an effort to be on this jury, and no one should make an effort to not be on this jury," Judge Steven T. O'Neill told the group.  

Cosby arrived in court on the arm of an aide, using a cane and carrying a box of tissues, and frequently conferred with his three lawyers at the defense table.

Lead lawyer Brian McMonagle said Cosby was "looking forward" to getting the process started. However, Cosby has said he does not expect to testify.

The defense had used four strikes to keep someone off the jury by Monday afternoon, while the prosecution had used two. Each side can strike seven people from the jury and three alternates.

The trial will take place in Norristown in Montgomery County, where Cosby had invited Andrea Constand to his home in 2004. She said she went seeking career advice as she considered leaving her job managing the women's basketball team at Temple University. She said Cosby gave her wine and pills that put her in a stupor before molesting her on his couch.

Constand was 30 and dating a woman at the time, while Cosby was 66 and long married to wife Camille. Cosby in sworn testimony has said he put his hand down Constand's pants, but said she did not protest.

The Associated Press doesn't typically identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault unless they come forward, as Constand has done.

The first group of 100 potential jurors summoned Monday included 16 people of color. Forty-one of them will return Tuesday for further consideration before the judge, if necessary, calls in the next pool.
Cosby was arrested Dec. 30, 2015, days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired. He has pleaded not guilty and remains free on $1 million bail.


He told a talk show host last week that he hopes to beat back the charges and resume his career.

   "I want people to understand my work as an artist and a performer," he said. "I want to get back to the laughter and the enjoyment of things that I've written and things that I perform on stage."

   ------

  Dale reported from Philadelphia.

 

   A run-down of what to expect as a dozen jurors and six alternates are selected:
   ------
 
   Q: Why is the jury being picked in Pittsburgh?
 
   A: Cosby's lawyers sought an outside jury because the case had been a flash point 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 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 away from their homes. Court officers will keep close tabs on their cellphone use, TV time and reading material, given the huge media coverage the case will bring. 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: What type of jurors will the defense seek? 
 
   A: The defense will likely 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 murdering 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 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. Varinsky expects about one in four jurors to say they or someone close to them has been the victim of a sexual assault. Those individuals would likely be dismissed by the judge.
   ------
 
   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 sense they fear they would hurt their sides.
   ------
 
   Q: Will the jurors be identified?
 
   A: Judge Steven O'Neill plans to keep the jurors' names private. However, the press will be covering the proceedings, reporting on both the nature of the arguments over jury selection and the willingness of people to serve in the high-profile case. 
   ------
 
   Q: What should I watch for?
 
   A: The elements to watch for include:
 
   --Jurors too eager to serve in a celebrity case. Some may even hope to write a book afterward, if past cases are any guide.
 
   --Can the parties find 18 people without strong feelings about the case or Cosby's career? 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?
 
   --Is the jury pool familiar with the scores of other Cosby accusers? Are people being truthful if they say they're not, given the widespread media coverage?
 
   --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.)
 
   --Will politics come into play, subtly or not? Given sex assault allegations raised against President Donald Trump, and his vulgar comments caught on tape about grabbing women, will lawyers try to glean the jurors' political leanings?
   ------
 
   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. 
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