The Cosby trial and the myth of a jury of your peers

Bill Cosby arrives for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse.

Cliff Huxtable is dead and Bill Cosby killed him.

The jury’s verdict in the current sex-assault case doesn’t matter. Bill Cosby’s reputation is in the landfill, mixed with Cliff Huxtable’s ashes. Cosby has traded designer-label sweaters for, likely, the label of a sexual predator.

The loss of reputation, what some cultures call “face,” is enough punishment for the former Jell-O Pudding front man, some believe. I am not one of them.

Looking past Cosby’s cloak of celebrity, it seems clear he raped, sexually abused, and humiliated women for decades. If you don’t believe that, you have to disbelieve accusatory stories told by more than 50 women who came forward. I wonder how many more women could not bring themselves to do that.

He survived a smudge on his squeaky-clean image when his love child Autumn Jackson identified him as her father and he admitted it in 1997. That proved adultery he delicately framed as a “rendezvous.” Things always sound pretty in French. His wife, Camille, did not attend the opening day of the trial.

Cosby is a unique case because his shield was not just “celebrity.” Sometimes celebrity can work against you, as in the case of dunderhead Justin Bieber. Is any cop or prosecutor going to cut him a break?

Cosby’s celebrity was varnished by his likability, a smiling mug many of us have seen all our lives — the totally acceptable, nonthreatening black male who comes across just as if he is one of “us.”

Like O.J. Simpson.

If Cosby walks, there will be no riots.

If Cosby walks, will there be cheers, as followed Simpson’s acquittal in his criminal trial?

If there are cheers, will they come from the black community or the white community? You think both? If Cosby walks, you could ask, as with O.J., how a man so much a part of the system can be cheered for beating the system?

Or if his race exacerbated the drama surrounding him. There may be some truth in that, but the furor is driven more by the moral failings of someone whom the media proclaimed “America’s Dad.” He’s gone from paternal to predator in the minds of many.

In the O.J. trial, prosecutor Marcia Clark said she made a big mistake when she failed to discuss race with the jurors, nine of whom were black. The jury had 10 women and two men, only two with college degrees, all Democrats, only one of whom regularly read a newspaper.

For Cosby, two of the 12 jurors are African American, drawn from Allegheny County, in the western part of the state. The prosecution had challenged some black jurors, and the defense challenged some women jurors.

Does jockeying over race and gender matter? When a single vote can prevent conviction, yes it does.

Many Americans believe that defendants are entitled to be judged by a jury of their peers. A peer is someone of the same legal class, according to one dictionary definition, someone equal to another in ability, qualifications, age, background, social status, possibly race and gender.

But a jury of peers is a myth, a concept that “some lawyers may have latched on to” from British law harking back to the Magna Carta, says Jules Epstein, law professor and director of advocacy programs at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.

In the United States, the Sixth Amendment guarantees “a public trial by an impartial jury,” Epstein says. The system seeks “a fair cross-section of the community.”

If defined narrowly, the judgment-by-peers concept is foolish.

How do you select a panel of peers for cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer? Who are Cosby’s peers — multimillionaire African Americans with Ph.D.s?

If we had a jury of true peers for every defendant, it’s hard to see how prosecutors ever would get a conviction.

That’s why the Constitution stresses impartiality, says Epstein.

That presents its own problems.

It was hard to find jurors who were impartial about Cosby, who was one of America’s best-loved entertainers even before he invented Cliff Huxtable and then killed him.

The jurors are not truly Cosby’s peers and are challenged to judge him on the facts of the case, not on the TV Emmys he won. Today, the words The Cosby Show have a malignant feel.