The panel that will be charged with deciding Bill Cosby’s fate was finalized Wednesday, as lawyers completed a three-day search for 12 Montgomery County residents who hadn’t already made up their minds about the case.
In the end, all but one member of the new panel said that they were at least somewhat familiar with the sexual assault allegations at the center of the 80-year-old entertainer’s first trial in Norristown last year. Some even said they had heard that a previous set of 12 jurors had been unable to reach a unanimous verdict in June, a deadlock that prompted a mistrial.
Cosby’s new defense team – led by attorney Tom Mesereau – separately accused prosecutors of attempting to deliberately exclude both older white men and African Americans from the panel during the selection process. Seven men and five women, including one African American man and one African American woman, were ultimately chosen from the more than 230 Montgomery County residents summoned this week.
The lawyers will return to the courthouse Thursday to continue the hunt for six alternates, in case one of the jurors is removed.
All 18 will be sequestered starting Sunday evening for the duration of what is expected to be a monthlong trial, scheduled to begin Monday.
O’Neill has sealed identifying information about jurors due to concern about the overwhelming publicity that has followed the case from the start. The dozen chosen so far range in age from people who appear to be in their 20s to those who appear to be in their 50s.
While most said they had heard about the allegations against Cosby as well as the #MeToo movement that has brought down powerful men in the entertainment industry with allegations of sexual assault or harassment, all said they could set that aside. Three of the jurors said they or a family member had been the victim of a sexual assault, but vowed that it would not affect their ability to be fair and impartial in Cosby’s trial.
The first trial also had two African American jurors. But race became an issue for the retrial Wednesday when defense attorney Kathleen Bliss objected after Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele used one of seven chances each side has to strike a potential juror without having to explain.
Bliss also accused one member of the prosecution team – whom she did not name – of making “discriminatory and repulsive” comments, which she did not detail or describe in open court.
Steele said the accusation was baseless and lodged solely for the benefit of the dozens of reporters in the courtroom. O’Neill ordered both lawyers to his chambers to discuss the matter.
After they emerged, Cosby’s lawyers said they weren’t backing down but had agreed to set the issue aside so that jury selection could proceed.
Bliss, in earlier arguments, had suggested prosecutors would have had no reason other than race to cut the potential juror whose removal started the argument.
“She passed every single stage as a fair and impartial juror,” Bliss said. “There is thus no other explanation other than for race.”
Steele, however, noted that prosecutors already had endorsed the only other two African Americans to come before them, both of whom were chosen as jurors.
“We have gladly taken both of these seemingly responsible people, and they are on our jury,” he said. “To somehow infer that this isn’t being done for a race-neutral reason is, quite frankly, ludicrous.”
The defense had lodged a similar complaint a day earlier – alleging that prosecutors were systematically attempting to exclude older white men – but O’Neill quickly shot that down.
Cosby is charged with drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, a former friend and Temple University employee, in 2004.
Opening arguments are scheduled to begin Monday.