Jury complete for Bill Cosby's sex assault trial

Bill Cosby Jury Selection
Bill Cosby, center, stops and talks to the media gathered at the Allegheny County Courthouse as he leaves Wednesday after the third day of jury selection in Pittsburgh for his sexual assault case. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH — The panel that will decide Bill Cosby’s fate was finalized Wednesday, as lawyers completed a three-day search for 12 jurors and six alternates for the entertainer’s sex-assault trial.

In the end, all but one member of the panel said they were at least somewhat familiar with the allegations against Cosby. All vowed to set their prior knowledge aside.

And though defense lawyers had accused prosecutors of intentionally seeking to block black people from the jury, two African Americans, a middle-aged man and a young woman, made it onto the panel. Two more were selected as alternates.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele called the jury of seven men and five women “a terrific jury made up of people from all demographics and from all parts of Allegheny County.”

Steele also addressed the defense team’s media blitz and complaints of a racially biased prosecution for the first time after jury selection ended Wednesday evening, calling it “nonsense about optics.”

Cosby stopped on his way out of the courthouse to briefly address reporters, thanking the people of Allegheny County and the sheriff’s office employees who provided security throughout the proceedings. Finally, he tried to deliver a message to his fans in Pittsburgh, where he often performed over the years before the allegations surfaced.

“I just want to thank all of the people who have come to see my shows whenever I appeared at Heinz Hall,” he said.

The entertainer was quiet during the grueling three-day process of questioning potential jurors. But he laughed aloud and applauded Wednesday afternoon as one potential juror joked that he had been married for longer than some prison terms for murder. That man was not selected.

Brian J. McMonagle, one of Cosby’s defense lawyers, said he was “very satisfied” with the jury.

The jurors will be bused to Montgomery County and sequestered for what is expected to be a two-week trial, scheduled to begin June 5 in Norristown.

Montgomery County Court Judge Steven T. O’Neill has sealed identifying information about jurors due to concerns about publicity of what promises to be the most closely watched celebrity legal spectacle since O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trial.

The jurors range in age from people who appeared to be in their 20s to an older man who walked with a cane. Two jurors said they would be leaving toddlers at home while they traveled across the state. Six of the 18 jurors and alternates said they had a close friend or family member who had been a victim of sexual assault, but all said it would not affect their ability to serve as fair and impartial jurors.

Although most jurors acknowledged having knowledge of the case, those selected said they had not paid much attention to news coverage of the allegations against Cosby.

“It didn’t, like, stand out in my head,” one selected juror said of her exposure to reports of the case. She said she watches the morning news while she drinks her coffee, and had no opinions about Cosby’s guilt or innocence.

Cosby, who has been charged with aggravated indecent assault, is accused of drugging and molesting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his Cheltenham home in 2004.

Her claims fueled the only criminal case against him, but mirror those of dozens of other women who have come forward alleging that in years past they, too, were drugged and molested by the celebrity once known as “America’s Dad.”

Cosby has denied the accusations. He and his team have increasingly alleged that his race played some role in the accusations that have ensnared him.

In a statement last week, Cosby’s daughter Ensa compared the media coverage to a lynching. Also last week, Cosby told a radio host in his first broadcast interview in nearly two years that the case against him might have been racially motivated.

Their suspicions spilled over into the jury-selection process on Tuesday when prosecutors moved for the second time to exclude an African American from the jury. However, the judge found that prosecutors had valid reasons for each of the potential black jurors they dismissed from the jury pool.

The initial jury pool had 14 black people among the 100 people summoned to court. In a second group of 93 people summoned to court Wednesday, 11 were black.

Keep up with every development in Bill Cosby’s case with our day-by-day recaps and explainer on everything you need to know about the case and its major players.