Cosby lawyers: Prosecutors are excluding blacks from jury

Bill Cosby Jury Selection
Bill Cosby, center, arrives May 23 with one of his attorneys Angela Agrusa, right, for the second day of jury selection in his sexual assault case at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

PITTSBURGH — The day after defense lawyers accused prosecutors of intentionally excluding black people from the jury that will decide Bill Cosby’s fate, jury selection resumed Wednesday.

One more juror and six alternates remained to be selected as 100 new candidates were led into the courtroom 

The racial bias accusation was made when Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele moved to block an African American woman from the 12th and final seat on the jury for the sex-assault trial.

“This is a systematic exclusion of African Americans,” defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle objected, noting that the dismissed potential juror was the second black woman whom prosecutors had struck from the pool since the selection process began Monday.

The accusation by Cosby and his team that the charges against him are racially motivated has been repeated with increasing frequency in recent weeks as the trial approached. Cosby’s daughter, Ensa, compared the scandal that has ensnared her father to a lynching in a statement last week, and Cosby said in a radio interview that the charges might be connected to his race.​

“We believe it is of paramount importance that there be a diverse jury,” McMonagle said Tuesday.

Of the 11 jurors chosen through Tuesday, 10 are white. One – a woman selected Tuesday – is black. Seven are men and four are women.

But prosecutors said they had good reason to cut the woman at the center of the conflict.

Assistant District Attorney M. Stewart Ryan described her as a former Pittsburgh police detective who was charged with falsifying time sheets in a “wide-ranging” department scandal and later who filed a lawsuit against the city.  He said that raised questions about her credibility and potential biases as a juror.

Ultimately, Montgomery County Court Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled that prosecutors had adequately described a “nondiscriminatory reason” for excluding the woman. But he said the issue could be raised again if defense lawyers pursued an argument based on the racial makeup of the jury pool.

The dust-up came near the end of the second day of jury selection for Cosby’s trial. Selection started about two hours late as lawyers huddled with the judge in chambers.

When they emerged, O’Neill offered little explanation, saying only that rulings regarding issues of “fundamental rights” had been made.

As the day continued, lawyers met with 42 potential jurors in a grueling process that left each one sitting at a long table facing the judge, Cosby, and lawyers. Cosby’s defense team is using a jury consultant for the process. Only the judge asked questions of the potential jurors, at times moving the proceeding into a room out of earshot of reporters.

“It’s like moving a piano,” O’Neill said of the process as it began Tuesday. "If you stay at it, you get it done.”

Cosby sat quietly throughout the questioning. One woman turned to smile at the entertainer before he left the room. His lawyers later blocked her from serving on the panel.

More than one-third of the first 100 potential jurors summoned said they already had an opinion about Cosby’s guilt or innocence. They were mostly white; 14 were black.

All but one of the 11 jurors selected so far said they had heard about the case, but maintained they had not formed an opinion about it.

The juror who reported having no prior knowledge explained that he does not watch television news, read newspapers, or talk about the news with his friends. He said he is interested only in following news about hockey.

Another man who was selected said he had discussed the case with his grandmother, and while she had an opinion about it, he did not.

“I didn’t even know it was in this state,” he said.

The names of potential jurors in the case will not be released, by judicial order.

The 12 jurors and six alternates who are chosen in Pittsburgh will be bused to Montgomery County and sequestered for the duration of the trial.

Cosby is accused of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and molesting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his Cheltenham home in 2004.

Jury selection will resume Wednesday at the Allegheny County Courthouse, when 100 more potential jurors are summoned. ​

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