Thursday 16 August 2018

Would-be jurors acknowledge already having opinions on Bill Cosby case

One panellist was selected on the first day after saying he was unaware of the case and vowing not to be influenced by the #MeToo movement.

Bill Cosby, centre, arrives for jury selection (Correy Perrine/AP)
Bill Cosby, centre, arrives for jury selection (Correy Perrine/AP)

By Michael R. Sisak

Prosecutors and the defence began the difficult task of picking a jury for Bill Cosby’s sexual assault retrial amid a powerful #MeToo movement that has pierced the consciousness of the men and women who will sit in judgment of the 80-year-old comedian.

All but one of the 120 potential jurors who answered questions about their background and views told a judge they had heard or seen something about #MeToo, the cultural campaign that has been exposing sexual misconduct in the entertainment and news industries.

Jury selection got off to an exceedingly slow start, with a single juror seated and three-quarters of the pool dismissed for cause, primarily because the prospective jurors already had formed an opinion about Cosby’s guilt or innocence.

In contrast, five jurors were picked on the opening day of Cosby’s first trial.

Cosby is charged with drugging and sexually molesting a Temple University women’s basketball administrator at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

He says the sexual encounter with Andrea Constand was consensual. His last trial ended in a hung jury.

The former TV star once known as America’s Dad for his portrayal of kindly Dr Cliff Huxtable on his NBC hit The Cosby Show was in the courtroom as jury selection got under way.

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A demonstration outside the courthouse (Corey Perrine/AP)

The first and only juror to be selected on Monday indicated he had no knowledge of the case and would not let what he has heard about #MeToo influence his ability to be impartial.

He was one of only 10 prospective jurors to indicate they had not heard anything about the charges against Cosby.

More than half said they already had made up their minds about Cosby, and all of them were dismissed.

In all, prosecutors and the defense removed a total of 91 potential jurors before breaking for the day, leaving only 28 from this group to fill the remaining 17 slots.

A second group of 120 potential jurors was to be brought to the courthouse on Tuesday.

Judge Steven O’Neill made several rulings in the case but said they would not be public until Tuesday morning.

Among the key issues that need to be sorted out before opening statements is a defence request to allow evidence from a woman who says Ms Constand spoke of framing a celebrity before she went to police with allegations Cosby drugged and molested her.

The judge also has to decide whether the jury can hear details about the 2006 financial settlement Cosby reached with Ms Constand.

Mr O’Neill told the jury pool the trial could last more than a month, adding the panel would be sequestered in a “very nice” hotel.

About half said the length of the trial would pose a hardship.

The jury in Cosby’s first trial deadlocked last June, months before #MeToo started toppling famous men in rapid succession, among them movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Today show host Matt Lauer, actor Kevin Spacey and Democratic US Senator Al Franken.

Veteran lawyers and jury consultants say #MeToo could cut both ways for Cosby, making some potential jurors more hostile and others more likely to think men are being unfairly accused.

Last year’s trial was mostly a case of he-said-she-said.

For the retrial, a judge has ruled that jurors can hear from five additional accusers, giving prosecutors a chance to portray Cosby as a serial predator.

The jury questioning revealed some potential witnesses, including Dawn Staley, the South Carolina women’s basketball coach who was Ms Constand’s boss at Temple; Temple board President Patrick O’Connor, who represented Cosby in Ms Constand’s 2005-06 lawsuit against him; and Judge Risa Vetri Ferman, the former district attorney who charged Cosby just before she left office in 2015.

The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Ms Constand has done.

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