PITTSBURGH — The search for 12 jurors and six alternates for Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial is off to a brisk start even though a third of the initial jury pool had an opinion about Cosby’s guilt or innocence and an equal number said they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted.
Three men and two women, all white, were selected Monday. The lawyers studied each person’s race, sex, age, occupation and interests to try to guess their inherent sympathies, experts said. Cosby, in an interview last week, said he thinks race “could be” a motivating factor in the accusations against him.
“You’re looking for what people already believe,” said University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor David Harris. “People don’t take in new information and process it. They filter it into what they already know and think.”
The actor-comedian once known as America’s Dad for his portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” is charged with drugging and molesting a Temple University women’s basketball team manager at his home near Philadelphia in 2004. He has called the encounter consensual.
Dozens of other women have made similar accusations against Cosby, 79, but Judge Steven T. O’Neill is allowing only one of them to testify at the June 5 trial in suburban Philadelphia. The jury from Pittsburgh will be sequestered nearly 300 miles from home.
The jurors’ names, ages and occupations were being kept private. Two of the men selected said they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted, but they insisted they could judge the case fairly. Sometimes that is not so easy, one law professor said.
“It’s one thing to set aside intellectually what you know, but it’s another to set it aside emotionally,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor.
The case against Cosby has attracted worldwide publicity that the judge hopes to shield from jurors during the trial.
Cosby came to court on the arm of an aide, carrying a box of tissues, and frequently conferred with his three lawyers at the defense table. Lead defense lawyer Brian McMonagle said his client was eager to get the process started. Cosby has said he does not expect to testify.
The trial will take place in Norristown in Montgomery County, where Cosby had invited Andrea Constand to his home in 2004. Constand said she went seeking career advice. She said Cosby gave her wine and pills that put her in a stupor before molesting her on his couch.
Constand was 30 and dating a woman at the time, while Cosby was 66 and long married to wife Camille. Cosby in sworn testimony has said he put his hand down Constand’s pants, but said she did not protest.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault unless they come forward, as Constand has done.
The first group of 100 potential jurors summoned Monday included 16 people of color. Forty-one of them will return Tuesday for further questioning. The judge will bring in more people as needed.
Cosby was arrested Dec. 30, 2015, days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired. He has pleaded not guilty and remains free on $1 million bail.
He told a talk show host last week that he hopes to beat back the charges and resume his career.
“I want to get back to the laughter and the enjoyment of things that I’ve written and things that I perform on stage.”
Dale reported from Philadelphia.