PITTSBURGH — One-third of the potential jurors questioned in Bill Cosby’s sex assault case Monday said they’ve formed opinions about his guilt or innocence while the majority said it would be difficult to spend several weeks sequestered across the state.
And 35 of the 100 people questioned said they or a family member or close friend has been the victim of a sexual assault. Jurors are being selected this week in Pittsburgh for the trial that begins June 5 in suburban Philadelphia.
The case against the once wildly popular actor-comedian has attracted worldwide publicity that the judge hopes to shield from jurors during the trial.
The initial questioning Monday suggested it may take some time to find an unbiased jury. The judge has not yet ruled on anyone’s qualification to serve, but was expected to question people individually throughout the afternoon.
“No one should make an effort to be on this jury, and no one should make an effort to not be on this jury,” Judge Steven T. O’Neill told the group.
Sixty-seven people said it would be a hardship to spend up to three weeks sequestered near Philadelphia next month.
Cosby entered the courtroom in Pittsburgh on the arm of an aide, using a cane and carrying a box of tissues. He showed little emotion sitting beside three of his lawyers at the defense table.
Lead lawyer Brian McMonagle had earlier said he hoped an unbiased jury could be found fairly quickly this week. He said Cosby was “looking forward” to getting 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. She said she went seeking career advice as she considered leaving her job managing the women’s basketball team at Temple University. 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 judge plans to bring 100 potential jurors to the courthouse each day this week until a dozen jurors and six alternates are found. The first group consisted of 53 women and 47 men, with 16 people of color.
In answering questions, 67 said they had a family, financial or other hardship that would make it difficult to serve; 34 had formed an opinion about Cosby’s guilt or innocence; 25 said they would have trouble being fair because of the nature of the charges; and 14 said they had a preconceived notion that would prevent them from deciding the case fairly.
“He’s holding up fine, he’s looking forward to it … and we’re looking forward to getting a trial,” McMonagle said as he entered the courthouse.
The lawyers also will be weighing a potential juror’s race, gender, age, occupation and interests. They hope to tease out whether they relate more to the beloved actor who brought the world Fat Albert, Dr. Cliff Huxtable and bemused quips about family and fatherhood, or to Constand, who was rebuffed when she first filed a police complaint, only to have the case resurface a decade later after Cosby’s testimony from her lawsuit became public and dozens of other accusers came forward to support her.
“In a normal case, juries are all banging the door to get out, bringing up every hardship in the world,” trial consultant Howard Varinsky said. “But on this case, you’re going to see people that may lie to get on, and people who convince themselves that they can be fair, but they can’t.
“Whatever side you’re on, you have to really weed through this,” he said. “I’m looking (as a consultant) for every single micro-expression, each body movement.”
Jurors will be dismissed “for cause” if they admit to strong views about the case or persuade the judge they have family, health or financial situations that prevent them from serving. After that, each side can strike seven people during jury selection and three more when they choose alternates.
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 this week that he hopes to beat back the charges and resume his career. “I want people to understand my work as an artist and a performer,” he said. “I want to get back to the laughter and the enjoyment of things that I’ve written and things that I perform on stage.”