PITTSBURGH, (Reuters) – Seven men and five women, including two black jurors, will determine comedian Bill Cosby’s fate at his upcoming sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania, after claims from his lawyers that race played a factor in their selection.
Judge Steven O’Neill seated the 12th and final juror on Wednesday, along with six alternates, after three days of jury selection in Pittsburgh ahead of what will be the biggest celebrity trial in years. Cosby’s lawyers on Tuesday accused prosecutors of deliberately excluding black jurors, a charge that O’Neill rejected absent further evidence. Both sides were permitted to strike a certain number of jurors without explanation.
Prosecutors said they removed a black woman on Tuesday because she was a former police detective once accused of falsifying records, not because of her race. Last week, Cosby suggested in a radio interview that he has been treated worse during the scandal due to racism. Cosby, 79, is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former basketball coach at his Temple University alma mater, at his home in 2004.
Dozens of women have leveled similar accusations against him, though the Constand case is the only criminal prosecution. Cosby, whose family-friendly reputation is in tatters, has denied any wrongdoing. After the hearing, Cosby spoke briefly to reporters, thanking law enforcement as well as “all of the people who have come to see my shows whenever I appeared at Heinz Hall,” a nearby venue where he has done standup shows.
His scheduled performance there in 2015 was canceled amid a cascade of sexual assault allegations. The trial is set to begin on June 5 in Norristown, a Philadelphia suburb. The jurors were drawn from the Pittsburgh area, about 300 miles (480 km) away, at the defense’s request due to extensive pretrial media coverage.
They will be transported to the Norristown area and sequestered for what is expected to be a two- or three-week trial. At times using a cane, Cosby watched jury selection closely this week, conferring often with his defense team. There were occasional moments of levity. One prospective juror said he would suffer away from his wife’s cooking due to his colitis before joking that his 45-year marriage was longer than some murderers served in prison, prompting laughs from the courtroom, including Cosby. “You might be the second-funniest guy in the room,” Cosby’s lead lawyer, Brian McMonagle, told his client.
Much of O’Neill’s questioning focused on what potential jurors had heard about the scandal. Under the law, jurors can have prior knowledge of the case as long as they base their verdict solely on the evidence at trial. Most admitted they were familiar with the case, though the jurors selected all said they could be fair.