PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - The Pennsylvania jury that will decide comedian Bill Cosby’s fate at his sexual assault trial next month has its first five members.
A long day of jury selection in Pittsburgh on Monday yielded five jurors from a pool of 100 potential members who answered hours of questions in court, many related to the wave of sexual abuse allegations that destroyed Cosby’s family-friendly reputation in recent years.
“You probably figured out it was probably a big case,” Judge Steven O‘Neill told the potential jurors in Pittsburgh at the start of what is expected to be several days of jury selection.
The 79-year-old Cosby, who walked into court with a cane and spent much of the hearing chatting with his lawyers, is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman named Andrea Constand in 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia home.
Dozens of women have levelled similar allegations at Cosby stretching back decades, though Constand’s claims are the only ones to result in criminal charges.
Cosby, once known as America’s favourite TV dad for his role on “The Cosby Show” sitcom, has denied any wrongdoing. In a rare interview last week, Cosby suggested racism had played a role in his treatment because he is black.
The three men and two women, all white, who were picked for the jury will eventually be joined by seven more jurors and four alternates. One said his sister had been a sexual assault victim but that he could put that aside in judging the case.
Jurors’ identities will not be released.
Each side can reject seven potential jurors and three alternates without explanation. The defence rejected four on Monday, while prosecutors dismissed two.
Forty-two potential jurors will return to court on Tuesday for additional questioning. Hundreds of other prospective jurors are also available if needed.
Under the law, jurors can have some knowledge of the case, as long as they can base their verdict solely on the evidence at trial, said Douglas Sughrue, a Pittsburgh defence attorney.
“A fair trial doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to know anything about the defendant,” Sughrue said.
Underscoring the challenge O‘Neill faces, 86 potential jurors said they were aware of the Cosby case, while 34 said they already had formed some opinion regarding his guilt or innocence.
The pervasive media coverage led O‘Neill to agree with defence lawyers to pull jurors from Pittsburgh, 300 miles (480 km) away from Montgomery County, the Philadelphia suburb where the trial will take place starting on June 5.
Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown