PITTSBURGH (WJZ/AP) — The jury that will hear the sex assault case against Bill Cosby will include two blacks among its 12 members in a case Cosby believes could be racially motivated.
Prosecutors and the defense team on Wednesday also chose six alternate jurors, two of them black.
“It’s a terrific jury made up of people of all demographics,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said. “We’re passed this nonsense about the optics and things.”
Cosby’s lawyers had complained this week that prosecutors were trying to keep blacks off the jury with their seven strikes. The judge, though, found prosecutors had other valid reasons to strike two black women earlier this week. The jury makeup of 17 percent is higher than the 13 percent black population in Allegheny County.
Cosby thanked local officials and fans as he left the Pittsburgh courthouse Wednesday evening, including “all of the people who have come to see my shows.”
The 79-year-old black actor-comedian once known as America’s Dad for his beloved 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. The jury from Pittsburgh will be sequestered nearly 300 miles from home.
Half of the jury pool being questioned Wednesday said they’d formed an opinion on his guilt or innocence, while one knew Cosby or his family. One-third said they were more likely to believe police testimony, nearly one-fourth had been convicted of a crime and nearly one-fifth said someone close to them had been sexually assaulted.
The judge meanwhile removed a while male juror chosen Monday for undisclosed personal reasons. Lawyers then picked a white woman to replace him.
The defense had raised concerns about the racial makeup of the jury Tuesday when only one black was seated among the first 11 jurors. The initial jury pool had 16 blacks among 100 people.
However, six were dismissed based on their initial questionnaires. Others were sent home after being questioned individually about various problems or conflicts. And several had relatives who were crime victims, one had an ill spouse and one man said he had no one to watch his dog.
Cosby, in an interview last week, said race could be a motivating factor in the accusations against him.
The 48-question juror survey asked if the potential jurors have an opinion about Cosby’s guilt but not if they were fans of his comedy routines, top-ranked TV shows or family values speeches.
The jurors selected over three days included a black woman who said she knew only “basic information” about the case, a white man who initially expressed a tendency to believe police and two people who said they don’t read or watch the news.
The trial will take place 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.
Cosby has said he does not expect to testify.
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.
University of Baltimore Law Professor David Jaros says attorneys are not allowed to exclude jurors based on race or gender.
“Both the rights of the jurors and the rights of the defendant are violated if the prosecution were to use race as a reason for keeping someone off the jury,” Jaros said.
Accusations of sexual assault have haunted Bill Cosby for years, but only recently has he come forward to claim race has played a factor.
Now, with less than 2 weeks until Cosby’s trial begins race has taken center stage.
“We’re going to continue to try and get a fair and impartial jury and we look forward to trial,” said Brian McMonagle, Cosby’s head attorney.
When defense attorneys challenge the prosecution like this – they must come up with a race-neutral reason that person could not serve on the jury.
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.
Cosby’s trial will begin June 5th in Philadelphia.
Dale contributed from Philadelphia.