ABOVE PHOTO: Bill Cosby enters the Montgomery County Courthouse for a court appearance. (James Robinson/PennLive.com via AP)
By Maryclaire Dale
NORRISTOWN, Pa. — A jury from outside the Philadelphia suburbs will be brought in to decide the sexual assault case against Bill Cosby, a judge ruled Monday, rejecting a defense request to move the trial itself because of worldwide media reports that brand the actor a “serial rapist.”
Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill said jurors will remain sequestered during Cosby’s June trial on charges that he drugged and molested a former Temple University employee in 2004.
O’Neill’s ruling came after lawyers for the 79-year-old TV star argued that his trial should be moved to Philadelphia or the Pittsburgh area. The larger, more diverse population would make it easier to find unbiased jurors, lawyer Brian McMonagle argued, but even then, he said, there was no guarantee that Cosby could get a fair hearing.
“Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the message that has been promoted, in insidious fashion, is that Bill Cosby is guilty, and that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist,” McMonagle said. “I do not believe that there’s a place anywhere in this country now where he can receive a fair trial. Not here, not anywhere. I hope I’m wrong.”
Prosecutors accused the defense of trying to shop for a jury.
In a court filing, District Attorney Kevin Steele called the pretrial publicity argument “a red herring.” He said Cosby couldn’t expect to find a jury anywhere that is “oblivious” to the dozens of sex assault accusations lodged against him by Andrea Constand and other accusers.
“He’s not entitled to a jury that is ignorant of the facts surrounding his case,” Steele wrote. “The publicity that necessarily follows the rich and famous cannot insulate them from prosecution.”
Prosecutors did not object to bringing an outside jury to the courthouse in Norristown.
On Monday, they told O’Neill they could surely find a dozen unbiased jurors in counties with fewer than 1 million people, the size sought by the defense.
“It’s not just short on the law, but short on logic,” Assistant District Attorney M. Stewart Ryan argued.
Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges that he sexually assaulted Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home. The Associated Press doesn’t typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they have come forward publicly, as Constand has done.
With O’Neill’s decision to import an out-of-county jury, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court must now decide where in Pennsylvania the jurors will be selected.
Monday’s hearing came after the judge dealt a blow to the prosecution by limiting the number of accusers who can testify at the trial. Prosecutors wanted to put 13 more women on the stand to bolster charges that Cosby had drugged and molested women before the 2004 encounter with Constand.
O’Neill ruled Friday that only one of those accusers may testify.
In a setback for the defense, O’Neill has previously ruled that Cosby’s damaging deposition from Constand’s 2005 lawsuit can be aired in court. Cosby, over four days, described a string of extramarital affairs and liaisons with young women, often after he gave them drugs or alcohol. He called them consensual.
Cosby, once known as “America’s Dad” for his top-rated family sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984 to 1992, appeared relaxed in court Monday, as he often has. He has been married to his wife, Camille, for more than 50 years, and they have five children.
His trial is slated to begin June 5.