PITTSBURGH (AP) — With just one black person seated among the first 11 jurors chosen for Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial, defense lawyers are crying foul and accusing prosecutors of trying to systematically keep blacks off the jury.
The lawyers return to court on Wednesday in Pittsburgh to pick a 12th juror and six alternates.
For now, Judge Steven O’Neill has rejected the race bias argument.
Prosecutors said race was not a factor in their decision to strike two black women from the panel this week. They said one was a former Pittsburgh police detective who sued the city after she was arrested in a public scandal.
O’Neill pledged to revisit the issue if defense lawyer Brian McMonagle, who had accused prosecutors of “a systematic exclusion of African-Americans,” presented statistical evidence to back that up.
The 100 people summoned to the Allegheny County courthouse for juror consideration so far have included 16 people of color. A new jury pool will be summoned on Wednesday.
The jurors selected on Tuesday included a black woman who said she knew only “basic information” about the case, a young white man who initially expressed a tendency to believe police and two people who said they don’t read or watch the news.
The jury now consists of seven men and four women — all but one of them white— in a case that Cosby has said may have racial undertones.
The 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 O’Neill is allowing only one of them to testify at the June 5 trial in suburban Philadelphia. The jury from Pittsburgh will be sequestered nearly 300 miles from home.
Cosby, in an interview last week, said race could be a motivating factor in the accusations against him.
“Race plays a role in every trial, but it shouldn’t eclipse … the evidence,” Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said. “This case is frankly more about gender, celebrity, how women are treated (and) Bill Cosby’s credibility. But race may take a more focused perspective because the defense has (raised it) recently.”
The trial will take place in Norristown 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.
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.