PITTSBURGH — Bill Cosby’s lawyers accused Pennsylvania prosecutors of trying to “systematically” keep blacks off the jury Tuesday after prosecutors used their strikes to keep two black women off the panel.
Judge Steven O’Neill for now rejected the argument after prosecutors said the second woman was a former detective who had sued Pittsburgh and may have an anti-government bias. O’Neill said he would revisit the issue if defense lawyer Brian McMonagle offered any statistical evidence to back up the discrimination complaint.
The 11 people chosen so far include one black juror. The 100 people summoned to the Allegheny County courthouse have included 16 people of color. A new jury pool will be summoned Wednesday, when lawyers return to seek the final juror and six alternates.
The jurors selected 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 says 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. Cosby became the first black actor to star in a network TV show in 1965 but has alienated some younger blacks by criticizing their clothes, music and lifestyle. Black comedian Hannibal Burress seemingly inspired more accusers to go public after he called Cosby a rapist onstage.
“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.”
Cosby recently broke two years of silence when he gave a brief interview with a black news service, while one daughter issued a public statement saying she thinks race played a role in the accusations.
The jurors’ names, ages and occupations were being kept private. Two men selected Monday said they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted, but they insisted they could judge the case fairly.
One-third of the initial jury pool questioned Monday said they had an opinion about Cosby’s guilt or innocence, and an equal number said they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted.
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.
He told a talk show host last week that he hopes to beat back the charges and resume his career.
“I want to get back to the laughter and the enjoyment of things that I’ve written and things that I perform on stage.”