Bill Cosby getting outside jury for criminal trial

- Actor Bill Cosby's criminal assault trial will be held here in Montgomery County, but the jurors who will decide his guilt or innocence will be brought in from out of town.

That's the decision Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill made Monday morning at a hearing at Montgomery County Courthouse. He said the jury will be sequestered during the trial.

That leads to the question where the jurors will come from. Cosby's defense team asked for people from Philadelphia or Allegheny (Pittsburgh) counties.

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.

It's actually the State Supreme Court that will decide about the jurors.

"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."

The other alternative was holding the trial somewhere else.

The defense argued jurors from another county should hear the case because of the pretrial publicity, including worldwide media reports that brand him "a serial rapist."

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 former Temple University employee 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.
 
Monday, they told Judge 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.

The 79-year-old TV star is set to go on trial on June 5. He'll turn 80 in July.

Friday, the trial judge ruled only one other accuser can testify at the trial. That was a major break for Cosby.

Prosecutors had asked that 13 other accusers testify to support charges that Cosby drugged and molested Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. Instead, he won't face a barrage of accusers at his trial.

People who say they're victims of sexual assault are not identified unless they've come forward publicly, as Constand did.

Investigators reopened her complaint in 2015 and it became an issue in the district attorney's race that fall in Montgomery County.

Judge O'Neill disallowed all but one of those women, Friday, saying in a one-page ruling that he carefully weighed the possible value of their testimony against the potential prejudice to Cosby.

FOX 29’s Steve Keeley reported the one who will be allowed to testify is Victim #6. She was an assistant to one of Cosby’s agents and said in 1996, he gave her red wine and a white pill that knocked her out. Then, she said Cosby sexually assaulted her while she was too helpless to move.

That alleged victim's lawyer, Gloria Allred, wrote in part: "Although I agree with the prosecutor’s previous argument that it would have been important for the jury to hear the testimony of all 13 prior bad act witnesses, I am glad that at least one such witness will be able to testify in this case."

District Attorney Kevin Steele wrote, "This ruling is important as the jury will now be allowed to assess information that is relevant to establishing a common plan, scheme and design of sexual abuse and an absence of mistake by the defendant."

Cosby's lawyer had no immediate comment, but the actor himself re-tweeted news stories on the ruling, adding the hashtags "#KeepWatching" and "#PayAttention."

The judge's decision is a setback for prosecutors and means the case will now rest more heavily on Constand's credibility.

"There is an obvious value to the prosecution when you have numerous accusers. That alone adds tremendous weight to the case," said lawyer Joseph McGettigan, a prosecutor in the Penn State sex abuse scandal.

The ruling could also shave weeks off the trial.

Cosby, who is free on $1 million bail, could get 10 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors compiled the list of 13 potential witnesses from the nearly 50 women who have come forward in recent years to say they were drugged and molested -- a barrage that destroyed Cosby's good-guy reputation as the star of TV's "Cosby Show" in the 1980s.

His lawyers objected to the testimony about "prior bad acts," saying that in some cases the sex was consensual, while others involved models and actresses falsely accusing Cosby to gain money or attention.

His attorneys also argued that some of the allegations were so vague -- with some of the women unsure of when the alleged encounters even took place -- that it would be impossible for Cosby to defend himself.

While the ruling is a big victory for Cosby at his trial, it could deprive him of grounds for appeal if he is convicted. In 2015, a Pennsylvania appeals court threw out a Roman Catholic Church official's conviction because the jury was allowed to hear from 23 priest-abuse victims who were not directly part of the case.

"It's the best of times and the worst of times for Cosby. It gives the defendant the opportunity to try the case that should be tried, the lone accuser," said defense lawyer William J. Brennan, who was involved in the church case. "If it doesn't go his way, he probably is limited on appellate issues. However, I'd take this, hands down, over the alternative."

The ruling is one of two key pretrial issues in the case. The judge earlier ruled that the jury can hear Cosby's damaging testimony from Constand's 2005 lawsuit against the comedian.

Cosby's deposition runs to nearly 1,000 pages and covers a string of extramarital liaisons dating to the 1960s. It was the release of the sealed testimony in 2015 that led prosecutors to reopen the case.

Constand told police he gave her three unmarked pills and then penetrated her with his fingers as she drifted in and out of consciousness. The comedian has said the sexual contact was consensual.

The additional accuser who can testify worked for one of Cosby's agents and had known the entertainer for six years when he invited her to lunch at his bungalow at the Bel Air Hotel to discuss her career plans.

She said he was in a robe and slippers when she arrived and offered her wine and a pill that she consumed after he assured her it was safe. She said he then sexually assaulted her on his bed.

At a news conference in 2015, she said she wanted to come forward at the time but feared retaliation. She said she left her job at the William Morris Agency because "I did not want to see or work with Mr. Cosby."

Among the other accusers who won't be allowed to testify, one said she was an aspiring actress when Cosby assaulted her at a home near Reno, Nevada, in 1984. Another said Cosby drugged and assaulted her in the late 1960s after befriending her and her 9-year-old son.

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