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Race, gender, fame all issues as Cosby jury selection starts

By: MARYCLAIRE DALE , Associated Press
May 22, 2017 Updated: May 22, 2017 at 8:58 am
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Bill Cosby, center, arrives for jury selection in his sexual assault case at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Pittsburgh, Pa. The case is set for trial June 5 in suburban Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PHILADELPHIA — Thirteen years after a Temple University basketball team manager went to famous alumnus Bill Cosby's nearby home for career advice, her complaint that Cosby drugged and molested her that night will soon be a task for a Pennsylvania jury.

Lawyers this week hope to find a dozen jurors and six alternates willing to spend two weeks or more sequestered nearly 300 miles (482 kilometers) from home.

The case has attracted worldwide publicity the judge hopes to shield from jurors when the trial starts June 5 in suburban Philadelphia. Jurors are being chosen in Pittsburgh starting Monday. Cosby arrived at the courthouse Monday morning, holding onto the arm of an assistant and ignoring reporters' questions. His lawyer, though, said the comedian was eager to get things started.

"He's holding up fine, he's looking forward to it ... and we're looking forward to getting a trial," said defense lawyer Brian McMonagle, who thanked the county for the inconvenience. "We look forward to getting it done as soon as possible, and starting this trial."

Asked if he thought they could get an impartial jury, he said, "We sure hope so."

Lawyers hope to have the panel in place by the end of the week. Court officials said Judge Steven O'Neill had taken the bench.

"You want to see if they're a celebrity-conscious person — if they read celebrity stuff, if they worship celebrity," trial consultant Howard Varinsky said. "Prosecutors have to be very worried about fans."

The lawyers also will be weighing a potential juror's race, gender, age, occupation and interests as the questioning gets underway. They hope to tease out whether they relate more to the beloved actor who brought the world Fat Albert, Dr. Cliff Huxtable and bemused quips about family and fatherhood, or a woman who was rebuffed when she first filed a police complaint, only to relive the case a decade later after Cosby's testimony from her lawsuit became public and dozens of other accusers came forward to support her.

"In a normal case, juries are all banging the door to get out, bringing up every hardship in the world," Varinsky said. "But on this case, you're going to see people that may lie to get on, and people who convince themselves that they can be fair, but they can't."

"Whatever side you're on, you have to really weed through this," he said. "I'm looking (as a consultant) for every single micro-expression, each body movement."

Jurors will be dismissed "for cause" if they admit to strong views about the case or persuade the judge they have family, health or financial situations that prevent them from serving. After that, each side can strike seven people during jury selection and three more when they choose alternates.

Accuser Andrea Constand went to police in January 2005 to report that Cosby had sexually assaulted her a year earlier. She had left Temple the previous March and was back home in the Toronto area, setting aside a life in basketball to retrain as a massage therapist.

Then-District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to press charges. Constand then sued the comedian, negotiating a settlement after he gave sworn testimony about a string of sexual liaisons with young women. Cosby admitted giving some of them pills or alcohol beforehand.

New prosecutors read that testimony and reopened the case in mid-2015. Cosby was arrested on 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 this week that he hopes to beat back the charges and resume his career.

"I want people to understand my work as an artist and a performer," he said. "I want to get back to the laughter and the enjoyment of things that I've written and things that I perform on stage."

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Associated Press writers Joe Mandak and Dake Kang contributed to this report from Pittsburgh.

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