NORRISTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA —Tempers flared Wednesday morning at jury selection for Bill Cosby’s criminal trial as his defense team charged the prosecution excluded a potential juror who is black due to her race.
“She passed every single stage as a fair and impartial juror,” argued defense attorney Kathleen Bliss as she revealed she had a motion challenging the potential juror’s exclusion. “There is thus no explanation other than her race.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele angrily denied that claim, saying two black jurors had already been picked for the panel and the prosecution did not object to them.
“With the two opportunities we have had to take a member of the African-American community we have done so,” Steele said. “For them to now make a claim that this…establishes some sort of pattern is, I think, unfortunately not being done for this court. It’s being done for the media behind us.”
The allegations came as jury selection went into its third day and put a temporary halt to the proceedings shortly before noon. By the end of the day Wednesday, 12 jurors total had been chosen: four white women, six white men, one black woman, and one black man. They will start picking the six alternate jurors Thursday morning.
Cosby, 80, is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his Elkins Park, Pennsylvania mansion in January 2004. Opening arguments are currently expected to begin on Monday, April 9. The trial is expected to last a month. Last July, a mistrial was declared after jurors couldn’t agree on Cosby’s guilt.
Jury selection ran fairly smoothly for the first two days. On Tuesday afternoon, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill began questioning a second panel of potential jurors. Of the 119 who were questioned, 12 were asked to come back Wednesday for individual questioning.
The others “indicated they could not be fair and impartial or had some sort of family hardship,” O’Neill said.
The dispute began after the questioning of potential juror #9, a black woman who appeared to be in her 30s. She sailed through the first couple of questions about whether she could be fair and impartial, but when she revealed she was a crime victim, she accepted O’Neill’s offer to discuss it further outside the courtroom, which was filled with media. The prosecution and defense went with the judge and the potential juror to hear from her. They returned without her and she was eliminated from consideration after the prosecution used one of its peremptory challenges, meaning they do not have to give a reason, to exclude the woman.
Each side gets seven peremptory challenges during jury selection. The prosecution has used three so far while the defense has used five. Cosby’s defense attorney, Bliss, immediately cried foul.
“She had a domestic violence incident in her past where she was then questioned in camera about it and again stated unequivocally that she could be fair and impartial,” Bliss said. “The fact that she was a domestic violence victim would probably be something that the prosecution would be interested in keeping her as a juror.”
Bliss said there were four black people in the pool of 119 potential jurors and this woman was the only one that made it to individual questioning.
Steele rebutted Bliss’s allegations.
“There’s absolutely no legitimacy to this,” he said. “To somehow infer that this isn’t being done for a race-neutral reason is quite frankly ludicrous. That’s not what we’re about and that’s now that this is about. The victims in the case…they come from different races. There’s not a race component to this case there should not be.”
After Bliss kept insisting that someone close to the defense team overheard a member of the prosecution make a comment that was “on its face discriminatory and repulsive” after the peremptory challenge, O’Neill stopped the proceedings to hold an off-the record meeting outside the courtroom to hear exactly what was said.
Cosby’s defense team later withdrew their motion challenging the black woman’s exclusion but preserved their right to raise it in the future.