PITTSBURGH, PA (CBS) — Testimony in Bill Cosby’s sex assault trial is scheduled to begin in two weeks in Montgomery County, but jury selection began Monday in Pittsburgh.
So far, three men and two women will make the trek from Allegheny County to Montgomery County in less than two weeks to hear’s Cosby’s case.
All five jurors selected in Pittsburgh are white. Cosby has said he thinks race “could be” a motivating factor in the accusations lodged against him.
Seven jurors still need to be seated along with six alternates.
“This is not going to be an easy task,” said Norristown Attorney Henry Hilles. Hilles is not involved in the Cosby trial, but he’s been practicing criminal law for more than 20 years both as a prosecutor and defense attorney.
He said attorneys will not only have to find impartial jurors amid Cosby’s notoriety and fame, they’ll have to find people who are willing be sequestered 300 miles from home in a trial that’s expected to last at least two weeks, while not having ulterior motives.
“You have the challenge of dealing with people who, from logistical stand point desperately do not want to be on the jury. And there’s going to be a certain percentage of people who, because this is such a huge event in American legal history frankly that you’re going to be dealing with a lot people who want to get on the jury. Somehow or another you have to navigate that.”
Philadelphia defense attorney Jim Lyons, also not involved in the Cosby case, but with 28 years in criminal law, agrees.
“The obvious challenge is getting a fair jury that has not been in some way – one way or the other – improperly influenced by media coverage.”
He said this is likely the most important part of the trial, as attorneys try to judge each potential juror with very limited information.
“You’re trying to figure out in the brief time you’re getting to get to know this person, who they are and what their inclinations are.”
Lyons said Cosby’s attorneys will have to determine if potential jurors have been swayed by dozens of other women who come forward in recent years with similar accusations against Cosby.
“This case is not about all that though, this case is about one accusation and it’s important that the jury understand that and focus on that.”
It is unclear how long it will take to seat the panel. Potential jurors can be stricken for cause by the judge, and each attorney can strike seven jurors and three alternates.
Cosby’s attorneys requested a jury from outside of Montgomery County pointing to pre-trial publicity — including a political advertisement by District Attorney Kevin Steele when he was running for the office in 2015. Cosby’s attorneys claim the advertisement used Cosby as “a political pawn.” In the 30-second TV spot, Steele blasted his opponent, former district attorney Bruce Castor, for not filing charges against Cosby when the allegations first surfaced in 2005.
Cosby is charged with Aggravated Indecent Assault. The 79-year-old is accused of drugging and molesting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his mansion in Elkins Park in 2004. Constand says she visited Cosby at his home and complained of stress and concerns over her career. He told her he wanted her to relax, and he went upstairs. She says he returned with three blue pills which he said “would take the edge off.” Not long after Constand swallowed the pills, she says she felt “rubbery” and everything had become “blurry.”
Constand came forward with the allegations a year later, after she had moved back to suburban Toronto. Castor declined to file charges determining there was not enough evidence.
The investigation was re-opened by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office after a federal judge unsealed Cosby’s 2006 deposition from the civil suit. In that testimony, Cosby said he would get Quaaludes to give to woman he wanted to have sex with. He also discussed his relationship with Constand and said the night in question was consensual.
More than 50 other women have come forward with similar allegations against Cosby, but only one of them will be presented at trial. Her claims are similar to Constand’s. She alleges Cosby drugged and molested her in Los Angeles in 1996.
With no physical evidence, Cosby’s attorneys will attack the credibility of both women. They’ll point to Constand’s continued relationship with Cosby after the night in question along with the one-year delay in reporting the allegations.
The defense wanted to be present Constand’s civil suit against Cosby in an effort to portray her as motivated by money. But Montgomery County judge Steven O’Neill denied that motion. He is also preventing prosecutors from bringing up the settlement paid out by Cosby. The amount of that settlement is undisclosed but is believed to be several million dollars.
Cosby could face up to ten years in prison if convicted.