Today, jury selection gets underway for the second attempt by Montgomery County prosecutors to put Bill Cosby away for three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
The first time around, jurors brought in from Allegheny County could not agree on a verdict, leading Judge Steven T. O’Neill to declare a mistrial.
This time, there’s a new jury, new defense attorneys, and new era of accountability for sexual assault, guaranteeing the trial won’t just be a rerun of the first.
The alleged crime
Bill Cosby, the celebrated comedian and television star, stands accused of three counts of aggravated indecent assault arising from a 2004 sexual encounter with Andrea Constand.
Constand testified that Cosby befriended her during her tenure working for Temple University’s women’s basketball program. He, at that time a trustee of the university, invited her to dinners and offered career advice. One night in 2004, Constand said she was wracked by indecision about quitting her job at Temple. At his request, she went to Cosby’s Cheltenham home for dinner and mentorship. While at the house, Constand said Cosby gave her wine and three pills, saying “these will help you relax.”
After taking the pills and a sip of wine, Constand said her legs became “rubbery,” and Cosby helped her to a couch. When she became “frozen” and unresponsive in her body, she said he put his fingers in her vagina and her hand on his penis. She passed out and came to hours later. He was 66-years-old, she was 30.
Constand went to the authorities in 2005, about a year after the alleged assault. Then-Montgomery County district attorney Bruce Castor declined to press charges at the time.
Ten years later, the district attorney’s office quietly reopened the case and filed charges just before the statute of limitations ran out, in late 2015.
Andrea Constand, a former basketball player with a sky-scraping curly hairdo, is a massage therapist living in Ontario, Canada.
Constand played college basketball for the University of Arizona, and professionally in Europe, before winding up in a supporting role for the women’s team at Temple University.
She testified that she looked to Cosby for advice about finding a new path, and was nervous about quitting her job at Temple the night of the the alleged assault. He encouraged her to go into sports broadcasting.
“I trusted him. I wasn’t scared of someone making an advance at me or a pass at me,” she said. During the first trial, attorneys questioned Constand about why she continued to talk to Cosby after he made passes at her before the alleged assault. “I trusted him and and wasn’t scared of him in any way,” she responded.
When local prosecutors initially declined to press charges against Cosby in 2005, Constand sued the entertainer in civil court. They settled for an undisclosed sum in 2006, but not before Cosby gave sworn testimony that would eventually surface.
That there was sexual contact is not up for debate. Cosby described touching Constand and giving her pills in sworn deposition testimony he gave as a part of the 2005 civil suit she filed. He maintains that the encounter was consensual.
A judge unsealed that testimony in 2015, bringing new details about the encounter to light. That lead to a new investigation by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, and then, to criminal charges.
Excerpts of Cosby’s testimony were read from a transcript during the first trial. They include Cosby’s admission that, during the 1970s, he obtained several prescriptions for quaaludes which he gave to women before sex. Ahead of the retrial, Cosby attorney Becky James argued that this testimony should be barred from entering trial. Judge Steven T. O’Neill has yet to rule on that motion.
To bolster its case, the prosecution requested to call 19 women who say Cosby also drugged and sexually assaulted them. O’Neill allowed five of them, and only women with allegations dating back as far as 1982. Cosby is not on trial for these women’s claims, but they are allowed to testify to help a jury determine whether the 80-year-old comedian has a signature criminal pattern of behavior.
Then there’s the question of cash. Lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau, who previously defended Michael Jackson against child molestation charges, has requested to talk about how much money Constand received from Cosby from the civil suit during trial, saying it will show “just how greedy this person was.” Prosecutors argue this information shows Cosby had a guilty conscience, and was trying to cover his tracks.
Attorneys sent out 3,500 jury questionnaires to Montgomery County residents, and from those responses, have a list of 187 to start summoning Monday.
There are several factors that will make this an exceptional selection process: a celebrity defendant, more than 50 accusers whose stories have been spread through the press, and the recent spate of sexual harassment claims against high-profile men known as the #MeToo movement.
“Unless you live in a cave, you know who Bill Cosby is,” said attorney Lisa Blue, who has written about the jury selection process. “The issue in the case is, ‘Can you really be fair? Can you set aside what you heard or read?’”
The court uses a process called “voir dire” to question potential jurors about potential biases, in order to select 12 jurors and six alternates who can fairly hear a trial.
The retrial is scheduled to begin on April 9, unless jury selection lasts more than one week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.