Expect armed deputies standing guard while you sleep. Forget idle chit-chat in the restroom with friends. In fact, just forget your friends altogether. And get ready to play a lot of solitaire.
That’s what the sequestered jurors who will decide Bill Cosby’s fate can expect throughout his sex-assault trial, which starts today in Norristown, according to others who have served on sequestered juries.
Gayle Barnes, who served on the sequestered Centre County jury that convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky in 2012, had this advice for the Cosby jurors: “Be strong. You gotta be really, really strong.”
Jury sequestration — when jurors are kept away from the public — is a seldom-used strategy defense attorneys can request to prevent jurors’ judgment from becoming tainted by media coverage or other outside influences.
In February, Cosby’s defense team asked to move the trial to a faraway county, complaining that the entertainer wouldn’t get a fair trial here — or anywhere — because of unrelenting media coverage.
“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,” defense attorney Brian McMonagle said.
Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill refused that request — but did agree to pick jurors from another county and sequester them throughout the trial. So 12 jurors and six alternates from Allegheny County (home to Pittsburgh) will serve on a trial that’s expected to last two weeks. It will be the first case in Montgomery County to use a sequestered jury since 2010, when Julius “Juice” Wise was convicted in the murder of businessman Robert Chae, court spokesman Jim Koval said.
O’Neill hasn’t announced details about what restrictions the sequestered jurors will endure, although he has forbidden reporters and the public from communicating with them, and anyone from revealing their names. Violators, he warned in a brief hearing Friday, would face “serious repercussions.” A courtroom sketch artist isn’t even allowed to draw the jurors.
But generally, sequestration means that jurors can’t watch TV or use the internet or smartphones. Court staff typically monitor their telephone calls and screen their mail. And they’re not allowed to talk to anyone about the case — even each other, at least until deliberations begin. Sequestered jurors stay in hotels whose locations are known only to court staff, with deputies standing guard against meddlers.
Sandusky juror Joshua Harper remembers that well: “We couldn’t leave our room at night.”
Such vigilance extended even to basic bodily functions.
“When we wanted to go to the bathroom, we had to be escorted there — and they (deputies or court staff) stood outside the bathroom. And it was one person in and one person out,” Barnes said.
As for meals, court staff ordered the jury meals throughout the trial and always had snacks — treats like potato chips and Jolly Ranchers — on hand.
“A lot of times you ate, just because you didn’t have anything else to do. Or you know how food is: nervous habit,” said Barnes, 66, of State College.
Harper, 36, of Boalsburg, agreed: “We were always eating something. It’s kinda what I do when I’m bored.”
Both agreed the judge’s ban on talking about the case was the hardest restriction to bear, because they couldn’t seek solace from their spouses about the disturbing testimony they heard in court.
“I cried a lot of times from what I heard. It was very emotional,” Barnes said. “But you can’t say anything to anyone, because we weren’t allowed to talk. It was very stressful.”
The Sandusky jurors spent only one night in a hotel, because they were officially sequestered just during deliberations, which lasted two days. But the other sequestration restrictions were in place throughout that two-week trial, with jurors getting bussed to the courthouse from a remote location to shield them from the public and press.
All those restraints can get quite expensive, which is one reason why sequestration is rarely used, according to a trial consultant.
“Funding for courts nationally is at crisis levels. Counties and even federal courts around the country are having a very difficult time keeping courtrooms open because of the cost administering them,” said Douglas Keene, a Wilmington, Delaware, native and psychologist and trial consultant now based in Austin, Texas. “So when you have a case of this expense, even for two weeks, it’s a meaningful decision for a court to make, and obviously budgeting needs to come into it. It’s not just the cost of putting people up in hotels or transporting them from Pittsburgh or whatever else is going on. There’s also the cost of all the minders, the transportation, and security. That’s a lot of personnel that have to be devoted to making sure that the jurors aren’t being hassled and that they are also following the rules.”
Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny estimates the cost to the county for sequestering the Cosby jury will be between $100,000 and $200,000. The county will also cover the costs of jury selection in Allegheny County, Koval said. In 2010, it cost almost $18,000 to sequester the Wise jury for just three days, according to Michael R. Kehs, district court administrator.
In Jefferson County in northwestern Pennsylvania, Judge John H. Foradora estimated that sequestering a jury for 10 days on a 2002 murder case cost the county up to $19,000. Jurors on the O.J. Simpson case were sequestered for 265 days in 1995 — the longest jury sequestration in U.S. history — at a cost of nearly $2 million, according to the Public Law Research Institute. Sequestering a jury in Florida’s Casey Anthony murder case, which lasted seven weeks in 2011, cost nearly $187,000.
Such expense, along with defense concerns that sequestered jurors aren’t “comfortable” being away from their home and family have contributed to judges ordering it less often, Foradora said.
Keene agreed: “When you take a look at sequestration in very long, contentious, high-profile cases, you wind up finding jurors really just kind of going batty because they’re pulled out of their lives … there’s also a real loss of privacy, and for a lot of people, that is extremely distressing.”
Sequestering juries can create some unexpected burdens, too.
“The hardest thing as judge was to plan meals and private social events for jurors while not in session,” Foradora said.
In 2013, authorities overseeing the George Zimmerman murder case took sequestered jurors, during their off hours, bowling, to the movies, to a Fourth of July fireworks show, and on an excursion to St. Augustine, Florida.
Still, sequestration can be worth the expense and headache, Keene said.
“It’s an extreme solution, but sequestration can be very effective,” he said. “The potential for (jury) contamination nowadays is far higher (with so much media and social media). Everyone is more plugged in nowadays.”
For the Cosby jurors who must unplug for the next two weeks, Barnes and Harper have some advice.
“Bring a lot of games to play, maybe pick up a hobby (during down time), like juggling,” Harper said.
Barnes agreed: “Take pictures along of your family, just so you know your family is there with you.”
And when it’s all over, Barnes said, get out of town.
“I came home, I talked to my husband, I had a glass of wine, and was like: ‘Oh golly, I gotta get out of here,’” said Barnes, who spent a few days visiting their daughter in New Jersey to recover from the stress of trial. “And I’m glad I did. Because the next morning, we left probably at 6 o’clock in the morning — and by 8 o’clock in the morning, I had people from ESPN, Fox News, just everybody at my door wanting to talk to me.”
Clarification: The story has been updated to reflect the estimated cost of the Cosby jury sequestration.