Bill Cosby trial begins after more than 50 women claim he sexually assaulted them

Only one of the comedian's dozens of accusers had successfully secured a trial

Emily Shugerman
New York
Monday 22 May 2017 21:14 BST
Bill Cosby arrives at court

Bill Cosby sat back in his chair, staring up at the courthouse ceiling. Jury selection had just begun in his sexual assault trial – the culmination of years’ worth of allegations that have shaken the comedian’s family-friendly image to its core.

Cosby, the formerly beloved American star of The Cosby Show, has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women. He has denied all the allegations.

Only one woman, 43-year-old Andrea Constand, has successfully secured a trial. It is for this trial that dozens of potential jurors poured into Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on Monday.

The trial is set to begin next month, but thanks to a request from the Cosby team, jurors will be pulled from nearby Allegheny.

Montgomery County is in the midst of a contentious district attorney race between former prosecutor Bruce Castor – who refused to bring charges against Mr Cosby in 2004 – and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele, who reopened the case in 2015.

Cosby’s team feared the high-profile election would influence the jury pool.

Because of the odd situation in Montgomery County, jurors in Cosby’s trial will spend the length of the trial sequestered in a hotel room 480 kilometres (300 miles) from home.

They will also face restrictions on their mobile phone usage, TV viewing and reading material, given the abundant media coverage of the case.

Prosecutors will be looking for any signs of fandom in potential jurors, trial consultant Howard Varinsky told The Associated Press. They’ll be looking for any positive associations with Mr Cosby’s famous movie and television roles, like Cliff Huxtable or Fat Albert.

The defence, meanwhile, will be looking for any personal connections to victims of sexual assault, or any resentment for Cosby’s past political statements.

As the selection process kicked off on Monday, Judge Steven O'Neill asked 100 potential jurors almost 50 questions.

Of that pool, 86 said they had read or heard about the case before. Thirty-four said they had already formed an opinion.

Thirty-five potential jurors said they or someone close to them had been the victim of a sexual assault, and 14 said the nature of the case would affect their ability to make a fair and impartial decision.

Both prosecutors and the defence are allowed to strike as many jurors as they like for cause. Each side can strike an additional seven people during jury selection and three more after alternatives are picked.

Hundreds of people could be interviewed in order to find 12 jurors and six alternates who meet the criteria.

Ms Constand accuses Cobsy of drugging and molesting her during a visit to his home in 2004.

While Cosby has pleaded not guilty, he has admitted in a deposition to having sexual relations with Ms Constand that year, when she served as director of the women’s basketball team at his alma mater, Temple University.

He has also admitted giving Quaaludes, a sedative, to a woman he wanted to have sex with, but has claimed he only gave Ms Constand Benadryl, a hay fever allergy medication.

Of the alleged assault, he said: “I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped."

Ms Constand has claimed she was “in and out” of awareness, “frozen” and “paralysed” throughout the alleged assault.

Cosby is charged with felony aggravated indecent assault, and faces up to 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine if convicted.

The trial is set to begin on 5 June. Mr Cosby is not expected to testify.

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