Allegheny jurors to decide Bill Cosby case



Bill Cosby is escorted from the courthouse after attending his preliminary hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse on May 24, 2016 in Norristown, Pa. The judge ruled there is sufficient evidence for the sex abuse case against the comedian to proceed to trial. (Ed Hille/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

By Amanda Reed / Assistant News Editor

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that jurors from Allegheny County will be making a decision in the sexual assault case against comedian Bill Cosby set to take place in Philadelphia this June.

Cosby is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault after being accused of drugging and molesting a former Temple University employee, Andrea Constand, in 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia estate in Cheltenham.

The Supreme Court’s ruling comes after Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill, the judge presiding over Cosby’s case, denied the comedian’s request for a venue change. O’Neill allowed a change in the jury selection list Feb. 27 from Montgomery to Allegheny County in hopes of lowering the amount of local media coverage on the case, according to a court of common pleas order.

According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the Supreme Court has not ordered jury impanelment — selecting and putting together a jury —  in Allegheny County or Philadelphia in at least a decade. This means this is the first time in ten years that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has had to bring together a new jury to preside in either county.  Cosby’s lawyers suggested choosing a large pool of jurors from either Philadelphia or the Pittsburgh area because of ongoing publicity surrounding the case in general.

“Unless you’ve been living under a rock in this state or country… the message that has been promoted in insidious fashion is that Bill Cosby is guilty and that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist,” Cosby’s lead defense attorney, Brian McMonagle, said in court in February to argue for a jury selection outside of Montgomery County.

The trial will take place June 5 in the Montgomery County courthouse, located in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where the jurors will be sequestered for the duration of the trial. The court has not scheduled a date for jury selection in Pittsburgh.

McMonagle also said in February that Cosby would have a better shot at a fair trial with a jury from a more highly populated and diverse area, such as Allegheny County, compared to a more white, suburban area like Montgomery County, although it would not be guaranteed.

“I do not believe that there’s a place anywhere in this country now where he can receive a fair trial,” he said in court. “Not here, not anywhere. I hope I’m wrong.”

According to the United State Census Bureau, in Pittsburgh, 66 percent of residents identify as white, 26 percent identify as African American, 0.2 percent identify as American Indian and Alaskan Native, 4 percent identify as Asian, 2.5 percent identify as two or more races and 2.3 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino.

A prosecutor for the state, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, responded in a court of common pleas document to Cosby’s request for a “change of venue and/or venire.” Venire is the panel of prospective members of the jury.

“The Commonwealth does not object to a change in venire,” Steele stated in the document. “But the defendant suggests more. He wants hearings to present a case for the specific venire of his choice. This is contrary to the law.”

Steele, a Democrat, defeated Republican Bruce Castor in November 2015 for the position of Montgomery County district attorney. The Cosby investigation became an issue throughout the race, since Castor, an ex-prosecutor, had declined in 2005 to bring charges against Cosby in the Constand case.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania released legal documents from Constand’s initial 2005 civil lawsuit against Cosby to the public in July 2015 after the Associated Press requested that the documents be made public.

“Rather, the stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations… is a matter as to which the AP — and by extension the public — has a significant interest,” Judge Eduardo C. Robreno said in the memo outlining the deposition’s release.

In the full transcript of the deposition, Cosby admitted to casual sex involving sedatives with a series of young women and acknowledged that he knew dispensing the prescription drug was illegal.

More than 40 women have accused Cosby on allegations of rape, drug-facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse and sexual misconduct from the mid-1960s to the early 2000s.

In response, more than 25 colleges and universities, including New York University, Brown University and Goucher College, have rescinded honorary degrees he received for his humanitarian work. Cosby still has honorary awards from more than 60 colleges and universities in the United States.      

Pitt rescinded Cosby’s honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in November 2015. The university awarded Cosby the degree in 2002 at Pitt Johnstown’s commencement ceremony for “his lifetime of high achievement.”

“The committee found that certain actions on Cosby’s part — unknown to the public at the time and subsequently admitted by him — were in conflict with the stated basis for awarding the degree and inconsistent with the core values and principles of the University,” former Pitt spokesperson Ken Service said in an email to The Pitt News in 2015.

Service told The Pitt News the University has never rescinded an honorary degree before Cosby.

Cosby has pleaded not guilty and is free on a $1 million bail. He turns 80 next month.

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