Amid accusations of bias, a jury of seven men and five women — 10 of them white and two black — has been chosen for Bill Cosby’s retrial on sexual assault charges.
The gender and racial breakdown of the panel mirrors the makeup of the jury that deliberated Cosby’s fate for 52 hours last year and failed to reach a verdict, forcing a mistrial.
The new trial is set to begin April 9, and prosecutors and the defense team have spent the last three days questioning potential jurors who must decide if Cosby is guilty of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. They still must choose six alternates for the trial, which is expected to last a month.
There were some tense moments in the Pennsylvania courtroom when Cosby’s lawyers, for the second day in a row, alleged that prosecutors were trying to keep some people off the jury because of their race or gender.
Defense attorney Kathleen Bliss claimed the district attorney was striking both older white men and black women from the panel. Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele denounced the claim as “ludicrous.”
Judge Steven O’Neill, clearly annoyed by the defense’s objections, said he didn’t see a reason to stop the selection process.
“At this stage, it does not appear that there is any discriminatory attempt,” Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill said.
It’s illegal for either side to use peremptory challenges — their chances to reject a potential juror without giving a reason — to keep someone off a jury solely on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender. It’s known as a Batson violation after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling of the same name.
Both gender and race could be factors in the second trial of one of America’s top black celebrities, who is accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women, both white and black, stretching back decades. Cosby denies all allegations.
On Tuesday, Bliss sprung a Batson challenge on the judge after prosecutors used one of their seven peremptory challenges to strike a white male.
“Gender, like race, is subject to strict screening,” Bliss said. “I believe that white males are a protected group.”
O’Neill sounded incredulous. “There is no prima facie case for this challenge. Move forward,” he said.
The next day, the prosecution used one of its challenges to strike a black woman. Bliss objected, citing Batson, and the judge chided her for not giving him notice that she might do so.
“I couldn’t have anticipated this,” she said, and then handed out a prepared brief.
“By all appearances, she was perfectly qualified,” Bliss told the judge. “There is no explanation other than her race and therefore an inference has been created here.”
DA Kevin Steele was incensed.
“We have had two available African-Americans for jury selection in this case. We have gladly taken both of those seemingly very responsible people and they are on our jury now,” he said.