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The 12 jurors in the Bill Cosby trial were seated Thursday, wrapping a third day of jury selection that was filled with moments of high drama and even several outbursts of laughter.
Six alternate jurors were also chosen for the trial, which is scheduled to begin June 5 in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, about 300 miles from where the selection process took place.
Two members of the primary panel are African-American, a man and a woman both in their 30s or 40s. A male black in his 20s and a female African-American in her 20s were also selected as alternates.
While the primary panel consists of 10 whites — seven men and three women — four of the alternate jurors are white.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. said juror suppression has been a tool of the justice system for centuries.
“The jury may determine the outcome even before coming to court,” the civil rights activist said. “Our history includes the killers of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers; a jury set those killers free. There’s a court bias and African-Americans don’t have access to the jury pool [like whites].”
Cosby has been charged with three counts of sexual assault which stems from an alleged incident more than a decade ago at his home near Philadelphia. The star faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
After Cosby’s legal team objected Tuesday to prosecutors striking an African-American woman from the jury pool, an otherwise quiet proceeding grew contentious.
“We believe this is systematic exclusion of African-Americans,” defense lawyer Brian McMonagle said in challenging to the striking of the juror, citing a legal term known as a Batson challenge, which prohibits the exclusion of jurors on the basis of race or gender.
McMonagle said that prosecutors had used challenges to remove two black women while accepting white jurors who gave similar answers to questions.
“We believe it is of paramount importance we seat a diverse jury,” McMonagle said, adding that it would be a “potential horrible problem” if the jury sitting in judgment of the black comedian accused of drugging and molesting a white woman was racially one-sided.
On Wednesday, drama filled the courtroom when a potential juror admitted to posting a note on Facebook and communicating with someone who identified themselves as a seated juror. Judge Steven O’Neill, visibly angry, repeatedly asked the man whether the person in question was really a seated juror and whether he or she was in the jury room.
O’Neill then retreated with attorneys on both side to his chambers and, after 40 minutes, reemerged to say that juror #2 had been dismissed because of a personal issue.
It’s not known whether the already seated juror was the individual who traded Facebook posts. The judge had previously made it clear that jurors were not to post anything about the case or whether they were selected on social media or anywhere else.
The courtroom burst into laughter when one potential juror, a white man in his 60s or 70s, complained of having ulcerative colitis and said serving would present an undue hardship because of his diet and propensity for needing a bathroom at a moment’s notice.
The comedian held his head in his face and could barely contain his laughter as the judge, attorneys and reporters all laughed.
“I’ve been married 45 years, longing than some prison sentences for murder,” the older man quipped, again bringing Cosby to laughter.
“He’s the second-funniest man in the room,” Cosby’s attorney said.
After the session ended, Cosby addressed the media to thank the people of Allegheny County. He said he had performed at the nearby Heinz Theater.
Defense attorneys and prosecutor Kevin Steele said they were appreciative of the jurors, but Cosby’s team clearly wasn’t happy with the way potential African-American panelists were handled, as many were given high numbers, meaning they would either be forced to wait much longer to be vetted or dismissed outright.
“I am glad we are past this nonsense about the optics of the jury,” Steele said. “It’s a terrific jury made up of people of all demographics.”