Sunday, May 21, 2017

As Cosby Jury Selection Nears Montco Judge Issues Warning Against Jury Tampering

With Jury selection about to begin for the June 5 sexual assault trial of entertainer Bill Cosby, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill gave one last stern-sounding warning to members of the media and the general public, focusing on the security of the jury panel.
Montco Judge Steven T. O'Neill/Submitted Photo

“Reporters and members of the general public are reminded that any attempt by anyone, without leave of Court, to communicate with a member of the jury panel respecting the case, until the conclusion of the case, may be punished as a criminal contempt of court,” O’Neill wrote in a court order issued on Friday.

Jury selection begins Monday at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh.

The judge added that during individual questioning of jurors, “the room may be cleared of reporters and members of the general public if the juror expresses a desire to answer a sensitive question in private.”

Indeed, the Cosby jury, a panel of 12 and six alternate jurors, likely will be subject to some of the tightest security that a jury has ever faced in Montgomery County. It is the most high-profile criminal trial to ever play out at the county courthouse in Norristown.

“Overall, our real focus is security, securing those jurors,” county Sheriff Sean P. Kilkenny told me during a recent interview. “We want to make it as safe and comfortable for the jurors. They are coming from Allegheny County, sacrificing everything being away from their families, and we want to make it as safe and comfortable for them as we can.”
Montco Sheriff Sean Kilkenny/Submitted Photo

 Judge O’Neill, prosecutors and Cosby’s team of defense lawyers will be at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh on Monday to begin selecting jurors. 

The selection process was moved after defense lawyers argued that closer to home prospective jurors had been subjected to pervasive media coverage that made it impossible to select a fair jury in Montgomery County.

Once the jurors are selected, they will be transported to Montgomery County and sequestered at an area hotel for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last at least two weeks.

Cosby, 79, faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault in connection with allegations he had inappropriate sexual contact with Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, at his Cheltenham home after plying her with blue pills and wine sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004.

Once the trial begins, I’ll have daily reports for Digital First Media publications. You can also find breaking Cosby news by following @MontcoCourtNews on Twitter.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Internet All Atwitter About Cosby and Race. But It Was Old News

The Internet was all atwitter this morning with blaring headlines that entertainer Bill Cosby suggested in an interview with a radio show host that racism may be playing a part in his sexual assault trial that is about to get under way.

My first reaction. I had to laugh at the barrage of news reports about the subject. Old news, I thought, as defense suggestions of racism were first reported last year.

In fact, The Mercury, The Reporter and the Times Herald were among the first publications to report last October that Cosby’s lawyers claimed they cannot ignore “the unfortunate role that racial bias still plays in our criminal justice system.” The claims were made in court documents I obtained.
Bill Cosby/Photo Courtesy Montco DA

“In a better world, racial bias would be a specter of the past, or, better yet, nonexistent,” lawyers Brian J. McMonagle and Angela C. Agrusa wrote in court papers in which they claimed Cosby is a victim of racial bias, an unfair media blitz and a prosecutors’ decade-old delay in bringing sexual assault charges against him.

The racial bias, Cosby’s lawyers suggested, was evident in the request by Montgomery County prosecutors to allow 13 additional women to testify at Cosby’s trial to bolster their contention that Cosby sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, at his Cheltenham home in 2004. The 13 women alleged to also have been the victims of Cosby’s inappropriate conduct between 1960 and 1990 and District Attorney Kevin R. Steele argued their testimony is relevant at trial to show Cosby’s behaviors “took on a form of a common plan, scheme or design.”

“Only one of those women self-identifies as African-American,” McMonagle and Agrusa claimed. “The commonwealth’s choice preys upon subconscious (or perhaps conscious) beliefs that a white woman is less likely to consent to sex with a black man, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, the time period the commonwealth chose to focus on.

Defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr,.
“This turns the presumption of innocence that Mr. Cosby is entitled to into a presumption of guilt, and runs counter to the basic principles upon which the United States was founded,” the lawyers added.

McMonagle argued some of the 13 women have been paraded in front of the media by high-profile, civil rights lawyers like Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women.

“And the public jumps into a mob, willing to believe unsubstantiated, decades-old allegations against an African-American citizen who has spent the last half a century trying to foster an appreciation for the commonalities of every American, regardless of race, gender or religion,” McMonagle wrote. “There is no hope that Mr. Cosby can receive a trial free from outside influence in Montgomery County, as due process requires.”

Incidentally, a judge ruled against prosecutors, deciding that only one of the 13 other alleged women can testify at the upcoming trial.
Montco DA Kevin R. Steele/Submitted Photo

And it wasn’t the first time McMonagle invoked race in the case.  

After Cosby’s pretrial hearing Sept. 6, 2016, McMonagle said from the courthouse steps, “Mr. Cosby has spent his entire life trying to fight against injustice, trying to help other people overcome racism and prejudice,” and claimed the media has presumed Cosby guilty, not innocent.

“The media has championed the causes of his accusers with little thought to investigation, with little thought to exposing the motivations behind any accusations…,” McMonagle said at the time.

That same day, a Cosby spokesman fired off a statement expounding on the defense team’s claims.

“Mr. Cosby is no stranger to discrimination and racial hatred and throughout his career Mr. Cosby has always used his voice and his celebrity to highlight the commonalities and has portrayed the differences that are not negative - no matter the race, gender and religion of a person.

“Yet, over the last 14 months, Mr. Cosby and those who have supported him, have been ignored while lawyers like Gloria Allred hold press conferences to accuse him of crimes for un-witnessed events that allegedly occurred almost a half century earlier,” the statement read.

The spokesman claimed Cosby’s civil rights have been trampled upon and argued the campaign against him “builds on racial bias and prejudice that can pollute the court of public opinion.”

Bill Cosby Leaves Ccourt/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Cosby, 79, faces a June 5, 2017, trial on charges of aggravated indecent assault in connection with his alleged inappropriate contact with Constand.

Stay tuned. I’ll be reporting from the Cosby trial beginning June 5.