Prosecutors fight Cosby bid to query 2,000 potential jurors

PHILADELPHIA — Prosecutors in Bill Cosby’s sex assault case in Pennsylvania objected Monday to defence efforts to prescreen as many as 2,000 potential jurors.

They also said in a court filing that the jury should be selected weeks before the scheduled June 5 trial so jurors can prepare to be sequestered nearly 300 miles away from home. And they challenged defence claims that it will be tough to find people without opinions of the longtime Hollywood icon.

In a sometimes caustic court filing, they called that “a cynical view of the potential jurors in Allegheny County.”

“Defendant forecasts that jury selection will take weeks; we are confident that it will not,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said, noting that it took just a day to pick jurors for the state attorney general’s perjury trial last year.

Cosby, who turns 80 next month, is accused of drugging and molesting a Temple University basketball team manager at his home in 2004, an encounter he calls consensual. He was 66 at the time; Andrea Constand was 30.

Prosecutors had hoped to call a dozen women who have made similar accusations, but the judge will allow just one “prior bad act” witness: a woman who worked for Cosby’s agent and said he drugged and assaulted her during a lunch meeting at the Bel-Air Hotel, in Los Angeles, in 1996.

The trial will be held in suburban Philadelphia, where Cosby met with Constand at his estate, but the jury will come from the Pittsburgh area because of pretrial publicity over the past two years. Cosby’s appearance at a half-dozen court hearings has drawn a swarm of national and international media.

Defence lawyers have proposed sending a specialized questionnaire to up to 2,000 Allegheny County residents, and to question those who pass muster starting June 5. Prosecutors said Cosby deserves no such “special treatment.” They want opening statements to start that day.

The battle over jury selection is just the latest legal manoeuvring in the high-profile case. The judge must still decide how much the jury will hear from Cosby’s deposition about his long history of extramarital affairs. The next court hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Cosby, a Philadelphia native, broke racial barriers when he became the first black actor to star in a network drama, the 1965 hit “I Spy,” a role that earned him three consecutive Emmy awards for best actor. He is perhaps best known for his top-rated 1980s sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” which painted a warm portrait of black family life and earned hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they are sexual assault victims, but Constand has granted permission through her lawyer.

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