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Cosby wants jury pool prescreened for bias before trial

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 1:54 p.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bill Cosby could be sentenced to as long as 30 years in prison if convicted of charges he drugged and molested a woman.

As many as 2,000 prospective Allegheny County jurors for the upcoming Bill Cosby sexual assault trial could receive questionnaires in the mail to gauge their objectivity, according to proposals defense attorneys filed Monday.

Cosby's lawyers proposed a schedule for jury selection. Because of Cosby's celebrity status, they asked that pretrial questionnaires be mailed during the first week of May. Prospective jurors would be required to return the questionnaires by May 15.

Under the proposed schedule, attorneys for both sides would submit to the court by June 1 a list of people they do not want to serve on the jury.

On June 5, groups of 100 prospective jurors from Allegheny County would be summoned to court in Pittsburgh for individual, in-person questioning, known legally as voir dire, until a panel was selected.

Cosby is scheduled to go on trial beginning June 5 in suburban Philadelphia, Montgomery County.

Twelve jurors and four alternates will be chosen from a larger pool, Kate Delano, spokeswoman for Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, told the Trib a week ago.

Delano said Monday the DA's office will file a response to the defense motion.

The state Supreme Court ordered last week that the jury come from Allegheny County. The ruling was made after Common Pleas Judge Steven T. O'Neill decided the trial will remain in Montgomery County with jurors from another county. O'Neill is presiding over the trial.

Delano said O'Neill will determine on the procedure, size of the jury pool and transportation methods for jurors.

Cosby's attorneys previously said their client could not receive a fair trial in Montgomery County. They had requested a jury come from an urban center with “more diverse and opposing viewpoints.”

Cosby, 79, is accused of drugging and molesting a former Temple University employee in 2004. He is free on $100,000 bond and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Attorneys for Cosby previously argued his trial should be moved to Philadelphia or the Pittsburgh area in search of unbiased jurors.

In a filing Monday, one of Cosby's attorneys, Brain McMonagle, said many potential jurors will be weeded out because they will not be able to leave their homes and daily lives for an extended time period.

“The jurors in this case will be asked to leave their homes in Allegheny County to be sequestered hours away in Montgomery County,” he wrote.

Questions for potential jurors could include: the amount of news coverage they have seen about the case; a summary of what they know about the accusations; whether they have formed personal opinions and whether they have had family members or friends who have been victims or accused of sexual assault.

“The jury selection process is critical to the preservation of a defendant's right to an impartial jury,” McMonagle wrote in the motion.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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