A judge granted a request by Bill Cosby’s defense lawyers on Monday to have jurors picked from a different Pennsylvania county in his upcoming sexual assault trial.
The comedian’s lawyers had argued that his case had drawn too much publicity to allow for a fair criminal trial in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill ruled that jurors would be picked from a different county, known as a change in venire, but denied the defense’s alternative request that the whole trial be moved to a different county. He ruled that the jury be sequestered once the trial begins on June 5, meaning they would be isolated from the public to prevent contact with outside influences.
Cosby, 79, is facing charges he sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former assistant basketball coach at his alma mater Temple University, in 2004.
The case is the only criminal prosecution resulting from accusations against the entertainer by more than four dozen women, though the deluge of allegations has shattered his once family-friendly reputation.
Cosby has denied any wrongdoing and has said his encounter with Constand, like the others, was consensual.
In its argument, the defense noted that Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who is leading the prosecution, campaigned in 2015 by criticizing a predecessor for failing to pursue the Cosby case. The resulting news coverage has made selecting an impartial jury from the county impossible, they said.
Prosecutors had opposed moving the trial but consented to a change in venire. However, they balked at Cosby’s suggestion that only a county with more than 1.2 million people can yield a large enough jury pool to ensure fairness.
In court filings, Steele has pointed out that only Pittsburgh and Philadelphia meet that criterion and said the defense appeared to be shopping for a favorable jury.
The judge said that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would select the new county from which jurors would be picked, in keeping with state law.
On Friday, in a blow to Cosby’s defense, O’Neill ruled that prosecutors could call at trial another woman who has accused him of a similar assault in the 1990s. The district attorney’s office had sought to call as many as 13 other women.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and David DeKok; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Hay)