As jury selection begins in the sexual assault retrial of 80-year-old comedian Bill Cosby, it’s clear that the zeitgeist is markedly different than it was when the embattled entertainer faced the same charge last summer (that trial ended with a hung jury).
Since then, there’s been a sea change in the visibility of sexual assault and harassment, and it looks like the judge in that case wants to know if potential jurors in Cosby’s case will be able to remain impartial.
Cosby’s retrial, scheduled to start next week, will again address charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. Cosby maintains that the encounter was consensual.
“Do you have knowledge, have you read or seen anything about the #MeToo movement or the allegations of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry?” Judge Steven O’Neill asked potential jurors. “This is very important. This will help us.”
The New York Times reports that when O’Neill posed the question to the 120 potential jurors, only one had not heard of the movement that highlights the pervasive nature of sexual assault, violence and harassment covered by the now ubiquitous hashtag.
Cosby’s lawyers say they are worried that #MeToo will lump their client in with other predators such as Harvey Weinstein, who had his company destroyed and power diminished after scores of women came forward to accuse him of sexual impropriety.
In Cosby’s first trial, only one other woman was allowed to testify for the prosecution. This time, the judge is allowing five women to testify, and the expectation is that they will all say that Cosby drugged them and then took advantage of their inebriated state.
The defense has been arguing that having five additional women testify will have a prejudicial effect on the jury too large for Cosby to receive a fair trial, and that it will distract focus from the facts of the Constand case. Cosby maintains that all of his encounters, even if drugs were used, were consensual.
Also, this time, jurors will not be bused in from the more diverse Pittsburgh, after Cosby complained that potential jurors had been affected by pretrial publicity. This time, the trial will have jurors from Montgomery County, where Cosby has long had a home and where Constand was allegedly assaulted.