NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CN) — Though a judge refused Monday to change the venue of Bill Cosby’s upcoming trial, jury selection will occur outside Montgomery County, Pennsylvania – the site of the alleged sexual assault.
Reading his decision from the bench this morning, Judge Steve O’Neill cited “pervasive” media coverage as justifying the change of venire.
O’Neill’s ruling came after a hearing in which defense attorney Brian McMonagle called the media coverage of his 79-year old client “an infection where an American icon has been villainized.”
“It’s an honor to appear in this courthouse,” said McMonagle. “But the bias is in the water in this courthouse. From DA Steele’s political campaign all the way to the employees who work here. Everyone has been affected by this.”
District Attorney Kevin Steele opposed only the motion to change venue, not venire. The prosecutor campaigned in part on a platform of bringing Cosby to justice, after the statute of limitations had run out for all but one of the comedian’s accusers.
Andrea Constand claims that Cosby drugged and assaulted her at his Cheltenham home in 2005 when she worked for Temple University, where Cosby was a trustee.
McMonagle had no objection to O’Neill presiding over the trial, but asked that it be held in either Philadelphia or Allegheny County.
Cosby wore a tan suit to court this morning, taking his seat with the help of an aid, as has been his custom since his arrest.
This morning’s hearing comes on the heels of an order by the court to let a Cosby accuser other than Constand testify at the trial. Prosecutors had hoped to parade 13 accusers before the jury, but O’Neill admitted just one of the women.
Cosby scrunched his face in confusion and looked up to the ceiling while Judge O’Neill questioned his attorney about their motion.
“Is this really about change of venue, because the trial can’t be fair in this county,” O’Neill asked. “Or is this a change of venire to get a jury from another county and sequester those jurors to this county to try this case?”
O’Neill told the court: “I’m committed to a fair and impartial trial, but I don’t have a news aggregation staff, and we need to focus on this issue.”
McMonagle told the judge that the reporters in the courtroom are “good media with integrity,” but that “there are others covering this case who are not.”
“Despite the fact that Cosby has maintained his innocence, and no fact witness has testified on this case, the news has told the American people that he is guilty of this crime, a serial rapist and a sexual predator – all without a trial or presumption of innocence,” McMonagle said.
Calling the news coverage of this case “tragic,” McMonagle complained that his client has been demonized by the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the New York Daily News.
The bias has even spread internationally, McMonagle said, noting that reports of the case have cropped u in China, Canada and Qatar. He noted that various colleges and universities have even revoked honorary degrees they previously gave Cosby without any conviction or admission of guilt.
“All of this has polluted the jury pool for a fair trial,” McMonagle said.
“The message that has been promoted is that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist who is guilty,” he continued. “The DA even admits in their brief we will never find a jury pool that isn’t familiar with Cosby.”
Judge O’Neill interrupted McMonagle about his push to take the case to Philadelphia.
“If you’re claiming this case has been more than regionally covered, why Philadelphia?” the judge asked. “How do you make this leap? Do you have hard numbers?”
McMonagle did not. This an “unusual request,” but these are “unusual circumstances,” the attorney continued.
“We’re just trying to find the best of the worst, since the media coverage has been national and international,” McMonagle said. “We want socioeconomic and racial diversity.”
The prosecution spent just 10 minutes addressing Cosby’s motion.
“It’s fascinating to sit here and listen to this, while passionate and eloquent, as Mr. McMonagle always is, this is short on the law,” Assistant District Attorney M. Stewart Ryan said. “There is argument but no authority.”
Judge O’Neill issued his ruling after a 20-minute recess.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will chose the location of the jury pool. Trial is scheduled for June 5, 2017, pending a notification from the county where a jury will be impaneled.
O’Neill adjourned again after delivering his ruling. When he returned, he explained there are no pending motions. Over “the next three months, both sides can file motions that they may need to,” the judge noted. “Discovery is always static and in play.”