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Bill Cosby judge to rule Wednesday on releasing juror names

Written by MaryClaire Dale and Michael R. Sisak/Associated Press | Jun 20, 2017 4:47 PM
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Photo by AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Bill Cosby waves to people calling out to him as he walks from the Montgomery County Courthouse during his sexual assault trial in Norristown, Pa., Thursday, June 15, 2017.

(Norristown) -- The judge who presided over Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial will decide Wednesday whether to identify jurors who deadlocked in the case after a week of deliberations.

Judge Steven O'Neill fears there would be a chilling effect on jurors needed for Cosby's retrial if the first jury discusses the deliberations with the media. Lawyers for several media outlets argued at a hearing Tuesday that jurors' names should almost always be public to ensure transparency in the judicial process.

Lawyer Eli Segal, arguing on behalf of the Philadelphia Media Network and other outlets, said jurors should be free to discuss their backgrounds, the sequestration process and their individual views, even if -- under O'Neill's order in the case -- they do not disclose the jury split or other jurors' comments.

"This is a critical part of the justice system," Segal argued. "We are entitled to them."
O'Neill, who has already had the case for nearly two years, sounded skeptical. He plans to retry the case within four months.

Cosby, who turns 80 next month, is accused of drugging and molesting a woman at his home in 2004. Dozens of other women have also accused him of sexual assault, but this was the only case to result in criminal charges.

"When we were selecting a jury, we were very adamant about their privacy," the judge said at the hourlong hearing. "Just because they have signed up to do their civic duty in this case should not necessarily impose a lot of media upon them."

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers opposed the media's request. Like the judge, they worry about finding 18 unbiased jurors for the retrial of the case, given the worldwide coverage of the comedian's first trial. Hundreds of journalists descended on the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown for the trial.

Lawyers for more than a dozen media outlets, including The Associated Press and the major TV networks, argued that juror interviews would do little to exacerbate the situation.

The initial jury was selected from the Pittsburgh area and spent two weeks sequestered 300 miles from home. The seven men and five women deliberated for more than 52 hours without reaching a verdict on any of the three counts.

Also Tuesday, the woman whose police complaint led to the trial thanked supporters.
"Thank you for the outpouring of love & kindness & support. I am eternally grateful for the messages I have received in recent days," Andrea Constand said in a tweet.

Constand, 44, of Toronto, met Cosby through his alma mater, Temple University. Cosby has called their sexual encounter consensual.

Alternate juror Mike McCloskey said Monday he was "ridiculously sick" when he found out the main jury couldn't reach a verdict. He says he "probably" would have voted to convict, though he did not take part in the deliberations. He found the taped phone call played in court between Cosby and Constand's mother, in which Cosby described the sexual encounter with her daughter, particularly disturbing.

Pennsylvania law allows the public release of jurors' names, but judges have discretion to keep them a secret under certain conditions. McCloskey first came forward to a Pittsburgh radio station.

O'Neill advised jurors when the trial ended Saturday that they didn't need to discuss the case.

"It can never be clearer that if you speak up, you could be chilling the justice system in the future if jurors are needed in this case," O'Neill told them.

The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done.

An earlier story appears below.

(Philadelphia) -- The Pennsylvania judge who presided over Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial will decide Wednesday whether to identify jurors who deadlocked in the case after a week of deliberations.

Judge Steven O'Neill said Tuesday that he promised jurors privacy when they were selected. He fears there will be a chilling effect on potential jurors needed for the retrial if the first jury discusses the deliberations.

Both prosecutors and the defense want the names to remain sealed because of the retrial. They believe any comments jurors make to the media might also make it hard to find an unbiased jury pool.

Lawyers for the media say the public has a right to the names. They are interested in finding out how close the jury came to reaching a verdict.

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