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Jury from outside area to decide Bill Cosby case


Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse. (AP/Matt Slocum)

Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse. (AP/Matt Slocum)

Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse. (AP/Matt Slocum)

A sequestered jury from an outside county will decide the sexual assault case against Bill Cosby, a suburban Philadelphia judge has ruled.

Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill rejected a defence request to move the trial itself because of worldwide media reports that the actor's lawyers say brand him a "serial rapist".

Judge O'Neill will oversee a June 5 trial over charges that Cosby drugged and molested a former Temple University employee in 2004.

Judge O'Neill's ruling came after lawyers for the 79-year-old TV actor argued that his trial should be moved to Philadelphia or the Pittsburgh area.

The larger, more diverse population would make it easier to find unbiased jurors, lawyer Brian McMonagle argued, but even then, he said, there was no guarantee that Cosby could get a fair hearing.

"Unless you've been living under a rock, the message that has been promoted, in insidious fashion, is that Bill Cosby is guilty, and that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist," Mr McMonagle said.

"I do not believe that there's a place anywhere in this country now where he can receive a fair trial. Not here, not anywhere. I hope I'm wrong."

Prosecutors accused the defence of trying to shop for a jury.

In a court filing, district attorney Kevin Steele called the pre-trial publicity argument "a red herring".

He said Cosby could not expect to find a jury anywhere that is "oblivious" to the dozens of sex assault accusations lodged against him by Andrea Constand, who has come forward publicly, and other accusers.

"He's not entitled to a jury that is ignorant of the facts surrounding his case," Mr Steele wrote.

"The publicity that necessarily follows the rich and famous cannot insulate them from prosecution."

Prosecutors did not object to bringing an outside jury to the courthouse in Norristown, but fought the bid to move the trial.

They told Judge O'Neill they could surely find a dozen unbiased jurors in counties with fewer than one million people, the size sought by the defence.

"It's not just short on the law, but short on logic," assistant district attorney M Stewart Ryan argued.

Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges that he sexually assaulted Ms Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home.

With Judge O'Neill's decision to import an out-of-county jury, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court must now decide where in Pennsylvania the jurors will be selected.

Monday's hearing came after the judge dealt a blow to the prosecution by limiting the number of accusers who can give evidence at the trial.

Prosecutors wanted to put 13 more women on the stand to bolster claims that Cosby had drugged and molested women before the 2004 encounter with Ms Constand.

Judge O'Neill ruled on Friday that only one of those accusers may give evidence.

She worked for Cosby's agent at the William Morris agency and said Cosby drugged and molested her during a lunch meeting in Los Angeles in 1996.

In a setback for the defence, Judge O'Neill has previously ruled that Cosby's damaging deposition from Ms Constand's 2005 lawsuit can be aired in court.

Cosby, over four days, described a string of extramarital affairs and liaisons with young women, often after he gave them drugs or alcohol. He called them consensual.

Cosby, once known as "America's Dad" for his top-rated family sitcom The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, appeared relaxed in his latest court appearance on Monday, laughing with aides during breaks.

He has been married to his wife, Camille, for more than 50 years, and has four surviving children.

Their only son, Ennis, was killed in an attempted robbery in 1997.