A new defense team for Bill Cosby has taken a different approach to the case already, choosing to select a jury from Montgomery County. The comedian’s retrial has also been postponed until March at the earliest, to allow the new defense lawyers to get up to speed.
It was a changing of the guard Tuesday, when Cosby appeared at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown with his new defense team, while the lawyers who represented him at trial in June showed up to officially withdraw from the case.
Once Cosby’s defense lawyers from the first trial, Brian McMonagle and Angela Agrusa, had officially withdrawn Monday morning, Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven T. O’Neill moved onto the matter of jury selection.
Cosby’s new lawyer, Tom Mesereau, said he is inclined to try the case in Montgomery County with a jury from Montgomery County. Mesereau is now trying the case along with Nevada lawyer Kathleen Bliss and Philadelphia lawyer Sam Silver of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis.
While the defense lawyer does not get to choose where a trial is held and from where a jury is selected, the default location would be Montgomery County, if Cosby’s team files no motion for change of venue or venire.
O’Neill emphasized that the defense has time to change their mind on whether to make a filing on venue or venire, should they choose.
Regarding the trial timing, O’Neill gave a loose window of March 15 to April 1 for the trial’s start date. The new defense lawyers’ existing trial schedules had to be taken into account, he said, as well as their need to get caught up on the case.
Pennsylvania law requires retrials to take place within 365 days of the initial trial, O’Neill noted, out of fairness to the defendant. But because it was a defense request to delay the trial, that deadline could be extended, he said. Still, O’Neill said, he envisions having the retrial within a year of the first one.
Change in Strategy
Willingly selecting the jury in Montgomery County would be a major departure from the stance Cosby’s former defense team took. They argued that finding an impartial jury in any location would be impossible. But it would be especially unfair in Cosby’s home county, they said, where they alleged Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele promised to prosecute Cosby in the 2015 local election.
While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not have to honor a party’s preferences in choosing venire, McMonagle’s team made a narrow request for a Pennsylvania county with more than 1 million residents. Only two jurisdictions fit that description—Philadelphia and Allegheny County, the latter of which was ultimately chosen by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Other than venue and venire, O’Neill said, pretrial rulings from the first trial stand as law in a retried criminal case.
The first trial ended June 17, when the Pittsburgh jury declared that they were hopelessly deadlocked, and O’Neill granted mistrial for manifest necessity. Steele immediately pledged to retry the case.
Cosby is facing three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his Cheltenham home in 2004.