Will jurors in Bill Cosby's retrial keep open mind amid #MeToo revelations?

Bill Cosby's second trial, scheduled to start next week, will be the first high-profile sexual assault trial of the #MeToo era.
Bill Cosby's second trial, scheduled to start next week, will be the first high-profile sexual assault trial of the #MeToo era.PHOTO: REUTERS

BALTIMORE (NYTimes) - As jury selection began on Monday in Bill Cosby's criminal trial, no one could ignore that the atmosphere surrounding the case was much different than it had been last summer, during his first trial, before one famous figure after another fell in the face of accusations of sexual misconduct.

Cosby's second trial, scheduled to start next week, will be the first high-profile sexual assault trial of the #MeToo era.

Experts are intrigued by the question of what effect, if any, it will have on jurors' attitudes towards sexual assault.

"Since Cosby's first go-round, all courtroom participants - jurors, attorneys, judge - have been immersed in an intensive course on sexual violation," Ms Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor at Northwestern University said, "including the kind of sexual assault inflicted by mentors."

"The ways in which we evaluate the credibility of survivors has also shifted in important ways," she added, "from a default to doubt, to a greater willingness to believe."

Cosby's first trial on charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted Ms Andrea Constand in 2004, ended with a hung jury. At least one juror reported some problems with her credibility and had a question about why the many women who accused him did not come forward sooner.

Now the entertainer's lawyers say they are worried that the barrage of publicity surrounding bad-behaving men will lead jurors to lump Cosby in with the others.

 
 

Prosecutors contend that Cosby, 80, is also a sexual predator, one who abused dozens of women, though Ms Constand's case is the only one to result in criminal charges.

The very fact that the judge is allowing five additional accusers to testify - not one, as in the first trial - is evidence of how the #MeToo moment has influenced the case, said Ms Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Centre for Jury Studies at the National Centre for State Courts.

"When I saw that, I said really, the ground has really shifted," she added.