Bill Cosby trial judge delivers 2 big victories to defence

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Cosby's lawyers alleged a member of the prosecution team made a disparaging remark after a black woman was removed from consideration to serve on the jury in the 80-year-old comedian's retrial on sexual assault charges. Justices upheld an 1879 ruling, and said that while defendants don't have to right to a jury panel featuring people of their own race, the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause stops prosecutors from striking jurors on the basis of race.

Cosby is charged with drugging and sexually molesting Ms Constand, a Temple University women's basketball administrator, at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. The new trial is scheduled to start April 9 and jury selection has been under way since Monday, with eight jurors seated by midday Wednesday.

Last year, his first trial ended in a hung jury.

Judge Steven T. O'Neill called the jury-selection process "long and arduous".

There were some tense moments in the Pennsylvania courtroom when Cosby's lawyers, for the second day in a row, alleged that prosecutors were trying to keep some people off the jury due to their race or gender.

The legal manoeuvring came as lawyers picked an eighth juror, a white woman who was at first hesitant to guarantee she could block out what she's read and seen about the Cosby case and the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct. He also ruled that the jury can hear the amount of the settlement that Cosby reached with his accuser.

No major rulings were expected on Wednesday (Thursday NZT) after the trial judge opened Tuesday's (Wednesday NZT) session by issuing decisions favourable to a defence team that is trying to cast Cosby as the victim of a shakedown scheme involving false accusations of sexual assault. The camera showed the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers, but not potential jurors who were being questioned as a group.

The young man picked as a retrial juror Monday said he did not know anything about Cosby's case.

On Tuesday, Cosby lawyer Kathleen Bliss sprung a Batson challenge on the judge after prosecutors used one of their seven peremptory challenges to strike a white male.

District Attorney Kevin Steele responded there was "absolutely no legitimacy" to the defense's challenge, adding that prosecutors had no problem seating the two other black people who'd appeared for individual questioning. The camera shows the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers, but not potential jurors. He contended that Cosby's lawyers were playing to the media.

The judge last June declared a mistrial after more than 52 hours of jury deliberations over six days.

Defense lawyers had asked O'Neill to permit Jackson to testify that Constand, a former co-worker, once told her she could profit by accusing a famous person of sexual assault. Cosby's defense announced at a pretrial hearing last week that it would seek to enter its details in court.

Prosecutors, too, believe they have bolstered their case against Cosby with testimony from five additional accusers - all of whom allege that they, like Constand, were drugged and assaulted by the entertainer in incidents dating back decades. One juror said the panel was split 10-2 in favor of conviction, while another said the group was more evenly divided.

The Associated Press doesn't typically identify people who say they're victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done.