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Opening statements in Bill Cosby’s retrial are scheduled to begin, but a dispute may cause a delay

Entertainer Bill Cosby walks back to a courtroom April 4 after a break in his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa.
Entertainer Bill Cosby walks back to a courtroom April 4 after a break in his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa.
(Corey Perrine / Associated Press)

It was a pre-#MeToo world – June 2017 — when Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case resulted in a mistrial.

Now the 80-year-old comedian is due back in a Pennsylvania courtroom Monday for retrial amid a wrenching nationwide social reckoning on assault and harassment, centering on accused perpetrators who are powerful men.

In the initial 11-day trial, jurors were unable to reach a verdict on whether Andrea Constand, a former basketball staffer at Temple University in Philadelphia, was drugged and molested 14 years ago by Cosby, an iconic figure known for numerous roles including his portrayal of a wise and wholesome doctor-dad on “The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984 to 1992.

That benevolent image, in combination with the inspirational narrative of Cosby’s journey from a deprived youth to trailblazing success as a black entertainer, was shattered in recent years as dozens of women came forward saying the comedian had fed them pills meant to incapacitate them and then subjected them to groping and assault. Some women said the encounters happened decades ago.

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Opening statements in the retrial were scheduled to begin in Norristown, Pa., not far from the North Philadelphia housing project where Cosby grew up — or from the opulent gated home where Constand says she was assaulted in early 2004. However, a dispute over alleged comments about Cosby made by a juror who was selected to hear the case could cause a delay.

Cosby’s lawyers have cited a prospective juror as saying that the man in question, identified as Juror #11, had offered the opinion that Cosby was guilty, the Associated Press reported.

The defense has asked Judge Steven O’Neill to either remove the juror or query him about his impartiality, also looking at whether other jurors might have been influenced by his remarks.

Cosby, who at times appeared infirm during the previous trial, was present during jury selection, seemingly attentive to proceedings and looking dapper in a dark pinstriped suit and tie.

In such a highly charged case, race and gender are being closely watched.

The jury selected for the retrial is made up of seven men and five women. The racial breakdown: 10 white jurors, including the one whose alleged remarks are under scrutiny, and two African Americans.

Jurors are supposed to do their best to insulate themselves from events in the outside world, but almost no one could be unaware of the series of events that coalesced last fall into the #MeToo movement.

An accretion of high-profile actress’ graphic allegations of abuse and intimidation by film mogul Harvey Weinstein morphed into a powerful groundswell of demands that such behavior carry a price. The effects have been far-reaching, particularly in the fields of entertainment, media and arts, where similar allegations have led to a number of high-profile firings and other disciplinary steps.

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Cosby faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault stemming from the encounter at his home with Constand, which the defense claims was consensual. Constand, 44, also brought a civil motion against Cosby, which was settled confidentially in 2006.

In emotional testimony during the initial trial, Constand described what she believed to have been a mentor-and-mentee friendship with the entertainer, based on his stated interest in Temple University’s women’s basketball program and his offers to aid her in her sports-broadcasting aspirations.

But she described a starkly different side to the man she had trusted, a show of predatory behavior that began after he gave her pills he implied were a herbal supplement that would “take the edge off.”

“I began to slur my words, and I also told Mr. Cosby that I had trouble seeing him, that I could see two of him,” she testified, adding: “When I stood up, my legs were not strong and I began to panic a little bit.”

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While she was incapacitated, she said, Cosby assaulted her, touching her breasts and digitally penetrating her. She said she awakened hours later, freezing and disoriented.

Cosby did not testify in open court in the original trial, but said previously in depositions he was attracted to her and considered their fireside encounter to be a romantic one. The defense has said the encounter between Cosby and Constand was consensual.

Dozens of other women have come forward with similar accounts of being drugged and sexually molested by Cosby, describing serial misconduct dating back to at least the 1980s.

Cosby’s defense team — led by Los Angeles attorney Tom Mesereau, who defended Michael Jackson on child-molestation charges — fought to exclude testimony by other alleged victims, saying their testimony would be unfairly prejudicial. The defense also argued that lawyers could not properly prepare for cross-examination of witnesses who were testifying about incidents alleged to have taken place many years earlier.

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Of the 19 women the prosecution sought to call, the judge set the number at five -- a contrast to the first trial, when only one other alleged victim besides Constand was allowed to testify. The best-known of those expected to testify this time is former model Janice Dickinson, who has alleged a 1982 drugging and sexual assault by Cosby that took place at Lake Tahoe.

Cosby’s lawyers have already asserted that travel itineraries and other evidence show that the alleged assault of Constand could not have happened when she says it did. The comedian was arrested Dec. 30, 2015, which means if the assault were before Dec. 30, 2003, it would fall outside the 12-year statute of limitations.

laura.king@latimes.com

@laurakingLAT

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