As deliberations in Bill Cosby’s criminal trial reached the 40-hour threshold Thursday night, there remained little sign of progress — and matters in fact may be moving in the wrong direction.
“This thing is a deadlock,” Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s spokesman, said at a news conference outside the Montgomery County Courthouse a little after 8 p.m. “If they don’t have a verdict by now, we’d hope the judge would relieve them.”
An hour later, confusion reigned in the courtroom as the judge called the jurors in and appeared either frustrated with them, the defense — or, perhaps, just the situation.
Judge Steven T. O’Neill, normally cool and composed, looked impatient and tired as he told the jurors that he didn’t intend to “intrude on deliberations,” but said that if there is an issue “you will let the court know.”
Then O’Neill appeared to dismiss the jurors, who had started deliberations 12 hours earlier, for the night. Or did he send them back to the deliberation room?
“At this stage I intend to have the jury — 9 o’clock is long enough to deliberate for the day. With that said, you may return to your deliberations,” he said and left the bench as the jurors filed out. .
That self-contradicting comment caused confused stares and a moment of chaos in the courtroom. Was he asking the sequestered group to continue to try to break its stalemate on sexual assault charges? Or did he want it to return to the hotel and retire for the evening?
O’Neill then returned to the bench, called the jurors back — and dismissed them for the night.
“If I conveyed you should go back [to deliberations] tonight, I apologize,” he said and adjourned, saying deliberations would resume at 9 a.m. Friday.
Whether it was frustration with a jury deadlock or the defense wasn’t clear. There also seemed to be tension with the defense attorney, Brian McMonagle, who has been pushing for a mistrial as deliberations have worn on. In a fraught exchange after the jury dismissal, McMonagle told O’Neill he’d said all he needed to say when O’Neill asked him whether he wanted to put anything on the record from a closed chamber proceeding.
And the Wyatt press conference, with its appeal to the judge via the press, was unlikely to sit well with O’Neill either.
As people filed out of court, another judge in the back of the courtroom could be heard saying, “Wow, wow.”
Earlier in the day, the jurors told the judge they couldn’t reach a verdict. O’Neill sent them back to the jury room to try to break the stalemate. Cosby’s defense had moved immediately for a mistrial, but the judge denied the motion.
Cosby is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault against former Temple University basketball staffer Andrea Constand. If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison on each count.
Cosby was a beloved comedian and sitcom dad before he endured a spectacular public fall beginning in 2014, with some 60 women since then stepping forward to accuse him of sexual assault. The Constand case was the only known instance in which the statute of limitations had not expired.
Wyatt cited the “emotional and physical toll” of the trial when he called on O’Neill to declare a mistrial. Wyatt said the jury, which got the case Monday, had exceeded the Montgomery County record for deliberations, though a court officer said no records were kept on the matter.
It is not uncommon for jurors in a high-profile or complex case to return deadlocked; the judge then sends them back and awaits word on whether they have pushed through to a verdict or are still deadlocked.
The judge has discretion as to how many times to send them back before declaring a hung jury and mistrial, though one former Pennsylvania prosecutor, Dennis McAndrews, said judges in that state commonly do so at least twice in a high-profile case.
O’Neil earlier said he was not imposing a deadline.
“I will not set any specific time for continuation of deliberations,” he said. “We will await further word from the jury.”
Prosecutors are likely to argue that Cosby’s wealth makes him a flight risk, while the defense will say he is a long-standing member of the community and a bond increase should suffice. Pennsylvania legal experts said an ankle bracelet is one potential compromise.
The sequestered jurors have made several requests for information from the judge.
The jurors on Wednesday requested part of Constand’s testimony, particularly about the night of the alleged assault, as well as testimony from a law enforcement officer who had interviewed Cosby about the incident.
At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, the judge convened the court in order read a statement from the jury that had been written about half an hour earlier.
“We cannot come to a unanimous consensus on any of the counts,” O’Neill read.
He then turned to the jury and read them instructions meant to try to persuade them to find unanimity.
“Each of you has a duty to consult with one another and to deliberate with a view to reaching an agreement if it can be done without violence to your individual judgment,” O’Neill told the jury. On Thursday night, he repeated several times that he hoped they were following that mandate.
Constand was in the courtroom and showed no emotion as the statement was read Thursday morning. Cosby was quickly escorted out of the courtroom by an aide to a side room where he has been waiting through the deliberations.
Outside the courthouse, a mix of accusers and pro-Cosby demonstrators spoke to a growing swarm of TV cameras and onlookers as helicopters jackhammered overhead. The scene, which had been relatively calm in the last 10 days, verged on the circus-like: demonstrators on both sides of the line yelling at each other and, at one moment, holding hands.
An anti-Cosby woman danced down the sidewalk as she blew bubbles; two men from a nonviolence group banged snare drums as they marched around the courthouse in black masks.
Nearby, Cosby accuser Jewel Allison said she was not holding the jury responsible for the deadlock.
“It’s an extremely difficult task,” she said. “A large mess has been dropped in their laps.”
8:05 p.m.: The story was updated to report the jury will resume deliberations Friday morning.
5:45 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Bill Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt.
12:10 a.m.: The story was updated with additional details of the mounting spectacle outside the courthouse.
9:20 a.m.: The story was updated with additional details of the judge’s instruction to the jury, and additional analysis.
The story was originally published at 8:35 a.m.