By David DeKok
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - A judge granted a request by Bill Cosby's defense lawyers on Monday to have jurors picked from a different Pennsylvania county in his upcoming sexual assault trial.
The comedian's lawyers had argued that his case had drawn too much publicity to allow for a fair criminal trial in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
"The press has told the American public that he is guilty of this crime and 50 others, that he is a serial rapist, a sociopath and sexual predator," Brian McMonagle, one of Cosby's lawyers, said at Monday's hearing. He complained that the press coverage had been so intense that he doubted if Cosby could receive a fair trial anywhere in the country.
Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill ruled that jurors would be picked from a different county, known as a change in venire, but denied the defense's alternative request that the whole trial be moved to a different county. He ruled that the jurors be sequestered once the trial begins on June 5, isolating them from the general public.
Cosby, 79, is facing charges he sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former assistant basketball coach at his alma mater, Temple University, in 2004.
The case is the only criminal prosecution resulting from accusations against the entertainer by more than four dozen women, though the deluge of allegations has shattered his once family-friendly reputation.
Cosby has denied any wrongdoing and has said his encounter with Constand, like the others, was consensual.
In its argument, the defense noted that Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who is leading the prosecution, campaigned in 2015 by criticizing a predecessor for failing to pursue the Cosby case. The resulting news coverage has made selecting an impartial jury from the county impossible, they said.
Prosecutors had opposed moving the trial but consented to a change in venue. Prosecutor M. Stewart Ryan acknowledged that news coverage has been extensive, but said he was not interested in "what is going on the court of public opinion."
The judge said that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would select the new county from which jurors would be picked, in keeping with state law.
Cosby scowled through much of Monday's hearing and said nothing to reporters as he exited the court.
On Friday, in a blow to Cosby's defense, O'Neill ruled that prosecutors could call at trial another woman who has accused him of a similar assault in the 1990s. The district attorney's office had sought to call as many as 13 other women.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and David DeKok; Editing by Andrew Hay and Alan Crosby)