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Jurors Selected in Ennis Cosby Slaying

Court: Panel of six men and six women is racially diverse. Defense seeks to bar coverage of a hearing, a move opposed by the prosecution.

June 18, 1998|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The trial of the man accused of killing entertainer Bill Cosby's son during an attempted robbery continued moving at breakneck speed Wednesday as the judge completed jury selection and the lawyers predicted that they would finish their cases earlier than expected.

A jury of six men and six women was selected to decide the fate of Mikhail Markhasev, the 19-year-old Ukrainian immigrant accused of killing Ennis Cosby.

The jury is a racially, ethnically mixed panel including three African Americans and two Latinos. It includes engineers, business people, entertainment professionals and a clerk.

Almost all have at least some post-high school education.

But it is also a relatively old jury, with all but two appearing to be older than 40, including four in their 60s or 70s.

The makeup of the jury, along with the two men and four women who constitute the alternate jurors, did not appear to favor one side or the other. Moreover, their answers on questionnaires and during interviews by Superior Court Judge David D. Perez revealed no clear bias.

All of them said they had read or heard some news reports about the case, but they said it would not influence their verdicts.

Despite those comments, defense lawyer Henry Hall resumed his efforts to limit coverage of the trial by the press.

Complaining about front-page coverage of the story in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, he said jurors could easily have been exposed to the headline.

He urged Perez to bar the press from covering a hearing scheduled for this morning in which Hall will be asked by the prosecution to reveal any evidence he has that another person committed the killings.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls vigorously opposed Hall's request, saying that barring the press would be unconstitutional and charging that Hall is partly responsible for the publicity that the trial has received.

"I am in total opposition, and I also am rather shocked," she said.

"Counsel [Hall] appeared on the 'Today' news show recently and went over the people's case witness by witness."

The hearing on Hall's motion will give the first indication of whether the defense intends to offer evidence that someone other than Markhasev committed the killing.

Sources have said the prosecution expects the defense to imply that one of Markhasev's companions on the night of the incident committed the killing.

Markhasev is accused of killing Ennis Cosby, a 27-year-old doctoral student who was on a break from Columbia University Teachers College in New York, where he was studying to be a special education teacher.

Cosby was on his way to the home of Stephanie Crane, a Sherman Oaks friend, when his Mercedes-Benz convertible blew a tire. He was allegedly killed by a man in a knit cap while changing the tire.

Opening arguments will start Monday, with the jury expected to begin deliberations by July 10.

With the end of jury selection Wednesday, both sides in the case can cite characteristics of the jury in their favor.

For the defense, none of the jurors said they were avid followers of Bill Cosby's television shows.

Despite evidence that Markhasev may be prejudiced against African Americans, the defense displayed no overt racial or ethnic preference Wednesday when exercising its right to excuse jurors without explanation. The defense rejected nine prospective jurors Wednesday, but only three of them were black.

The jurors also said Markhasev didn't have to worry that they would be prejudiced against him if he used his constitutional right not to testify against himself.

Although juror Carol Ring, a graphic artist, indicated in her questionnaire that refusal to testify might indicate he has something to hide, she told Perez she would not hold it against Markhasev if he chose to testify on his own behalf.

As for the prosecution, Ingalls seemed most concerned about jurors' attitudes toward witnesses who sell their stories to tabloid magazines. One or more of her key witnesses responded to a tabloid's reward offer by providing important information that helped police find the murder weapon.

One of them has also said they heard Markhasev say: "I killed the n-----. It's all over the news."

But jurors who said they felt it would be wrong for witnesses to sell their stories to tabloids said they would not automatically discount the testimony of such witnesses.

"It's their prerogative," said juror Jack B. Mackey, a retired real estate agent.

Several of the jurors or their families have had run-ins with the law.

One woman said a brother served time in prison.

When asked if she felt any negative feelings against prosecutors or police, she said:

"Well, I didn't want him to go to jail."

Three other jurors have been convicted of drunk driving, including one who has faced the charge three times. But all said those problems would not sway them against the prosecution.

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