Prosecutor says Cosby paid accuser nearly $3.4M
NORRISTOWN — Bill Cosby paid nearly $3.4 million to the woman he is charged with sexually assaulting, a prosecutor revealed to jurors Monday, answering one of the biggest questions surrounding the case as the comedian’s retrial got underway.
District Attorney Kevin Steele highlighted the 2006 civil settlement during his opening statement, in an apparent attempt to suggest Cosby wouldn’t have paid out so much money if the accusations against him were false. Cosby’s lawyers have signaled they intend to use the settlement to argue that Andrea Constand falsely accused the former TV star in hopes of landing a big payoff.
The amount had been confidential — and was kept out of the first trial — but a judge ruled that both sides could discuss it at this one.
“This case is about trust,” Steele told the jury. “This case is about betrayal and that betrayal leading to the sexual assault of a woman named Andrea Constand.”
Cosby, 80, is charged with drugging and molesting Constand, a former employee of Temple University’s basketball program, at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. Constand says he gave her pills that made her woozy, then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay incapacitated, unable to tell him to stop.
“She’s unconscious. She’s out of it,” Steele said. “She will describe how her body felt during this circumstance. She’s jolted during this. She feels herself being violated. … And she’ll tell you she remembers waking up on this sofa with her clothes disheveled at 4 o’clock in the morning. This is hours after this starts.”
A lawyer not associated with the trial said Monday the settlement amount could figure prominently in the prosecution’s case.
“The question that I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot about is, why would an innocent man pay $3.38 million for something he didn’t do?” said Dennis McAndrews, who prosecuted chemical heir John E. duPont for murder in 1997.
The defense will deliver its opening statement on Tuesday in a trial expected to last a month.
Cosby’s first trial last spring ended with the jury hopelessly deadlocked. The comedian faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Topless protester: Ahead of opening statements, a topless protester who appeared on several episodes of “The Cosby Show” as a child jumped a barricade and got within a few feet of Cosby as the comedian entered the courthouse.
The woman, whose body was scrawled with the names of more than 50 Cosby accusers as well as the words “Women’s Lives Matter,” ran in front of Cosby and toward a bank of TV cameras but was intercepted by sheriff’s deputies and led away in handcuffs. Cosby seemed startled by the commotion as a half-dozen protesters chanted at him.
The protester, Nicolle Rochelle , 39, of Little Falls, New Jersey, was charged with disorderly conduct and released.
“The main goal was to make Cosby uncomfortable because that is exactly what he has been doing for decades to women,” she said afterward.
Rochelle, an actress, said she didn’t have any bad experiences with Cosby when she was on the show, nor did she intend to physically hurt him. She is a member of the European feminist group Femen, which is known for staging topless protests around the world.
Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt praised deputies for their quick action but urged court officials to increase security. Officials added a second row of barricades, and Cosby left court without incident Monday afternoon.
“It’s a different world. Things have changed,” Wyatt told The Associated Press, referring to recent mass shootings and other cases. “You never know who’s going to want to make a name for themselves.”
Opening statements were delayed for several hours while the judge sorted through allegations raised late Friday that a juror told a woman during jury selection that he thought Cosby was guilty. Cosby’s lawyers wanted the juror removed from the case.
After questioning all 12 jurors and six alternates behind closed doors, Judge Steven O’Neill ruled the juror could stay, saying all the panelists told him they stuck to their pledge to remain fair and impartial.
More accusers: Prosecutors have lined up a parade of five additional accusers to make the case that the man revered as “America’s Dad” lived a double life as one of Hollywood’s biggest predators. Only one additional accuser took the stand at the first trial.
Cosby lawyer Tom Mesereau, who won an acquittal in Michael Jackson’s 2005 child molestation case, has said the jury will instead learn “just how greedy” Constand was.
The retrial is taking place in a potentially more hostile environment for Cosby. The #MeToo movement caught fire four months after the first trial, raising awareness of sexual misconduct as it toppled Harvey Weinstein, Sen. Al Franken, Matt Lauer and other powerful men.
Constand first approached authorities with her accusations against Cosby in 2005. The district attorney at that time ended his investigation after four weeks, announcing the comedian wouldn’t be charged because the evidence showed both parties “could be held in less than a flattering light.”
The current DA’s immediate predecessor, Risa Vetri Ferman, took another look at the case in 2015 after the AP fought to unseal parts of Cosby’s deposition testimony — including lurid passages about him giving drugs to women he wanted to have sex with. Cosby was charged shortly before the statute of limitations was set to expire.
Referring to the unsealed deposition, Steele told jurors on Monday: “That, ladies and gentlemen, led to our office reopening the investigation.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand and Dickinson have done.