Opening statements set in Bill Cosby’s sex assault retrial
NORRISTOWN, Pa. – With opening statements in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault retrial set for Monday, prosecutors have lined up a parade of accusers to make the case that the man revered as “America’s Dad” lived a double life as one of Hollywood’s biggest predators.
Cosby’s retrial likely won’t be anything like his first one. He’s fighting back with a new, high-profile lawyer and an aggressive strategy: attacking Andrea Constand as a greedy liar and casting the other women testifying as bandwagon accusers looking for a share of the spotlight.
“You’ve seen previews and coming attractions, but things have changed,” said professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Cosby’s first trial last spring ended in a cliffhanger, with jurors unable to reach a unanimous verdict after five days of tense deliberations on charges that the man who made millions of viewers laugh as wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” drugged and molested Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
The 80-year-old comedian, who has said the sexual contact was consensual, faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
His retrial is taking place in a radically changed and potentially more hostile environment. 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.
Nearly every potential juror questioned for the case this time knew about #MeToo.
Kristen Houser of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center said that could help prosecutors overcome the skepticism some jurors had last time about Constand’s yearlong wait to report her allegations to the police.
“The #MeToo movement is amplifying what experts have been saying for decades: People are ashamed, they’re confused, they can’t believe somebody they trust would hurt them, and then they worry that others won’t believe them,” Houser said.
After limiting the focus of the first trial, Judge Steven O’Neill has been willing to let both sides push the retrial well beyond Constand’s allegations.
This time, O’Neill is letting prosecutors have five additional accusers testify – including model Janice Dickinson – as they attempt to show Cosby made a habit of drugging and violating women. The judge allowed just one other accuser to take the stand last time.
“This one will be harder for the defense,” Levenson said. This time, Constand “is not alone, and there is strength in numbers.”
In another difference, the judge this time is letting Cosby’s legal team call as a witness a former co-worker of Constand’s at Temple University who said Constand spoke of setting up a “high-profile person” so she could sue and enjoy a big payday. Constand’s lawyer has said the co-worker is lying.
The judge also decided the jury can hear the answer to one of the biggest questions hanging over the case: How much did Cosby pay Constand to settle her lawsuit against him more than a decade ago? The two sides agreed at the first trial not to mention the lawsuit.
Cosby lawyer Tom Mesereau, who won an acquittal in Michael Jackson’s 2005 child molestation case, said the jury will learn “just how greedy” Constand was.
In a twist, the judge hinted that he might not allow jurors to hear Cosby’s lurid deposition testimony about giving quaaludes to women before sex. He said he would rule on it during the trial. Cosby testified in 2005 and 2006 as part of Constand’s lawsuit.
Cosby did not take the stand at the first trial and is unlikely to do so this time.
Opening statements could be delayed while O’Neill sorts out allegations raised late Friday that a juror was heard saying he thought Cosby was guilty. Cosby’s lawyers want the man questioned and removed from the case. They also want other jurors questioned to see if they were influenced by the man’s alleged comment. Before being picked, all jurors swear under oath that they would be fair and impartial.
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.
Over the past few years, about 60 women have come forward with allegations against Cosby dating to the 1960s. Netflix shelved his comedy special, NBC scrapped plans for a new sitcom, and reruns of “The Cosby Show” were pulled from the air.
Cosby has performed only once since ending a tour amid hecklers and protests in May 2015. He joked at a surprise Philadelphia jazz club appearance in January that he “used to be a comedian.”
Even if Cosby is acquitted, he will never win back his reputation, crisis communications expert David La Torre said.
“In some cases, being tried in the court of public opinion is far more damaging than the court of law,” La Torre said. “That’s certainly the case here.”