BREAKING: Bill Cosby found guilty of Sexual Assault

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matt Slocum/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9640100co) Bill Cosby departs after his sexual assault trial, at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown Bill Cosby, Norristown, USA - 23 Apr 2018

A jury found Bill Cosby guilty Thursday of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home nearly 14 years ago, capping the downfall of one of the world’s best-known entertainers, and offering a measure of satisfaction to the dozens of women who for years have accused him of similar assaults against them.

On the second day of its deliberations at the Montgomery County Courthouse in this town northwest of Philadelphia, the jury returned to convict Mr. Cosby of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, at the time a Temple University employee he had mentored.

The three counts — penetration with lack of consent, penetration while unconscious and penetration after administering an intoxicant — are felonies, each punishable by up to 10 years in state prison, though the sentences could be served concurrently.

It was the second time a jury had considered Mr. Cosby’s fate. His first trial last summer ended with a deadlocked jury after six days of deliberations.

Mr. Cosby sat back in his chair after the verdict was announced and quietly stared down. Several women who have accused Mr. Cosby of abusing them, and attended the trial each day, briefly cheered, then fell silent. Judge Steven T. O’Neill praised the jurors, calling it “an extraordinarily difficult case” and adding, “You have sacrificed much, but you have sacrificed in the service of justice.”

The Montgomery County district attorney, Kevin R. Steele, asked that Mr. Cosby’s $1 million bail be revoked, suggesting he had been convicted of a serious crime, owned a plane and could flee, prompting an angry outburst from Mr. Cosby, who shouted, “He doesn’t have a plane, you asshole.”

“Enough of that,” said Judge O’Neill who said he did not view Mr. Cosby as a flight risk and said he could be released on bail, but would have to surrender his passport and remain in his nearby home.

In recent years, Mr. Cosby, 80, had admitted to decades of philandering, and to giving quaaludes to women as part of an effort to have sex, smashing the image he had built as a moralizing public figure and the upstanding paterfamilias in the wildly popular 1980s and ’90s sitcom “The Cosby Show.” He did not testify in his own defense, avoiding a grilling about those admissions, but he and his lawyers have insisted that his encounter with Ms. Constand was part of a consensual affair, not an assault.

The verdict now marks the bottom of a fall as precipitous as any in show business history and leaves in limbo a large slice of American popular culture from Mr. Cosby’s six-decade career as a comedian and actor. For the last few years, his TV shows, films, and recorded stand-up performances, one-time broadcast staples, have largely been shunned, and with the conviction, they are likely to remain so.

At his retrial in the same courthouse and before the same judge as last summer, a new defense team argued unsuccessfully that Ms. Constand, now 45, was a desperate “con artist” with financial problems who steadily worked her famous but lonely mark for a lucrative payday.

The prosecution countered that it was Mr. Cosby who had been a deceiver, hiding behind his amiable image as America’s Dad to prey on women that he first incapacitated with intoxicants. During closing arguments Tuesday, a special prosecutor, Kristen Gibbons Feden, had told the jury: “She is not the con. He is.”

The defense’s star witness was a veteran academic adviser at Temple, Mr. Cosby’s alma mater, who said Ms. Constand had confided in her in 2004 that she could make money by falsely claiming that she had been molested by a prominent person. Mr. Cosby paid Ms. Constand $3.38 million in 2006 as part of the confidential financial settlement of a lawsuit she had brought against him after prosecutors had originally declined to bring charges.

But Ms. Constand said she had never spoken with the adviser, and prosecutors rebutted the characterization of Ms. Constand as a schemer. Perhaps most damaging to Mr. Cosby, they were able to introduce testimony from five other women who told jurors they believed they too had been drugged and sexually assaulted by Mr. Cosby in separate incidents in the 1980s. The powerful drumbeat of accounts allowed prosecutors to argue that Ms. Constand’s assault was part of a signature pattern of predatory behavior.

The case was the first high-profile trial of the #MeToo era. Candidates were required during jury selection to provide assurances that the accusations against scores of other famous men would not affect their judgment of Mr. Cosby. Mr. Cosby’s lawyers referred to the changed atmosphere in American society, warning it and the introduction of accounts from multiple other accusers risked denying Mr. Cosby a fair trial by distracting jurors’ attention. “Mob rule is not due process,” Kathleen Bliss, one of Mr. Cosby’s lawyers told the jury.

Then she spent much of her closing argument urging the jury to discount the accounts of the five supporting witnesses. One was a failed starlet who slept around, she suggested, another a publicity seeker. “Questioning an accuser is not shaming a victim,” she told the jury.

The remarks inflamed Ms. Feden, the prosecutor, who called the attacks on the women the same sort of filthy and shameful criticism that kept some victims of sexual assault from ever coming forward.

When Ms. Constand testified, she took the stand as something of a proxy for the other women, more than 50, who have accused Mr. Cosby of abuses, often with details remarkably similar to Ms. Constand’s account. A few of those women attended the trial.

None of the other accusations had resulted in prosecution. In many of the cases, too much time had passed for criminal charges to be considered, so Ms. Constand’s case emerged as the only criminal test of Mr. Cosby’s guilt.

But Mr. Cosby is facing civil actions from several accusers, many of whom are suing him for defamation because, they say, he or his staff branded them as liars by dismissing their allegations as fabrications.

The suits have mostly been delayed, pending the outcome of the criminal trial and are likely to draw momentum from the guilty verdict.

The case largely turned on the credibility of Ms. Constand, who testified that in a visit in early 2004 to Mr. Cosby’s home near Philadelphia, when she was 30 and he was 66, Mr. Cosby gave her pills that left her immobile and drifting in and out of consciousness. He said he had only given her Benadryl.

 

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