Comedian Bill Cosby was convicted on Thursday of drugging and molesting a onetime friend in 2004, marking the first such conviction of a celebrity since the #MeToo movement that has brought down rich and powerful men for their treatment of women.
Cosby, 80, best known as the lovable father from the 1980s TV hit “The Cosby Show,” faces up to 10 years in prison for each of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, 45, following a three-week trial at the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Cosby looked down with a sad expression when the Pennsylvania jury’s verdict was read. Lily Bernard, one of his many accusers, began sobbing. Constand sat stone-faced.
Judge Steven O’Neill ruled that Cosby could remain out of jail on $1 million bail pending sentencing at a later date, and he left the courthouse.
District Attorney Kevin Steele had asked the judge to have Cosby taken into custody immediately, saying he was a flight risk in part because he owned a plane.
“He doesn’t have a plane, you asshole!” Cosby responded, breaking the decorum he had shown throughout the trial. Outside the courtroom, two other Cosby accusers were seen hugging, crying and clapping.
“It’s a victory not just for the 62 of us who have come forward but for all survivors of sexual assault, female and male,” Bernard told reporters, using a high estimate of the number of Cosby’s accusers. “I feel like my faith in humanity is restored.”
The unanimous decision by the seven-man, five-woman jury came less than a year after a different jury deadlocked last June in his first trial on the same charges, prompting the Judge Steven O’Neill to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors decided to retry him.
Soon after the first trial, a series of women leveled sexual assault and harassment accusations against men in media, entertainment and politics, giving rise to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that encouraged women go public with personal stories of abuse, in some cases after years of silence.
The conviction marks the downfall of a man once celebrated as “America’s Dad” but whose reputation was ruined after some 50 women accused him of similar offenses going back decades.
Only one of those cases was recent enough to be eligible for prosecution, that of Constand, a former administrator for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater. Like many of Cosby’s other accusers, she said she was drugged and violated while unable to defend herself.
Cosby has said any sexual encounters were consensual, and his lawyers portrayed Constand as a “pathological liar” who falsely depicted their romantic relationship as an attack. Five other women also testified to similar treatment from Cosby, whose lawyers argued that the women were fabricating stories in search of wealth and fame.
Prosecutors countered that the real scam artist was Cosby, who hid behind his kindly TV persona to win the trust of women he then drugged and sexually assaulted.
The jury sided with Constand, who testified that she went to Cosby’s house to discuss a potential career change when he gave her three blue pills he said would relax her.
She said the pills made her feel woozy, and that Cosby walked her to a sofa and laid her down.
“The next thing I recall, I was kind of jolted awake,” Constand said from the witness stand. “My vagina was being penetrated quite forcefully. I felt my breasts being touched. He put my hand on his penis and masturbated himself with my hand. I was not able to do a thing.”
The prosecution case was bolstered by the five additional accusers who were allowed to testify. In the first trial, O’Neill allowed only one accuser besides Constand to take the witness stand.
The judge also allowed the second jury to hear another piece of evidence stricken from the first trial, that Cosby agreed to pay Constand $3.38 million to settle a civil lawsuit after prosecutors in 2005 initially declined to bring criminal charges. The settlement barred Constand from discussing publicly either the lawsuit or the underlying allegations.
The defense team portrayed the settlement as evidence of a scheme by Constand to falsely accuse a celebrity of sexual assault to reap millions of dollars.
The prosecution pointed to that same $3.38 million as evidence of Cosby’s need to silence Constand about the attack.
In a victory for the defense, the judge allowed the testimony of Margo Jackson, who said Constand once told her “it would be easy” to fabricate an accusation of sexual assault against a celebrity to make money. (Reuters)