A jury convicted 80-year-old comedian Bill Cosby on Thursday of all three counts of drugging and molesting a Toronto woman, marking an end to the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.
The Cosby Show star faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault of Andrea Constand, who is now 45.
Cosby looked down with a sad expression when the Pennsylvania jury’s verdict was read. Lili Bernard, one of his many accusers, began sobbing. Constand sat stone-faced.
Variety reports that Cosby let out an expletive-filled rant after DA Kevin Steele asked the judge to revoke his bail following the verdict. (They argued Cosby is a flight risk because he owns a private jet.)
Cosby then reportedly shouted, “He doesn’t have a plane, you a**hole! That shows what you know!”
The outburst prompted Judge Steven O’Neill to yell, “That’s enough!”
Outside the courtroom, two Cosby accusers were seen hugging, crying and clapping.
Cosby was accused of drugging and violating Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
Cosby’s lawyer called Constand a “con artist” who levelled false accusations against the comedian so she could sue him. Cosby also the encounter was consensual.
A former administrator for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, Constand is one of about 50 women who have accused him of sexual assault. All of the other allegations are believed to be too old to be prosecuted. Cosby has said any sexual encounters were consensual.
The verdict came after a two-week retrial in which prosecutors put five other women on the stand who testified that Cosby, married for 54 years, drugged and violated them, too. One of those women asked him through her tears, “You remember, don’t you, Mr. Cosby?”
The panel of seven men and five women reached a verdict after deliberating 14 hours over two days, vindicating prosecutors’ decision to retry Cosby after his first trial ended with a hung jury less than a year ago.
Cosby’s retrial took place against the backdrop of #MeToo, the movement against sexual misconduct that has taken down powerful men in rapid succession, among them Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey and Sen. Al Franken.
The jurors all indicated they were aware of #MeToo but said before the trial they could remain impartial. Cosby’s lawyers slammed #MeToo, calling Cosby its victim and likening it to a witch hunt or a lynching.
Defense attorney Kathleen Bliss chastised Constand for “cavorting around with a married man old enough to be her grandfather.” She derided the other women as home-wreckers and suggested they made up their stories in a bid for money and fame.
She questioned the “personal morality” of one accuser and called another, model Janice Dickinson, a “failed starlet” and “aged-out model” who “sounds as though she slept with every man on the planet.”
And she slammed the #MeToo movement itself, calling Cosby its victim and likening it to a witch hunt or a lynching.
Cosby accuser Janice Baker-Kinney posted a message to Twitter after the verdict.
One of the main #MeToo figures, actor Rose McGowan, tweeted her approval of the verdict.
Critics said the defense team went too far.
“They’re playing on the same old myths that have been protecting perpetrators for centuries,” said Kristen Houser of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. She said the defense’s closing argument was filled with “rampant and ingrained” misconceptions about sexual assault and victim behaviour.
“It was not only an attack on these six accusers,” Houser said, “it was a verbal slap to survivors all across this country.”
Gloria Allred, the lawyer for three of the women who testified, blasted the defense closing as “victim-shaming and victim-blaming” and said Cosby’s lawyers had smeared her clients in a win-at-all-costs effort at an acquittal.
Perhaps anticipating the criticism, Bliss told jurors in her closing that “questioning an accuser is not blaming the victim.”
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Cosby spokeswoman Ebonee Benson echoed that sentiment when asked Wednesday about the criticism of the defense approach.
“There is no assassination of any character,” Benson said. “It is evidence that the commonwealth either selectively, deliberately or just didn’t want to take a look into. That’s simply what it is. … If anyone did any assassinating yesterday, it was the commonwealth toward our witnesses.”
The back-and-forth outside court came as jurors began their work after a two-week trial that pitted Cosby, the former TV star once revered as “America’s Dad,” against Constand, 45, who testified that he knocked her out with three pills and violated her in 2004.
Before knocking off for the night, the jury had Cosby’s old deposition testimony read back to them.
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Cosby gave the deposition more than a decade ago as part of Constand’s civil suit against him, testifying that he gave quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with back in the 1970s. He also spoke about his encounter with Constand, whom he paid nearly $3.4 million in a 2006 settlement of her claims.
The jurors also appeared to be focused on the credibility of star defense witness Marguerite Jackson, a former Temple colleague of Constand’s who claims Constand spoke of framing a prominent person for the money. Her trial testimony will be read back to them on Thursday.
Bill James, a defense lawyer in Little Rock, Arkansas, said vigorous advocacy is a defense attorney’s job, and attacking an accuser’s credibility — especially if there are no other witnesses and no physical evidence — is standard practice in sexual assault cases.
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“What’s good taste and what’s aggressive representation are not always the same,” he said. “In a criminal case you have a greater obligation to go after a witness’s credibility because you’re dealing with someone’s freedom.”
In her own closing argument, Cosby prosecutor Kristen Feden rebuked Bliss for engaging in “utterly shameful” and “filthy” character assassination of Constand and the others.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters