Bill Cosby found guilty at sexual assault retrial

AFP , Thursday 26 Apr 2018

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby (C) leaves the courthouse in Norristown outside Philadelphia, after be
Actor and comedian Bill Cosby (C) leaves the courthouse in Norristown outside Philadelphia, after being found guilty of sexual assault (Photo: AFP)

Television icon Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault Thursday in the first celebrity courtroom battle of the #MeToo era -- a combative retrial that capped his fall from grace and offered vindication to dozens of women who accused him of abuses.

The frail, 80-year-old Cosby -- once beloved as "America's Dad" -- could now spend the rest of his life behind bars when he is sentenced for drugging and molesting Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia mansion in January 2004.

Constand was in the packed courtroom in Norristown, just outside Philadelphia, as the verdict was read out to stifled sobs in the gallery. Cosby's attorney quickly pledged to appeal.

A criminal conviction and possible prison term is a devastating prospect for the once towering figure in late 20th century American popular culture, the first black actor to grace primetime US television, who hit the big time after growing up as the son of a maid.

Cosby's first trial ended in June last year with a hung jury.

But on Thursday, the new jury, which deliberated for more than 14 hours over two days, found him guilty on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault, carried out while Constand was unconscious.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

The pioneering African American actor and entertainer, adored by millions for his defining role on "The Cosby Show," sat in silence as the jury foreperson read out the verdict.

But after the jury was led out, the Emmy winner -- dogged for years by allegations of similar assaults made by dozens of women -- erupted in an expletive-laden tirade as prosecutors argued he was a flight risk.

' Women are believed' 

The verdict was a vindication for the prosecution, with the district attorney who presided over the conviction declaring that "justice has been done" after Cosby "spent decades preying on women."

"Money and power or who you are will not stop us from a criminal investigation and prosecuting a case," Kevin Steele told a news conference.

Cosby's first trial ended with the sequestered jurors hopelessly deadlocked after 52 hours of deliberations, and also for the other women who claimed to have been assaulted by the megastar.

"We are so happy that finally we can say, women are believed, and not only on #MeToo, but in a court of law where they were under oath, where they testified truthfully," said Gloria Allred, the high-profile lawyer to several of Cosby's accusers.

It also ended a winning streak for Los Angeles lawyer Tom Mesereau, who leapt to fame for getting Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation in 2005, but who ultimately failed to deliver for Cosby.

"We are very, very disappointed by the verdict. We don't think Mr. Cosby is guilty of anything and the fight is not over," Mesereau said, guaranteeing an appeal.

A case with no physical evidence, the trial essentially boiled down to he-said, she-said, hinging on how credible the jury found 45-year-old Constand, a former basketball player turned massage therapist.

Hanging over the entire trial was the cultural watershed of the #MeToo movement, which since last October has seen a litany of powerful men from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey lose their careers.

Experts had suggested that changing attitudes towards sexual assault could make jurors more inclined to believe female victims.

'Could not fight him off'

The Canadian woman said she went to Cosby's home to discuss her impending resignation as director of operations for women's basketball at Temple University, where he was on the board of trustees.

The actor offered her three blue pills to "help take the edge off," which she took believing they were a natural remedy. But within minutes, she developed double vision, started slurring her words and lost consciousness.

When she came to, she said Cosby was penetrating her vagina with his fingers, groping her breasts and making her masturbate him.

"I was limp and I could not fight him off," she said.

When Constand first reported the assault, the district attorney at the time initially refused to press charges.

Prosecutors reopened the case in 2015, nearly a decade after she signed a $3.4 million settlement with Cosby in 2006, claiming that new evidence had come to light just as other accusers came forward.

Around 60 women, many of them onetime aspiring actresses and models, came forward publicly to brand him a calculating, serial predator who plied victims with sedatives and alcohol to bed them over four decades.

Crucial to the second trial was Judge Steven O'Neill's decision to let five other women testify how Cosby had preyed on them in a similar manner, to demonstrate "common plan, scheme or design."

'Inability to consent' 

Prosecutors said Cosby used his fame to gain the trust of unsuspecting women, time and time again, and deliberately drugged Constand so that she would be unable to resist his advances.

"This case is about trust, betrayal and the inability to consent," Kristen Feden told jurors, tearing into the defense's "vicious" and "filthy" character assassination attempts against Cosby's accusers.

She turned on its head the defense claim that Constand was a con artist who pursued a wealthy, grieving father mourning his son's murder for a big payout.

Mesereau and his team had launched an aggressive defense, calling Constand as a money-grabbing opportunist, who lied to extricate herself from financial worries.

"You're dealing with a pathological liar," said Mesereau.

But ultimately, the panel of five women and seven men were unconvinced.

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