Cosby Found Guilty Of Sexual Assault In First Celebrity Trial Of The #MeToo Era

By Laura King and David Montero Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The #MeToo movement formed an explosive backdrop to what is viewed as the first criminal case to reach a conclusion in light of the #MeToo movement.

NORRISTOWN, Pa.

Comedian Bill Cosby was found guilty Thursday on charges he drugged and sexually assaulted a former basketball official at Temple University, a woman decades younger than him who said she had once considered the entertainer a mentor and friend.

The verdict in Cosby's retrial, which came on the second day of deliberations and drew a loud gasp from spectators, came less than a year after a previous jury deadlocked over the innocence or guilt of the 80-year-old comic.

The three counts of aggravated indecent assault lodged against Cosby each carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a sentence that would likely put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Cosby listened to the verdict stoically, but moments later lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele and called him an "asshole" after the prosecutor asked that Cosby be immediately jailed because he was a flight risk.

The judge decided Cosby can remain free on bail while he awaits sentencing, but ordered him to remain confined to his home except for future court appearances. The judge also ordered Cosby to undergo a sexual predator assessment. No date for sentencing was set.

The accusations against Cosby posed a troubling juxtaposition for a public that grew up with his wholesome image cultivated over decades of putting out landmark family-friendly comedy albums, peddling pudding on TV and receiving the Kennedy Center honor in 1998. One of his most famous roles, however, was playing obstetrician Cliff Huxtable, the kindly and wise patriarch in "The Cosby Show" that ran in the 1980s and early '90s.

But in the intervening months, the #MeToo movement erupted, with scores of powerful men brought to account over charges of sexually harassing or assaulting women, often in the context of an implied threat to block victims' professional advancement unless they submitted.

The movement formed an explosive backdrop to what is viewed as the first criminal case to reach a conclusion in light of the #MeToo movement.

In Cosby's 2017 criminal trial, just one woman was allowed to testify to an episode similar to the 2004 assault that accuser Andrea Constand described _ but that resulted in a hung jury. Prosecutors were more optimistic with this case as lawyers for Constand, now 45, were allowed to bring in five other women who told similar stories of being manipulated by Cosby into taking pills and then finding themselves immobilized and helpless to fight him off as he molested or raped them.

Cosby's legal team offered up a blistering portrayal of Constand and the other accusers as opportunistic liars, and sought to undermine her credibility by producing a witness, a onetime roommate, who described hearing Constand muse about falsely accusing a famous man in order to win a big payoff. Early in the trial, the defense disclosed that Cosby had earlier paid Constand nearly $3.4 million to settle a previously confidential civil claim.

Dennis McAndrews, a Philadelphia-based attorney who has been following the case, said the defense presented a "broader-based attack" than what was offered during the first trial. He said the strategy appeared to be designed to get at least one juror to hold out on convicting Cosby. To obtain a criminal conviction, decisions must be unanimous.

During the two-week trial, the prosecution denounced what it called the defense's attempt to shame the victims into silence, and depicted Cosby as a calculating assailant who believed his celebrity would shield him against lurid accounts of assault and coercion against women who trusted him and believed he could help them in their careers. Dozens of women have come forward to accuse him.

The trial, held in a small suburb of Philadelphia known primarily for being on the edge of Valley Forge, drew national attention and a handful of Cosby detractors who stood outside the gray Montgomery County Courthouse.

Lawyer and feminist icon Gloria Allred, who represented dozens of Cosby accusers in civil actions, sat in the hall awaiting a verdict and noted the historic nature of the moment.

Leading up to the verdict, she said she was trying to manage expectations.

"In my experience, 42 years as an attorney, that generally in a criminal case involving rape and sexual assault, the testimony of one woman alone without any other accusers against a celebrity or powerful person is often not enough," Allred said. "So in a he-said-she-said, generally it's the he-said who prevails with his denial. Of course, here it's a she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said against a he-said. That's my feeling about a how a woman's word, women even under oath, may not be considered to be of as much value. What does it take for women to be believed?"

The retrial jury was made up of seven men and five women. All but two of the jurors were white. When the jury got the case Wednesday and began deliberating, they returned to court three times the first day with questions about what the legal definition of consent was under Pennsylvania law and a request to read back testimony from the defense's key witness, Marguerite Jackson, during the trial as well as testimony in a deposition from a civil suit by Constand.

Judge Steven O'Neill told the jurors there was no legal definition for consent under Pennsylvania law and they would have to decide what it meant.

O'Neill also read portions of the Cosby deposition in the evening, and the court clerk read the Jackson testimony Thursday morning. Cosby sat in the courtroom through it all, dressed in a suit and left each time _ using a cane as he walked. Cosby recently revealed he's blind.

Cosby's legal team was led by Los Angeles lawyer Tom Mesereau, distinguished by his mane of white hair, who is best known for winning a 2005 acquittal for Michael Jackson on child-molestation charges.

But in what might have been a move carefully calibrated to avoid antagonizing women jurors, some of the most scornful language directed against the accusers came from Mesereau's female co-counsel and former federal prosecutor, Kathleen Bliss.

Camille Cosby, 74, the entertainer's wife of 54 years, stayed away for most of the trial, but sat in the gallery as the proceedings were wrapping up earlier this week. She stayed away during days of graphic, emotional testimony from the alleged victims, including one who addressed the comic directly from the witness stand, asking him through tears, "You remember, don't you, Mr. Cosby?"

Cosby has acknowledged giving Constand an over-the-counter medication, Benedryl, to help her relax, and has called their encounter consensual. Cosby had referred to the pills as "friends." ___ (Montero reported from Norristown. King reported from Washington.)

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