The 80-year-old comedian is fighting back with a new, high-profile lawyer and an aggressive strategy
Bill Cosby faces sex-assault retrial in the #MeToo era
Bill Cosby’s sexual assault retrial is guaranteed to be anything but a rerun.
With opening statements set for Monday in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era, prosecutors have lined up a parade of accusers to make the case that the man revered as America’s Dad lived a double life as one of Hollywood’s biggest predators.
Cosby, 80, is fighting back with a new, high-profile lawyer and an aggressive strategy: attacking Andrea Constand as a greedy liar and casting the other women testifying as bandwagon accusers looking for a share of the spotlight.
“You’ve seen previews and coming attractions, but things have changed,” said Professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
The first trial last spring ended in a cliffhanger, with jurors unable to reach a unanimous verdict after five days of deliberations on charges that the man who made millions of viewers laugh as wise and understanding Dr Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show drugged and molested Ms Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
The comedian, who has said the sexual contact was consensual, faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
His retrial is taking place in a radically changed and potentially more hostile environment. The #MeToo movement caught fire four months after the first trial, raising awareness of sexual misconduct as it toppled Harvey Weinstein, Senator Al Franken, Matt Lauer and other powerful men.
Nearly every potential juror questioned for the case this time knew about #MeToo.
Kristen Houser of the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre said that could help prosecutors overcome the scepticism some jurors had last time about Ms Constand’s year-long wait to report her allegations to the police.
“The #MeToo movement is amplifying what experts have been saying for decades: People are ashamed, they’re confused, they can’t believe somebody they trust would hurt them, and then they worry that others won’t believe them,” Ms Houser said.
After limiting the focus of the first trial, Judge Steven O’Neill has been willing to let both sides push the retrial well beyond Ms Constand’s allegations.
This time, Judge O’Neill is letting prosecutors have five additional accusers testify – including model Janice Dickinson – as they attempt to show Cosby made a habit of drugging and violating women. The judge allowed just one other accuser to take the stand last time.
“This one will be harder for the defence,” Prof Levenson said. This time, Ms Constand “is not alone, and there is strength in numbers”.
In another difference, the judge this time is letting Cosby’s legal team call as a witness a former co-worker of Ms Constand’s at Temple University who said she had spoken of setting up a “high-profile person” so she could sue and enjoy a big payday. Her lawyer has said the co-worker is lying.
The judge also decided the jury can hear the answer to one of the biggest questions hanging over the case: How much did the comedian pay Ms Constand to settle her lawsuit against him more than a decade ago? The two sides agreed at the first trial not to mention the lawsuit.
Cosby lawyer Tom Mesereau, who won an acquittal in Michael Jackson’s 2005 child molestation case, said the jury will learn “just how greedy” Ms Constand was.
In a twist, the judge hinted that he might not allow jurors to hear Cosby’s lurid deposition testimony about giving quaaludes to women before sex. He said he would rule on it during the trial. The comedian testified in 2005 and 2006 as part of Ms Constand’s lawsuit.
Cosby did not take the stand at the first trial and is unlikely to do so this time.
Over the past few years, about 60 women have come forward with allegations against Cosby dating to the 1960s. Netflix shelved his comedy special, NBC scrapped plans for a new sitcom, and reruns of The Cosby Show were pulled from the air.
Cosby has performed only once since ending a tour amid hecklers and protests in May 2015. He joked at a surprise Philadelphia jazz club appearance in January that he “used to be a comedian”.
Even if he is acquitted, he will never win back his reputation, crisis communications expert David La Torre said.
“In some cases, being tried in the court of public opinion is far more damaging than the court of law,” Mr La Torre said. “That’s certainly the case here.”