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Bill Cosby Found Guilty Of All Charges In Sexual Assault Retrial

Apr 26, 2018
Originally published on April 26, 2018 10:30 pm

Updated at 5:34 p.m. ET

Editor's note: This story contains a graphic description of sexual assault.

A Pennsylvania jury has found Bill Cosby guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, setting up the comic legend for the possibility of years of imprisonment for drugging and sexually violating a woman 14 years ago on a couch in his Cheltenham, Pa., home.

The 80-year-old comedian now faces a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and will be sentenced within 90 days following a pre-sentence investigation.

When main accuser Andrea Constand took the witness stand during the trial, she told the jury that one night in January 2004, Cosby gave her three blue pills he called "friends" to relax her. Instead, they rendered her defenseless, lapsing in and out of consciousness. Constand told jurors she was "jolted awake" by the feeling of his fingers in her vagina as she lay on a couch in Cosby's home.

A couple of months later, she told the court, she attempted to confront Cosby about it.

"I wanted to know what pills he gave to me, and why he did that to me," Constand said. "He stumbled on his words. He said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' He said, 'I thought you had an orgasm,' and I had not. He would not answer my questions."

Following the verdict's announcement on Thursday, one Cosby accuser, Lili Bernard, was so overcome with emotion that she had to be escorted out of court.

Later, Bernard joined attorney Gloria Allred and other Cosby accusers outside the courthouse, saying the verdict meant that "women are worthy of being believed."

In an interview with NPR's Ari Shapiro, Lise-Lotte Lublin — one of five other Cosby accusers who testified during the trial — said that when her husband called with news of the verdict, her body started to shake when she hung up the phone.

"My heart was pounding inside of me and my mind was going wild, because at the same time that I am hearing what he's saying, it doesn't feel real, it doesn't resonate as being ... true," Lublin said.

Lublin was 23 when she met Cosby in 1989. He invited her to practice improvisation in a hotel suite and she believes that while there, Cosby drugged and assaulted her. She said the attacks on her character when she came forward with her allegations underscored why victims don't report these crimes.

"The Cosby women had to suffer through all of the hatred and bigotry and racism that was let out because we came forward," said Lublin, who is now a sixth-grade teacher in Las Vegas. "They talked about us like we were animals. ... There's so many that are still out there. And the #MeToo movement is getting there. It's helping. I want to see every single statute of limitations eliminated, abolished, for sexual assault. A person needs that time. We need that time."

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Prosecutors asked the judge to take Cosby into custody on Thursday, saying he had a private plane and could fly anywhere in the world, but the request was denied.

Cosby's attorneys said they were disappointed by the verdict and planned to appeal.

"We don't think Mr. Cosby's guilty of anything," Tom Mesereau said. "And the fight is not over."

Fighting back tears, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said during a post-trial press conference that Constand taking the witness stand and confronting Cosby for the second time was a feat of strength.

"Her quiet courage and her actions through this have helped victims stand up and tell what happened to them," Steele said. "And I think now there's tremendous awareness of how these crimes have been covered up and papered over for years."

Cosby initially faced sexual assault charges in court last June, but jurors could not reach a unanimous decision after 52 hours of deliberation. The judge declared it a mistrial.

This time around, the seven men and five women on the panel sat in the jury box of the Montgomery County Courthouse and listened to more than two weeks of testimony from 25 witnesses. Some cried on the stand recounting how Cosby attacked them while they were in drug-induced stupors, and others attempted to discredit Constand by detailing instances of supposed deceit and inconsistencies.

"This case is about trust," Steele told jurors in his opening remarks. "This case is about betrayal, and that betrayal leading to the sexual assault of a woman named Andrea Constand."

Constand, the only Cosby accuser whose case has triggered criminal charges, took the stand for the prosecution over two days, as she did during the first trial.

In addition to Constand, five women who have never before confronted Cosby in a criminal courtroom took the witness stand. They told the jury that the entertainer drugged and molested them in the 1980s, stories that first came to light after prosecutors reopened Cosby's criminal case in 2015. That led more than 60 women to lodge sexual misconduct allegations against the television icon once known as "America's Dad."

"You remember, don't you, Mr. Cosby?" said accuser Chelan Lasha from the stand, locking eyes with Cosby, who remained largely impassive throughout the trial.

"I want to see a serial rapist convicted," another accuser, Heidi Thomas, told the court, as spectators gasped at the statement.

Through it all, jurors had a front-row seat to the lawyerly slugfest that pitted three prosecutors from suburban Philadelphia against a throng of defense attorneys led by Los Angeles-based Mesereau, who aggressively depicted Constand as a "con artist."

"You're going to be saying to yourself in this trial, 'What does she want from Bill Cosby?' " Mesereau said to jurors during opening statements. "You already know the answer: money, money and lots more money."

To bolster this argument, the defense called star witness Margo Jackson, who used to work with Constand at Temple University. Jackson was banned from testifying during the first trial, but the judge allowed her testimony this time. Jackson told jurors that Constand once confided in her that she had a plan to frame a wealthy celebrity with a made-up sexual assault claim "to get that money."

Prosecutor Kristen Feden seized on the characterization of Constand as a scheming con artist during closing arguments, saying it was Cosby who deployed his wholesome TV image to gain the trust of women he planned to incapacitate and assault.

She strode across the courtroom pointing inches away from Cosby as he sat wide-eyed at the defense table.

"The perpetrator of that con is this man!" she yelled. "Sitting right here. This is the man."

Constand told the court that enduring two publicity-heavy criminal trials "tore my family apart," yet when asked by prosecutor Feden why she agreed to take the stand again, Constand replied, "for justice."

Constand faced withering questions from Mesereau on cross-examination, as part of a multipronged defense focused on shaking her credibility and that of the other witnesses. He pushed Constand on why she had stayed in touch with Cosby after the incident and portrayed her as a desperate, cash-strapped pyramid scheme participant. Constand was also pressed about the nearly $3.4 million Cosby paid her in a 2006 civil settlement, which was previously confidential.

Cosby's lawyers also suggested to jurors that the incident could not have happened the way she said it did, even hinting that there is a chance Cosby was not in the Philadelphia area around the time Constand said she was assaulted — though the defense did not issue an outright denial of the episode at the heart of the alleged crime. Cosby has admitted that he and Constand had sexual contact in his house around 2004, but he has long has maintained it was consensual.

Legal observers have called the Cosby retrial a major test of the effects of the #MeToo movement, the wave of allegations of sexual assault lodged against prominent media figures that erupted between Cosby's first and second trials.

During jury selection, the judge asked hundreds of potential jurors whether their feelings about #MeToo would get in the way of being a fair fact-finder in the Cosby case. Almost none said they were unaware of the cultural movement. Prosecutors never mentioned #MeToo to jurors during trial, but the defense team made an unsubtle attack on it when lawyer Kathleen Bliss told the panel that "when you join a movement based mostly on emotion and anger, you don't change a damn thing," and adding that "mob rule is not due process." She compared the dozens of accusations against Cosby to a "witch hunt" and a "lynching."

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Comedian and entertainer Bill Cosby has been convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GLORIA ALLRED: Bill Cosby, three words for you - guilty, guilty, guilty.

CHANG: That was attorney Gloria Allred, who represents some of Cosby's accusers. It was a Pennsylvania jury who found Cosby guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. More than 60 other women have also accused Cosby of sexual misconduct. Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele spoke to reporters after the verdict was read.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN STEELE: What was revealed through this investigation was a man who had spent decades preying on women that he drugged and sexually assaulted and a man who had evaded this moment here today for far too long.

CHANG: This was Cosby's second trial on these charges. The first last summer ended with a deadlocked jury. Bobby Allyn from member station WHYY covered both trials, and he joins us now from the courthouse outside Philadelphia. Welcome.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So can you tell us what was it like in the courtroom when the verdict was read?

ALLYN: So right before the verdict was read, reporters got word, and you kind of knew just by looking at the steps to the courtroom because there was a mass rush to the courtroom. I mean, it was - throughout the trial, it's been maybe a quarter full. When this was announced, it was packed to the gills. So you get in there. It's really, really, really packed.

CHANG: Yeah.

ALLYN: You know, lawyers are walking around, whispering to each other. Finally the jury says, guilty on all three counts. And I look immediately at Andrea Constand, Cosby's main accuser, and she is stony faced, just looking straight ahead. Cosby similarly has not much of an expression. But then you hear this high-pitched piercing cry, and it was from one of Cosby's other accusers, Lili Bernard. And she was just so overcome with emotion that sheriff's deputies let her outside. And you could still hear her shrieks from inside the courtroom.

CHANG: What were some of the pivotal moments in this trial? What stood out to you, as someone who's been watching this case for years now?

ALLYN: What's really been significant in this trial is the additional five women who confronted Bill Cosby for the first time in a criminal courtroom. Now, as you noted, there is more than 60 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct, but only one has gone to criminal trial - Andrea Constand.

Last time, one additional woman was able to take the stand. This time, there were five. So that gave the prosecution sort of more ammo this time around that they were able to say not only was one woman drugged and sexually assaulted by this man, but here are the harrowing stories of five others. And those moments were very dramatic.

At one point, an accuser locked eyes with Bill Cosby from the witness stand and said, Bill Cosby, you remember this, don't you? Another accuser said, I'm here because I want to convict a serial rapist. Those were her words from the witness stand. So I think the additional five women really played a very critical role this time around.

CHANG: What other differences were there between this second trial and the first trial?

ALLYN: One other big differences is the defense team and the strategy. Tom Mesereau, Michael Jackson's former attorney, led the defense this time around, and his main argument was the main accuser is a so-called con artist who only wanted money from Cosby all along. And he pointed as evidence a $3.4 million civil settlement that Cosby paid out to her a year after the alleged assault. So they were trying to frame her as a desperate person who was always after Cosby's money. And that last time, the money amount of the settlement never came out at all.

So it's that in addition to how aggressive the defense team was. I mean, it's been described as a kind of scorched-earth kind of line of attack - I mean, really, really shattering, trying to shatter the credibility of the accusers, going after the judge at one point, trying to get the judge kicked off the case. I mean, they really went all out to be really, extremely aggressive. And some legal observers said they kind of had to in the #MeToo era.

CHANG: And Cosby's lawyers have already announced that they will be appealing.

ALLYN: That's correct. Cosby's lawyer's said quote, "the fight is not over." They plan to appeal very quickly. I just asked Kevin Steele, the district attorney, whether he's ready for an appeal. And he pointed at his assistants and said, you know, we're ready for it. We're ready to stand by these guilty convictions.

CHANG: All right, that's Bobby Allyn from WHYY. Thank you very much.

ALLYN: Hey, thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "NATURAL CAUSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.