Bill Cosby’s long-awaited criminal trial on charges that he drugged and molested a friend in his home begins Monday in Norristown, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.
The 79-year-old comedy legend faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault involving a 2004 visit to his suburban home by Andrea Constand. If convicted, he faces up to a decade behind bars.
Constand, who worked for the Temple University women’s basketball team, claimed that Cosby inappropriately touched her after she took a pill he said would help her relax. Cosby, who’s pleaded not guilty, has claimed he provided her with Benadryl and that they had a consensual encounter.
It was only a couple of years ago that Cosby held the status of a respected elder in the entertainment industry. He was an early mainstream African-American star, remembered fondly for his clean stand-up comedy act and a string of television programs from the 1960s to 1990s, including “I Spy” and the top-rated “The Cosby Show.” But he’s largely kept out of sight since at least 60 women have accused Cosby of drugging, sexually assaulting or initiating unwanted contact with them, according to The Washington Post.
Despite the volume of accusations, only Constand’s complaint yielded a criminal case. Investigators have cited the statute of limitations and lack of evidence in declining to file charges over alleged incidents that span half a century.
As the trial neared, Cosby participated in limited interviews with a black newspapers group and satellite radio host Michael Smerconish. Cosby told Smerconish that the dozens of accusers were “piling on” and that racism “could be” a factor affecting his case. His daughter, Evin Cosby, became part of the public relations campaign by writing an essay last month that defended her father against “the cruelty of the media.”
Still, most public support for Cosby has evaporated, according to Angela Nelson, an associate professor in Bowling Green State University’s department of popular culture.
“It has not helped at all. People said: ‘You are a hypocrite,’” Nelson said.
In recent court appearances, Cosby has used a cane and often had help walking. He’s reportedly in failing health and losing his sight.
A previous district attorney investigated Constand’s claims and declined to charge Cosby. In turn, Constand sued and eventually reached an undisclosed settlement with Cosby.
A deposition from the lawsuit is hotly contested evidence in the criminal trial. Judge Steven O’Neill has ruled that jurors can hear excerpts in which Cosby admitted that he’d given Quaaludes to women while sexually pursuing them. The defense sought to block the deposition, saying that Cosby answered the questions only because then-District Attorney Bruce Castor agreed not to press charges.
“His deposition testimony is really the most damaging because it does really corroborate the witness’s testimony,” Delaware Law School professor Judith Ritter said, referring to Constand.
The defense and prosecution had also argued over how many other accusers may testify against Cosby. O’Neill decided that only one accuser, known as Prior Alleged Victim Six in court filings, may testify about an alleged assault in 1996. Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who campaigned by promising to prosecute Cosby, had wanted to present the accusations of 13 women.
Perhaps most important will be Constand’s testimony. She waited until 2005 to lodge a complaint against Cosby, but until then they had continued some contact. Ritter expects the defense to focus on these points.
“It will be so much about how it comes across to the jury,” said Ritter. “If she stands up under cross-examination, they [the prosecution] have a really good chance at prevailing.”
Cosby is not expected to take the stand in the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.
The jury is made up of seven men and five women, Two jurors are black and the rest are white. The jury was chosen from Pittsburgh after the defense argued it would be too difficult to find impartial jurors in Montgomery County.