NORRISTOWN, Pa. – More than two years after his spectacular fall from grace amid dozens of sexual assault accusations, Bill Cosby was portrayed in court this morning by a prosecutor as a larger-than-life entertainer who had become so intent on having sex with one young woman that he drugged and assaulted her at his home outside Philadelphia in early 2004.
“Trust, betrayal, and an inability to consent — that’s what this case is about,” prosecutor Kristen Feden told the jury in her opening statement at Cosby’s criminal trial. She said the iconic entertainer “used his power and his fame” to nurture a relationship as a mentor and friend to former Temple University basketball manager Andrea Constand – only to violate that trust by assaulting her.
But Cosby’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, offered a striking different portrait of Cosby as an innocent man who had been framed. “Sexual assault is a terrible crime,” he told the jury. “The only thing that is worse than that is the false accusation of sexual assault.”
He said that Constand had changed her version of what had happened so often that the previous district attorney here had decided not to bring charges, and he reminded jurors that the legal burden of finding anyone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is a heavy burden.
By the end of the trial, he told them that if prosecutors “don’t prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you stand up in this courtroom and you call him what he is — and what he is is not guilty.”
Constand is just one of some 60 women who have accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them.
She is expected to take the stand later this week as the prosecution’s star witness, and the outcome of the trial will hinge on her credibility. She will surely face a painstaking cross-examination by the defense, though Feden said he will present other witnesses who will help corroborate her claims. But there won’t be a parade of women testifying about Cosby’s alleged bad behavior. Judge Stephen O’Neill has ruled that only one of the other women – who formerly worked as an assistant in the Morris Agency in L.A. — can take the stand as prosecutors seek to show a pattern of similar conduct by the man once known as America’s Dad.
Cosby is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault. He has pleaded not guilty and said the incident was consensual. If convicted, Cosby could face up to 10 years in prison.
The alleged assault that sparked the charges took place in early 2004 after Cosby invited Constand to his home in Elkins Park, just outside Philadelphia, to discuss her career plans. The criminal complaint filed in December 2015 — shortly before the statute of limitations was due to expire — stated that Constand told Cosby she felt “drained” and “emotionally occupied” and had been missing sleep. He responded by giving her three blue pills that he told her “will make you feel good,” according to the complaint, and claimed they were herbal.
But Constand soon reported feeling dizzy, and Cosby led her to a couch, where, Feden said, he touched her breasts and “grabbed her limp hand and placed it on his penis” so that he could “masturbate himself.” She said that Constand, now 44, left the next morning upset.
The trial opened in the economically challenged town of Norristown, the county seat of suburban Montgomery County, which is one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest counties. The county includes part of the affluent Main Line, which was the backdrop of the 1940 movie, “The Philadelphia Story,” about a socialite’s impending wedding.
But the place where the alleged sexual assault took place – Cosby’s estate in Elkins Park – is far from the old-money mansions of the Main Line and much closer to the streets of North Philadelphia, where Cosby grew up and attended Temple University. Ultimately, he was Temple’s biggest booster and was a member of the board of trustees when he met Constand in 2002.
By 7:30 a.m., the plaza outside the courthouse became the staging area for media organizations from as far away as London, and the large courtroom was packed with more than four dozen journalists. A nearby overflow courtroom held seats for more journalists and members of the public, some of whom had waited in line for hours.
Even though he won fame and an enduring reputation as “America’s Dad” from his years as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” which aired from 1984 to 1992, his image tanked in 2014 as dozens of women – as many as 60 in all — went public with accusations that Cosby slipped them sedatives and then assaulted them.