NORRISTOWN, Pa. — While Bill Cosby is charged with sexually assaulting a woman at his home outside Philadelphia back in 2004, the first witness in the entertainment icon’s criminal trial was a woman who testified on Monday that he engaged in similar conduct with her back in 1996 in Los Angeles.
Testifying softly and occasionally breaking down in tears, the woman told the jury in Cosby’s sexual assault trial that she had become friendly with the iconic entertainer while she worked for his agent at the William Morris Agency. She described him as “fatherly” in a “Dr. Huxtable kind of way,” referring to Cosby’s TV character on “The Cosby Show.”
She recalled that Cosby invited her to have lunch at the Bel Air Hotel in 1996. When she arrived at the bungalow where he was staying, the woman said Cosby offered her a large white pill, saying it would relax her. At first, she said she resisted and then tried to keep it under her tongue in hopes of being able to spit it out. But Cosby insisted she swallow it, saying that he would never ask her to do anything that would be harmful.
Soon, she said she felt like she was “under water” and became woozy. When she regained full consciousness, she said her dress was pulled down and she was in a bed, and so was Cosby. “He made me touch his penis,” said the woman, whose name is being withheld by Variety. She said she doesn’t remember the full details of what happened.
Her testimony came after Cosby was portrayed by a prosecutor as a larger-than-life TV figure who had become so intent on having sex with a young woman he met in Philadelphia that he drugged her and assaulted her at his home just outside the city, in Elkins Park, in early 2004.
The prosecutor, Kristen Feden, acknowledged that Cosby was a beloved TV figure as the stalwart and funny Cliff Huxtable, but she told the jury that he had engaged in “heinous” behavior and that they should put aside the image they may have of him from his days on the show.
“Trust, betrayal, and an inability to consent — that’s what this case is about,” 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 strikingly 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.”
McMonagle also offered a blistering cross-examination of the woman who worked at the Morris agency, challenging her memory of when the alleged assault took place and other details of her accusation.
“Did anybody tell you to get selective amnesia in this case?” he asked in a mocking tone.
“No,” she replied.
He also pointed out that she took part in a news conference with her lawyer, Gloria Allred, about Cosby, yet never contacted law-enforcement authorities about what she claimed happened.
“Did you ever call police?”
“Never,” she replied.
But under questioning by prosecutor M. Stewart Ryan, the woman insisted that she had been “humiliated” and “embarrassed” about what had happened — and was frightened and unsure how to proceed.
“I was very afraid because I had a secret about the biggest celebrity in the world at that time,” she told the jury through her tears. “It was just me … I was afraid. I was very afraid.”
Constand is just one of about 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 allowed only the woman who worked at the Morris agency to take the stand as prosecutors seek to show a pattern of similar conduct.
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 of 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 and unsure what to do.
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 Germany and 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.