Closing arguments in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault retrial were heard Tuesday, the culmination of a dramatic trial in which a series of women testified that the comedian drugged and assaulted them.
Cosby, 80, is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault against one woman, Andrea Constand, 45, who claims that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home in January 2004. In this trial, unlike in the first, prosecutors were allowed to call five more accusers in addition to Constand.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill adjourned court after closing arguments and said jurors would be given their final instructions on Wednesday.
Defense attorneys portrayed Constand as lying about the sexual encounter, which Cosby has claimed was consensual. The prosecution said that Cosby, famous for his role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” preyed on Constand and that all the women who testified against him had “strikingly similar stories.”
In two hours of closing arguments, Cosby’s defense team painted Constand as a “con artist” and a “pathological liar” seeking fame and fortune and willing to extort Cosby in pursuit of those goals.
Defense attorney Kathleen Bliss began closing arguments by suggesting that Constand and the other women who testified were “were motivated by a common movement, many of them represented by the same attorney,” she said, referring to Gloria Allred and her daughter, Lisa Bloom, who is also a lawyer. Bliss emphasized a proposal from Allred for a $100 million settlement fund in 2014.
“You heard about the $100 million fund,” she reminded jurors.
Tom Mesereau, Cosby’s lead attorney, repeatedly emphasized what he said were discrepancies in Constand’s testimony. Mesereau told the jury that the case was about a “blind 80-year-old man with a successful career facing absolute ruin.”
“This woman will say anything. She will absolutely say anything. She’s a pathological liar,” he added.
Mesereau walked the jury through a PowerPoint presentation, pointing to what he characterized as 12 inconsistent statements about the nature of Constand’s relationship with Cosby, including whether they had flirted before the alleged assault, whether they were ever alone together and whether she had been in bed with him. He said her statements were not simply “inconsistencies … they are lies.”
Bliss also questioned the prosecution’s decision to bring in witnesses to testify that Cosby assaulted them more than 30 years ago.
“How unfair is that — digging up stuff from three decades ago?” she asked. She also told the jurors that they shouldn’t allow the #MeToo movement, which has exposed scores of men in the media, entertainment and business worlds as sexual harassers, to sway their decision.
“Don’t get me wrong, bad things definitely happen. But, ladies and gentleman, not every accusation is true. Your common sense tells you that,” Bliss said. “We do have to deal with sexual assault. It’s a worldwide problem, just like we do with sexual harassment, pay disparity, social inequality.
“But questioning an accuser is not shaming them,” she added.
But Assistant Montgomery County District Attorney Kristen Feden told jurors that it was Cosby, not Constand, who was the con artist and that all of the women who testified against him had “all strikingly similar stories.”
“He preyed on Andrea Constand the same way he preyed on all those five women,” she said.
Feden accused Cosby of selecting victims he believed he could silence. He used his image to “gain confidence of young, aspiring, unsuspecting women so he could sexually assault them and strip them of their very autonomy,” she said.
The prosecutor also lambasted Bliss for “character assassination” of the accusers.
“That character assassination that Ms. Bliss put those women through was utterly shameful,” she said. “She’s the exact reason why women, victims of sexual assault and men don’t report these crimes.”
Earlier Tuesday morning, as attorneys prepared for closing arguments during the 12th day of trial, Cosby’s wife, Camille, entered the courtroom alone. She went up to her husband at the defense table, offering him words of encouragement and a kiss before taking her seat in the front row.
She had previously been absent from the courtroom as prosecutors called a half-dozen accusers who testified that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them.
While there have been dozens of sexual misconduct allegations against Cosby, the Constand case is the only complaint that has resulted in criminal charges. Cosby has repeatedly denied all allegations of sexual misconduct, which have ranged from groping to sexual assault to rape, with many of the accusers claiming that he drugged them.
Cosby’s first trial last year ended in a deadlocked jury, so his retrial has become the first big celebrity court case since the #MeToo movement emerged. In the first trial, the jury deliberated for 52 hours and failed to reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial.
Cosby declined to testify on his own behalf at both trials.
Constand did testify, and she said she was left “humiliated, in shock and confused” by the alleged assault.
“I was very scared,” she said. “He was a Temple [University] trustee, a powerful man, an entertainer, a very famous person.”
During the retrial, Constand confirmed that she had received a previously undisclosed $3.38 million civil settlement from Cosby in 2006, which is admissible as evidence in the criminal trial.
Other accusers — Chelan Lasha, Heidi Thomas, Janice Baker-Kinney, Lise-Lotte Lublin and former supermodel Janice Dickinson — also took the stand in emotional testimony. Lasha bursted into tears multiple times, and Dickinson said that, after Cosby drugged her, she woke up with “America’s Dad on top of me.”
A total of 25 witnesses were called. The defense team asked for a mistrial several times because of witness outbursts on the stand but was denied each time.
If convicted, Cosby faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and an up to $25,000 fine on each count.
Meredith Mandell and Adam Reiss reported from Norristown. Daniella Silva reported from New York.