For 45 sickening minutes inside a Norristown courtroom Tuesday, it might as well have been the retrograde 1980s and not the so-called #metoo millennium. Like old-school mafia hit men carrying axes and baseball bats, Bill Cosby’s defense team attacked his alleged sexual-assault victims as fame whores, lust mavens, or party girls. It was so bad, it made even some jurors wince.
If for no other reason than to let lawyers know these old-school tactics are no longer going to keep abused women out of courtrooms, let’s hope this jury knows better than to buy what Kathleen Bliss and Tom Mesereau were selling. With deliberations set to begin Wednesday, it’s just a matter of time before we find out if the seven men and five women on the panel were as appalled as I was.
What Bliss pulled in her portion of their two-part closing statement was the very definition of so-called slut shaming — a form of character assassination in which women are annihilated for being women, for not protecting bad men from their own repugnant proclivities, for daring to accuse any man of pushing unwanted advances — or worse.
“We’re not talking about children and teenagers here,” Bliss said of the six women who testified that Cosby assaulted them at some point since the 1980s. The women had testified that they had been drugged and violated by Cosby, who until just a few years ago enjoyed an unblemished public profile as a groundbreaking comedian and TV pioneer.
But to Bliss, whose obligation is to get Cosby acquitted and not worry so much if the rest of the world is offended, these women were little more than hustler-vixens looking to take down a good man.
“We’re talking about adults who want to party, and now come forward with claims of rape,” Bliss said.
The group includes former star women’s basketball player Andrea Constand, as well as onetime aspiring actresses, a bartender, a schoolteacher, and a reality TV staple.
And while Cosby faces charges only in his alleged sexual assault of Constand in 2004 at his Cheltenham home, they all were targets because all could help bring him down. Constand was the only one who came forward before the statute of limitations expired. But the five others, as a group, were called to help establish a pattern of conduct over years that jurors will be permitted to consider in establishing Cosby’s guilt or innocence in the Constand case.
No wonder Bliss was tearing them down. Cosby’s old defense team, which presided over a mistrial last summer, didn’t have to contend with so many witnesses on the stand.
When Cosby avoided conviction last summer after a different jury deadlocked, prosecutors had not been permitted to allow more than one other alleged victim to testify. But a favorable state Supreme Court ruling in another case meant prosecutors would now be allowed to bring into the witness box “the cast of five accusers,” as Bliss referred to them Tuesday.
She pulled no punches in trying to besmirch them. Bliss was just as harsh in tearing down the schoolteacher, Lise-Lotte Lublin, as she was the reality TV star and former model Janice Dickinson.
Of Lublin: “She thinks something happened because she downed two shots of booze and Mr. Cosby stroked her hair.”
Of Dickinson: “It sounds as though she’s slept with every single man on the planet.”
She attacked yet another woman for having spent time with a married man: “Seriously, ladies and gentlemen, where are her values?”
The sad thing is that in far too many sexual-assault cases, defendants need to do little more than discredit their accusers to avoid prosecution. Since there are hardly ever any witnesses or hard evidence in these kinds of crimes, securing convictions proves exceptionally challenging, even though the law doesn’t require physical evidence or corroboration to convict.
Mesereau manipulated this, firing his own shot at Constand when it was his turn to try to convince the jury of Cosby’s innocence.
“It’s a he-said, she-said type of case with no forensics — thanks to her,” Mesereau said, as though a woman who is allegedly sexually assaulted by a mentor would keep her underwear unwashed while processing groggy memories of being drugged and then vaginally penetrated. (Constand told authorities about the encounter with Cosby a year after it allegedly happened.)
District Attorney Kevin Steele’s assistants Kristen Feden and Stewart Ryan (in their own closings) spent hours trying to clear the air of Bliss and Mesereau’s putrid missives.
“I can only hope,” Ryan said, “and I think my colleagues share in this sentiment, that what we are seeing are the last vestiges of a tactic designed not to get to the truth, but to damage character and reputation.”