Bill Cosby guilty in sexual-assault trial, lashes out at DA

A Montgomery County jury on Thursday found Bill Cosby guilty of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, a verdict that delivered the first celebrity conviction of the #MeToo era and the likely final blow of a career-ending scandal fueled by dozens of women who accused the entertainer of being a sexual predator.

The decision, after 14 hours of jury deliberations and in a second trial on the charges, stirred audible sobs of relief from some of his accusers in the packed Norristown courtroom and prompted celebration outside.

Cosby stared sullenly down at the defense table as the jury forewoman read out three “guilty” verdicts — one for each count of aggravated indecent assault in the 2004 attack.

Minutes later, as Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele asked Judge Steven T. O’Neill to immediately imprison him, the 80-year-old entertainer, who had remained silent throughout the trial, finally lashed out, calling Steele an “asshole” and later saying, “I’m sick of him.”

It was a stunning moment from the man whose career was minted by his performance as the sweater-wearing family man, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, on his ’80s sitcom The Cosby Show.

Steele said that character helped cement Cosby’s image as “a public moralist” but the verdict exposed his private life as a serial sexual predator.

“He used his celebrity, he used his wealth, he used his network of supporters to help him conceal his crimes,” the district attorney said later at a news conference. “Now, we really know today who was really behind that act, who the real Bill Cosby was.”

Cosby is expected to be sentenced within 90 days, could receive up to 10 years in prison on each count, and will be evaluated to determine if he must register as a sexually violent predator.

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As the prosecutor discussed the verdict, Constand stood off to the side and, as she has done for years, chose not to speak. But for the 45-year-old Canadian massage therapist who first dragged Cosby’s crimes into public view 13 years ago, the verdict meant long-awaited vindication.

Despite Constand’s receiving a nearly $3.4 million civil settlement from Cosby over the same allegations, her story had twice been rebuffed – first by prosecutors in 2005 who doubted she could stand up to courtroom scrutiny, and then last year by another jury that deadlocked on her claims, prompting a mistrial.

“She came here … for justice,” her longtime lawyer Dolores Troiani said. “I am happy to say that justice was delayed, but it was not denied.”

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After the verdict, the seven men, five women, and six alternates on the jury were whisked back to the Plymouth Meeting Doubletree hotel, where they had been sequestered, then given police escorts to evade a media throng waiting outside the building. None spoke publicly about the case.

But outside the Norristown courthouse, other accusers wasted no time making their voices heard. Many had hailed the case as one that in many ways stood at the vanguard of the #MeToo movement and shone a spotlight on the role sexual entitlement, a scandal-hungry media, and Hollywood’s casting-couch culture played in the ruin of a comedy icon.

“I feel like my faith in humanity has been restored,” said Lili Bernard, a former actress who has said she was raped after appearing on The Cosby Show, as she fought back tears, helicopters buzzed overhead, and a crowd of competing demonstrators amassed shouting “Women’s lives matter!,” “Free Bill!,” and “Black power!”

Amid the chaos, lawyer Gloria Allred read statements from her clients who were among some of the other Cosby accusers to testify at trial.

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“I am overwhelmed with joy, relief, and gratitude,” read one from Janice Baker-Kinney, who told jurors that Cosby drugged and attacked her in 1982 in Reno, Nev. “Joy that justice has been served. Relief that this toxic chain of silence has been broken and we can now move forward with our heads held high.”

As he emerged from the courthouse with his client, lead defense lawyer Tom Mesereau said this “fight is not over” and vowed an appeal. A waving Cosby was then ushered into a waiting SUV. Television news trucks and helicopters pursued the car to his Cheltenham home.

O’Neill, the judge, denied Steele’s request to revoke Cosby’s $1 million bail, but ordered Cosby to remain in his Montgomery County mansion unless he receives court approval to travel.

Steele also said he would seek to make Cosby pay the costs of both trials; the first one cost the county more than $219,000. “He was talking about $3.38 million being a paltry sum or merely a nuisance,” the district attorney said.

But immediately after the verdict, Cosby’s financial prospects took another hit.

Bounce TV, a network that caters to black viewers, announced it had pulled all reruns of The Cosby Show. And other Hollywood figures took to social media to issue condemnations, all but ending the possibility of the comeback Cosby had appeared to be testing in recent months.

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After June’s mistrial but before jury selection this month, Cosby had made several public appearances, including a surprise January performance at a Germantown jazz club. He seemed to enjoy reminding the adoring fans that greeted him of the folksy, native son of Philadelphia they once loved.

But Steele and his team — Assistant District Attorneys Kristen Feden and M. Stewart Ryan — were also hard at work. They returned to court April 9 with a case that was in many ways stronger than the first.

This time, jurors heard from five other Cosby accusers – including supermodel Janice Dickinson. In emotional testimony, each recounted meeting Cosby decades ago and seeing him as a mentor until he knocked them out with pills and then took advantage of them. Several of the attacks occurred in the 1980s, before he burnished the nickname “America’s Dad.”

“He’s nothing like the image he plays on TV,” Feden said in her closing argument to jurors Tuesday. “He utilized that image and cloaked it around himself so he could gain the trust of young, unsuspecting women to sexually assault them and strip away their ability to say no.”

Cosby, too, had revamped his defense strategy . His new team of lawyers – led by Mesereau and attorneys Kathleen Bliss and Becky S. James – came to court determined to hold nothing back.

During her blistering closing argument, Bliss lobbed scathing attacks on each of the accusers who testified, dismissing them as “failed starlets,” liars, or sexually promiscuous gold diggers.

But Cosby’s attorneys reserved their most aggressive assault for the woman whose testimony ultimately mattered most. They painted Constand’s relationship with their client as part of a long con — one that eventually secured the 2006 settlement and one they said she laid out in detail to a Temple colleague who testified that Constand once said she’d extort a celebrity by fabricating sexual-assault claims.

Still, over two days of testimony this month, Constand stuck to the story she has been telling for more than a decade — that Cosby invited her in early 2004 to his Cheltenham mansion, gave her three blue pills, and then assaulted her when she was paralyzed and powerless to resist.

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At the time, she was working for the women’s basketball program at Temple University, where Cosby was the most famous alumnus and a powerful member of the board of trustees. She testified that after viewing Cosby as a mentor and father figure, it took her more than a year to decide to report the incident to police.

The fact that Constand’s allegations landed Cosby in a criminal courtroom at all came after an improbable series of events that started in a Philadelphia comedy club a decade after then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. had weighed Constand’s claims but declined to charge Cosby.

In a stinging rebuke that later went viral, comedian Hannibal Buress lambasted Cosby over Constand’s longstanding but then largely forgotten allegations.

His 2014 routine sparked a two-year, onslaught of accusations from more than 60 women who came forward – many for the first time – and claimed they, too, had been drugged and molested by the entertainer.

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The controversy played a role in a federal judge’s decision in 2015 to unseal portions of a deposition Cosby gave before settling his civil suit with Constand.

Those transcripts – which included Cosby’s admission that he had obtained drugs in the past to give to women before sex – stirred Montgomery County investigators to look again at Constand’s claims.

Castor, who has maintained that he thought Cosby was guilty but defended his decision not to charge him in during his 2015 campaign against Steele, congratulated his successor on the verdict.

“The masterful use of Cosby’s incriminating civil deposition, plus the other witnesses who came forward and testified after unprecedented publicity, proved to be an unbeatable courtroom one-two combination in buttressing the victim,” Castor said in a statement.

Steele saved his praise for Constand.

“She didn’t have to start down this journey with us,” he said. “She didn’t have to come here for a second trial. But she did. I hope others who have been victimized can see that courage and can see where it gets.”

Staff writers Michaelle Bond and Erin McCarthy contributed to this report.

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