Cosby's only criminal sex-assault case ends in hung jury, mistrial

Bill Cosby leaves Montgomery County Courthouse with his spokesman Andrew Wyatt after a mistrial was declared.

The sexual-assault trial of Bill Cosby ended in a mistrial Saturday, an ambiguous outcome that did little to repair the iconic entertainer’s shattered reputation and left prosecutors vowing a retrial as soon as this year.

After five days and 52 hours of deliberations in the Norristown courthouse, the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on the three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Cosby — the only criminal charges to emerge from the allegations of dozens of women who have said they were drugged and assaulted by the celebrity once known as “America’s Dad.”

“I remind everyone that this is not vindication or victory,” Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill said before dismissing the jury of seven men and five women, some who cried openly in the jury box. “A mistrial is merely the justice system at work.”

He said he would schedule another trial within 120 days.

The result reflected an inconclusive end to a case that had raised questions about the role race, sexual entitlement, a scandal-hungry media, and Hollywood’s casting-couch culture played in the ruin of a once-beloved celebrity. And within minutes, the posturing for the next trial had already begun.

Emerging from the courthouse to cheers, Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt pumped his fist and declared his boss’ legacy “didn’t go anywhere. It has been restored.” Another aide read an accusation-laden statement from Cosby’s wife, Camille, that attacked the prosecutors, the media, and even the judge.

“How do I describe the district attorney? Heinously and exploitively ambitious,” it began. “How do I describe the judge? Overtly and arrogantly collaborating with the district attorney.”

But despite those declarations of victory before the throngs of television cameras, Cosby’s flat, fatigued expression – both inside and outside the courthouse — offered no indication of a man who had just been spared prison and was steeling himself for another fight.

When the judge announced his ruling, a small group of his aides and supporters in the courtroom had jumped up, embraced, and congratulated one another. But the blind entertainer, who turns 80 next month, sat alone — off to the side and all but overlooked, clutching his cane to his chest and staring silently into the distance.

>>READ MORE: Complete coverage of the Cosby trial

Meanwhile, Andrea Constand, his 44-year-old accuser, stood respectfully with a self-conscious smile on her face as the jury filed out of the courtroom in front of her.

The judge had sealed jurors’ names before the trial began, and urged them not to discuss their deliberations with the media. By nightfall, the panel – and the six alternates chosen with them last month in Allegheny County – had been escorted back across the state, some to waiting families.

In a news conference, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said he did not know what kept the jury from reaching a unanimous verdict. He said prosecutors would reevaluate the evidence and witnesses they presented over five days but vowed to retry the case as quickly as possible.

“This is a case we know has been important for sexual-assault victims everywhere,” Steele said. Then he singled out Constand: “She has shown such courage through this. … She’s entitled to a verdict in this case.”

For other Cosby accusers, the trial had taken on an almost totemic status because their own claims were too old to prosecute.  Several attended the proceedings, and, as the mistrial was announced, they rushed to Constand’s side to console her and praise her bravery.

Displaying the same Zen-like tranquility she had projected throughout the trial, it was soon Constand doing the comforting as the other women broke down crying. As she smiled, her eyes remained dry.

When a reporter asked if she was willing to go through a retrial, Constand’s lawyer stepped in.

“We’re ready,” Dolores Troiani declared. “Can we come back tomorrow?”

>>READ MORE: What happens after a jury deadlocks?

Cosby’s lawyers, Brian J. McMonagle and Angela Agrusa, offered a different take on the outcome.

“This is what happens,” Agrusa said. “Juries are stuck when a prosecutor seeks to put someone in prison for things that are simply not presented in the courtroom.”

They declined to say what shifts in trial strategy they might adopt in a retrial – or even if they intended to remain on the case.

The tensions between Cosby’s publicity and legal machines had grown increasingly apparent, particularly after Wyatt, the garrulous spokesman, gave near-daily speeches on the courthouse steps, calling the trial unfair and decrying the process that had landed Cosby in court.

Even Saturday – minutes after the mistrial had been declared – Wyatt and the lawyers were arguing heatedly over what public statements should be made and who would deliver them.

Asked later whether Cosby was considering a shake-up before the new trial, Wyatt responded: “Everyone will stay the same. The team will stay the same.”

Throughout the trial, that team urged jurors to forget the celebrity they thought they knew – the man who charmed audiences as The Cosby Show’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable – and recognize Cosby as an admitted philanderer but one who had been open from the start with investigators about affairs he maintained were consensual.

They argued more than once that former District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. had made the right choice in deciding not to pursue the case when Constand first came forward in 2005.

The celebrity trial drew media attention from around the world, rivaling O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trial. More than 100 reporters were credentialed to sit in the main courtroom and an overflow room, while dozens of news crews set up outside. Before releasing them, the judge praised the jurors, calling their two-week commitment and marathon deliberations “one of the most courageous acts, one of the most selfless acts that I’ve ever seen in the justice system.”

At least six times after deliberations began, and particularly as they stretched past 40 hours, the defense had urged the judge to declare a mistrial.

While not an outright victory, the result suggested that McMonagle and Agrusa had managed to persuade at least one juror of Cosby’s claim that he never sexually assaulted anyone – or at least that prosecutors had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

During deliberations, jurors had asked to revisit nearly every key piece of evidence from the trial.

The centerpiece was two days of testimony from last week during which Constand stuck to her story that in 2004 Cosby invited her to his Cheltenham mansion, gave her three blue pills, and then assaulted her when she was paralyzed and powerless to resist.

At the time, she was the operations manager for the women’s basketball program at Temple University, where Cosby was the most famous alumnus and a member of the board of trustees, someone she viewed as a mentor and father figure. It took her more than a year to decide to report the incident to police.

But throughout the trial, the defense sought to use earlier doubts about Constand’s credibility against her.

>>READ MORE: A day-by-day recap of the trial

Again and again, they pummeled her account, questioning why she told police at various points in 2005 that she had never been alone with Cosby prior to the alleged assault, that she never contacted him again afterward, and that the attack had happened in March 2004 – all claims she would later revise before her testimony last week.

She gave “one inconsistent statement after another,” McMonagle told jurors in his closing remarks, arguing that Cosby and Constand were involved in a consensual relationship – one underlined by Constand’s later admission that the entertainer had made what she described as several suggestive passes at her before the night of the alleged assault.

Still, the mistrial seems unlikely to quiet the critics who have plagued Cosby for nearly three years – a stretch that has seen him stripped of countless honors and shunned by studios and many former Hollywood friends.

“He thought he could bury us,” Cosby accuser Linda Kirkpatrick told a throng of television cameras Saturday. “He didn’t know we are seeds. We are sprouting up … uncovering the rape culture in this country.”

>>READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the Bill Cosby-Andrea Constand case

The fact that Constand’s allegations landed Cosby in a courtroom at all came after an improbable series of events that started in a Philadelphia comedy club a decade after the encounter in Cosby’s home on the edge of the city.

In a stinging rebuke that was videotaped and went viral, comedian Hannibal Burress lambasted Cosby over Constand’s longstanding but largely forgotten allegations.

His 2014 routine opened floodgates that resulted in a two-year, near daily onslaught of sexual-misconduct accusations from more women. Ultimately, more than 60 came forward, including several who said the renewed spotlight on Cosby’s conduct with women empowered them to speak out and allege that they, too, had been drugged and molested by him.

The controversy played a role in a federal judge’s decision in 2015 to unseal portions of a deposition Cosby had given nearly a decade earlier as part of a lawsuit Constand had filed against him alleging sexual battery. That case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and with a confidentiality provision that barred either side from talking about the case.

But the contents of those transcripts – including Cosby’s admission that he had obtained drugs in the past to use with women he hoped to seduce – piqued the interest of investigators in Montgomery County, who reopened the case in 2015.

They filed their charges against Cosby just days before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitation on the sex-assault allegation was due to expire.

>>PHOTOS: Bill Cosby through the years

Castor, the ex-district attorney who passed on Constand’s case citing a lack of credible evidence a decade ago, said Saturday that he took no satisfaction in the outcome of the trial but added he was not surprised. (Constand is currently suing him for defamation, claiming he publicly tarnished her credibility for his own political gain.)

“My opinion continues to be that Ms. Constand was probably the victim of sexual assault,” he said. “ ‘Probably’ does not win criminal trials.”