After weeklong trial, Cosby case goes to the jury

Actor Bill Cosby walks out of the courtroom during a break at the Montgomery County Courthouse. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, AFP, Pool)

Jurors began weighing Bill Cosby’s fate Monday after his lawyer implored them to see Andrea Constand as a lying, money-seeking former paramour, while the chief prosecutor in the case portrayed her as a brave victim seeking justice.

Their closing arguments, delivered over more than four hours, capped a weeklong trial of the entertainer and started a countdown clock for a verdict likely to draw a worldwide spotlight to the Norristown courthouse.

The panel of seven men and five women began deliberating Monday evening, with Judge Steven T. O’Neill prepared to keep them working into the night. The jurors emerged once during their early talks, asking to see a section of Cosby’s deposition in which he described giving pills to Constand on the 2004 night she says he drugged and sexually assaulted her, and later for more evidence.

After four hours, the judge excused them for the night, with orders to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Tuesday.  “This is a very conscientious jury,” O’Neill said. “This is a hard-working jury that’s abiding by its oath in this case.”

In his final statement, Cosby lawyer Brian J. McMonagle painted Constand as a liar who badly damaged her credibility with conflicting statements to police about her past contact with Cosby and the alleged attack when she first came forward in 2005.

“Why aren’t we just owning it?” McMonagle told the jury. “It’s a relationship. They’re intimate, and they stay intimate, and they are intimate. That’s what it is. Why are we trying to make it something it’s not?”

He described his client as a philandering husband, but an overly forthcoming one whose own statements about Constand have remained entirely consistent over 12 years, no matter how damaging.

McMonagle suggested that ensuing sexual assault allegations against Cosby from dozens of other women — and the worldwide scrutiny they have prompted – were the real reasons his client was facing charges that a decade ago a previous prosecutor had concluded would not hold up in court.

“We’re not here for Andrea Constand. We’re here for them and them,” McMonagle  said, his voice rising as he motioned toward rows filled with reporters and a few of Cosby’s other accusers. “See this for what it is. Stop this!”

In his closing argument, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele attempted to focus attention back onto the trial’s central accuser, Constand, calling her a victim who showed great courage and withstood hours of questioning last week on the witness stand.

Steele stuck largely to providing legal definitions and rehashing the evidence presented in the case. But he also raised his voice at times during his more-than-two-hour statement. And he grew emotional when speaking about Constand, and accused Cosby’s lawyers of attempting to shame and exploit her.

“I would suggest to you that Andrea Constand is a real victim,” he said. “She is a victim who has come before you and bared something very personal and powerful for all to see.”

In a nod to McMonagle’s claim that former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.  decided in 2005 not to seek charges against Cosby, Steele told jurors that decision had nothing to do with Constand’s credibility.

A detective testified last week that investigators had met to discuss next steps in the case the same day Castor abruptly ended it. “They still had a list of things to do and the case got closed,” he said.

Steele said the key facts were not contested during the trial and have remained consistent in Constand’s statements over time: Cosby got to know her and became a mentor. One night in 2004 he gave her pills at his Cheltenham home, and they had a sexual encounter.

“She’s [passed] out and you’re doing stuff to her?” Steele said. “It’s not right. And it’s criminal.”

Steele also replayed for jurors recorded phone calls in which Cosby and his representatives offered to pay for Constand and her mother to visit him in Florida and to set up an educational trust for her to attend graduate school.

“If you didn’t do anything wrong, why are you apologizing?’ Steele said, as if addressing the defendant. “You’re apologizing because you ingratiated yourself into this young woman’s life, you treated her well, you paid her attention, and then you drugged her, and you did what you wanted to.”

O’Neill let deliberations start toward the end of the day. The jurors had been picked in Allegheny County and sequestered near Norristown for the trial. The judge has been striving to finish the trial so they can return home.

After ordering dinner, as a media scrum staked out the courthouse, the jurors had their first question for the judge: “Can we see the part in Mr. Cosby’s testimony where he called the pills ‘his friends’? We need to see the whole context.”

The reference to the pills that Cosby gave Constand being “friends” was highlighted in Steele’s closing arguments to the jury. In Cosby’s own words from the 2005 deposition, he told Constand on the night of the alleged assault that he had “three friends for you to make you relax” as he gave her pills that he said were herbal.

The arguments came after Cosby’s defense on Monday called just a single witness at the start of the second week of the trial, and it was not the defendant.

Sworn in briefly outside the jury’s presence, Cosby told O’Neill that he did not intend to testify. Instead, his team called just Cheltenham Police Sgt. Richard Schaffer, the lead investigator in the case, who testified for the prosecution last week.

Cosby could be sentenced to a decade or more in prison if convicted.

His wife, Camille, appeared in court for the first time Monday morning, entering and exiting on her husband’s arm and sitting through McMonagle’s closing argument.

Constand also attended the closing arguments, showing little reaction. Toward the end of McMonagle’s speech, she placed her palms together in front of her face, as if praying. During Steele’s final talk to the jury, her mother, Gianna, sat with her.

And when the judge called the jurors back around 9:30 p.m. to dismiss them, Constand was sitting in the front row.

Keep up with every development in Bill Cosby’s case with our day-by-day recaps and explainer on everything you need to know about the case and its major players.