Bill Cosby paid Andrea Constand nearly $3.4 million to settle her 2005 lawsuit – a payment, a prosecutor said Monday, that was meant to buy her silence after the entertainer sexually assaulted her at his Cheltenham home.
That sum, hidden for more than a decade behind a confidentiality agreement signed by both parties, was revealed for the first time by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele in his opening statement to jurors at Cosby’s retrial in Norristown.
Its disclosure came near the end of a day in court that was marked by unexpected disruptions – first by a topless demonstrator who charged past the 80-year-old entertainer outside the Montgomery County Courthouse, then by an unsuccessful effort by the defense to oust a juror from the case. And it was only the first sign that Cosby’s second sexual assault trial was already shaping up to be far different than the first, which ended in a hung jury and mistrial.
At June’s trial, both sides avoided any mention of the lawsuit, which Constand filed after prosecutors in 2005 declined to pursue a case against Cosby based on her allegations that he had drugged and assaulted her.
This time, however, Steele and Cosby’s defense team see Constand’s legal action – and the amount she received to settle it – as central to their case.
Steele suggested in his opening remarks that the size of the payment indicated Cosby had something to hide after years of attacking other women in strikingly similar ways.
“When this happened with Andrea Constand, there was no mistake that there was no consent,” he told jurors. “When someone is drugged, they don’t have the ability to consent.”
Cosby’s lead defense lawyer, Tom Mesereau, is expected to deliver his opening statement on Tuesday, and put a far different spin on his client’s payout to Constand. The defense lawyer has characterized the former Temple University women’s basketball manager in pretrial arguments as a gold-digging opportunist who fabricated her claims against Cosby in an attempt to win a big payday in court.
The entertainer’s supporters have tried the same tack to discredit Cosby accusers in the past. Such verbal attacks on the more than 60 women who have come forward since 2014 are what prompted Nicolle Rochelle, a 38-year-old actress, to make her topless run past Cosby as he walked into court early Monday.
“The main goal was to make Cosby uncomfortable, because that is exactly what he has been doing for decades to women,” Rochelle later told reporters.
For his part, Cosby offered little reaction as the woman, with the names of many of those accusers painted on her naked torso, leaped over a security barricade just after 8:30 a.m., shouting “Women’s Lives Matter.” Quickly she was tackled by sheriff’s deputies, wrestled into handcuffs, and ultimately charged with disorderly conduct and banned from attending the trial.
The Little Falls, N.J., resident appeared, billed as Nicole Leach, on four episodes of Cosby’s eponymous sitcom between 1990 and 1992.
It wasn’t clear how well she knew the star. In her interview with reporters, conducted over FaceTime from her hotel room in Norristown, Rochelle said Cosby had never acted inappropriately with her, but said she she felt compelled to stand in solidarity with Cosby accusers attending the trial.
On Sunday afternoon, Rochelle had posted to her Facebook page a photo of herself on the steps of a New York City home used as the exterior of the Huxtable family house on The Cosby Show. In the photo she is wearing a version of Cosby’s iconic “Hello Friend” sweatshirt, with the word “Rapist” scrawled over it in marker.
“In honor of the first day of the Bill Cosby retrial, I went by the address where they filmed The Cosby Show exterior in New York City,” said the Facebook caption. “Let’s hope justice will finally be served!”
Her arrest kicked off what was set to be a packed trial day, but as soon as Cosby arrived in the courtroom, Judge Steven T. O’Neill announced he was delaying the proceedings to deal with a disruption of another sort – a last-minute move by the defense to remove one juror.
In a motion filed late Friday, Cosby’s lawyers alleged that the man was overheard by another potential juror last week telling others: “I just think he’s guilty.”
But after O’Neill spent five hours cloistered in his chambers interviewing all of the jurors one by one and hearing arguments from lawyers, the judge allowed the man to stay on the panel and offered no explanation or ruling from the bench once he emerged.
Once Mesereau has completed his initial salvo to jurors Tuesday, prosecutors are expected to call the first of five additional Cosby accusers scheduled to testify as part of their case.
And late Monday, the defense team was already showing signs it was prepared to go on the attack.
The lawyers filed a motion seeking to tell jurors that one of the prosecution witnesses, Chelan Lasha, had a criminal record for making a false report to Arizona law enforcement in 2007. Her conviction is critical to assessing her credibility as a witness against Cosby, the lawyers argued in their filing.
They also alleged that she has “at least one prior conviction for prostitution” but did not seek to include that as evidence.
Lasha has accused Cosby of giving her a pill and a shot in 1986 and then sexually assaulting her. Because the offense is more than 10 years old, Cosby’s lawyers must seek permission from the judge to include that evidence in the trial.
O’Neill did not immediately rule on their request. Prosecutors declined to comment Monday.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Rochelle charged at Cosby. She ran past him.