Judge orders deadlocked Cosby jury back to the table

Bill Cosby arrives at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)

Thirty hours and four days into their efforts to deliver a verdict, jurors in Bill Cosby’s sexual-assault trial  Thursday finally raised the specter that one of the most closely watched celebrity trials in decades would end in the most ambiguous way: a deadlock.

In a message time-stamped 11:06 a.m., the seven men and five women informed Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill that they had been unable “to come to a unanimous consensus” on any of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault Cosby faces for his alleged 2004 attack on Andrea Constand.

O’Neill sent the jurors back with instructions to keep trying.

The jurors then cloistered themselves for an additional nine hours. Unlike previous days, they did not emerge – not to ask questions, request testimony, or complain that they were hopelessly stuck. Around 9 p.m., as they neared their 40th hour of deliberations, they returned, looking less fatigued and more focused than the previous night — but still without a resolution.

So the judge dismissed them, sending them back to the nearby hotel where they have been sequestered.

“I don’t have to tell you: You’re exhausted and deliberations should be with a fresh and well-rested mind and body,” he explained.

He ordered them to resume deliberations Friday morning.

As word of the impasse broke Thursday, Cosby’s lawyers quickly moved for a mistrial, a request the judge denied. Like their client, they remained silent and stoic as O’Neill sent jurors back to the deliberation room. Prosecutors stayed largely out of sight, as did Constand.

But outside the room and the Norristown courthouse, the news of a deadlock  – and its potential implications on a case that took nearly two years to prepare and was years in the making — sparked a powder keg of emotions.

A few other Cosby accusers who had gathered in anticipation of a verdict burst from the courtroom in tears. Protesters lined the walkway outside the courthouse chanting “Free Cosby Now” and holding signs alleging that his prosecution was motivated by racism. News helicopters droned overhead. Within minutes, a pair of drummers showed up.

Andrew Wyatt, the 79-year-old entertainer’s garrulous spokesman, bounded to a bank of microphones near the courthouse entrance to declare victory.

“This deadlock shows the ‘not guilty’ Mr. Cosby has been saying the entire time,” Wyatt told the scores of reporters. “He is just happy to know that he has 12 people of his peers who understand the facts of this case don’t add up.”

Asked if his celebrations might be premature, the spokesman remained ebullient: “When the Golden State Warriors beat the Cavs, that was a win. A win is a win.”

Then it was Gloria Allred’s turn. The lawyer representing many of the more than 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct quickly poured water on Wyatt’s claim.

“This is not a vindication of anybody,” she said before the rows of television cameras. “This is not the end. It’s not over until it’s over. And it’s not over yet.”

Meanwhile, Lili Bernard – a California artist and Cosby Show guest star who contends Cosby drugged and raped her in the early 1990s — confronted the growing crowd of Cosby supporters.

Grabbing one demonstrator’s hands, staring him in the eye, and shouting that Cosby had sexually assaulted her, Bernard, who is black, sought to counter the claims his prosecution was tainted by racism.

“I experienced it firsthand when he drugged me, when he raped me, when he threatened me to silence,” she said.

When Zakia Tuck, a 27-year-old black woman from Philadelphia, hoisted a sign reading “Mr. Cosby is innocent. Facts!!!” she was quickly challenged by another Cosby accuser.

“You’re believing in a fictitious character,” Jewel Allison told Tuck. “When you see him walk into the courtroom, do you see Cliff Huxtable? Do you see Fat Albert? No. He’s just a man.”

Even accuser Linda Kirkpatrick, who had lingered behind in the courthouse hallways, telling onlookers she hoped to avoid the chaos outside, lost her cool. Upon hearing Cosby’s tour manager telling someone on her cellphone, “It’s working,” she lashed out.

“His [expletive] was working when he raped us!” she shouted before telling herself to calm down and apologizing those gathered around her.

What none could know for sure was if the jurors were closer to convicting or acquitting, if there was one holdout or multiple people unable to settle on a verdict.

O’Neill tried to break the impasse with what’s known in state law as a Spencer Charge or so-called dynamite charge. In it, judges convey to jurors the importance of reaching whatever verdict they can in a given case.

“While you should not hesitate to reexamine your own views or change your opinion if your opinion is erroneous, do not feel compelled to surrender your honest belief,” O’Neill told the panel. “If after further deliberations, you are still deadlocked on some or all the charges, you should report that to me.”

Jurors showed little reaction to the judge’s instruction. After three days and 30 hours of deliberation, the panel had asked to revisit nearly every critical piece of evidence from the trial that began nearly two weeks ago – ranging from Cosby’s 2005 deposition and police statement, in which he denied assaulting Constand, to Constand’s own recollections of the 2004 night she said he attacked her.

It is not uncommon for jurors to report an impasse and then reach a verdict later. Or for a jury to receive more than one Spencer Charge. If jurors declare themselves to be hopelessly deadlocked, the judge would call a mistrial.

Should that happen, it is not yet clear whether prosecutors would seek to retry Cosby. The defense team declined to comment afterward, as did the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

Constand, meanwhile, appeared to exhibit the same calm she displayed over her two days on the witness stand last week, when she testified that Cosby drugged and molested her during a visit to his home in Cheltenham.

Shortly after the jury’s note, she tweeted a video of herself shooting hoops with a mini-basketball in a courthouse hallway as the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme played in the background.

A collegiate basketball standout, Constand had just landed a job with Temple University’s women’s basketball program in 2002 when she met Cosby, the school’s most famous alumnus and a trustee.

Her video clip Thursday ended with her shot swishing through the makeshift net and a message: “Always Follow Through.”

Follow 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.