Bill Cosby went on trial Monday on charges he drugged and sexually assaulted a woman more than a decade ago, with prosecutors immediately introducing evidence the 79-year-old TV star once known as America’s Dad had done it before to someone else.
The prosecution’s opening witness was not the person Cosby is charged with violating, but another woman, who broke down in tears as she testified that the comedian abused her in the mid-1990s at a hotel bungalow in Los Angeles.
Cosby is on trial on charges he assaulted Andrea Constand, a former employee of Temple University’s basketball program, at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004. His good-guy reputation already in ruins, he could get 10 years in prison if convicted.
In her opening statement, prosecutor Kristen Feden noted that the “Cosby Show” star previously admitted under oath that he gave Constand pills and touched her genitals as she lay on his couch.
“She couldn’t say no,” Feden said. “She can’t move, she can’t talk. Completely paralyzed. Frozen. Lifeless.”
Cosby attorney Brian McMonagle countered by attacking what he said were inconsistencies in Constand’s story. McMonagle also disputed that Constand was incapacitated and made the case that she and Cosby had a romantic relationship. McMonagle said Cosby gave her the cold and allergy medicine Benadryl only after she complained she couldn’t sleep.
The defense lawyer said Constand changed the date of the encounter from mid-March to mid-January of 2004. And he said Constand initially told police that she and Cosby had never spoken afterward, when, in fact, phone records show the two talked 72 times after mid-January — with 53 of those calls initiated by Constand.
Constand, 44, of the Toronto area, is expected to take the stand this week and tell her story in public for the first time.
The trial’s first witness was Kelly Johnson of Atlanta, who worked for one of Cosby’s agents at the William Morris Agency. She described an encounter she said took place in 1996 at the Hotel Bel-Air when she was in her mid-30s.
Prosecutors are trying to show Cosby’s treatment of Constand fit a pattern of predatory behavior.
They had wanted to call as many as 13 women who say Cosby sexually assaulted them — out of more than 60 accusers in all. But Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill, in a victory for Cosby, said jurors could hear only from Constand and Johnson.
Johnson testified that Cosby pressured her to take a large white pill that knocked her out, and when she woke up he put lotion on her hand and forced her to touch his genitals.
“My dress was pulled up from the bottom, and it was pulled down from the top, and my breasts were out,” she said, crying. “And I felt naked.”
Cosby’s lawyer argued that Johnson was seeking a payout from the TV star. He also said Johnson had a six-year relationship with Cosby despite a company ban on dating clients.
Cosby arrived at the courthouse in the morning carrying a wooden cane and holding his spokesman’s arm for support as he walked past dozens of cameras.
Cosby’s wife, Camille, was not in court. But actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played his daughter Rudy on the top-rated “Cosby Show” in the 1980s and ’90s, was at his side as he made his way into the building. She told reporters she was there to support her TV dad.
“I want to be the person that I would like to have if the tables were turned,” she said. “Right now it’s the jury’s job and the jury’s decision to determine guilt or innocence. It’s not mine or anyone else’s.”
Cosby built a wholesome reputation as a father and family man, on screen and off, during his extraordinary 50-year career in entertainment. He created TV characters, most notably Dr. Cliff Huxtable, with crossover appeal among blacks and whites alike. His TV shows, movies and comedy tours earned him an estimated $400 million.
Then a deposition unsealed in 2015 in a lawsuit brought by Constand revealed that Cosby had a long history of extramarital liaisons with young women and that he obtained quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women before sex. Dozens of women soon came forward to say he had drugged and assaulted them.
The statute of limitations for prosecuting Cosby had run out in nearly every case. This is the only one to result in criminal charges against the comic.
Feden, the prosecutor, warned the jury not to fall into the trap of confusing celebrities with the characters they play.
“We think we really know them,” she said. “In reality, we only have a glimpse of who they really are.”
Gloria Allred, the celebrity attorney who represents several of Cosby’s accusers and showed up for the first day of the trial, told reporters she is hopeful “there will be justice in this case.”
“This case is not going to be decided on optics,” she said. “It’s going to be decided on the evidence, and finally, it’s Mr. Cosby who’s going to have to face that evidence and confront the accusers who are against him.”
Constand filed a police complaint in 2005 over the encounter at Cosby’s home. The district attorney at the time said the case was too weak to prosecute. But a new set of prosecutors charged Cosby a year and a half ago after the deposition became public and numerous women came forward.
Cosby’s lawyers tried repeatedly to get the case thrown out. They said Cosby testified in the lawsuit only after being promised he could never be charged.
And they argued that the delayed prosecution makes the case impossible to defend, given that witnesses have died, memories have faded and Cosby, they say, is blind.
The AP does not typically identify people who say they are sexual assault victims unless they grant permission, which Constand and Johnson have done.