NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — The trial of Bill Cosby began Monday with emotional testimony from a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by the actor a decade before prosecutors say he assaulted Andrea Constand.
In January 2004, Constand was a 31-year old basketball coach at the Temple University where Cosby served as a trustee. One night she says he invited her to his home in suburban Philadelphia, gave her drugs, and sexually assaulted her as she fell in and out of consciousness. In 2005, prosecutors declined to charge Cosby citing insufficient evidence. Constand sued Cosby in civil court and settled for an undisclosed sum.
In 2015, a judge unsealed Cosby’s deposition from Constand’s lawsuit in which Cosby admitted to giving women drugs during consensual sex. The deposition led newly elected Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele to reopen the case and charge Cosby with three counts of aggravated indecent assault. A jury was brought in for the trial from Allegheny County—a nearly six-hour drive from Norristown—and is being sequestered for the duration of what is expected to be a two-week trial.
Fighting back tears, prosecution witness Kelly Johnson said that she was sexually assaulted while she worked at William Morris, a Los Angeles-based talent agency that counted Cosby as its top client. Johnson testified that Cosby took an interest in her in the early 1990s while she was working as a secretary at the agency. In 1996, under the pretence of providing her with acting tips, Johnson testified that Cosby invited her to a bungalow her was renting at the Hotel Bel Air.
“He was wearing a bathrobe and slippers. He asked me to come into the living room. I sat on a couch and he sat adjacent to me on a chair,” Johnson began.
“There was wine and water we were having a little conversation,” she continued. “I wasn’t sure what was going on exactly. At one point he said that I looked like I needed to relax. He opened his hand and there was a large white pill in the palm of his hand. I said, ‘no no I’m fine,’ but he kept insisting, telling me I needed to relax. I asked him what it is and he wouldn’t tell me.”
Dressed in a dark suit, Cosby leaned forward in his chair at the defense table, listening intently as Johnson described reluctantly taking the pill under Cosby’s watchful eye.
Asked by the prosecutor why she acquiesced, Johnson said she felt “extremely intimidated” by Cosby. Johnson said the pill made her feel like she was “underwater,” and explained what allegedly happened next.
“I sort of came to in the bedroom of the bungalow. I remember hearing sounds, grunting sounds behind me. My dress was pulled up from the bottom and pulled down from the top. My breasts were out. I felt naked but my dress wasn’t off me. I saw [Cosby] standing by the side of the bed. I could see a bottle of lotion… he put lotion in my hand and he made me touch his penis. He took my hand and manipulated my hand.”
Cosby’s defense attorney accuses Johnson of being an opportunist who waited until 2015 to go public with her story by holding a press conference and going on a media tour that included the Dr. Phil show.
However, the details of Johnson’s allegations against Cosby are strikingly similar to those made by Constand, whom Johnson says she has never met.
According to the charges against him, Cosby invited Constand to his home on the pretext of talking to her about a career change she was planning to make. While she was there he remarked that she “looked like she needed to relax” and offered her three blue pills which she believed to be herbal supplements.
“After Andrea took those pills she began to have distorted vision, she became dizzy and nauseous, and she looked to her trusted mentor and friend,” said Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden, describing the alleged assault to jurors. “The last words she remembers hearing before losing consciousness is ‘I am going to help you relax.’”
Constand says although she was unable to move during the assault she was conscious of Cosby fondling her breasts, and using her hand to masturbate himself. At one point he inserted his fingers into her vagina.
Cosby doesn’t deny the sexual encounter, but he claims it was consensual and part of a romantic affair he had with Constand in 2004.
In his opening remarks, defense attorney Brian McMonagle tried to poke holes in Constand’s account of the events, accusing her of turning a clandestine romance with a married man into a ploy to gain leverage over Cosby, ostensibly for personal gain.
“Andrea Constand has been untruthful again and again and again in her statements,” said McMonagle, detailing inconsistencies in her statements during the 2005 investigation. “Sometimes it’s really really hard to sit on that side of the courtroom,” he said, indicating the defense table, where Cosby sat, “but not today.”
McMonagle said he uncovered new evidence three days after jury selection in the form of a recorded phone call made by Constand’s mother, that contradicts her timeline of events.
“By the end of this case you’re going to find out why Andrea Constand changed her story,” he promised the jury.
The prosecution opened its case by warning jurors against the temptation of confusing Cosby with the characters he played on television.
“Actors and actresses, our society celebrates them to the extent they become larger than life,” said Feden. “We think we really know them. In reality, it’s really only a glimpse of who they really are.”
Cosby is not the paragon of virtue he played as Dr. Cliff Huxtable, Feden said, but a serial predator who used his position to gain women’s trust and take advantage of them when they were most vulnerable.
“This is the case about a man who used his power..to place a woman in an incapacitated state, so he could pleasure himself,” Feden said. “Trust. Betrayal and the inability to consent. That’s what this case is about.”
The prosecution’s case draws heavily on Constand’s recollection of her encounter with Cosby, as well as Cosby’s words from his deposition from the civil case she filed against him.
In his 2005 deposition, Cosby claimed he gave Constand one-and-a-half Benadryl after she complained of insomnia. He told investigators at the time that after a brief sexual encounter the two “spooned” on the couch until Constand fell asleep. He then says he retired to his bedroom. In the morning Cosby said he made breakfast for Constand before she left.
More than 40 women have come forward with accusations of sexual assault against Cosby—most of them alleged to have happened decades ago.
Cosby’s defense attorney told the jury that while the actor’s infidelity may make him unsympathetic as a husband, his accusers are the ones who deserve rebuke.
“The only thing worse than sexual assault, is the false accusation of sexual assault, it’s an attack on human dignity,” McMonagle said. “At the end of this trial you’re going to understand better than you ever understood before why the burden of proof in a criminal case is so high.”