The Cosby Verdict: "America's Dad" Case Ends in Mistrial


The trial of Bill Cosby, the actor and comedian known as “America’s Dad”, ended in a mistrial last Saturday. The judge was forced to declare the outcome after the jury remained deadlocked after deliberating for 52 hours over six days.

Cosby was being tried for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home outside Philadelphia in 2004. The charges include three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault, each covering a different aspect of the alleged crime. Count 1 alleges that Cosby did not have consent when he inserted his fingers in Constand’s genitals, Count 2 alleges she was unconscious or semi-conscious at the time and could not consent, and Count 3 alleges all of this occurred after he gave her an intoxicant that impaired her.

Dozens of other women have accused Cosby of drugging and then molesting and sexually assaulting them--Cosby has an additional 10 civil lawsuits pending against him. However, only one of these other women, Kelly Johnson, was allowed to testify in the Constand case. Johnson has accused Cosby of drugging and molesting her at a Los Angeles bungalow in 1996. The prosecution had wanted to put 13 others on the stand, but in February Judge Steven O’Neill ruled the others couldn’t testify on the grounds that it would prejudice the jury against Cosby. Even 482 kilometres away in Pittsburgh and sequestered since the trial began June 5, the jury of seven men and women were still unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

District Attorney Kevin Steele immediately declared that he would retry Cosby. As per Pennsylvania law, he has 120 days to do so. He said Constand “is entitled to a verdict in this case and the citizens of Montgomery County, where this crime occurred, are entitled to a verdict in this case. And we will push forward.” Steele said that prosecutors felt good about the case, but “there’s always tweaks.” It reflects his campaign rhetoric during 2015 when he attacked longtime incumbent, Bruce Castor, for having “refused to prosecute Bill Cosby” and promised “tough sentences for sexual predators.”

Unfortunately, this mistrial highlights once again how hard it is to prove a sexual assault allegation, particularly against well-known figures and celebrities. The sheer number of Cosby accusers who have come forward, and the consistency of their descriptions of his modus operandi, are so overwhelming that they produce little doubt that Cosby used his fame and power to lure and assault women. I know it’s innocent until proven guilty, but after so many allegations spanning so many decades, it’s infuriating that Cosby has been able to walk away unpunished and relatively unscathed.

There are a variety of reasons for this, and one opinion piece in USA Today touches on some of the main points:

  • Cosby’s accusers were acquaintances or dates. Date rape wasn’t even part of the lexicon on the 1960s and 70s, when many of the alleged assaults occurred.
  • Cosby was not only protected by his celebrity status, but his fatherly image associated with his famous shows were hard to disperse. Most of his alleged victims  were young and unknown —  an aspiring actress of 19, a secretary at a talent agency, a 21-year-old working for a film producer — no match in a he-said, she-said battle with Cosby. Even the news media all but shrugged when Tamara Green, a lawyer, went on NBC’s Today in 2005 and accused Cosby of drugging, undressing and groping her in the 1970s. Her story got some coverage but lacked credibility in the eyes of the media and public.
  • Cosby was aided by the dangerous trend of judges granting secrecy. In a sworn deposition in 2005, in a civil case brought by Constand, Cosby admitted he had obtained Quaaludes with the idea of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with, and that he gave them to one young woman and “other people.” But no one knew about this until a decade later, when a federal judge lifted the seal that Cosby and his lawyers fought feverishly to hide.  If not for court-sanctioned secrecy, his accusers might have known about each other and been more willing to come forward earlier.

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