Constand is a Toronto massage therapist who was a Temple University employee in Pennsylvania at the time of the alleged 2004 assault. She told police that Cosby drugged her and violated her by putting his hands down her pants at his mansion in suburban Philadelphia, but no charges were initially laid.
At the end of December 2015, 11 years after the alleged interaction, Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent assault, punishable by five to 10 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine. (The charge was laid just days before the 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges was set to run out.) He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Prosecutors accused him of plying Constand with pills and wine, then penetrating her with his fingers without her consent, while she was drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to resist or cry out.
Cosby had acknowledged under oath a decade ago that he drugged and had sexual contact with Constand, but said it was consensual.
Prosecutors reopened the case in the summer of 2015 as damaging testimony was unsealed in a related civil lawsuit by Constand against Cosby, and as dozens of other women — nearly 60 of them, as of this writing — came forward with similar accusations. Many of those alleged assaults date back decades, and the statute of limitations for bringing charges has expired in nearly every case.
Cosby’s trial stands to be the biggest celebrity court case since O.J. Simpson, and it’s anticipated to be broadcast and televised whenever permitted by the court. Here are some details that you need to know before the former Cosby Show star faces the music.
This case is only happening because of people speaking out
Constand had originally gone to police in 2005 after the alleged assault, but due to insufficient evidence (and a confluence of other factors), no charges were laid against Cosby. A few months later she filed a civil suit against the actor, this time using the testimonies of 13 other women who claim they too had suffered at the hands of Cosby. This second lawsuit resulted in a settlement out of court, and both parties signed a non-disclosure agreement (this is a point Cosby’s lawyers had pointed to in his defence, saying that any evidence used from the civil trial should be inadmissible under the NDA).
Comedian Hannibal Burress also contributed to the Cosby firestorm when he joked at a 2014 stand-up show [Warning: foul language] that Cosby was being hypocritical for wagging his finger at wrongdoings when he himself “is a rapist.” Burress’ act and the release of the 2015 civil court transcript rekindled the focus on Cosby, and since then, dozens of other women have come forward with their stories.
Constand’s account of Cosby’s behaviour is strikingly similar to other women’s complaints
One thing that’s working in Constand’s favour are the similarities between her stories and those of the other women. In each story, Cosby allegedly woos the woman with promises of acting roles or personal counselling (or something “fatherly,” like his supposed offers to pay for some women’s educational costs) and uses a sedative so the woman passes out. While the majority of the women don’t recall much from their reported experiences, many of them say they woke up with their pants off or unzipped, or their bras undone and askew.
As mentioned above, the 2015 legal transcript from the civil trial indicates that Cosby admitted to drugging and having sexual contact with Constand (and other women at different times), but he insisted the sex was always consensual. He said the pills he used to sedate Constand were Benadryl.
Here is a list of some of the other complainants against Cosby (many not identifiable and under the name Jane Doe) and their stories.
It’s a jury trial, so his fate rests in their hands
A 12-member jury has been selected for the trial, consisting of two African-Americans and 10 Caucasians: four white women, six white men, one black woman and one black man. The six alternates are four white men, one black woman and one black man. Cosby’s lawyers have argued that the representation of the jury is biased against their client, but ultimately this is the jury that has been selected.
Cosby himself is not testifying at trial
The actor says that his testimony will “interfere” with his lawyers’ case, so don’t expect him to take the stand. He also isn’t required to attend court in person.
“When you have to deal with examination, cross-examination, et cetera, et cetera, more than two sides to every story, sometimes it’s four or five…” he said in a May 16 interview on SiriusXM Radio. “And what people want to say and want you to say and how they manoeuvre, and, yes, I do have lawyers protect me… but I just don’t want to sit there and have to figure out what I believe is a truthful answer to whether or not I’m opening a can of something that my lawyers are scrambling.”
The defence strategy picks on Constand’s weaknesses
So how are Cosby’s lawyers going to defend the former TV star, when he clearly stated in the civil trial that he used drugs to sedate women? Most of their strategy involves pointing out the weaknesses in Constand’s story.
Angela Agrusa, Cosby’s head counsel for the case, is seeking to rehabilitate Cosby’s image to the jurors. She refers to the phenomenon of “false memory creation,” which is when the mind can fabricate a memory that didn’t really happen; this occurs when someone is repetitively exposed to information (i.e: news about Cosby being a serial abuser), and they firmly believe that their story is true when in actuality they gleaned details from what they’d read. Expect witnesses that will be interpreted as “sympathetic” to Cosby, his character, and his past behaviour.
The two biggest weaknesses in Constand’s case are 1) she waited a full year after the alleged assault to go to police, and couldn’t pinpoint the exact day the incident supposedly occurred, and 2) Constand kept in contact with Cosby for the duration of that year and onward (though this is the case with many victims of sexual assault).
The trial will last at least two weeks
Two weeks is the minimum, but if this trial reaches the heights of O.J. Simpson’s media-saturating spectacle, then you can expect it to stretch out over many weeks, possibly even months. Also, jury deliberation time is unpredictable, and could tack on additional days.
Opening arguments start Monday.
With files from The Associated Press