Charged is­sues at play in Cosby trial

Gen­der, race, money and fame con­verge in a case rem­i­nis­cent of O.J. Simp­son’s.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Zeitchik

NEW YORK — The mo­ment came sud­denly, sur­pris­ingly. Af­ter nearly a year of sit­ting silently in a court­room — and more than two years af­ter a pa­rade of women ac­cus­ing him of sex­ual as­sault had stepped for­ward — Bill Cosby spoke out in court about the crim­i­nal charges against him.

“The Drake,” he said of the ho­tel where he is al­leged to have plied a woman with Cham­pagne — then as­saulted her af­ter she passed out — “is in Chicago.”

The clar­i­fi­ca­tion, of­fered to cor­rect a district at­tor­ney’s mis­take dur­ing a pre­trial hear­ing in De­cem­ber, rang out to sur­real ef­fect around the court­room: What de­fen­dant helps a pros­e­cu­tor iden­tify the site of an al­leged sex­ual as­sault?

One thing was clear: Cosby was not go­ing to let oth­ers de­fine his ac­tions for him, even with an off­hand mis­state­ment of where an in­ci­dent took place.

As Cosby’s sex­ual as­sault

trial be­gins Mon­day in a sub­ur­ban court­room north of Philadel­phia, the dis­graced en­ter­tainer will try to seize the nar­ra­tive, as he did when he gave his first ma­jor in­ter­view about the case to Sir­ius XM host Michael Smer­con­ish last month.

Cosby is charged with three counts of ag­gra­vated in­de­cent as­sault stem­ming from a 2004 en­counter at his Chel­tenham, Pa., man­sion with An­drea Con­stand, a for­mer Tem­ple Univer­sity bas­ket­ball coach, in which he al­legedly ini­ti­ated sex­ual con­tact af­ter giving her wine and a pill.

The out­come could de­ter­mine whether the en­ter­tainer goes to prison for up to 10 years.

Drama ex­pected

More than just a fall­from-grace tale, the felony trial will serve as a point of fo­cus for a host of charged top­ics — celebrity, crim­i­nal­ity, race, gen­der and power, all in­ter­sect­ing in a way likely to evoke an­other fa­mil­iar court­room drama.

“When you put some­one who was once so highly es­teemed to­gether with all these is­sues, it doesn’t feel like most cases,” said David Ru­dovsky, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and a de­fense at­tor­ney spe­cial­iz­ing in civil rights. “It feels like O.J. Simp­son.”

As with that news ex­trav­a­ganza, this trial will ad­dress ques­tions both so­ci­o­log­i­cal and le­gal: Is Cosby a suc­cess­ful en­ter­tainer vic­tim­ized by money-hun­gry plain­tiffs and a mob of out­raged Twit­ter users, as he and his lawyers will seek to con­vince the jury? Or is he a lech­er­ous sym­bol of male privilege, some­one who for years lever­aged his rep­u­ta­tion as a beloved co­me­dian and sit­com dad to as­sault women and cover his tracks?

There may be no ti­tanic John­nie Cochran-Mar­cia Clark face-off await­ing in the Nor­ris­town, Pa., court­house presided over by Judge Steven T. O’Neill. But the at­tor­ney an­tag­o­nists will be a study in con­trasts.

On one side is Kevin Steele, the phys­i­cally im­pos­ing Mont­gomery County district at­tor­ney, whose ap­proach might be de­scribed as bu­reau­cratic dry­ness. A long­time pres­ence in the sub­ur­ban court­house, the pros­e­cu­tor has man­aged in pre­trial hear­ings to re­peat­edly turn the case’s most sala­cious de­tails into staid le­gal lan­guage.

Op­po­site him, lead Cosby at­tor­ney Brian McMona­gle cuts a dif­fer­ent fig­ure. A com­pact Philadel­phia lawyer with a flair for the­atrics, McMona­gle has de­fended a church fig­ure en­meshed in a sex scan­dal and a fu­ture NBA star. At ear­lier Cosby hear­ings, he of­ten em­braced a show­man’s ges­tures; a wit­ness-ex­clu­sion ar­gu­ment had him pas­sion­ately in­vok­ing Robert Bolt’s con­science play “A Man for All Seasons.”

Both sides will fo­cus on Con­stand, who dur­ing more than a year of le­gal hear­ings has not yet ap­peared in the court­room. In the com­ing days, Con­stand, who is white, will fi­nally tes­tify about the night Cosby in­vited her to his home and, she says, pen­e­trated her with his fin­gers with­out her con­sent — tes­ti­mony that could de­ter­mine whether Cosby goes to jail.

“For the pros­e­cu­tion, the key is hav­ing Con­stand be rock-solid,” said David Har­ris, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh and for­mer at­tor­ney spe­cial­iz­ing in race and crim­i­nal jus­tice. “And the de­fense is go­ing to want the jury to look hard at why it took her a year to come for­ward.”

Since the pub­lic ac­cu­sa­tions against Cosby started 2½ years ago, the is­sue of sex­ual as­sault has be­come the sub­ject of much wider pub­lic de­bate, thanks to a flood of news about for­mer Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Pres­i­dent Trump, whose leer­ing and preda­tory re­marks on an “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape sparked in­ter­na­tional out­cry.

Un­rav­el­ing be­gins

Cul­tur­ally, Cosby’s un­rav­el­ing be­gan with a rou­tine at a Philadel­phia club in Oc­to­ber 2014, when co­me­dian Han­ni­bal Buress took on the long-stand­ing but lit­tlepub­li­cized ac­cu­sa­tions against his fel­low en­ter­tainer.

“Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a cou­ple notches,” Buress said.

The rou­tine went vi­ral. Sud­denly, al­le­ga­tions that had been float­ing around for years went main­stream, and dozens of women, nearly all of whose claims had passed the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, came for­ward with ac­counts al­leg­ing as­saults.

Legally, it started in De­cem­ber 2015, when Steele, hav­ing just been elected on a plat­form promis­ing to pros­e­cute Cosby, ini­ti­ated charges only days be­fore the statute of lim­i­ta­tions on Con­stand’s al­le­ga­tions was set to ex­pire.

Since then, the pro­ceed­ings have been wind­ing their way to­ward Mon­day’s trial, with two key vic­to­ries for the pros­e­cu­tion along the way.

One was a rul­ing from O’Neill ear­lier this year al­low­ing an ad­di­tional ac­cuser to tes­tify against Cosby un­der Penn­syl­va­nia’s so­called Prior Bad Acts clause. (The pros­e­cu­tion had sought 13 such wit­nesses.) Iden­ti­fied as Prior Al­leged Vic­tim Six, the woman said

Cosby gave her a pill and vi­o­lated her when she vis­ited him at his bun­ga­low at the Ho­tel Bel-Air in 1996.

The judge also de­cided to ad­mit de­po­si­tion tes­ti­mony from a Con­stand civil suit more than a decade ago in which Cosby ad­mits to buying Quaaludes in or­der to have sex with women.

But the pros­e­cu­tion’s case con­tains prob­lems. For starters, there is no phys­i­cal ev­i­dence. And in the year dur­ing which Con­stand didn’t re­port the in­ci­dent, she main­tained in­ter­mit­tent con­tact with Cosby.

The de­fense will look to ex­ploit those is­sues, and do any­thing pos­si­ble to chal­lenge Con­stand’s cred­i­bil­ity — with­out go­ing too far. “If they go af­ter her too hard, the jury will see her as vic­tim­ized again and it will backfire,” Ru­dovsky said.

X fac­tors

Celebrity will be an X fac­tor too. The de­fense has sug­gested it will make Cosby’s fame and wealth an is­sue, cit­ing the many civil suits brought against him — in­clud­ing one filed by Con­stand, in which she re­ceived an undis­closed set­tle­ment — as the pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion for ini­ti­at­ing the al­le­ga­tions. But this could have un­in­tended con­se­quences: Can a mil­lion­aire icon re­ally be por­trayed as a vic­tim?

An­other ques­tion: What role will race play? In the Smer­con­ish in­ter­view, Cosby in­ti­mated he be­lieved racism was a rea­son for his pros­e­cu­tion. “I just truly be­lieve that some of it may very well be that,” he said.

Yet over­play­ing that is­sue — with a jury that in­cludes only two African Amer­i­cans — could also backfire.

“Race in a trial is a hand grenade,” said Har­ris. “And when a hand grenade blows up, you don’t know where all the frag­ments will go.”

None­the­less, the is­sue of race is un­doubt­edly one of the lenses through which the trial will be viewed. And though the charges in the Simp­son and Cosby cases are dif­fer­ent, the de­fen­dants’ sta­tus as cel­e­brated black men fac­ing very pub­lic tri­als has in­vited in­evitable com­par­isons.

“I see a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween O.J. and Cosby, in how they’re be­ing dis­carded when we’ve run out of use for them,” said Todd Boyd, a pro­fes­sor of race and pop­u­lar cul­ture at USC.

“This is a not a de­fense of Bill Cosby and it’s not to say there’s a witch hunt,” he said. “He is guilty of what he’s guilty of. But there’s a long history of black male en­ter­tain­ers where we say, ‘We en­joyed the show and we’ve moved on and don’t need you any­more. So now we’ll hold you ac­count­able for the things you did be­cause you’re no longer of use.’ ”

The is­sue of race is hardly straight­for­ward in the Cosby trial. Not least among the com­plex­i­ties: Prior Al­leged Vic­tim Six iden­ti­fies as African Amer­i­can, po­ten­tially negat­ing at­tempts to say Cosby is be­ing tar­geted be­cause he’s black.

Rep­re­sent­ing that wit­ness is Glo­ria Allred, the out­spo­ken South­ern Cal­i­for­nia lawyer who hov­ers over the Cosby case. She serves as at­tor­ney for nearly three dozen of the 60 ac­cusers — some in civil suits — who’ve stepped for­ward to ac­cuse Cosby in the me­dia.

“These two women who are tes­ti­fy­ing are very brave. And they speak for many other women, who have never had their day in court,” Allred said. “What do I ex­pect? I ex­pected the un­ex­pected.”

The biggest of those sur­prises could come with Cosby him­self. He told Smer­con­ish he wouldn’t tes­tify. But he could change his mind, de­pend­ing on how the trial is un­fold­ing.

“We have to re­mem­ber that Cosby is a beloved en­ter­tainer, a per­former first and fore­most,” Har­ris said. “He could be more con­vinc­ing to the jury than your typ­i­cal wit­ness.”

Whether he tes­ti­fies or not, the at­ten­tion the case brings is wel­comed by vic­tims’ rights ad­vo­cates.

“It’s a chance to ed­u­cate peo­ple on how ram­pant this is in Hol­ly­wood,” said An­gela Rose, the founder of the vic­tims’ rights ad­vo­cacy group PAVE. On trial, she said, is the very no­tion of male privilege.

“Sex­ual as­sault is the most un­der­re­ported crime in the coun­try,” she said, “and this is a case where a woman has coura­geously stepped for­ward and some­one is be­ing pros­e­cuted.”

Don Em­mert AFP/Getty Images

BILL COSBY, cen­ter, goes on trial Mon­day on charges of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing one of the 60 women who have made sim­i­lar ac­cu­sa­tions.

Chloe Elmer Pool Photo

PROS­E­CU­TOR Kevin Steele, left, can turn sala­cious de­tails into dry legalese. He’ll face de­fense at­tor­ney Brian McMona­gle, right, known for a the­atri­cal f lair.

Do­minick Reuter Pool Photo

Ron Bull Toronto Star

COSBY AC­CUSER An­drea Con­stand, pic­tured in 1987, re­ceived an undis­closed set­tle­ment af­ter su­ing the fa­mous en­ter­tainer over a decade ago.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.