Tes­ti­mony starts in Cosby trial

Self-de­scribed timid as­sis­tant was pres­sured to take a pill, then as­saulted, she tes­ti­fies.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Zeitchik steve.zeitchik@la­times.com

Self-de­scribed timid as­sis­tant says she was pres­sured to take pill, then as­saulted.

NOR­RIS­TOWN, Pa. — Kelly John­son was a young as­sis­tant at the Wil­liam Mor­ris Agency in the 1990s when Bill Cosby, one of the com­pany’s big­gest clients at the time, be­gan show­ing an in­ter­est in her.

Cosby would call her home to chat, rec­om­mend doc­tors for an ail­ing rel­a­tive and even host John­son and her family at his per­for­mance in Las Ve­gas, she told the court Mon­day at Cosby’s sex­ual as­sault trial.

One day in 1996, after Cosby had in­vited John­son to his bun­ga­low at the Bel-Air Ho­tel, he urged her to in­gest a mys­te­ri­ous white pill. Feel­ing “in­tim­i­dated,” John­son said, she swal­lowed it. When she woke up, her dress was pulled up and he was com­pelling her to touch him sex­u­ally.

“I didn’t un­der­stand a sense of time,” she said. “I felt like I was un­der­wa­ter.” After hur­ry­ing out, she found her­self on the outs with Cosby. Not long after, she over­heard him telling her boss that John­son should be fired.

John­son’s tes­ti­mony was part of an emo­tional, com­bat­ive and at times bizarre first day of tes­ti­mony at Cosby’s trial on charges of in­de­cent as­sault in­volv­ing an­other woman, former Tem­ple Univer­sity bas­ket­ball coach An­drea Con­stand.

After more than a decade of al­le­ga­tions that have frac­tured the ca­reer of one of Amer­ica’s best-known co­me­di­ans, a Cosby ac­cuser con­fronted her al­leged at­tacker in crim­i­nal court for the first time.

Cosby has been charged with three counts of ag­gra­vated in­de­cent as­sault stem­ming from the Con­stand in­ci­dent in Jan­uary 2004, in which both sides agree he pen­e­trated her with his fin­gers but dis­agree on whether there was con­sent. At stake is a max­i­mum 10year prison term for Cosby. Also on the line: the 79-yearold en­ter­tainer’s legacy, which could be fur­ther rocked by the trial’s out­come.

Pros­e­cu­tors in open­ing state­ments laid out a por­trait of Cosby as a sex­ual preda­tor who used his rep­u­ta­tion to win a woman’s trust, then as­saulted her when she was pow­er­less to refuse.

“This is a case about a man who used his power and his fame and his pre­vi­ously prac­ticed method of plac­ing a young, trust­ing woman in an in­ca­pac­i­tated state so that he’d sex­u­ally plea­sure him­self, so that she couldn’t say no,” Mont­gomery County As­sis­tant Dist. Atty. Kris­ten Fe­den told ju­rors.

Pros­e­cu­tors squared off with Cosby lead at­tor­ney Brian McMona­gle over the re­la­tion­ships John­son and Con­stand each had with the once-pop­u­lar en­ter­tainer — dis­put­ing whether the two women were sim­ply try­ing to get close to a pow­er­ful man, or whether he was crim­i­nally ex­ploit­ing that power.

John­son was called by the pros­e­cu­tion to try to es­tab­lish that Cosby had a play­book he also used with Con­stand. In di­rect tes­ti­mony, she painted her­self as a timid as­sis­tant, work­ing for Cosby’s late agent, Tom Il­lius, when she met and be­came en­am­ored with the co­me­dian.

“I had the ut­most re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion for him based on what mil­lions of other Amer­i­cans, es­pe­cially African Amer­i­can folks, thought of him,” John­son said.

She was not seek­ing to be an ac­tress, she said, and was sim­ply try­ing to hold on to her low-level job at the tal­ent agency when she was sum­moned to Cosby’s Bel-Air bun­ga­low. Too scared to turn him down, she went, and said she found her­self the vic­tim of a sex­ual as­sault.

On cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, McMona­gle drew a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture, in which John­son had a much closer re­la­tion­ship with Cosby than she was let­ting on, had taken money from him for doc­tor and salon ap­point­ments and was in­ter­ested in an act­ing job he could fa­cil­i­tate.

McMona­gle also sought to cre­ate an im­pres­sion of John­son as a free­wheel­ing partier for whom tak­ing a pill was part of a larger lifestyle, not a mo­ment of vic­tim­hood.

The cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of­ten evoked 1990s Hol­ly­wood, par­tic­u­larly an un­usual se­quence in which McMona­gle asked: “Isn’t if a fact you were do­ing drugs with Maxi Priest in the ’90s?” not­ing that it was the R&B star who fa­thered her son, born in 1992.

Though some of the ba­sics of John­son’s story had been re­vealed in me­dia ac­counts and ear­lier court fil­ings, her tes­ti­mony Mon­day con­tained new de­tails — and not just about Priest. It in­cluded an ac­count of her time at Cosby’s home work­shop­ping an act­ing scene that was to end with the two kiss­ing, which she said she re­sisted. She also told how she had pre­tended to swal­low the pill that day at the Bel-Air bun­ga­low be­fore Cosby dis­cov­ered she hadn’t and urged her to do so.

“I was very afraid,” she said, through tears. “He was the big­gest celebrity in the world at the time. And it was just me. It was just me.”

The day’s tes­ti­mony marked the de­fense’s first op­por­tu­nity to re­but the crim­i­nal claims in court.

McMona­gle dis­puted that the in­ci­dent in the bun­ga­low re­sulted in non­con­sen­sual sex, cit­ing notes he had from a de­po­si­tion John­son gave in a civil suit against Wil­liam Mor­ris. When John­son didn’t con­sent, McMona­gle said to her, Cosby “got up and said it’s OK and you drove home, isn’t that right?”

John­son did not of­fer a sub­stan­tive re­ply.

McMona­gle took fre­quent op­por­tu­ni­ties to sug­gest John­son was less a lone vic­tim than part of a welloiled le­gal op­er­a­tion, of­ten men­tion­ing Glo­ria Allred, the Los An­ge­les at­tor­ney who rep­re­sents John­son and sev­eral dozen other Cosby ac­cusers. “Did she tell you to say that?” he said re­peat­edly to the wit­ness, ges­tur­ing to Allred, where she was seated among spec­ta­tors in the court­room.

McMona­gle also por­trayed Cosby’s con­tact with Con­stand as purely con­sen­sual. “‘We had cognac and brandy and sipped it in front of the fire. Ro­man­ti­cally.’ I didn’t hear that [in the pros­e­cu­tion’s open­ing],” McMona­gle said of the Cosby-Con­stand in­ter­ac­tion that night. “She wasn’t par­a­lyzed; she wasn’t in­ca­pac­i­tated,” he added. “He made her break­fast” the next morn­ing.

Fe­den said that the in­ci­dent that night in 2004 came after Con­stand had been led to be­lieve that Cosby, more than 35 years her se­nior and a sto­ried fig­ure on the Tem­ple cam­pus, would be giv­ing her pro­fes­sional guid­ance.

“The sad re­al­ity of it is she thought she was re­ceiv­ing men­tor­ship and ca­reer ad­vice,” the as­sis­tant prose­cu­tor said. “Her in­ten­tions were very, very dif­fer­ent than his.”

Fe­den sought to pre­empt the de­fense’s ques­tions about why Con­stand waited a year to come for­ward and in­stead main­tained con­tact with Cosby dur­ing that time; she said Con­stand was con­fused and ashamed.

But McMona­gle seized on that point.

“After the so-called par­a­lyz­ing and drug­ging and as­sault she called him — there were 72 phone calls. She called him. Fifty. Three. Times,” he said. “They spoke 30-40 min­utes at a pop. Their re­la­tion­ship con­tin­ued.”

Cosby en­tered the court about 45 min­utes be­fore pro­ceed­ings be­gan, flanked by sev­eral peo­ple, including Keshia Knight Pul­liam, who played Rudy on “The Cosby Show” and has been a sup­porter of her former co-star.

Cosby ap­peared alert through­out pro­ce­dural mo­tions that pre­ceded open­ing state­ments, then leaned for­ward with lit­tle ex­pres­sion on his face as Fe­den de­scribed the night of his sex­ual con­tact with Con­stand.

David Maialetti Philadelphia In­quirer

BILL COSBY ar­rives at the Mont­gomery County Court­house in Nor­ris­town, Pa., with Keshia Knight Pul­liam, who played Rudy on “The Cosby Show” and has been a sup­porter of her former co-star.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.