As Bill Cosby was heading into court for opening arguments in his sexual assault retrial, a topless woman with “Cosby” and “rapist” painted on her body jumped out in front of him before being detained by police. USA TODAY
The latest developments from the first day of Bill Cosby’s sexual-assault retrial:
Prosecutor says in opening statement Cosby paid accuser nearly $3.4M
After hours of lawyers huddling behind closed doors and a brief flurry of attention for a topless protestor, the Bill Cosby retrial got underway with opening statements Monday afternoon, including the acknowledgment that Cosby paid his accuser nearly $3.4 million in a confidential settlement a dozen years ago.
District Attorney Kevin Steele highlighted the settlement amount during his opening statement in the retrial of Cosby on three counts of aggravated indecent sexual assault of Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
Constand, a former Temple University basketball manager, says Cosby drugged and molested her. Cosby says their encounter was consensual.
Under their 2006 settlement of a civil suit, the amount of money Cosby paid her has been secret, including at Cosby’s first trial last summer, which ended in a hung jury. This time, both sides are allowed to discuss it: Prosecutors will seek to suggest Cosby wouldn’t have paid out so much money if the accusations against him were false. And the Cosby defense team wants to depict Constand as greedy and as someone who falsely accused Cosby to make money.
“This case is about trust,” Steele told the jury. “This case is about betrayal and that betrayal leading to the sexual assault of a woman named Andrea Constand.”
Judge Steven O’Neill, Cosby’s defense team and prosecutors spent the morning and most of the afternoon behind closed doors arguing over whether a juror had improperly discussed his opinion on Cosby’s guilt before the trial opened.
After questioning all 12 jurors and six alternates, O’Neill ruled the juror could stay, saying all the panelists told him they could remain fair and impartial.
It also followed a somewhat wacky episode involving a protester who lunged at Cosby as he walked into the courthouse in Norristown, Pa., where the trial is being held.
Topless protester identified as former ‘Cosby Show’ actress
The retrial got off to a memorable start as a topless protester with the phrase “Women’s Lives Matter” written in red ink across her torso jumped a barricade and tried to ambush the comedian as he entered the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown.
The woman was identified by the district attorney’s office as Nicolle Rochelle, 39, of Little Falls, N.J. She’s an actress who made multiple appearances on The Cosby Show between 1990 and 1992, according to Rochelle’s IMDb page, which lists her age as 38.
Rochelle got within a few feet of Cosby before sheriff’s deputies intercepted her, leading her away in handcuffs. She was charged with disorderly conduct and released. (If convicted, she would face a fine and court costs, Edward McCann Jr., first
“The main goal was to make Cosby uncomfortable because that is exactly what he has been doing for decades to women, and to show him that the body can be aggressive and empowered,” Rochelle explained to reporters afterward. Among other things, Rochelle’s torso was covered the names of some of Cosby’s dozens of accusers.
The Associated Press reported a European feminist group, Femen, claimed Rochelle as one of its own. Femen leader Inna Shevchenko told the AP the activist was seeking to defend Cosby’s accusers. The group, which started in Ukraine in 2009, stages topless protests against targets seen as oppressing women.
Cosby, who said last year that he is completely blind, seemed startled by the incident and atmosphere of chanting protesters.
Spokesman Andrew Wyatt praised the deputies for stopping the protester but said that in the wake of mass shootings, more security measures must be taken. “Things have changed,” he told the AP. “You never know who’s going to want to make a name for themselves.”
He also questioned why a woman protesting in support of rape victims would be topless, saying it was disrespectful to victims. Rochelle was one of about six people chanting in support of Constand.
“The trial, unfortunately, has a circus atmosphere to it already,” says Andrew Stoltmann, a trial attorney in Chicago who’s following the case. “The topless protestor is likely a minor sideshow that won’t have much of an impact.”
A former prosecutor-turned-defense attorney, Lisa Houlé, said the protest could hurt its own cause.
“If you really want to make a strong impression on the world with your movement, you want to do it professionally and appropriately,” she said. “I think when you have a topless protester, it detracts from the important message these movements are trying to send.
“The question is not are you behind the (Me Too) movement, the question is did Mr. Cosby commit this crime?”
If convicted, the 80-year-old comedian could get up to 10 years in prison on each count.
Judge investigates claim about juror’s impartiality
Before opening statements began Monday, Judge O’Neill questioned a woman from last week’s jury selection who stated in an affidavit that one of the 12 jurors told her he believes Cosby is guilty.
The comedian’s legal team wanted the man removed from the jury and replaced with one of the six alternates. By 3 p.m. Monday, the judge and the lawyers were still huddled behind closed doors. What was taking so long?
“Often the closed-door huddles address more issues than the public knows about,” says New York criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick, who has been following the Cosby case for more than two years.
Still, he said, it would be a definite no-no if a seated juror decided even before opening statements begin how he plans to vote.
“If a juror has decided that a criminal defendant is guilty before hearing any evidence, then they are not fair and impartial and should be excused immediately,” Slotnick said.
Stoltmann agreed, saying the juror issue may have far more impact than the topless protester.
“It is a major challenge for the judge to make sure all potential jurors with biases have been flushed out of the pool,” says Stoltmann. “That will be extremely difficult given who the defendant is and the level of media coverage in the case. I think the judge is just taking his time and getting all the facts straight. I’d be shocked if the juror isn’t removed.”
But he wasn’t, after the judge accepted the jurors’ pledge to remain fair and impartial until deliberations begin.
Opening statements delayed
Opening statements in the retrial finally got underway Monday after 4 in what all sides — defense, prosecution and especially the judge — hope will not be a rerun of the deadlocked jury failure that ended Cosby’s first trial last June.
A new jury consisting of 10 whites, two blacks and seven men and five women chosen from within Montgomery County, will be sequestered during the retrial. Out of dozens of accusations against Cosby, the 2015 criminal charges from the Constand case are the only ones to stick. The others are all too old to prosecute.
Aside from the jury and Cosby’s new legal team (led by Thomas Mesereau), the biggest change is what’s happened outside the courtroom: the Me Too movement, which has called out sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood and other workplaces.
A new motion to consider
Even though the retrial has now begun, Cosby’s lawyers have not given up filing motions objecting to various aspects of the proceeding. Late Monday, they filed a new motion seeking permission from Judge O’Neill to bring up a criminal conviction in the past of one of the other accusers who will be testifying against Cosby at the retrial.
In a change from the first trial, O’Neill has allowed prosecutors to call five other accusers to help bolster Constand’s accusations by depicting Cosby as a serial predator with a specific pattern of criminal conduct. One of those women, Chelan Lasha, pleaded guilty to lying to police — a misdemeanor — in Arizona in 2007.
Lasha says Cosby assaulted her after giving her a pill he described as an antihistamine in a Las Vegas hotel room in 1986 when she was 17 and he was 48.
Cosby’s lawyers argued in their motion that a conviction for lying bears on her veracity and they should be allowed to use it to raise doubts about her testimony.
Lasha’s lawyer, women’s rights attorney and Cosby legal foe Gloria Allred, denounced the motion as an attempt to smear her client,. She says the old conviction is irrelevant.
Cosby’s lawyers also filed a motion to exclude or limit the testimony of two experts on sexual assault, including one who testified at the first trial.
Bill Cosby retrial recap: What you need to know before opening statements
Contributing: Associated Press
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