Norristown (United States) (AFP) – Bill Cosby’s sexual misconduct retrial heard dramatic testimony Wednesday from two accusers who allege the disgraced megastar assaulted them in the 1980s, and the judge slapped down a defense request for a mistrial.
The now frail and isolated 80-year-old Cosby could spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand, 45, at his Philadelphia home in 2004.
The case has besmirched the legacy of the actor adored by millions as “America’s Dad” for his role as lovable father and obstetrician Cliff Huxtable on the hit 1984-92 television series “The Cosby Show.”
“I want to see a serial rapist convicted,” Heidi Thomas, a music teacher from Colorado and mother of four, said on the witness stand Wednesday. She says Cosby assaulted her in Nevada 34 years ago.
His retrial is the first such celebrity case of the #MeToo era, the US cultural watershed that since last October has ruined the careers of a litany of powerful men from Hollywood to politics.
The judge’s admission of testimony from Thomas and four other accusers poses perhaps the biggest challenge for the defense as the prosecution seeks to paint the defendant as a serial predator.
After Thomas stepped down, Judge Steven O’Neill told jurors to disregard the opinions of witnesses and reminded them the defendant is on trial only for the alleged crimes that concern Constand.
Thomas was followed by Chelan Lasha, who tearfully told the court that the actor drugged her with a blue pill and amaretto before she woke up in a hotel robe when she was 17, months after graduating high school.
– ‘Don’t you, Mr Cosby?’ –
“You remember, don’t you, Mr Cosby?” Lasha said tearfully, looking toward the impassive entertainer and speaking out of turn and cutting through the judge’s remarks to the jury.
The defense immediately called for a mistrial, a request that the judge immediately rejected, telling jurors that Lasha’s statement was “not evidence” and “stricken from the record.”
He also allowed the jury to be told that Lasha in 2007 pleaded guilty to an unrelated criminal charge of false identification, following a request from a defense seeking to undermine her credibility.
The trial is being bitterly fought and repeatedly held-up by objections, in what the judge warned could extend into Saturdays if the provisional one-month schedule given to the jury starts to back up.
Sixty women have publicly accused Cosby of being a serial predator, alleging that he drugged and assaulted them over a span of 40 years.
Three counts of aggravated indecent assault, brought by Constand who marked her birthday Wednesday, is the only criminal case to stick as most of the alleged abuse happened too long ago to prosecute.
Cosby’s first trial in Norristown, a Philadelphia suburb, ended in a hung jury in June last year, with a sequestered panel hopelessly deadlocked after six days of testimony and 52 hours of deliberations.
Thomas testified Wednesday that she went public after other women started to come forward, giving multiple interviews and supporting a campaign to change the statute of limitations on rape in Colorado.
– ‘Grunting noises’ –
Under cross-examination, she said she had been in Facebook contact with Constand to offer her support.
An extremely emotional Lasha, at the time a model and hotel worker, broke down repeatedly under direct and cross-examination.
“He laid me in the bed. I couldn’t move,” she added, simulating the sounds of “grunting” noises she said the Emmy-winner made.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she later sobbed.
Cosby’s celebrity defense attorney Tom Mesereau has branded Constand a lying, money-obsessed “con artist” who falsely accused the star to bag a nearly $3.4 million civil settlement in 2006 to evade debts.
Mesereau is best known for getting Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation, mounting a similar money-grabbing defense in California.
The accusers’ testimony of being drugged and unable to fend off the advances of a mentor they believed would further their careers bears striking similarities to Constand’s allegations.
At the time of the alleged assault, Constand was the director of women’s basketball at Temple University, where the wealthy actor sat on the board of trustees.
Cosby said he gave the Canadian an over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve stress. He said their relations were consensual.