Norristown (United States) (AFP) – A con man who exploited his fame as “America’s Dad” to betray women’s trust by drugging and sexually assaulting them, or a misguided married man hoodwinked by a money-grabbing, pathological liar?
The defense and prosecution delivered closing arguments at Bill Cosby’s sexual assault retrial Tuesday, before the jury later starts deliberations in the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.
The frail 80-year-old Cosby could spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, then a Temple University employee, in January 2004.
The case has trashed the legacy of the actor once adored by millions for his role as lovable father and obstetrician Cliff Huxtable on the 1984-92 hit television series “The Cosby Show.”
“The perpetrator of that con?” asked prosecutor Kristen Feden, turning on its head central the defense claim that Constand is a con-artist in dramatic and emotional closing remarks.
“That man!” she shouted, striding at speed toward and pointing at an impassive Cosby in the Norristown court, just outside Philadelphia.
Feden said Cosby used his fame to gain the trust of unsuspecting women, time and time again, deliberately drugging Constand so that she would be unable to resist his advances.
Five other accusers testified that Cosby was a serial rapist and predator who preyed on them in a similar manner.
“He’s laughing like it’s funny?” Feden shouted in Cosby’s direction at one point, seemingly in response to his behavior.
“There’s nothing funny about that Mr Cosby. And there’s nothing funny about five different women, plus Ms Constand. Six. Being incapacitated.”
Cosby claims he gave the Canadian Constand an over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve stress and that their relations were consensual.
– ‘Pathological liar’ –
Constand says Cosby gave her three blue pills, saying they would help her relax but passed out. She woke up to find him penetrating her vagina with his fingers and that he made her masturbate his penis, she says.
The prosecutor said the case was about trust, betrayal and the inability to consent, tearing into the defense’s “vicious” and “filthy” character assassination attempts against Cosby’s accusers.
Cosby’s high-flying defense team urged the jury to acquit their client on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault and save a “distinguished”, legally blind, elderly man from “absolute ruin.”
Cosby’s wife of more than half a century, Camille, wearing an elegant orange coat and sunglasses, attended the defense closings, embracing him tenderly and beaming, but left during the lunch break.
“Mr. Cosby must be acquitted of all counts. He must walk out of here free,” said defense lawyer Tom Mesereau, best known for getting the late Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation.
“You’re dealing with a pathological liar, members of the jury, you are,” said Mesereau, who has called 45-year-old Constand a “con artist” who pursued a lonely, grieving father and falsely accused the star to bag a $3.38 million civil settlement in 2006 to escape debt.
In a case which essentially boils down to she-said, he-said, Mesereau drilled into what he called 12 “lies” uttered by Constand and called the 2006 settlement “one of the biggest highway robberies of all time.”
Cosby’s first trial in Norristown, a Philadelphia suburb, ended in a hung jury in June, with a sequestered panel hopelessly deadlocked after six days of testimony and 52 hours of deliberations.
This time they have more testimony to consider.
The defense star witness is Marguerite Jackson, an educated adviser who worked at Temple University for decades, who claimed that Constand spoke of wanting to set up a celebrity for cash.
They have presented phone and travel records to suggest that Cosby was not in Philadelphia to carry out the alleged assault in January 2004.
– ‘Not snowflakes’ –
Experts have disagreed on whether or not Constand’s side-effects were consistent with either the over-the-counter antihistamine nor Quaaludes, a 1970s party drug that Cosby admitted during a 2006 deposition that he had obtained with a view to having sex.
Former federal prosecutor Kathleen Bliss sought to neuter any influence that the cultural watershed of the #MeToo movement may exert.
“Mob rule is not due process,” said Bliss, referencing witch hunts, lynchings and McCarthyism as “horrible periods of time where emotion and hatred and fear overwhelm us.”
“There isn’t a single woman here who hasn’t felt the pain… of being made to feel lesser,” she said. But women are “not snowflakes,” she said. “We reject gossip and speculation and false promises.”
Prosecutors initially declined to pursue the case, but reopened it in 2015, arguing new evidence had come to light, while an avalanche of women came forward publicly to accuse the star of decades of assault.