NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Prosecutors are rallying from a blistering defense attack on Bill Cosby’s chief accuser with a parade of women who say the comedian drugged and attacked them long before he met Andrea Constand.
The first of the five women, Heidi Thomas, returns to the witness stand on Wednesday after telling jurors that Cosby knocked her out with wine and forced her to perform oral sex in Reno, Nevada, in 1984.
Thomas, who was a 24-year-old aspiring actress, said her agent had arranged for Cosby to give her acting tips and that Cosby gave her the wine as they rehearsed a scene in which she was portraying a drunken woman.
She said she remembered she felt sick and wondered, “How did I get here?”
Prosecutors are lining up the additional accusers to make the case that Cosby, once revered as “America’s Dad,” was a big Hollywood predator who is only now facing a reckoning after allegedly violating Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
The women also could help prosecutors insulate Constand from the defense’s contention that she is a “con artist” who preyed on Cosby’s vulnerability after the 1997 killing of his son, Ennis, and then framed him to score a big payday via a $3.4 million civil settlement.
Tom Mesereau, delivering his opening statement a day after prosecutors took their turn, said the financially troubled Constand “hit the jackpot” when Cosby paid her in 2006. The settlement included a provision that she keep quiet about the alleged encounter.
“What did she want from Bill Cosby?” Mesereau said. “You already know the answer: money, money and lots more money.”
Constand outlined her scheme to a Temple colleague, Marguerite Jackson, Mesereau said. The defense plans to call Jackson as a witness, and Mesereau said she will testify that Constand mused about setting up a celebrity so she could sue and get money.
“A con artist is what you get, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he said. “A con artist. And we’ll prove it.”
The defense fought for the chance to tell jurors about the previously secret settlement. Gloria Allred, the lawyer for several accusers testifying, said she would put that move “under the heading of be careful what you wish for” because jurors could wonder why Cosby paid so much when he has denied wrongdoing.
Mesereau’s attack on Constand was a striking departure from the more subdued tone that Cosby’s previous lawyer took at the first trial, which ended in a hung jury last spring. The jury that time was not permitted to hear about the settlement, nor was Jackson allowed to take the stand.
It also was a likely glimpse of what is to come when the former Temple University basketball administrator takes the stand to say Cosby, an alumnus and former university trustee, made her woozy with pills and then penetrated her with his fingers.
Cosby, 80, is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
As they began building their case against Cosby, prosecutors chose Thomas, now a Colorado music teacher, as their first substantive witness.
Thomas testified she blamed herself for what happened, thinking she must have said or done something that led Cosby to believe she would be open to his advances. She never told her agent or her parents about the alleged assault.
“I was pretty sure whatever I did was my fault,” Thomas testified, adding: “I was just going to move on. And I did.”
Thomas, who went public with her allegations in 2015, has teamed with other Cosby accusers to lobby for longer statutes of limitations for sex crimes, including a successful effort to double Colorado’s to 20 years.
Under cross-examination, Thomas testified that she chronicled her trip to Reno in a scrapbook and recorded a cassette tape at the home where she had the encounter with Cosby. She said she wanted to recount the trip for her mother and agent but destroyed it years later after seeing a psychiatrist.
It made no mention of the alleged assault, Thomas said, because she had planned to give it to her mom.
Both sides have been instructed not to talk about the first trial, but Cosby lawyer Kathleen Bliss slipped up while questioning a prosecution psychiatrist on Tuesday, prompting Judge Steven O’Neill to briefly halt testimony so he could speak to the lawyers behind closed doors.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand and Thomas have done.
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