Norristown (United States) (AFP) – Bill Cosby’s retrial for alleged sexual assault — a legal fight made tougher with more witnesses in a #MeToo world — hit a snag Monday over claims that one juror may already believe the disgraced US megastar is guilty.
The now frail and isolated 80-year-old Cosby could spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted of drugging and molesting former university employee Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home in 2004.
The pioneering black entertainer’s first trial ended in a hung jury on June 17, with a sequestered panel hopelessly deadlocked after six days of testimony and 52 hours of deliberations.
As Cosby walked towards the Pennsylvania court on Monday, a topless protester jumped over the barrier and ran towards the comedian, before being tussled into the bushes by security and taken into custody.
“Cosby Rapist” was written on the back of her torso and “Women’s lives matter” on the front.
“Hey, hey, hey — women’s lives matter,” she yelled.
Cosby’s retrial is now the most high-profile criminal case so far in a #MeToo world, the US cultural watershed that has ruined the careers of a string of powerful men in Hollywood, politics and the media.
In recent years, some 60 women have accused the Emmy winner, who today claims to be legally blind, of being a serial predator, alleging that he drugged and assaulted them over a span of 40 years.
The case forever tarnished the legacy of an actor once adored by millions as “America’s Dad” for his seminal role as a lovable father and obstetrician on hit 1984-92 television series “The Cosby Show.”
– Juror complication –
Yet the three counts of aggravated indecent assault in connection with Constand, who now lives in Canada, are the only criminal charges to stick against Cosby, with most of the alleged abuse having occurred too long ago to prosecute.
Last Friday, his defense team moved to strike one juror, who was allegedly overheard saying: “I just think he’s guilty, so we can all be done and get out of here.”
Judge Steven O’Neill said Monday he would interview the juror who claims to have overheard the remark, behind closed doors, before deciding further how to proceed.
Twelve jurors — five women and seven men — as well as six alternates were selected last week for the trial in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, but have not yet been sworn in.
Once proceedings get underway, observers expect a dramatically different trial.
O’Neill has agreed to let five other Cosby accusers testify, compared to just one the last time, handing a major victory to prosecutors, who will seek to paint Cosby as a serial predator.
The most well-known of the five is 63-year-old model Janice Dickinson, who says Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in 1982.
The defense team has also changed, now headed by Los Angeles celebrity import Tom Mesereau, with his distinctive mane of thick white hair, known for getting Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation.
O’Neill has handed a win to the defense in allowing testimony from a former co-worker who alleges that Constand schemed against Cosby.
– #MeToo fog –
Lawyers may also be able to make public the amount of money that Cosby paid Constand in a civil suit to settle her claim in 2006, which could strengthen efforts to portray her as a scheming money-grabber.
Mesereau’s hardball tactics have already been in evidence in a failed attempt to get the judge booted off the case for alleged bias because his wife works with sexual assault victims.
Permeating the entire case is the #MeToo movement, which erupted in October and has seen the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey shamed and stripped of their positions for alleged sexual misconduct.
Experts say the nationwide reckoning may make jurors more inclined to believe victims.
At the time of the alleged assault, Constand was the director of women’s basketball at Temple University, where the actor sat on the board of trustees. She will take the stand again the second time around.
In a 2005 deposition, Cosby said he gave Constand an over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve stress and that they had consensual relations, but admitted obtaining sedatives with a view to having sex.
Cosby, who was lauded as a hero by African Americans and revered by whites for smashing through racial barriers, is best remembered for his role as Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”
He is also known for his popular comedy specials and his Emmy-winning role on “I Spy.”