Norristown (United States) (AFP) – Bill Cosby’s lawyers Tuesday urged a US jury to acquit the disgraced star of alleged sexual assault and save him from “ruin,” savaging the case against him in the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.
The frail 80-year-old 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.
Wearing an orange embroidered coat and sunglasses, Camille, Cosby’s wife of more than half a century, on Tuesday made her first appearance at his retrial, embracing him tenderly and beaming before taking a seat.
“Mr. Cosby must be acquitted of all counts. He must walk out of here free,” said defense lawyer Tom Mesereau. “He’s a distinguished man. He made some mistakes for sure but he is no criminal.”
The case has trashed the legacy of the actor once adored by millions as “America’s Dad” for his role as lovable father and obstetrician Cliff Huxtable on the 1984-92 hit television series “The Cosby Show.”
The defense brands 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.
Prosecutors in Montgomery County brought five other women to testify that Cosby was a serial rapist and predator who preyed on much younger women who looked up to him by drugging and assaulting them.
Cosby claims he gave the Canadian an over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve stress and that relations were consensual.
– ‘Pathological liar’ –
Constand says Cosby drugged and assaulted her after she went to his mansion to ask for advice about quitting her job as director of operations for the women’s basketball team.
“You’re dealing with a pathological liar, members of the jury, you are,” said Mesereau, calling it “very, very serious” that an 80-year-old man was “looking at absolute ruin. Absolute ruin.”
“They’re not inconsistencies, they’re lies,” said Mesereau, calling the 2006 civil settlement “one of the biggest highway robberies of all time.”
In a case with no physical evidence, which essentially boils down to she-said, he-said, Mesereau drilled into the detail of inconsistencies in Constand’s testimony to police and in sworn statements.
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.
Last time the defense brought just one witness. This time the defense star witness is a former Temple University employee 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’ –
They brought an expert who said Constand’s side-effects were consistent with neither 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.
“If they can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, our highest legal standard, the case is over,” said Mesereau, ending a two-hour closing argument begun by former federal prosecutor Kathleen Bliss.
Bliss besmirched Constand as “not a good girl,” who fooled around with “a married man old enough to be her grandfather” and delivered a stinging attack on the five accusers as fame-hungry opportunists.
In an astonishing personal assault on the most famous of the five, Bliss called Janice Dickinson an “aged-out model” who “sounds as though she’s slept with every single guy on the planet.”
The defense also sought to neuter any influence that the cultural watershed of the #MeToo movement may exert on jurors.
“Mob rule is not due process,” said Bliss. “Just like sexual assault, the denigration of women is real,” she added. But women are “not snowflakes. We’re not like delicate flowers.”
“As men and women we reject gossip and speculation and false promises,” she said. “That’s what makes for due process… Never ever let anyone or anything shame you into a conviction.”
Prosecutors initially declined to prosecute 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.
They will deliver their closing arguments later Tuesday before the case goes to the jury.