Norristown (United States) (AFP) – Three women who say Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them in the 1980s gave dramatic and tearful testimony in court Wednesday, as prosecutors sharpened attempts to portray him as a serial predator.
The now frail and isolated 80-year-old 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 Colorado music teacher and mother of four, said on the stand Wednesday. She says Cosby assaulted her in Nevada 34 years ago.
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.
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.
Judge Steven O’Neill’s admission of testimony from five other accusers presents the biggest challenge for the defense, who twice called for a mistrial Wednesday.
Both were denied. The first came after Thomas stepped down.
Chelan Lasha then tearfully told the court that the actor drugged her with a blue pill and amaretto when she was 17, months after graduating high school. She woke up wearing a hotel robe, she said.
– ‘You remember’ –
“You remember, don’t you, Mr Cosby?” Lasha said tearfully, looking at the impassive entertainer, speaking out of turn and cutting through the judge’s remarks to the jury.
The defense called again for a mistrial, a request again rejected. The judge told jurors that Lasha’s statement was “stricken from the record.”
Janice Baker-Kinney, the third accuser told jurors that she was raped by Cosby when she was 24-years-old, after he pressed her to take two pills that she believed were “Quaaludes” — a type of sedative that Cosby had admitted in the past obtaining with a view to having sex.
Baker-Kinney, a bar tender in Reno at the time, said she passed out, before waking up the next morning naked in bed with him.
“There was a sticky wetness between my legs and it felt like I had had sex,” she said, testifying that for decades she blamed herself.
Fending off aggressive cross-examination from Cosby’s celebrity defense attorney, who shot to fame for getting Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation, Baker-Kinney stuck to her guns.
She insisted her prior drug use and subsequent alcohol addiction was not an issue at the time of the alleged rape and refused to accept that she was either on a money-grabbing quest or had been swayed to consider the incident as rape only after other accusers started coming forward in the media.
“You’re kind of turning my words around,” she told Cosby’s lawyer Tom Mesereau. “You’re twisting how I said those words.”
– ‘Grunting’ –
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.
An extremely emotional Lasha, at the time a model and hotel worker, broke down repeatedly under direct and cross-examination, and simulating the “grunting” noises she said the Emmy-winner made.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she later sobbed.
The judge allowed the jury to be told that Lasha in 2007 pleaded guilty to an unrelated criminal charge of false identification as the defense sought to undermine her credibility.
The trial is being bitterly fought and repeatedly held-up by objections. The judge warned proceedings could extend into Saturdays if the provisional one-month schedule given to the jury veers off course.
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.
Mesereau says Constand is a “con artist” who falsely accused the star to bag a nearly $3.4 million civil settlement in 2006 to evade debts.