The jury in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case began deliberating Wednesday in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era, weighing charges he drugged and molested a woman at his suburban Philadelphia home 14 years ago.
The panel of seven men and five women got the case after receiving final instructions from the judge but returned less than two hours later to ask him for the legal meaning of “consent.”
Judge Steve O’Neill said he wasn’t able to answer the question, telling jurors that Pennsylvania law does not define consent. But he said jurors had already been given the definitions of the charges they were considering.
Deliberations got underway after a marathon day of closing arguments Tuesday that portrayed the comedian both as a calculating predator who is finally being brought to justice and as the victim of a multimillion-dollar frame-up by a “pathological liar.”
The two-week trial pitted Cosby, the 80-year-old former TV star once revered as “America’s Dad,” against Andrea Constand, a former Temple University sports administrator who testified that he knocked her out with three pills he called “your friends” and molested her at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in January 2004. He said their encounter was consensual.
“The time for the defendant to escape justice is over. It’s finally time for the defendant to dine on the banquet of his own consequences,” prosecutor Stewart Ryan told the jury.
Cosby’s lawyers argued that the charges were based on “flimsy, silly, ridiculous evidence.”
The jury heard testimony from five other women who said that Cosby drugged and violated them, too. Before excusing the jurors to deliberate, O’Neill told them they could consider the women’s testimony as possible evidence that Cosby had a pattern of predatory behavior, but he forbade them from using it to find that the comedian is “a person of bad character.”
Facing the prospect of a conviction and lengthy prison term, Cosby nevertheless seemed in good spirits Wednesday, giving a quick fist pump and sashaying toward well-wishers chanting, “We love Bill!” as he arrived at the courthouse.
His more streamlined first trial ended in a hung jury last year after six days of deliberations. Only one additional accuser testified that time. Nor were jurors told the amount of Cosby’s 2006 civil settlement with Constand: nearly $3.4 million, which defense lawyer Tom Mesereau on Tuesday called “one of the biggest highway robberies of all time.”
Cosby’s lawyers argued that Constand falsely accused Cosby so she could sue him and extract a big settlement. They called to the stand a woman who said Constand spoke of framing a prominent person — testimony that was blocked at last year’s trial.
“I have never seen or heard of a retrial that was as different as this was from the first trial,” said lawyer Dennis McAndrews, who has been following the retrial and is not associated with either side. “The prosecution now had multiple victims and the defense had the issue of money, which were powerful weapons for both sides.”
Cosby faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each carrying up to 10 years in prison.
The defense went after Constand, attacking her credibility and character and highlighting more a dozen inconsistencies in what she has said over the years.
“You’re dealing with a pathological liar, members of the jury,” said Mesereau, who won an acquittal in Michael Jackson’s 2005 child molestation case.
Prosecutor Kristen Feden called Cosby the true con artist — wresting that label from Cosby’s lawyers, who had applied it to Constand throughout the trial. Feden warned that the man trusted for his role as genial, sweater-wearing Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” is “nothing like the image that he played on TV.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done.
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