Who’s Who at the Bill Cosby Retrial
The Bill Cosby re-trial began on Monday in a courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, 10 months after his first trial ended in a hung jury. Opening day proved dramatic, with a topless protester, accusations of bias among jurors and revealing statements from both the prosecution and defense.
The climate toward sexual assault has changed drastically since Cosby last took the stand – his is the first high-profile celebrity sex abuse trial in the age of #MeToo – and that shift is evident in the courtroom. At the initial trial last year, only two alleged victims were allowed to testify against him: Andrea Constand, who said that he assaulted her in 2004, and Kelly Johnson, then known by her pseudonym “Kacey,” who alleged that Cosby assaulted her in 1996. But just last month, Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled that five more of his alleged victims could take the stand – meaning that the prosecution can now present Cosby’s behavior as a pattern. And as the trial grows in scope, so does the assemblage of lawyers, supporters and alleged victims in the courthouse.
Here, a breakdown of who’s who in the Bill Cosby retrial.
Overall, about 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual abuse dating back to the 1960s, according to the Associated Press. In his first trial in June 2017, the once-esteemed actor and comedian faced a charge that he drugged and assaulted Constand. After a week-long trial and six days of deliberations, the jury remained “hopelessly deadlocked.” The 80-year-old defendant is now being charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault and faces up to 10 years in prison.
Constand, a 44-year-old former employee of Temple University, is at the center of the retrial as she maintains Cosby assaulted her at his home outside Philadelphia in 2004. According to prosecutors, Cosby paid her $3.38 million to settle a lawsuit against him in 2005, according to The New York Times.
This week, Montgomery County district attorney Kevin R. Steele disclosed the payment as part of the confidential settlement to the public for the first time ever. “This case is about trust,” Steele told jurors in his opening statement Monday. “This case is about betrayal, and that betrayal leading to a sexual assault of a woman named Andrea Constand.” Steele’s prosecution team showed jurors Cosby’s previous statements in which he admitted to giving Constand three pills – he claimed the “three friends” were Benandryl to help her relax – before he digitally penetrated her. Cosby has claimed the sex was consensual.
In addition to Constand, Johnson was the only woman to testify against Cosby in the first trial. She has accused Cosby of having her swallow a large white pill and then attacking her in a Los Angeles hotel in 1996, according to The New York Times. She is now named in court papers as a possible prosecutorial witness for the retrial, but it is unknown whether she will testify again.
Judge Steven T. O’Neill
Judge O’Neill earned his law degree from Villanova University, before launching and overseeing a drug treatment court for over 11 years, according to The Mercury News, a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania. He was sworn in as a county judge in 2002 and has since garnered 10-year terms in 2004 and 2014.
Since presiding over the initial trial, Judge O’Neill ruled that the additional five women would be allowed to testify. He has also decided that the prosecution could show jurors how much Cosby paid Constand to settle her lawsuit. (The prosecution and defense agreed not to present the lawsuit in the first trial.)
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele
Steele, a Penn State law graduate and former U.S. Secret Service intern, ran for DA in 2015 on the platform that he would bring charges against Cosby if elected. Later that year, he took office and charged Cosby with three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault, just as the statute of limitations for sex crimes was about to run out. After last year’s mistrial, Steele made another vow: retry Cosby.
Defense Lawyer Tom Mesereau
Mesereau worked for a subsidiary of Getty Oil Company before becoming a trial lawyer. “Trials are high stakes encounters,” says his website. “Mesereau takes risks. Mesereau likes impossible odds. His results speak for themselves.” Mesereau gained courtroom fame when he helped Michael Jackson get acquitted of a child-molestation charge in 2005, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Philadelphia-based lawyer Brian J. McMonagle, who represented Cosy in the first trial, filed a motion to quit the case nearly three months before the retrial. And so Cosby replaced him with the long-haired Mesereau, who in turn brought on lawyers Kathleen Bliss, Becky James and Lane Vines.
On Monday, Mesereau told jurors that his team will prove “just how greedy” Constand was in receiving the high-dollar settlement. In his opening arguments on Tuesday, Mesereau called Constand a “con artist.”
Cosby’s defense team is banking on the testimony of Jackson, a 56-year-old Temple University academic adviser who claims that Constand told her that she could make false allegations against a high-profile person to make money. In the first trial, Judge O’Neill did not allow Jackson to testify since Constand said she did not know her, but the defense has since found two of Constand’s former Temple colleagues who dispute that claim.
Five women to testify
In the first trial, Judge O’Neill allowed only Constand and one other alleged victim to testify before a jury. Now he’s allowing five additional women – which is expected to include former supermodel Janice Dickinson – to testify that Cosby drugged and assaulted them as well. (The prosecution has not announced who those women will be, though the judge stipulated that they must be picked from the eight most recent accusations.) The prosecution originally requested to call 19 women, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The retrial was delayed several hours as Judge O’Neill reviewed a defense motion filed last week to replace a juror, according to The Associated Press. An alternate juror accused a juror – a white male described as “Juror #11” in the motion – of saying he thinks Cosby is guilty. O’Neill held a closed hearing with the woman in his chambers, and discussed the matter with prosecutors and defense. Several hours later, all jurors were sworn in, including the juror in question.
As it is now, the jury includes seven men and five women – 10 white, two black. O’Neill has said the retrial may take as long as a month, much longer than the six-day trial his first time around.
Protestor Nicolle Rochelle
On Monday morning, Nicolle Rochelle, a 39-year-old actress who played a friend of Rudy’s in four episodes of The Cosby Show between 1991 and 1992, lept over a barricade outside the courthouse and got within feet of Cosby, according to The Washington Post. She was topless, her torso exposed with painted phrases, such as “Cosby Rapis[t]” and “Women’s Lives Matter.” Her body also displayed the names of over 50 women who accused Cosby of sexual abuse, as well as a homage to a Ukrainian-based international women’s group called Femen, whose leader Inna Shevchenko later said that Rochelle was a member who represented their “contribution to the global revolt launched by #MeToo.”
Rochelle, who was released after being charged with disorderly conduct, told the Los Angeles Times that Cosby never harmed her, but the accusations against him motivated her to protest. “It felt personal,” she said. “I wanted him to feel my presence, and feel uncomfortable.” She told reporters that she would stay away from the courthouse during the retrial.