Bill Cosby Mistrial: A Case That Leaves a Lasting Mark
Regardless of what happened in court today, there will forever be a before and after when it comes to Bill Cosby.
On Saturday morning a judge declared a mistrial in the sexual assault case against Cosby after the jury insisted it was hopelessly deadlocked on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault the 79-year-old entertainer had been facing. Andrea Constand, 44, had accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting her at his Philadelphia-area home in 2004, back when she was employed by Temple University, the comedian’s alma mater.
The seven-man, five woman jury started deliberating late Monday upon the conclusion of the relatively swift six-day trial in Norristown, Pa. The panel—purposely selected from an expanded pool of jurors closer to Pittsburgh than Philadelphia, where Cosby has a home—had been sequestered for the duration and bused 300 miles to the courthouse each day. They said on Friday that they were deadlocked, but Judge Steve T. O’Neill instructed them to keep trying to reach a verdict.
Camille Cosby, Bill’s wife, was with him at the courthouse last Monday as a show of support, but did not return. Cosby, who walks with a cane and who says he is now legally blind, was accompanied by his lawyers. A rep for Cosby told E! News Wednesday that he didn’t want Camille and other family members there to witness the “circus” surrounding the verdict.
A statement from Camille read in court Saturday called Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele “heinously and exploitively ambitious” and the lawyers representing her husband’s accusers “totally unethical.”
Cosby was sworn in but did not testify and the defense ultimately called only one witness, a detective who had interviewed Constand back in 2005.
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Constand—the one of more than four dozen women who had come forward proclaiming to be victims of Cosby’s predatory ways to see him charged with a crime—was in court Saturday. After the mistrial was declared, she hugged fellow accusers who had attended the trial, but she did not immediately address the media outside the courthouse.
During the course of their deliberations, the jury had asked to review a number of things, including Constand’s initial report to the Durham (Ontario, Canada) police or a transcript of the testimony given by Officer David Mason, who took Constand’s statement; the portion of Constand’s testimony in which she described what happened on the night in question; and the deposition Cosby gave in 2005 when Constand filed a civil lawsuit against him.
In the 2005 deposition, Cosby admitted to obtaining Quaaludes to give to women he had designs on having sex with. He admitted in the deposition to giving Constand three half-pills of Benadryl, but didn’t say he gave her Quaaludes. The suit was eventually settled.
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Outside the court today, Cosby’s team declared victory.
“The legacy didn’t go anywhere. It has been restored,” Cosby rep Andrew Wyatt said, per the Los Angeles Times.
Gloria Allred, who represents multiple Cosby accusers, countered, “It’s too early to celebrate, Mr. Cosby.”
The repercussions of the Cosby case—and the years of drama that preceded him standing trial—have reverberated across the entertainment industry and beyond, fracturing public opinion in a unique way as many felt that a serial sexual predator had finally been unmasked, while some felt that Cosby was being railroaded, targeted because of his wealth, fame and race. Outrage compounded as people questioned why it had taken so many women speaking out for authorities to take decisive action, and even Cosby’s initial defenders started to buckle under the weight of so many stories.
“I don’t know what to think after being the subject [himself] of opportunistic lawyers, you know, exploitation. Anything can happen in this world,” Jim Carrey, who said he had Cosby’s albums back in the day but who also knows from being the target of salacious claims, said on The Howard Stern Show last week. “So I don’t know what to think about all that. It certainly seems damning. You know, who knows?”
But regardless of which side people came down on, guilty or innocent or somewhere in between, any option was a nauseating prospect because of what Cosby meant to so many people. The Cosby Show is one of the best family sitcoms of all time, it spent five seasons as the No. 1 show on television, and at the center of it all was Cosby’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable, TV dad for the ages. Whether you were a fan of his stand-up or not, Cosby was ubiquitous in the 1980s and early ’90s.
And there is a camp which thinks that Cosby’s failings as a person do not diminish what he achieved creatively or as a celebrity.
Though even if that is technically true, seemingly no academics or celebrities who’ve talked about the case have ventured to suggest that the two won’t be forever linked, or that it won’t be up to future generations to process Cosby’s impact on the culture for themselves, with all the information that comes with it.
“His legacy is forever going to be tarnished,” Larry Wilmore, who when he hosted The Nightly Show was unforgiving of the comedian as the allegations mounted, told the Los Angeles Times while the trial was underway. “It may be one of those things that people compartmentalize. But it will overshadow his career because of the severity and just because of the sheer number of women involved.”
Eddie Murphy reportedly backed out of doing a Cosby bit—his impression of the elder comedian is a classic moment of his 1987 concert film Eddie Murphy Raw—on the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special in 2015, but he broke out his Cosby when he accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last year.
Noting, with a knowing look in his eye, that “Bill has one of these [prizes],” Murphy said, “Did y’all make Bill give his back?”
“You know you’ve f–ked up when they want you to give your trophies back,” he continued, referring to the doctorates and other honors rescinded in the wake of the mounting allegations.
And then, mimicking Cosby’s voice and rambling style, Murray said, among other things, “Some of the people who feel that I should give back my [bleepin’] trophies, just because you may have heard, recently, that I allegedly put the pill in the people’s chocolate…And who is Hannibal Buress?!”
The audience certainly sounded like they loved it.
One of the strangest aspects of the case was the fact that stories about allegations against Cosby had been hiding in plain sight for years. Hannibal Buress, who seemingly flicked the lit match that set the whole house ablaze when he said during a stand-up routine in Philadelphia, “You leave here and Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny. That s–t has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress,'” wasn’t just referring to tabloid speculation, or urban legends on the comedy circuit.
There were previously published stories about allegations of sexual misconduct prompted by Constand’s 2005 lawsuit. People did a cover story in 2006 on Barbara Bowman, one of the women who as a “Jane Doe” came forward to support Constand’s allegations.
Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank
All the while, Cosby had continued to be revered as a stand-up genius and one of the trailblazers for black entertainers in Hollywood, which he unquestionably was—though his “pull up your pants” lecturing to fellow black men also rubbed many of those who achieved fame in his wake the wrong way.
But fans continued to buy tickets to his shows. He had a deal in the works at NBC to return to TV. Comedy Central aired his first stand-up special in three decades, Far From Finished, in 2013.
A 2014 New Yorker profile of Cosby noted that four women had accused him of sexual assault, all of them relaying similar stories about having been drugged first. “Unlike Cosby’s extramarital affairs, these alleged assaults can’t easily be integrated into a consideration of his work: no doubt many of his fans will find it easier to put the claims out of mind or, especially if more information emerges, to put Cosby out of mind instead,” wrote Kelefa Sanneh.
There was no one community that was complicit in overlooking, or otherwise shrugging off, allegations that were already disturbing. Cosby had never been charged with a crime. The positive side of his reputation still tended to proceed him.
As Sanneh suggested at the time, his article written before Buress’ fateful routine, most people, if aware of the allegations, seemed to have indulged in the luxury of not being required to make any decision whatsoever. A non-action hardly relevant only in Cosby’s case, but one that could apply to countless celebrities accused of wrongdoing over the years.
Amanda Demme/ New York Magazine
The uproar that eventually commenced over the rampant Cosby allegations, perhaps reaching peak tragedy when New York magazine published a cover featuring pictures of 35 women who had accused him of sexual misconduct, blew the lid off of a boiling-over pot of damning societal issues. Misogyny and gender relations, and the ongoing reluctance to believe women who report sexual assault—and the harmful questions they face if they don’t speak up right away (and the questions they’re asked if they do). Celebrity culture, and how it both protects the undeserving and can turn the innocent into targets. Race, and how it factors into preconceived notions of guilt or innocence, or how the accused’s (and the victim’s) race can put people instantly on the defensive because of lingering assumptions that people of color still can’t get a fair shake in the justice system. The prejudices that often accompany the very act of being accused.
And the legal presumption of innocent until proven guilty held very little sway in the Cosby case, which simultaneously became a topic of cultural debate and a late-night punchline, the jokes sometimes a cathartic way of processing the shock that took hold among people who once considered Cosby, if not exactly a friend, than an inspiration or creative force to be reckoned with.
“I see a lot of similarities between [O.J. Simpson] and Cosby, in how they’re being discarded when we’ve run out of use for them,” Todd Boyd, a professor of race and popular culture at USC, told the LA Times earlier this month.
“This is a not a defense of Bill Cosby and it’s not to say there’s a witch hunt. He is guilty of what he’s guilty of. But there’s a long history of black male entertainers where we say, ‘We enjoyed the show and we’ve moved on and don’t need you anymore. So now we’ll hold you accountable for the things you did because you’re no longer of use.'”
Cosby’s attorneys argued during jury selection that the prosecution was challenging two prospective jurors because they were black, but the judge ruled in the DA’s favor. Ultimately, per The New York Times, the jury included two African-Americans (one man and one woman) and the other 10 jurors appeared to be white. There were also two black people among the six alternates selected.
“I am glad we are past this nonsense about the optics of the jury,” Steele stated once the jury had been seated. “It is a terrific jury made up of people of all demographics.”
In a statement, Cosby’s daughter Enza defended her father last month, saying, “I strongly believe my father’s innocent of the crimes alleged against him, and I believe that racism has played a big role in all aspects of this scandal.”
Cosby told SiriusXM’s Michael Smerconish in mid-May that racism “could be” a factor.
“I can’t say anything, but there are certain things that I look at and I apply to the situation, and there are so many tentacles, so many different—’nefarious’ is a great word—and I just truly believe that some of it may very well be that.”
Smerconish noted that Cosby had both black and white accusers, to which he replied, “Well, let me put it to you this way. When you look at the power structure and when you look at individuals, there are some people who can very well be motivated by whether or not they’re going to work. Or whether or not they might be able to get back at someone, so if it’s in terms of whatever the choice is, I think that you can also examine individuals and situations and they will come out differently. So, it’s not all, not every, but I do think that there’s some.”
In an interview in April with the NNPA Newswire, he expressed hope for the future of his career, saying he still felt there was more for him to do on stage.
“I miss it all and I hope that day will come,” he said. “I have some routines and storytelling that I am working on. I think about walking out on stage somewhere in the United States of America and sitting down in a chair and giving the performance that will be the beginning of the next chapter of my career.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors vowed to retry Cosby and Judge O’Neill said he’d try to schedule a retrial within 120 days. Cosby faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted on all three assault counts.
A guilty verdict would have served as vindication for Constand, and perhaps at least some solace for the other women who say they were sexually assaulted by Cosby but whose window for pressing criminal charges had closed. An acquittal seemingly would’ve been devastating.
But there is no verdict.
The case itself, however, the fact that Cosby did ultimately face criminal charges, did hearten those committed to creating a world where women feel safe to come forward to speak out about being violated and mistreated. And it was intended as a rude awakening to anyone who thinks that a certain level of fame or wealth means they’re above the law.
But today it’s Cosby’s most stalwart supporters, those who still think he’s the victim of a conspiracy, or an easy mark for a pack of women seeking money or a few minutes in the spotlight—those who thought the trial was a gross injustice—who are celebrating.
“We know why we’re here,” defense attorney Brian McMonagle addressed the jury in his closing statement. “Let’s be real. Let’s look each other in the eye and talk about it. We’re not here because of Andrea Constand. We’re here because of them.” With that, he gestured to a group of Cosby accusers and activists sitting in the courtroom.
Yet the jurors—be it one person or five or all 12—couldn’t come to an agreement about what really happened.
And any outcome aside, it doesn’t change the fact that a man who was most famous for exhibiting the epitome of family values on TV and encouraging others to clean up their acts has been accused of despicable behavior. Then it took 11 years after Constand first came forward and the emergence of more than 50 women to get the wheels of justice creaking.
In the end this case was a sad turn of events for everyone involved, including the many people who’ve trusted Cosby over the years. Trusted him either with their safety and dignity while in his presence, or with their youthful ideals from the comfort of home.
“The man that I’ve known as a child was funny and witty and smart and philanthropic and full of advice,” Keisha Knight-Pulliam, who played youngest Huxtable daughter Rudy on The Cosby Show, told ABC News in explaining her presence alongside her TV dad on the first day of the trial. “I can only go based on who I’ve experienced, and at the end of the day, it’s the court’s job to find the truth of the matter.”
A week later, Cosby was neither found guilty nor acquitted. So he and his supporters are celebrating today, but it’s back to work for his accusers.
Regardless of what happened in court today, there will forever be a before and after when it comes to Bill Cosby.
On Saturday morning a judge declared a mistrial in the sexual assault…
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