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Hung jury ends Cosby's sexual-assault trial; retrial likely

The Philadelphia Inquirer

June 17. 2017 8:24PM
Actor and comedian Bill Cosby departs after a judge declared a mistrial in his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., Saturday, June 17, 2017. (REUTERS/Charles Mostoller)

NORRISTOWN, Pa. - The sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby ended in a mistrial Saturday morning after a jury said it could not reach a verdict on the only set of criminal charges to emerge from the allegations of dozens of women who say they were drugged and assaulted by the entertainer.

Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O'Neill dismissed 12 jurors - seven men and five women - after they told him they were hopelessly deadlocked after five days of deliberations.

"I remind everyone that this is not vindication or victory," O'Neill said. "A mistrial is merely the justice system at work."

Prosecutors said they would retry the case as soon as they can. "We will evaluate and review our case, we will take a hard look at everything involved and then we will retry it," District Attorney Kevin Steele said.

During their deliberations, jurors asked to revisit nearly every key piece of evidence from the trial. Just after 11 a.m. Thursday, jurors told O'Neill that they were at an impasse on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault stemming from Andrea Constand's claim that he drugged and molested her at his Cheltenham Township home in 2004.

O'Neill sent them back to continue trying to reach a verdict, and they continued to deliberate for another day and half before reporting that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Constand sat stoically in the front row of the courtroom, flanked by her mother and a detective. Other accusers, who had attended much of the trial, quickly moved to comfort her. Some were crying.

Outside, civil lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents many of the other Cosby accusers, said the case was not over, citing the retrial possibility. "Sometimes, a second jury will render a different outcome from the first jury," she said. "And sometimes that's conviction."

And some of the accusers were resolute. "He thought he could bury us," said one, Linda Kirkpatrick. "He didn't know we are seeds ... uncovering the rape culture in this country."

Cosby's lawyers thanked the jury. He left without commenting. But outside the courthouse, his publicist, Andrew Wyatt, spoke again as if the mistrial amounted to vindication, saying Cosby's legacy had been "restored."

His assistant read a statement from Cosby's wife, Camille Cosby, that called Montgomery County prosecutors "heinously and exploitatively ambitious" and called the judge "overtly arrogant and collaborating with the district attorney."

In his news conference, Steele said "this is a case we know has been important for sexual assault victims everywhere" but he singled out Constand.

"She (has) shown such courage through this," he said. "She's entitled to a verdict in this case. And the citizens of Montgomery County, where this crime occurred, are entitled to a verdict in this case."

He said he didn't know what divided the jury. "We have no indication of where anybody was on the case - and I don't really know that we'll ever know," Steele said.

That ambiguous ending capped a week's worth of testimony and another week of deliberations that raised questions about the role that race, sexual entitlement, a scandal-hungry media and Hollywood's casting-couch culture played in the ruin of a celebrity icon.

It also offered some measure of vindication for Cosby, who has maintained that he never sexually assaulted anyone and that prosecutors made the right choice in deciding not to pursue the case when Constand first came forward in 2005.

Still, the outcome of the trial seems unlikely to quiet the critics who have plagued Cosby for nearly three years, during which he was stripped of countless honors and shunned by studios and many former Hollywood friends.

Over two days of testimony last week, Constand stuck to her story that in 2004 Cosby invited her to his Cheltenham mansion, gave her three blue pills, and then assaulted her when she was paralyzed and powerless to resist.

At the time, she was the operations manager for the women's basketball program at Temple University, where Cosby was the most famous alumnus and a member of the board of trustees, someone she viewed as a mentor and father-figure. It took her more than a year to decide to report the incident to police.

Steele, who reopened the investigation in 2015, cited Cosby's own words in a forceful, two-hour closing argument Monday.

"It comes out of his own mouth. He says he gives her drugs. He says she doesn't say yes," Steele said. "She's out and you're doing stuff to her? It's not right. And it's criminal."

But throughout the trial, the defense - led by Philadelphia lawyer Brian J. McMonagle and co-counsel Angela Agrusa - sought to use earlier doubts about Constand's credibility against her.

Again and again, they pummeled her account, questioning why she told police at various points in 2005 that she had never been alone with Cosby before her alleged assault, that she never contacted him again afterward, and that the attack had happened in March 2004 - all claims she would later revise before her testimony last week.

She gave "one inconsistent statement after another," McMonagle told jurors in his closing remarks, arguing that Cosby and Constand were involved a consensual relationship, underlined by Constand's later admission that the entertainer had made what she described as several suggestive passes at her before the night of the alleged assault.

"Why aren't we just owning it?" McMonagle told the jury Monday. "It's a relationship. They're intimate and they stay intimate. That's what it is. Why are we trying to make it something it's not?"

The fact that Constand's allegations landed Cosby in a courtroom at all came after an improbable series of events that started in a Philadelphia comedy club a decade after the encounter in Cosby's home on the edge of the city.

Comedian Hannibal Burress lambasted Cosby over Constand's long-standing but by then largely forgotten allegations.

His 2014 routine opened floodgates that resulted in a two-year, near daily onslaught of sexual misconduct accusations from more women. Ultimately, more than 60 came forward, including several who said the renewed spotlight on Cosby's conduct with women empowered them to speak out and allege that they, too, had been drugged and molested by him.

The controversy played a role in a federal judge's decision in 2015 to unseal parts of a deposition Cosby had given nearly a decade earlier as part of a lawsuit Constand filed against him alleging sexual battery. That case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and with a provision that barred either side from talking about the case.

But the contents of those transcripts - including Cosby's admission that he had obtained drugs in the past to use with women he hoped to seduce - piqued the interest of investigators in Montgomery County, who reopened the case in 2015.

They filed their charges against Cosby just days before Pennsylvania's 12-year statute of limitation on the sexual-assault allegation was due to expire.

Despite the conclusion of his criminal trial, Cosby's legal problems are likely to continue. He faces defamation and sexual battery lawsuits filed in two states - Massachusetts and California - from seven other accusers, some of whom were in the Norristown courtroom throughout his trial.

Courts Crime General News

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