The second week of comedian Bill Cosby’s retrial in Norristown is underway. Jurors have heard from primary accuser Andrea Constand, who alleges the entertainer drugged and sexually assaulted her at his Cheltenham home in 2004. Last week, five other women took the stand to share similar accounts of their interactions with Cosby decades ago.
Reporter Annette John-Hall is following this case closely for WHYY’s podcast “Cosby Unraveled.” She spoke with Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn about the differences between this trial and Cosby’s first last June that ended in a hung jury, and about another accuser who came forward to WHYY after listening to “Cosby Unraveled.”
“Cosby Unraveled” offers context and nuance to support our daily coverage of the trial. The podcast gained traction when Cosby was tried last year — and that trial ended in a hung jury. Let’s talk about some of the differences between the two trials.
You know, the whole world has shifted since the mistrial last summer because of the advent of the #MeToo movement, and suddenly because of what transpired with the Harvey Weinstein case, women are coming forward and accusing men of sexual harassment and that kind of behavior, and finally, they’re being believed. We’ve heard these rumors about Cosby for many years, and nobody wanted to do anything about it, and certainly we find ourselves in this moment, and it has to affect certainly what the jury believes and what everybody believes about these kind of allegations now.
And now there are five women who testified last week to say Cosby drugged and then sexually assaulted them years ago — this to lend credibility to Andrea Constand’s story. The prosecution wants to do that. These women did not testify last summer.
No, they didn’t, the judge wouldn’t allow it. All of these women have so much in common — the same drugging allegation, the same waking up and feeling like they had been violated. And so, the prosecution wanted to establish a pattern of prior bad acts by Cosby, and they were called bad acts witnesses.
And then this time around, the jury is local. The other one was drawn from the Pittsburgh area from last summer.
Yes, this jury is local, which means they may live close to where Cosby lives in Cheltenham Township. It’s a much more intimate kind of contact with the case. Whether that bodes well for Cosby or not, it’s hard to tell.
Media are not allowed to record in the courtroom during the retrial, so we don’t hear the voices of the women who say Cosby drugged and assaulted them. But you have recorded a woman who wanted us to hear her voice telling her story. She’s not a witness in the case. Who is she and why did she come forward to WHYY?
So she heard our podcast and she reached out to one of our producers to say that she, too had a story. She is 60 years old now. She is a very successful business person, and she alleges she had a similar incident with Cosby in 1974 when she was 16 years old.
It was just the two of us and immediately I felt that something was wrong. So I asked where his family was, and he said, “Oh they’ll be coming along shortly.” But in the meantime, he said, “Just sit down, relax, here’s a drink, a pink slushy drink.”
What happened was that she was invited to see Cosby’s performance in Lake Tahoe. She was under the assumption that she would be able to sit with his family. She never saw the family. Instead, she was escorted into Cosby’s dressing room at which time he gave her that drink. She took a couple of sips of it and she immediately knew that it had something in it.
And she had the presence of mind to leave.
She had the presence of mind to say “no” because he approached her and started stroking her hair and trying to put the moves on her as she says, and the only way that she could stop him was to say that, “No, no, no, I’m not here for that. I’m a virgin.” And then he backed away and escorted her to the performance area, where she sat by herself and watched him perform.
Why didn’t this woman want us to know her name?
Well, she says that she has talked to people about the incident, and when she does tell people she feels like her relationship with them changes just the slightest. And she said she didn’t want to give Cosby that power, although the people who hear her voice will know who she is.
And you took care to vet her story?
Yes. We talked to her parents and we talked to her best friend who was staying with her that summer. In fact, two of her friends, and they all verified that she did talk to them about it afterwards.
You reached out to Cosby’s attorneys and spokesmen to no avail, but Cosby’s spokespeople do speak to the press outside the courtroom rather regularly. We’re going to hear from a spokeswoman, Ebonee Benson. What is the set up for this cut?
She wants to make sure the media does not paint Cosby as this alleged serial harasser because of the five witnesses who were called last week.
Prosecution by distraction. When you don’t have a case, you will fill the time with something else. You, the media, must not misdirect or divert attention away from the case we are here to try.
Cosby has maintained that his relationship with Andrea Constand is consensual, and at the end of the day that’s what it comes down to, right. Whether or not one person, Andrea Constand, consented to what happened to her. And that’s what the jury has to weigh, not the five other witnesses, not all the other allegations that spanned over a 50-year period. The one incident with Andrea Constand.