One of the mightiest falls of grace to confront the world of Hollywood and celebrity has been finally cemented after the actor and comedian Bill Cosby - once one of the most popular entertainers in the nation – was convicted by a jury of sexual assault.
The 80-year-old former star of the The Cosby Show, and a man whose success as a black entertainer was in some ways as significant as that represented by Barack Obama in the sphere of politics, was found guilty by a jury near Philadelphia of all three counts of sexual assault. As the decision was announced, there were shrieks in the court from some of the women who had accused him of molesting or assaulting them and whose voices had for years been ignored or disbelieved.
During a trial that lasted 17 days, the court heard how he had drugged and sexually assaulted former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home in 2004. The jury took 14 hours to return its verdict.
The decision came after a two-week retrial in which prosecutors put five other women on the stand who testified that Cosby, married for 54 years, drugged and violated them as well. One of those women who spoke brushed back tears as she said to him: “You remember, don’t you, Mr Cosby?”
The panel of seven men and five women, reached a verdict after a previous jury delivered a mistrial one year ago. Afterwards, activists and other women who had accused the star of assaulting them, said the verdict vindicated the decision by prosecutors to try him again.
The charges on which the comedian was convicted, each carry a sentence of ten years in jail, although his legal team indicated it would appeal the result. For now, he will need to register as a sex offender and will undergo an assessment to determine if he is a sexual predator.
To the disappointment of many of the women’s supporters, Cosby, who did not appear in his own defence, was allowed to leave the court in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, having been permitted to remain on bail of $1m. As the downcast and sombre celebrity waited for a vehicle to take him away, his lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, told reporters: “We are very disappointed with the verdict.”
The jury deliberated for over 52 hours in six days during Cosby’s first trial on 17 June 2017 and were unable to reach a decision.
During the initial trial, Ms Constand testified that the actor slipped her three pills he dubbed as “your friends”.
At the time she thought they were stress-relieving herbal supplements, but they caused her to fall asleep, the court was told.
When she came woke up, Ms Constand said, Cosby was assaulting her. Cosby insisted he gave Ms Constand the cold medicine Benadryl and that she consented to sexual relations with him.
Ms Constand’s testimony in the latest trial was crucial to prosecutors seeking to charge Cosby. The Associated Press said that while more than 60 women had accused the entertainer or molesting or assaulting them over a period of five decades, her claim remained inside the statute of limitations for prosecutors to make use of.
“The time for the defendant to escape justice is over,“ prosecutor Stewart Ryan said in his closing argument. ”It’s finally time for the defendant to dine on the banquet of his own consequences.“
Another prosecutor, Kristen Feden, said Cosby was known to millions of Americans and people around the world as the sweater-wearing father of five, Dr Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show. In truth, she said, Cosby was “nothing like the image that he played on TV”.
Cosby’s retrial took place against the backdrop of #MeToo, the movement against sexual misconduct that has taken down a succession of powerful men in rapid succession, among them Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey and Senator Al Franken.
“Justice has been done,” attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, said on the steps of the courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania. “We are so happy that finally we can say women are believed.”