On Saturday, the sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby — thus far, the only criminal case against the man who has been accused by nearly 60 women of sexual misconduct — ended in a mistrial.
Andrea Constand, a former Temple University administrator, alleges that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home in a Philadelphia suburb back in 2004. She initially tried to bring criminal charges against him a year after the alleged assault; the district attorney declined to prosecute, so she filed a civil suit against Cosby instead. They settled out of court in 2006, though not before several other women — Jane Doe witnesses who never got to testify — came forward publicly to accuse Cosby of sexual assaulting them, too.
In July 2015, with just six months left before the statute of limitations in the state of Pennsylvania ran out, Montgomery County district attorney Risa Vetri Ferman reopened the Constand investigation. That December, Cosby was charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault. If convicted, he would have faced up to ten years in prison.
But the trial, more than a decade in the making, seemed to come to an anticlimactic end this weekend: A hung jury, a mistrial, and no clear validation for either side.
Why couldn’t the jury reach a verdict?
Well, it wasn’t for lack of trying: After listening to a weeklong case by the prosecution and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it six minute case by the defense, the jury deliberated for more than 50 hours. They asked for lengthy excerpts of key documents — including the 2005 deposition in which Cosby said he obtained Quaaludes for women with whom he wanted to have sex, a bombshell bit of evidence that the prosecution tried, unsuccessfully, to bar from the trial — to be read back to them. They asked for Constand’s phone records. They asked the judge to, again, define “reasonable doubt.” But they remained deadlocked.
Beyond the confines of the courtroom, the general public has heard dozens and dozens of women come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault — perhaps making it seem strange that a Cosby conviction was not a forgone conclusion. Those in the courtroom, however, heard from only two: Constand and Kelly Johnson, the one prior bad acts witness the judge permitted the prosecution to call. Johnson was the first witness, and a powerful one: She alleges that in 1996, when she was an agent with William-Morris (where Cosby was among the, if not the most important client), Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her.
So the case ultimately came down to a question of who was more credible: Cosby, whose team insisted he and Constand were engaged in an ongoing romantic relationship, an extramarital affair that made Cosby a vulnerable target for an opportunistic woman; or Constand, who took the stand and testified to how helpless and immobile she felt after taking the pills — “three friends to help you relax” — Cosby handed her on the night in question.
Constand gave inconsistent reports to the police, changing dates and locations, and she waited a year to file a report at all; though the defense called an expert witness to contextualize those choices and explain that sexual assault victims frequently misremember details (especially when the victim was drugged), it seems that wasn’t enough to eliminate doubt from at least one of the jurors’ minds.
As Barbara Ashcroft, an associate professor at the Temple University Beasley School of Law and a former prosecutor in the Montgomery County district attorney’s office, told the New York Times, the fact that the jury could deliberate for so long in a case with no toxicology or physical evidence to consider demonstrates that “jurors are ‘fighting’ over who to believe and who to trust as they methodically examine and in this case “re-examine” the testimony. This has been a classic sexual assault case of ‘he says, she says.’”
Is this a win for anyone?
Technically, no. This outcome is not exactly the sort of thing either side could do a victory lap to — but don’t tell that to Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, who told reporters outside the courthouse, “Mr. Cosby’s power is back. It’s back. He has been restored.”
Constand’s attitude in the wake of the mistrial, judging by her posts on Twitter, was one of quiet persistence and cautious optimism:
— Andrea Constand (@dreconstand2017) June 18, 2017
Why will there be a retrial?
Within minutes of the news that this case ended in a mistrial, district attorney Kevin Steele announced he would be retrying the case. Constand is on board, Steele said, which means she is likely prepared to take the stand again. (Cosby did not testify.)
While campaigning for the office he now holds, Steele was up against Bruce Castor — the district attorney in 2005 who declined to bring charges against Cosby at the time. Steele’s campaign aired TV ads calling Castor “a former D.A. who refused to prosecute Bill Cosby.” The ad also presented Steele as someone who supported “tough sentences for sexual predators.”
So Steele is invested in seeing the Cosby case through; he all but ran on a platform of a Cosby conviction. Steele has a year to retry Cosby. As of Saturday afternoon, he was confident about the retrial. He told reporters gathered at the courthouse that the last time he retried a case after a mistrial, in 1992, he won.
What about the other cases against Cosby?
There are currently no other criminal cases against Cosby. For the overwhelming majority of his accusers, the statutes of limitations for bringing criminal or civil sexual assault charges has long since expired.
But there is one civil sexual assault suit against Cosby: That of Judy Huth, who claims Cosby raped her in 1974 when she was 15 years old. (California’s statute of limitations is extended for adults who allege they were sexually abused as children.) Huth says Cosby knew she was a minor, invited her to the Playboy Mansion anyway, and sexually assaulted her there. Cosby has already been deposed for this case by Gloria Allred, who represents Huth (and approximately 30 other Cosby accusers).
Cosby has also been sued for defamation by a number of his accusers in Massachusetts and in California. These women claim that, after coming forward, Cosby defamed them by calling them liars and profiteers. Cosby, in turn, countersued, accusing the women of making up their allegations and conspiring together to destroy his reputation, thereby engaging in “intentional, extreme, outrageous, and morally repugnant conduct.”
Cosby says these women are liars. The women say they’re telling the truth. Which means even though the case is technically about defamation — whether the women have wrecked Cosby’s reputation, or the other way around — it is, essentially, about whether or not Cosby committed these assaults.
Is ‘The Cosby Show’ still on the air?
Yes. Though a number of networks pulled Cosby Show reruns as more and more women accused Cosby of sexual assault, Bounce TV announced last November that the show would be back “by popular demand” in time for Christmas. TV One is airing the reruns as well, and all eight seasons of the series are available to stream on Amazon Prime.