NORRISTOWN, PA—Where yesterday a topless protestor, her body emblazoned with the names of women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual violence, lunged at the defendant, today there is an extra barricade.
Nicolle Rochelle, who starred in four episodes of The Cosby Show in the early ‘90s, has promised to stay away from the courthouse for the remainder of the trial. Nevertheless, after her protest, another row of fences went up. Protection for him, from the likes of her.
Much of this case, like so many of the high-profile stories of sexual abuse that have flooded the news these past seven months, hinges on a power imbalance. The accused is the accuser’s boss, the mentor, the industry gatekeeper, the wealthy donor. He has more resources, more institutional support, more name recognition. The terms of their arrangement are his to dictate; her aspirations are his to realize, or to crush.
But there’s a feeling hanging heavy for some in this electric, post-#MeToo atmosphere that flips this dynamic upside-down: The fear that powerful men, stripped of due process, are being hunted and torched in the court of public opinion, in the style of a gender-flipped Salem Witch trial.
Bill Cosby can claim many, many things: That literally every single woman who has claimed he raped her is a liar. That he did not drug and sexually assault any of the women who are slated to testify in the coming weeks at Andrea Constand’s trial: not Heidi Thomas, not Chelan Lasha, not Lise-Lotte Lublin, not Janice Dickinson, not Janice Baker-Kinney. That he is old and legally blind.
“You’re going to be saying to yourself in this trial: What does she want from Bill Cosby?” Mesereau asked. “And you already know the answer: Money, money, and lots more money.”
That, as his attorney Thomas Mesereau argued Tuesday morning in his opening statement, Cosby is the real victim here, a “lonely” and “foolish” man who became the target of Constand’s insatiable greed. That Cosby’s fame made him an irresistible mark for a woman on the prowl for an easy cash-grab, craving a sliver of his celebrity spoils for themselves.
But one thing Cosby cannot say is that he’s suffered a lack of due process. For the second time in two years, Cosby is inside the Montgomery County Courthouse, where he stands accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Each carries a sentence of up to ten years.
On Monday, District Attorney Kevin Steele offered up a lackluster opening statement, a convoluted presentation that struggled to make sense of Constand’s timeline—she alleges an assault in 2004 that she reported to the police a year later, maintaining sporadic contact with Cosby in between—and only touched upon what one could consider a key facet of Constand’s credibility: It was the district attorney’s office who approached Constand about reopening the case, not the other way around.
By contrast, Mesereau’s opener was largely straightforward, focused on painting Constand as an untrustworthy, conniving woman who couldn’t hack it at her Temple University job and was looking for “a big score” when she and Cosby met. Constand, Mesereau said, was someone who had a “history of financial problems, until she hits the financial jackpot with Bill Cosby.”
In the defense’s portrayal, Constand deliberately waited a year after the alleged assault so it would be impossible for police to collect forensic evidence. Her plan was “very sophisticated,” Mesereau asserted, enabled greatly by Constand having “taken two courses in sexual assault at Temple…She knew exactly what she was doing, [and] she pulled it off.” And the inconsistencies in her various police reports, evidenced by phone records that contradict her initial claims that she hadn’t been in close contact with Cosby after the alleged assault, prove Constand is not a victim but “a con artist.”
“You’re going to be saying to yourself in this trial: What does she want from Bill Cosby?” Mesereau told the jury. “And you already know the answer: Money, money, and lots more money.”
Why exactly Constand would bother to pursue a criminal case when she already had her $3.38 million settlement (the exact amount of which was disclosed for the first time on Monday), Mesereau didn’t say. He did highlight Cosby’s humble upbringings—a childhood of poverty in the projects, a speedy success upon his arrival in Hollywood, where making it is as rare as “winning the lottery”—a pointed contrast to what Mesereau described as Constand’s get-rich-quick ploy.
Mesereau described an alleged conversation between Marguerite Jackson, a Temple colleague of Constand’s the defense plans to call as a witness, and Constand, in which Constand confided that she’d been sexually assaulted by a powerful celebrity. But Jackson, in Mesereau’s telling, sniffed out Constand’s lie, so Constand confessed she had not actually been sexually assaulted, allegedly telling Jackson, “I can say I was. I can set up a celebrity and get a lot of money for my education and my business.”
“Her attitude was, ‘I can become a multimillionaire. It’ll be a drop in the bucket to him, he won’t want to fight it,’’ Mesereau said. “And he didn’t want to fight it. This was a paltry sum to him to avoid all of this, and look where it ended up. He’s on trial for his life.” (At the first trial, Constand testified that she did not know Jackson.)
Mesereau delved into the language in the $3.38 million civil settlement. Cosby admitted no wrongdoing—he strenuously denied Constand’s allegations—and emphasized the fact that Constand “agreed to make this confidential,” which Mesereau said proves Constand’s dishonesty. “This was nothing about principle. This is all about money. If this is about principle, you’re not making it confidential… You’re basically saying, ‘I was violated and I’m announcing it to the planet.’”
“The only principle was money,” said Mesereau, “Money, money, money.”
In his only allusion to the “Me Too” movement, Mesereau told the jury that the prosecution is “hoping is that somehow, in the current climate in America, maybe you’ll be prejudiced” against Cosby. “Maybe you’ll just be too blinded by accusations” to evaluate the case at hand.
“Finally, Mr. Cosby has his day in court,” Mesereau said of a man who had his day in court over ten months ago in this very courtroom and who has tried repeatedly to have this case thrown out before it could ever go to trial.