NORRISTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA — “It’s not romantic. It’s criminal.”
This was the crux of Montgomery district attorney Kevin Steele’s impassioned closing argument for the prosecution in the trial of Bill Cosby. Steele, who ran for the position he holds now on a platform built, in part, of promises to bring criminal charges against Cosby — as his opponent failed to do in 2005 — spent over two hours insisting to the jury that this case “is about as straightforward as you are ever going to see in a sex crimes case.”
Steele’s remarks were the kicker in a trial that whisked by at an even faster pace than Judge Steven O’Neill had predicted. Slated to last approximately two weeks, the trial was finished in eight days — a little less, in fact, if you factor in that the jury, which had been bused in from Pittsburgh, was let out early on Friday afternoon so they wouldn’t miss the puck drop of Game Five in the Stanley Cup finals.
The prosecution presented its case in just a week; the defense called only one witness who was questioned and cross-examined in only six minutes. Cosby did not testify.
“Would you ever forget that? You’d never forget that. Because you’d been sexually assaulted.”
Cosby stands accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2005, when she was an administrator at Temple University. He has been charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault. If convicted, he could face up to a decade in prison.
Defense attorney Brian McMonagle, who also delivered his side’s opening statement, also spoke for over two hours. In his introductory and closing remarks, he was a dramatic speaker, his voice rising to a shout, a screech, a scream. In his review of Cosby’s communication with Constand, McMonagle leaned heavily on two points: That Constand’s story was wildly inconsistent, therefore making her an unreliable narrator of these events, and that she and Cosby were engaged in a “romantic interlude” of which the night in question was one consensual part.
“Ms. Constand was untruthful time and time and time again in this investigation,” McMonagle said. He rattled off the list of mismatched dates and locations in her statements, noting that she had originally claimed that she and Cosby were at a restaurant the night of the assault; she later amended that, saying she had gone directly to his home, alone. “Would you ever forget that?” McMonagle asked the jury. “You’d never forget that. Because you’d been sexually assaulted.”
McMonagle described several of the one-on-one encounters Constand and Cosby had, insisting there was no way to construe those events as anything other than intimate meetings between two people in a relationship. “If my wife — she’s already mad at me for the first time I brought her up at this trial — if my wife and I are in a room, sipping brandy, sitting in front of a fire, and we’re burning incense, first of all, she’d probably say to me, are you really Brian?” McMonagle paused for jury laughter, then went on: “Of course it’s romantic.”
“Why are we running away from the truth of this relationship?” McMonagle asked.
Steele started his statement as prosecuting attorney Kristen Feden had: By recreating the scene of the alleged assault. He quoted what Constand says Cosby said to her, pills in his outstretched hand: “I have three friends for you to help you relax.”
The prosecution returned again and again to Cosby’s own words from police interviews and a 2005 deposition in which Cosby admitted to obtaining quaaludes for women with whom he wanted to have sex. Steele also played recordings from Cosby’s phone calls with Constand’s mother, Gianna, who testified last week. “We want you to look very, very closely at his words,” Steele said. “Because when you do, there is no other decision to make in this case than that he is guilty of aggravated indecent assault. Because it comes out of his own mouth.”
One especially strange line of Cosby’s was his response to the question about whether he and Constand had ever had sex: “Never asleep or awake.” “If you have sexual relations with someone when they’re out, when they’re asleep, when they’re unconscious, that is a crime,” said Steele. “Because that person is not consenting to what that person is doing. They’re not capable of it.”
In contrast to McMonagle’s statement, which was deliberately convoluted— an attempt to mirror the scattered dates and events Constand described and sometimes altered in her interviews with police — Steele’s statement stayed focused on the night of the alleged assault, on the drugs Cosby gave Constand, and on Constand’s description of her inability to consent.
“A woman has a right to refuse,” Steele said. Cosby, “by doing what he did on that night, he took away that ability. He took that from Andrea Constand. He gave her no choice in this matter. Why? Because of what he wanted.”
Steele described Constand’s state after she took the drugs — drugs Cosby maintains were Benadryl, though he told Constand’s mother over the phone in 2005 that he would “have to check the prescription” because he couldn’t remember what he gave her. Steele quoted Constand’s recollection of her reaction to the pills: “I was limp. I wasn’t able to fight in any way.”
Cosby, Steele said, led an incapacitated Constand to the couch by the arm. “They want to tell you, and have suggested, that this is romantic? You should be insulted by that.”
Steele pointed out that the alleged assault took place at Cosby’s five-bedroom home. If the encounter were romantic, “Why put her on the sofa? You do what you do to her, and then you leave her there? No blanket, no nothing, disheveled, clothes up around her? Come on. The suggestion of that, that this is about a relationship together?”
As for McMonagle’s insistence that the blanks in Constand’s memory proved her unreliability, Steele said, “There are some things in this case that should be fuzzy. Why? Because he drugged her.” Cosby, Steele pointed out, had described on the record what the drugs he said he gave Constand would to do him: They made him fall asleep.
“There are some things in this case that should be fuzzy. Why? Because he drugged her.”
At times McMonagle (after pointedly apologizing to the “ladies” in the jury) shouted the more graphic descriptions Cosby provided in his deposition about what he and Constand did on the night of the alleged assault. McMonagle yelled, “Sex! Petting! Touching private parts!” and then pantomimed as he said, in a tone of utter disbelief, “If you’re ‘not here for this,’ a man has — I apologize for this — already put his hands down your pants, why are you going to Foxwoods?”
McMonagle returned to a few of his refrains from his opening statements: That Kelly Johnson, who alleges Cosby drugged and assaulted her in 1996 and was the only prior bad acts witness allowed to testify, came forward in 2015 for the attention. “Cameras whirling, whirling!” He laughed darkly at Johnson’s delay in going to the police. “No, not yet! We’re going on a media tour! See it for what it is. Stop this. I wanna go on Dr. Phil. And spend a little time on CNN.”
McMonagle’s argument was peppered with folksy asides and aww-shucks-anecdotes about his grandmother (her not-exactly-unique life advice: Don’t lie), his wife (who will ask him how his day went), and about seeing an “adoring daughter” look up at her father while eating dinner at a Shake Shack the other night, and how quickly children grow up and never look at their parents that way again. It was all a preamble leading to his allowance that “the only angels are in heaven” and that the defendant is a flawed man who cheated on his wife. (Camille Cosby made her first appearance in the courthouse on Friday.)
Only McMonagle mentioned Cosby’s celebrity at all, describing him as “a brilliant comedian. An artist who not only taught us how to smile, but taught us how to love each other, no matter what we look like.” In Steele’s telling, Cosby was a man Constand saw as a mentor, someone “37 years her senior,” ten years older than her own father.
“He took what was not his to take,” Steele said. “And he took it based on the condition that he put her in.”
And with that, the criminal trial of Bill Cosby came to an early close. Jury deliberations began at 5:00 p.m.