After Mistrial, Bill Cosby's Second Trial Set To Begin
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Jury selection starts today ahead of a new trial for Bill Cosby. The comedian will again be facing sexual assault charges arising from a 2004 encounter in his suburban Philadelphia home. Last year, a jury couldn't decide whether to convict or acquit the 80-year-old on these same allegations, and that resulted in a mistrial. From member station WHYY, Laura Benshoff reports that with a new jury, new defense attorneys and a new era of accountability for sexual assault, this trial will not just be a rerun of the first.
LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Cosby faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and molesting Andrea Constand more than a decade ago. Constand, a former basketball player with a skyscraping, curly hairdo, testified that Cosby gave her three pills that he indicated were herbal but were something else. She says that something else made her feel frozen and pass out during his advances. Bobby Dugan was a juror during the first trial. He says the lack of explicit consent during the encounter convinced him Cosby was guilty.
BOBBY DUGAN: In my opinion, consent is a verbal agreement. If there is no verbal agreement, then there is no consent.
BENSHOFF: Defense attorneys argued Cosby and Constand had a romantic relationship. Dugan says he wanted to convict. But ultimately, the jury couldn't reach a unanimous decision. This time a new jury is going to hear new witnesses. A judge recently ruled to allow testimony from up to five women, in addition to Constand, who say Cosby also drugged and sexually assaulted them. Veteran defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom, who's not affiliated with the case, says that's a gift for the prosecution and a challenge for the defense.
THOMAS BERGSTROM: I think you have to change your strategy a little bit when there's only one witness versus whether there's five. If there's one, I think you can still argue effectively that it's consensual. But the more you get, the less consensual it is.
BENSHOFF: Cosby is not on trial for these other women's accusations, but they're allowed to testify in this case to help a jury decide whether Cosby knew what he was doing. Cosby's new lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau, who previously defended Michael Jackson against child molestation charges, is bringing in new evidence, too. In court documents, the defense has asked to call a witness they say shows Constand planned to fabricate a claim of sexual assault in order to get a big payout. Perhaps the biggest difference between the trial last June and the one next week isn't anything inside the courtroom. It's the explosion of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against high-profile men known as the #MeToo movement. Lili Bernard is an actress and artist and one of the more than 50 women who have accused Cosby of assault.
LILI BERNARD: I think that the #MeToo movement is serving to educate people as to why victims remain silent for so long when they see that these big celebrities have been silent for decades.
BENSHOFF: She'll be holding silent vigils outside the courthouse every night - one of several actions planned to draw attention to survivors of sexual assault during the trial. And what about the man himself? During pre-trial hearings last month, Cosby shuffled past reporters on the arm of his assistant, visibly aged since his TV days. But he still has that signature laugh.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ready for trial, Mr. Cosby?
BILL COSBY: (Laughter).
BENSHOFF: He seemed unfazed by the legal acrobatics taking place around him to determine whether he's a sexual predator or an old philanderer. For NPR News, I'm Laura Benshoff in Philadelphia.
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