Comedian and TV icon Bill Cosby has been convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault at his sexual-assault retrial here Thursday, on the second day of deliberations.
It was not the outcome Cosby or his high-powered defense team wanted but it was an answer to the question that has haunted America since October 2014: Is "America's Dad" really a serial sexual predator who drugged and molested Andrea Constand at his nearby home in January 2004?
Last June, another jury at Cosby's first trial deadlocked on that question after days of deliberations, forcing Judge Steven O'Neill to declare a mistrial.
For the retrial, the jury of seven men and five women voted unanimously that the answer was yes. Cosby, charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault, could get 10 years in prison on each count. He denied the charges, asserting that his sexual encounter with Constand was consensual and that he only gave her an over-the-counter allergy medication.
At 80 and in failing health, any prison term is likely a death sentence.
Advocates for rape victims and lawyers who represent many of the five-dozen women who have accused Cosby of being a serial rapist immediately started celebrating outside the courthouse here.
They mounted regular protests during both trials, including a topless protest on the opening day of the retrial, hoping to influence the media and the public.
But the jury, which was sequestered at a local hotel, saw and heard none of this. They were instructed not to let outside influences, such as the Me Too movement to call out sexual harassment and assault, creep into the jury room.
"The pressure to be politically correct coming from the Me Too movement should not but unfortunately could influence the jury," says California trial attorney Lara Yeretsian, who followed the case.
Cosby could appeal the conviction, arguing that the jury was biased, "but it’s not easy to show the jury was tainted," Yeretsian says. "You have to get inside their minds to determine bias or hope they make statements to others to that effect."
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who failed to persuade the first jury, had a difficult job: A 14-year-old alleged sex crime. No physical or forensic evidence. An accuser who waited a year to report it. An acclaimed defendant whose iconic status garnered him support.
And there was the dauntingly high burden-of-proof standard that every prosecutor must meet in a felony case in the American criminal justice system: Persuade 12 jurors "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the defendant is guilty and vote unanimously to convict. All it takes is one doubtful juror to change the outcome.
Cosby was charged in December 2015, just weeks before Pennsylvania's unusually lengthy statute of limitations on sex crimes was about to expire. In the previous year, Cosby was accused by 60 women who said Cosby drugged and assaulted them in episodes dating back to the mid-1960s.
All of those accusations were too old to prosecute, except Constand's. She did not report what she said happened to her until a year later, in 2005, but the then-district attorney said there was insufficient evidence to charge Cosby. So Constand filed a civil suit against him instead. Cosby was deposed for the suit, which was settled and sealed in 2006; as Steele revealed in his opening statement at the retrial, Cosby paid Constand $3.4 million to settle their case.
After the first Cosby accusers began coming forward in October 2014, the Associated Press went to federal court seeking that the deposition Cosby gave in the civil suit be released "in the public interest," and they won. In it, Cosby acknowledged acquiring drugs, specifically quaaludes, to give to women he sought for sex. That gave county prosecutors "new evidence" to give Constand's long-quiescent criminal case new life.
Steele, who was running for district attorney that fall, put up attack ads criticizing his opponent for failing to prosecute Cosby in 2005. He won. The following month, he charged Cosby.
The first trial took place in June 2017. After six days of testimony (the defense called only one witness and then rested) and the equivalent of five days of deliberations, it ended in a mistrial.
The retrial was different: There were 13 days of testimony and arguments and a day and a half of deliberations, and there were more witnesses who testified. Prosecutors were allowed by O'Neill to call five other accusers of Cosby — "prior bad acts" witnesses — to testify that he did the same thing to them, too.
And Cosby was allowed to call a former friend and colleague of Constand, who testified that Constand spoke of a plan to frame a celebrity with false accusations so she could sue and make millions.
Both prosecutors and defense lawyers were more aggressive in their courtroom tactics and cross-examinations, and in their regular sniping at each other. The defense launched a caustic attack on Constand in its opening statement, labeling her a greedy "con artist." The prosecution bashed Cosby as the real "con man" whose sordid extramarital sex life and predatory behavior belied his good-guy image from his years on The Cosby Show.
Much was made in the media and outside the courtroom about the fact the retrial took place in a dramatically different environment from last year — after the dawning of the Me Too movement that began in October 2017.
What happens outside a criminal courtroom is supposed to stay outside. But human nature is what it is, says Yeretsian. Few jurors could escape the cultural revolution of the Me Too movement, she says.
"Jurors don’t live in a vacuum, and they could be responding sympathetically to the movement, even on a subconscious level," Yeretsian says. "The diligent juror will do his or her best to only rely on the evidence presented in the courtroom. ... Still, the movement could sneak into the deliberations room when determining the credibility of Constand and the prior bad acts witnesses."
Contributing: Associated Press