The long-awaited Bill Cosby sexual assault trial, the only criminal proceeding to stem from dozens of sexual assault allegations levied against the formerly beloved comedian in recent years, has begun in the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania. While 79-year-old Bill Cosby has vehemently denied the slew of rape and sexual assault allegations that have surfaced against him, the accusations (many of which involve victims being drugged) have severely tarnished his wholesome, “everybody’s favorite dad” image.
The Cosby sexual assault trial unfolding in Pennsylvania is not addressing the claims of every individual woman who has now publicly accused the former Cosby Show star of sexual misconduct, sexual misconduct that allegedly took place over decades. Rather, Bill Cosby is facing three charges of aggravated indecent assault related to allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting a single victim: 44-year-old Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee. If convicted, Cosby faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge. At the end of 2016, VanityFair dubbed Constand’s accusations against Bill Cosby as the case that “might finally bring Bill Cosby down.”
The alleged sexual assault reportedly took place in January 2004. At the time, Constand was just 31-years-old and working as the director of operations of the women’s basketball team at Temple. On January 12, 2005, Constand claims to have suffered a “flashback” to having been sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby at his home, after he gave her pills that she says he told her were herbal. On that same day, Constand told her mother, Gianna, that Bill Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted her a year before.
Andrea Constand would go on to file a civil lawsuit against Bill Cosby over the alleged sexual assault. During that lawsuit, Cosby was deposed and the married star admitted to engaging in sexual conduct with the much younger Constand. According to Bill Cosby, however, any sexual behavior that took place in January 2004 was completely consensual.
“I don’t hear her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped.”
In 2006, Bill Cosby settled his civil suit with Andrea Constand without the matter being taken to trial. He paid the former Temple University employee an undisclosed amount to keep her mouth shut. Documents related to the civil case, including his depositions, were sealed. However, in 2015 a Pennsylvania judge ordered those documents to be unsealed. The reason? According to the judge, Cosby had become a “public moralist” (his speaking tour consisted insulting African-Americans regarding their lives and morality) while he himself was privately engaged in a shocking sex scandal. Among the Cosby-related documents made public were statements he’d made admitting to drugging at least one woman prior to having sex with her. Afterward, the district attorney involved in the Constand case revived criminal charges related to the alleged Cosby sexual assault.
While literally dozens of other women have come forward to claim that they were drugged and/or sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, Judge Steven T. O’Neill (who is overseeing the Constand criminal trial) ruled during months of pre-trial hearings that only one of those accusers would be allowed to testify on behalf of the prosecution during the trial. That alleged Bill Cosby victim has been identified as Kelly Johnson.
During the opening day of the Bill Cosby trial, The New York Times reports that Ms. Johnson took the stand and tearfully recounted what she claims happened to her at the hands of Cosby roughly two decades ago. According to her sworn testimony Monday, Cosby sexually assaulted her in Los Angeles in 1996. Ms. Johnson claimed that the incident took place at the Hotel Bel-Air after a period of time during which Bill Cosby gained her friendship and then trust, even “plying her with gifts.”
Kelly Johnson claims that on that day over 20 years ago, Bill Cosby convinced her to swallow a large white pill that made her feel like she was “underwater.” Johnson claimed that she eventually fell asleep, and when she woke up, she was partially disrobed and lying on a bed with Cosby behind her. She claimed, through her tears, that the comedian put lotion on her hand and then “he made me touch his penis.”
“My dress was pulled up from the bottom, and it was pulled down from the top. My breasts were out. I felt naked.”
Bill Cosby has publicly denied Johnson’s allegations, and he is not facing criminal charges in connection with the sexual assault she claims he perpetrated on her. However, prosecutors are hopeful that her testimony will serve a two-fold purpose.
First and foremost, prosecutors in the Cosby trial are hoping that Johnson’s story will help shatter the public’s long-standing public persona as a trustworthy and loving father figure. Secondly, because Kelly Johnson’s claims closely mirror Andrea Constand’s version of what happened to her in 2004, prosecutors are hopeful that her testimony will help to establish a pattern of behavior.
Assistant District Attorney Kristen M. Feden claimed during his opening statement that Bill Cosby’s own words, as taken from his unsealed civil trial depositions, will ultimately be enough to convict him. In those depositions, Cosby reportedly admitted that he used quaaludes to have sex with women.
“Trust, betrayal and the inability to consent. That is what this case is about.”
According to the prosecutor, a drugged woman cannot legally consent to sexual contact.
“This case is about whether Ms. Constand had the ability to consent. The answer is no.”
The Bill Cosby sexual assault trial is expected to last for roughly two weeks. Alleged victim Andrea Constand is expected to take the stand, while Bill Cosby himself has said that he will not testify in his own defense.
[Featured Image by Matt Rourke/AP Images]