The judge in the sexual assault case of comedian Bill Cosby has declared a mistrial. After several days of deliberations, the jury could not come to a unanimous agreement.
The inconclusive end to the high-profile trial leaves open the possibility that Cosby will be tried again — a possibility that District Attorney Kevin Steele says he will pursue.
The jury was considering allegations that Cosby drugged and molested Andrea Constand, a former employee of Temple University, at his home near Philadelphia in 2004.
If convicted Cosby, 79, could have spent the rest of his life in prison. He had been charged with three second-degree felony counts of aggravated indecent assault, and each count carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison.
Constand is not the only woman who says Cosby raped or sexually assaulted her. Dozens of women have come forward over the past several years, with stories that echo one another. But in most of those cases, the statute of limitations had expired by the time the women told their stories publicly. Constand’s case was the exception.
She reported the crime to police in 2005, and filed a civil suit against Cosby after prosecutors declined to press charges. A decade later, as more and more women stepped forward with accounts of assault, prosecutors took a second look at the allegations and this time, filed criminal charges.
Prosecutors argued that Cosby drugged Constand to incapacitate her so he could assault her. They cited Cosby’s own statements that he gave her pills and touched her sexually and called another accuser to the stand to make the case that Cosby had a pattern of drugging and assaulting women.
Cosby’s defense team questioned Constand’s credibility, pointing to inconsistencies in her accounts to the police, and argued that the 2004 encounter was consensual and “romantic.”
The prosecution took five days to present their case; the defense, less than a day. Cosby did not testify in his own defense.
Cosby’s wife, Camille, joined him in the courtroom as his defense team presented their case. Supporters and well-wishers also gathered outside the courthouse; at times during the trial, Cosby “appeared in good spirits” as he spoke to and saluted his fans, The Associated Press reports.
Jury deliberations started on Monday afternoon. As the days passed, the jury repeatedly asked to rehear portions of the testimony.
On Thursday, after more than 30 hours of deliberations, the members of the jury told the judge they were deadlocked and could not reach a unanimous consensus. The judge ordered them to try again, giving them instructions meant to motivate an undecided jury to come to a conclusion.
By the time a mistrial was declared Saturday, the exhausted jurors had spent more than 50 hours in deliberations.
A growing wave of allegations
For decades, Cosby’s public image seemed not just untarnished, but untarnishable. He was the star of the wildly popular The Cosby Show and a successful stand-up comic. Genial, avuncular, beloved: He was America’s dad.
As NPR’s Gene Demby has written, Cosby was a black luminary who served not just as a racial and cultural ambassador to white America, but as a financial backer of black America.
“Black colleges and prospective black college students were buoyed by his philanthropy, while his collections of black art graced important museums,” Gene writes. “Even before his late-career turn as black America’s moral scold, Cosby had spent decades leaning into his popular image as a paternal figure to bolster his influence as a paternalistic one.”
Cosby presented himself as a sort of moral leader and advocate for responsibility: His controversial “pound cake” speech excoriated poor black Americans for what he described as ignorance and poor parenting.
In Philadelphia, where he grew up, Cosby was a hometown hero. “Cosby gave money to the city, and whenever he could, his time,” Annette John-Hall reported for NPR. “In the early 2000s, he participated in ‘callback sessions’ with public housing residents in North Philadelphia, where they would talk about education, violence and teen pregnancy, among other issues.”
In short, Cosby’s name was synonymous with community leadership, black success, sit-com fatherhood, bold sweaters and Jell-O ads.
But a series of allegations of rape and molestation began swirling around the edge of that reputation. In 2000, a woman accused Cosby of groping her. Then Constand’s allegations drew attention in 2005.
Constand’s story led another woman to step forward, telling the Today show that Cosby drugged and assaulted her in the 1970s. Then another woman. Then another.
Cosby repeatedly and vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Almost a decade passed and no criminal charges were filed. Cosby’s legacy and career survived — by early 2014, Gawker described the allegations as “effectively forgotten.”
Then, in the fall of 2014, comedian Hannibal Buress mentioned the allegations in a set. He said he was annoyed by Cosby’s “smug” persona: ” ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. … Brings you down a couple notches.”
“You leave here and Google ‘Bill Cosby rape,’ ” Buress told the audience. “It’s not funny. That s—- has more results than Hannibal Buress.”
The bit went viral, and suddenly Cosby’s alleged assaults were back in the news. As in 2005 and 2006, more women stepped forward with stories of assault.
But this time, the wave of allegations didn’t stop, and few people seemed inclined to forget and move on.
NPR’s Scott Simon asked Cosby to directly address the allegations in a November 2014 interview. Cosby responded with an attention-grabbing series of silences.
The Associated Press went to court to get access to a previously sealed deposition from Constand’s civil suit against Cosby. The wire service released the document — in which Cosby admitted that he obtained Quaaludes, a sedative, with the intent of giving the drug to women he wanted to have sex with.
Then 35 women told their stories to New York magazine. Side by side, the stories showed the same themes again and again: Women who saw Cosby as a mentor, a father figure or an admired celebrity. A drink or a pill. Helplessness or fear or a night entirely lost to memory. Years of silence.
Cosby has continued, through his representatives, to deny that he committed any sexual assaults — admitting to infidelity but maintaining that all the sexual contact was consensual.
Featured Image: People
Inset Image: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images