NORRISTOWN, Pa. >> Jurors at Bill Cosby’s sexual-assault trial have heard accuser Andrea Constand’s side of the story and have heard Cosby’s version in the form of his police statement and his lurid deposition in her 2005 lawsuit, but they don’t know if they’ll hear from him in person when his defense starts Monday.
Cosby’s spokesman says maybe. His lawyers are staying mum.
Experts say the “Cosby Show” actor and storyteller could charm the jury but the risk would be considerable.
“He could be a fantastic witness. … He’s an actor, and he’s a very good actor,” Duquesne University School of Law professor Wes Oliver said. “(But) he is potentially opening the door to a whole lot of cross-examination that they fought really hard to keep out.”
Prosecutors wanted 13 other accusers to testify, but the judge allowed just one, an assistant to Cosby’s agent at the William Morris Agency. That meant the prosecution rested its case Friday, just five days after the trial started.
Constand says Cosby drugged and molested her, which he denies. Cosby, who’s 79, could face decades in prison if convicted.
If Cosby testifies and denies drugging and molesting Constand or anyone else, the judge might allow more people to testify as rebuttal witnesses.
“It would be very bad for him for the jury to even begin to think about the other women,” Oliver said.
Not surprisingly in a “he said, she said” case, the defense’s main goal has been to attack the credibility of Constand and the William Morris assistant, Kelly Johnson. Johnson had corroborating evidence in the form of her 1996 workers’ compensation claim against the talent agency. A lawyer who worked on the case recalled her account of being drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby and had notes to back up his memory.
The defense seized on a glaring discrepancy in the account. The lawyer’s notes say the encounter occurred in 1990, while Johnson insists it was 1996, the year she left work and filed the claim.
The defense had more trouble trying to discredit Constand, a former Temple University employee. It hammered home the point that she was initially unsure what month the encounter took place and had regular phone contact with Cosby afterward. However, Constand proved unflappable, explaining that she had to return calls from Cosby, a university trustee, because he was an important booster and she worked for the women’s basketball team.
Constand left Temple when the season ended in March 2004 and filed a police complaint in January 2005 after moving back home to the Toronto area. She sued Cosby in March 2005 when the local prosecutor decided not to charge him.
Cosby’s four days of testimony in her civil case show just how hard a witness he’d be to control. His answers, like his comedy routines, meander from point to point and veer toward stream of consciousness.
Asked to describe what he called an earlier “romantic” encounter with Constand, he said, “The action is my hand on her midriff, which is skin. I’m not lifting any clothing up. This is, I don’t remember fully what it is, but it’s there and I can feel.”
“I don’t hear her say anything,” he continued. “And I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue, and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection.”
And the language he uses to describe his sexual encounters with various young women can be jarring. He talks in the deposition of “the penile entrance” and “digital penetration.” He told Constand’s mother, when she called to confront him, that Constand had had an orgasm. And he might give off hints of arrogance.
“One of the greatest storytellers in the world, and I’m failing,” Cosby said when asked to repeat an answer in the deposition.
The defense could call other witnesses to try to bolster its argument that Cosby had a consensual relationship with Constand, 35 years his junior. It has stressed that Constand went to his house several times, went to New York and Connecticut to have dinner with him and others and spent about 15 minutes alone with him on a hotel bed.
Cosby, who built a wholesome reputation as a family man during his 50-year career in entertainment and was called America’s Dad, told police he held her in his arms that night but did not kiss her. Constand said he called her to his room to grab some leftover pastries.
The trial will move to closing arguments Monday if the defense chooses not to call any witnesses.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are sexual-assault victims without permission, which Constand and Johnson have given.