JUDY WOODRUFF: The trial of comedian and actor Bill Cosby got under way in Pennsylvania today.
Cosby, who is now 79, has been accused by more than 40 women of sexual assault over the course of decades. His legacy has been under heavy attack in recent years.
But the charges are old and, in many cases, the statute of limitations has run out. The Pennsylvania trial is the only one to go to criminal court. If convicted, Cosby could face prison time.
William Brangham has the story.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This case dates back to 2004, when Cosby is alleged to have assaulted Andrea Constand, who was then an employee at Temple University’s basketball program.
Prosecutors say Cosby drugged and assaulted Constand at his home. Cosby has said he had a consensual extramarital relationship with her, and has denied all the allegations of assault by numerous other women.
Cosby, who starred as a father and family man in his popular 1980s sitcom, arrived at court today with actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played his daughters on “The Cosby Show.”
Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press has long been covering the case against Cosby. She filed the motion that unsealed an older deposition that Cosby gave in a civil suit that’s now a key piece of evidence in this trial.
She joins me now from outside the courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Maryclaire, thank you very much for being here.
I wonder if you just could tell us, first off, from the prosecution’s stance in opening statements today, lay out the case that they laid out against Cosby today.
MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press: Right.
The case opened very strong today. Lawyers on both sides came out swinging. The prosecution started by talking about the key issues in the case drugs, sex, and the issue of consent. They said that the accuser in this case, Andrea Constand, could not have given consent in the case, given that Cosby, by his own words, in his own deposition, acknowledges giving her three blue pills before he went with her on a couch and molested her, in her words.
Of course, he says that they had consensual sex acts on the couch that night, but the prosecution says that she was frozen, paralyzed by the pills he gave her, unable to stop him, resist, refuse, or give consent.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And from the opening statements on Cosby’s defense, what’s the sense of how they’re going to try to rebut these allegations?
MARYCLAIRE DALE: They’re pointing out discrepancies in the women’s various statements over time, saying that the details have changed, the dates have changed.
In fact, for example, in the Constand statement to police, she initially recalled the incident occurring in March of 2004, but later told investigators it was January of 2004.
So they’re pointing out, you know, time discrepancies, other details, and they’re saying that both women had consensual relationships with Cosby. They said that Cosby and Andrea Constand had a romantic relationship that spans at least several evenings, that she had gone to the casino in Connecticut with him on one trip, had been with him on several nights for various social occasions, and, again, that it was a romantic, consensual situation.
Again, the prosecution is saying that there is no way she can give consent after having taken these pills.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Andrea Constand’s case is obviously echoed by dozens of women who have said over the years that Bill Cosby did similar acts to them.
I understand that the first witness today was one of those other women. Can you tell us what she testified to today?
MARYCLAIRE DALE: Yes, the first witness called by prosecutors was the — what we call a prior bad act accuser.
She — her name is Kelly Johnson. She worked for Cosby’s agent at the William Morris agency in the ’90s. And she described a similar situation as to Constand, a day where she says she was beckoned to Cosby’s bungalow at the Bel Air Hotel in about 1996, and says he forced her to take a pill, a white pill, and then that she says left her, again, dizzy, falling in and out of consciousness.
She says she later woke up, hours later, perhaps the next morning, on a bed with Cosby, where he was forcing her to do a sex act. But she says she really resisted, tried not to take the pill, tried to put it under her tongue, only to have him look at her tongue and insist on her swallowing it. She says she feared that she would lose her job that she liked quite a bit at the William Morris agency.
The defense questioned her timing. They said that there is a deposition that exists, I believe in a worker’s compensation lawsuit she filed, in which she says that she went to the hotel with Cosby in 1990, so six years apart on that.
They really questioned her on other details. And she says — for instance, they said, didn’t Cosby give you $400 for your grandmother’s doctor’s appointment? She didn’t testify to that. She says she never remembers him giving her any money, although she does remember him referring her grandmother to a doctor’s appointment.
So, again, they’re pointing out the consistencies, some small, some maybe less small, in their statements, and while the prosecution is trying to say to the jury, you really have to look and try to focus on the differences between the man and the actor you saw on TV and the roles that he created.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I understand that Cosby himself will not be testifying. But the — in an earlier deposition that Cosby gave — this is the deposition that you helped unearth — I understand will be a key piece of evidence here.
Can you tell us what is in that deposition?
MARYCLAIRE DALE: Right.
It was a deposition that he gave in 2005 and 2006, when Andrea Constand filed a civil lawsuit, after prosecutors, at the time, decided not to charge Cosby in the case. So, in that deposition, Cosby says that he, again, acknowledges having a long series of relationships with young women, actresses, waitresses, flight attendants, various women.
Again, he says they were — he considers them to be consensual. Many of those women have now come forward to say that they believe they were drugged and molested.
One of the big highlights from that deposition was Cosby acknowledging that, in the ’70s, he got quaaludes, a very powerful sedative that the U.S. later banned. He says he obtained them from his doctor, at least seven prescriptions. He says he got them in his own name, but collected them to give to women before sex.
And that was one of the things that led prosecutors in 2015, when this came to light, to reopen the case and realized they still had time to charge Cosby. They arrested him days before the statute of limitations ran in late 2015.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press, thanks so much.