ALMOST NO DEFENSE

Bill Cosby messed with the wrong daughter. Now a jury will decide if it was a crime.

Silenced after rave reviews for a witness who emerged as a star against him, Bill Cosby’s fate is now in the hands of a Pennsylvania jury.

The jurors have heard how Cosby, by his own admission, gave a 29-year-old woman seeking career advice three pills before initiating a sexual encounter in 2004. Andrea Constand—the only one of Cosby’s many accusers to face the actor and comedian in a criminal court—testified that what she had thought were herbs turned out to be drugs that left her unable to move her arms or legs.

Cosby’s legal team rested its defense on Monday (June 12) after calling just one witness, a county detective who had already been on the stand for the prosecution. The defense’s questioning took took six minutes.

The decision to not have Cosby testify came after a rough week for the man who entertained millions as Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show. The jury heard five days of testimony from prosecution witnesses including Constand herself; her mother, Gianna; one another earlier accuser; and police. Cosby’s damning words from a deposition he gave in 2005 were read into the record.

The jurors will decide whether Cosby’s own statements recounting his actions during Andrea Constand’s visit to his home describe a crime. More than 50 women have accused Cosby of similarly drugging or sexually assaulting them. He has denied wrongdoing in every case, including Constand’s.

When a mother reacts, watch out

It had taken a year for Andrea Constand—who had been a women’s basketball team official at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater—to tell her mother what had happened at Cosby’s house near Philadelphia. When she finally did, Gianna, a retired medical secretary who lives outside Toronto, called Cosby to demand answers.

Bill Cosby
Gianna Constand, left, and her daughter Andrea inside the Montgomery County Courthouse (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, Pool)

“On the stand where her daughter had spent hours being cross-examined earlier in the day, Gianna Constand came off like Canada’s version of a Steel Magnolia, by turns folksy and fierce,” NBCNews.com reported from the courtroom in Norristown, Pennsylvania. “‘The mother instinct kicked into me,’ she said of the moment her daughter confided in her about Cosby…I said if you don’t give me his phone number I’m going to fly…I’m going to take the next flight out and I’m going to go talk to him.”

Andrea gave her mother the number. Jia Tolentino, writing for The New Yorker, noted that she nearly was moved to tears by the poignancy of Gianna’s testimony. She recounted how Gianna said she pressed Cosby over the phone to identify the pills he had given her daughter:

Cosby said that he couldn’t read the letters on the prescription bottle, and asked her to put Andrea on the line. Andrea picked up an extension. Cosby then said, according to Gianna’s recollection, “Well, Andrea, let’s tell your mother what happened.” Andrea stayed silent, and so he began “telling me everything that he physically did to her,” Gianna said. He called Gianna “Mom” throughout the conversation. She remembered him saying, “Mom, there was no penile penetration, just digital penetration.”

Gianna recorded a second call with Cosby. That tape was played in court, and Cosby is heard to say he would pay for graduate school for Andrea. He never did tell Gianna what was in the pills.

Cosby’s words, Andrea Constand’s account of his actions, and the taped conversation with her mother were known to all before the trial. The defense was aware of what it had to contend with and try to parry.

All bad enough. Yet what Cosby’s team could not have known with full certainty until it was all over was that Gianna Constand—at turns “combative and tearful,” as USA Today put it—would be a force to reckon with on the stand.

If Cosby is found guilty…

For a conviction on each of the three counts against Cosby, O’Neill could impose a sentence of up to 10 years on a soon-to-be 80-year-old defendant who says he has lost his sight. Any prison time at all would conceivably be a life term. Still, if it comes to be, Cosby will have faced his criminal comeuppance in the single case that has come to trial.

He will have been done in, close to home, by his own actions and an especially determined victim—and the steeliness of a mother who refused to give up.

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