The same world-famous comedian — a man once embraced as “America’s Dad” — will be seated at the defense table.
His accuser will recount again the allegations that helped to destroy his career.
But as Bill Cosby’s retrial on sexual-assault charges begins this week, the second courtroom showdown between the 80-year-old entertainer and Andrea Constand is shaping up to be no simple repeat of the first.
More than 180 potential jurors have been summoned to appear today at the Montgomery County, Pa., Courthouse as lawyers will begin picking the panel that they hope can this time deliver a verdict.
Cosby returns to Norristown with new lawyers and an aggressive new defense strategy that seeks to paint Constand, 44, as a gold-digging opportunist — one whom they say once told a confidant of a plot to extort money from the entertainer.
Prosecutors have bolstered their case, adding planned testimony from five additional accusers, including former model Janice Dickinson, whose accounts they hope can secure a conviction.
And as the proceedings, which are expected to last about a month begin, even Judge Steven T. O’Neill said he is not quite sure what to expect.
“The evidence has changed in this case, pure and simple,” he said at a pretrial hearing Friday. “I don’t know what it is going to look like.”
If anything, the stakes have only increased in the 10 months since the first jurors to hear Constand’s allegations were unable to reach a unanimous decision, causing a mistrial.
Back then, the trial’s inconclusive outcome crushed Cosby’s more than 60 other accusers, many of whom had pinned their own hopes for justice on a guilty verdict in Constand’s case.
Now, as other powerful male celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill O’Reilly fall to past, long-hidden sexual improprieties, Cosby’s lawyers fear the new trial has taken on the weight of the #MeToo movement.
“Today we live in an environment where these accusations are easily accepted,” Cosby lawyer Becky James said at a court hearing in March. “There’s no way we’ll get a jury that hasn’t heard many, many accusations like this against other celebrities.”
Still, they remain confident that with this case and this accuser they can prevail.
The new legal team, led by California attorney Tom Mesereau, has been willing so far to make aggressive attacks that Cosby’s previous lawyers had deemed too risky or too unseemly to deliver.
They sought O’Neill’s removal from the case, citing the judge’s wife’s work as an advocate for sexual-abuse victims, and have signaled their intention to attack Constand more forcefully than their predecessors.
Cosby’s previous legal team studiously avoided any mention of Constand’s 2005 lawsuit filed against their client — one she filed a year after coming forward with her claim that Cosby drugged and assaulted her at his home in Cheltenham and one that concluded with Cosby agreeing to a still-undisclosed financial payout.
If Mesereau has his way, it will be a focal point of the retrial. How much money Constand received may also finally be revealed.
“Andrea Constand had a motive, and that was to get money by accusing someone falsely,” Mesereau co-counsel Kathleen Bliss said at a hearing last week.
The move to focus on money as a defense tactic comes straight from Mesereau’s past playbook.
While representing Michael Jackson in 2005, he repeatedly stressed past lawsuits filed by the singer’s accusers to suggest they made up their allegations for financial gain. The strategy paid off, winning Jackson an acquittal on child-molestation charges.
But in Cosby’s case, prosecutors believe discussion of Constand’s lawsuit works in their favor.
The amount of the settlement and a move by Cosby’s lawyers during negotiations 13 years ago to include provisions that would have barred Constand from cooperating future police investigations of her claims are all signs that Cosby had something to hide, Assistant District Attorney M. Stewart Ryan argued at a hearing Friday.
It “demonstrates bias, demonstrates obstruction, demonstrates consciousness of guilt,” he said.
Still, it is the testimony from the five additional accusers that Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele has appeared most hopeful about in recent weeks.
Last month, O’Neill culled a list of 19 potential accusers identified by prosecutors down to eight whom he would allow to testify at the trial. Steele has singled out the five he expects to call as witnesses.
Notably absent from that list is Kelley Johnson, a former talent agency assistant who testified during the first trial that Cosby assaulted her during a Los Angeles hotel room in the 1990s.
Cosby’s last legal team so successfully cast doubt on her story — by pointing out discrepancies between the account she delivered on the witness stand and an earlier sexual-harassment complaint she had filed with the agency — that jurors later said they disregarded her testimony entirely.
Prosecutors have not said why they decided not to call Johnson for the retrial.
Perhaps the most notable of the names that did make the cut is Dickinson, 63, who has alleged that Cosby knocked her out with a pill 36 years ago in Lake Tahoe and that she woke up in pain, certain she had been assaulted.
Since coming forward, she has become one of Cosby’s most vocal critics and is suing him for defamation in California.
The others include a former bartender, Janice Baker Kinney, and three once-aspiring actresses who say Cosby attacked them in the 1980s. Heidi Thomas, Chelan Lasha, and Lise Lotte-Lublin are the actresses expected to testify.
“Each of these women,” Steele wrote in a recent court filing, “has come forward with harrowing accounts of sexual assault by defendant, strikingly similar to the tactics he employed with Ms. Constand.”
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