The crux of the Bill Cosby sexual assault case is the same as it was during the original trial. His guilt or innocence depends on the jury’s opinion of what happened between him and accuser Andrea Constand on a winter night in 2004.
But as pretrial hearings concluded today and both sides prepare for jury selection Monday and the beginning of the trial April 9 at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, PA, they appear ready to take different strategies from last year.
The defense in particular has shown interest in portraying the Cosby-Constand relationship in a different light. Last year, Brian McMonagle, Cosby’s now-former lead attorney, opened the trial by calling the night in question “romantic” and trumpeting what Cosby said was a consensual, friendly affair.
Tom Mesereau, Cosby’s current lead attorney, plans on taking a different tack from the get-go. He said he wants to bring up potential witness Margo Jackson in his opening statement. She was Constand’s colleague at Temple University who has claimed Constand once told her she could fabricate a story about a celebrity drugging and assaulting her to get a payoff.
The move illustrates the apparent shift in strategy: Rather than stick with the consensual-romance theme, Cosby’s lawyers appear primed toward portraying Constand as somebody who was out for money. In addition to introducing Jackson, who was not allowed to testify last year, the defense wants to bring up the payment details of a settlement made between Cosby and Constand in a 2006 civil suit. Page Six recently reported the amount was $3.5 million.
“It paid off, just as she said it would,” said Cosby attorney Kathleen Bliss. “And that’s our theory.”
Bliss said multiple times the release of the settlement would allow the defense to bring in former Cosby lawyers as witnesses and show “how the sausage is made.”
Judge Steven O’Neill has yet to rule whether Jackson can be called as a witness or the settlement details can be produced as evidence in the retrial. He’s expected to make the decision sometime before the April 9 start.
Both the prosecution and defense have parts to lose and gain from the release of the settlement. While the details about the payment could benefit Cosby, the prosecution actually petitioned for the settlement’s release. The Montgomery County attorneys intend to use as evidence stipulations Cosby proposed in the settlement negotiations that would have barred Constand from cooperating with any future investigation. Constand refused those terms.
A year ago, District Attorney Kevin Steele’s team of prosecutors started their case by calling to the stand Kelley Johnson, the lone other accuser allowed to testify. The number of accusers they’ll get to call this time is five (as the AP reported earlier this week, they are Janice Dickinson, Janice Baker-Kinney, Heidi Thomas, Chelan Lasha and Lise-Lotte Lublin, all of whom have shared their claims with the media). The prosecution spent part of Friday arguing why it should also be allowed to call supporters of those five women should the defense attempt to poke any holes in their credibility.
O’Neill said Friday that 187 Montgomery County residents had been summoned for jury selection Monday, and he anticipates at least 120 will appear. The attorneys and O’Neill spent the early part of Friday afternoon coming up with questions and other details for the voir dire in a private conference.
Cosby’s defense team routinely has brought up the fear of finding unbiased jurors. On Friday, attorney Becky James even brought a slip of paper up from the courthouse cafeteria she found during a coffee break. She said it included info about sexual abuse survivors.
James wasn’t the only one to worry about jurors: Not much earlier, O’Neill had warned the attorneys they could be diluting the jury pool with their relentless attacks against one another, hinting he wouldn’t tolerate any when the trial begins.
“I’ll start every day with imploring both sides just to stop with the judgemental, the accusatory language,” he said. “That has no place in the law.”