UPDATED with afternoon session: After breaking down on the stand earlier in the day as the first witness in Bill Cosby’s rape trial in Pennsylvania, things got more uncomfortable for former William Morris assistant Kelly Johnson this afternoon when she was questioned harshly by Cosby’s lead lawyer.
In fact, with shades of the judicial fracturing that emerged in the O.J. Simpson trial, things also got tense between Judge Steven O’Neill, Montgomery County Deputy D.A. Stewart Ryan and defense attorney Brian McMonagle on Day 1 of the trial for Cosby’s alleged 2004 rape of former Temple University employee Andrea Constand.
On four occasions, the sometimes reserved judge and the lawyers went to the side of the courtroom for sidebars as the cross-questioning McMonagle raised contentious issues about Johnson’s personal behavior in the 1990s and her credibility. Despite O’Neill agreeing with various objections from the prosecution, McMonagle persisted in his aim of discrediting the witness, primarily with leading questions – including those of a sexual nature involving her alleged assault by Cosby in 1996 at the Bel-Air Hotel.
Bill Cosby Rape Trial: Lawyers Clash In Day 1 Arguments
Trying to trip Johnson up over statements she made about Cosby offering her a TV role and contract in the early 1990s, McMonagle spent a lot of time trying to find inconsistencies in her three discussions with Montgomery County detectives about her alleged assault. More significantly, reading from lawyer’s notes and his voice straining, McMonagle sought to pop holes in Johnson’s workers-compensation deposition in 1996 after she exited William Morris.
“In fact at the deposition, you told them that after you had the bungalow visit in 1990,” the attorney said as Cosby looked on, “you actually said under oath, that when you went to his home in 1996, you thought that it would be different this time.”
Telling her “to take a second and think about it before I ask my next question,” McMonagle asked the increasingly flustered Johnson to recall if she ever told anyone that was she was being sexually harassed by her William Morris boss Tom Illius – a line of questioning he soon dropped. However, when McMonagle persisted to ask Johnson whether she was doing drugs at that time and said, “who is Maxi Priest?” Deputy D.A. Ryan jumped up to ask for a sidebar with the judge and the defense lawyer. After that, with muted remarks from the judge every now and then, McMonagle persisted to ask the question of drug use. “I would say no, I was not doing drugs in the mid-1990s,” a clearly shaken Johnson responded.
The lawyer also tried to have Johnson say that she reported to William Morris HR she was being mistreated by Illius and that Cosby was a part of that situation. Earlier, Johnson had told Deputy D.A. Ryan that soon after her alleged sexual assault 21 years ago, she overheard Cosby telling Illius on the phone, “she really is a problem, you need to get rid of her.” Soon leaving the agency, Johnson said Cosby told her to never tell his agent/her boss that the two of them were speaking on the phone and meeting privately.
Under further questioning from the Deputy D.A., Johnson recounted her alleged assault by Cosby in sobbing detail.
The jury was released today at 5 PM ET while the lawyers stayed for a hearing on the admission of further witnesses.
PREVIOUS, 12:11 PM: A former William Morris staffer today broke down in tears on the stand on Day 1 of Bill Cosby’s rape trial in Pennsylvania as she described in detail her alleged assault by Cosby in 1996 at the Hotel Bel-Air.
Previously identified as “Prior Alleged Victim Six” or “Kasey,” Kelly Johnson was the first witness in Cosby’s jury trial that began today in Norristown, PA, for the alleged 2004 rape of Andrea Constand. Johnson’s incident that seemingly occurred in a similar manner to what former Temple University employee Constand said happened to her almost a decade before.
Johnson was the only other Cosby accuser besides Constand who Judge Steven O’Neill has permitted to take the stand. The prosecution hopes that her testimony would help display the actor’s pattern of “prior bad acts,” as the Commonwealth said in filings this year. Johnson testified that she does not know Constand.
“Open your mouth, lift up your tongue,” the mainly soft spoken ex-assistant to Cosby’s now-deceased William Morris agent Tom Illius said Cosby, who she testified was wearing a black robe and slippers at the time, told her when he was trying to convince her to take pills he was offering. “I felt extremely intimidated,” Johnson admitted with her voice cracking, saying she unsuccessfully planned to pretend to swallow the unnamed pill Cosby had asked her to take.
“Bill Cosby was the most important client at the agency, not just for Tom but at the agency,” Johnson told the prosecution, crying.
“I felt like I was underwater,” she added of the effect the pill quickly had on her and the assault she claims occurred soon afterwards. Several months later, Johnson said she was terminated from William Morris.
WME-IMG has provided records related to its former employee to the court. Records and notes that McMonagle read from repeatedly in today’s session, to Judge O’Neill’s relatively passive annoyance.
Mentioning the huge success of The Cosby Show and its creator and how she related to the fictional Huxtables at the show’s center, Johnson testified she “had the utmost respect for [Cosby] and the highest regard” when it came to the actor. She also told the courtroom about how he began contacting her by phone at home in the early 1990s and invited her to his live shows. The now Atlanta-based Johnson recollected an incident soon after she returned from pregnancy leave in 1992 when a complimentary Cosby asked her to twirl around for him in front of fellow staffers.
Johnson told the court she never had an interest on appearing on camera, despite Cosby mentioning it to her on several occasions, she also detailed how in the mid-’90s the actor asked her to call him and visit him outside work hours and without Illius’ knowledge. She spoke about driving to Cosby’s Los Angeles home at the time in her Volkswagen Bug for dinner that she brought him. That evening, Cosby asked her to act out a script with him where the sober Johnson would play a “tipsy” woman who ended up in an “embrace” and a “kiss.”
“I acted out the scene up to the embrace but not the kiss,” she said from the stand. “I couldn’t do it,” she added, saying how Cosby was frustrated by her. Their relationship chilled for a period following that until the incident in 1996.
The testimony by the former William Morris employee Monday followed a heated morning between the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office and Cosby’s defense team in their respective opening statements. Going first, Deputy D.A. Kristen Feden told the jury that “trust, betrayal and inability to consent, that’s what this case is about.” Calling Cosby’s alleged incident with Constand in 2004 at his Philadelphia-area mansion “a drug-facilitated sexual assault,” the prosecutor pledged that Johnson’s turn on the stand would show Cosby’s M.O. over the years.
Earlier Monday in his opening statement, Cosby attorney Brian McMonagle characterized Johnson as having had a long-term relationship with Cosby that preceded the alleged assault. The local lawyer also insisted that her description of events and times in relation to Cosby simply didn’t add up, especially in lieu of a harassment complaint she later filed at the agency.
Before the ex-assistant and self-described former “floater” at Cosby’s now-former agency was sworn in as a witness, the defense objecting to her testifying first. Quickly cast aside by O’Neill, the objection was based on a change of order in the witnesses, with the defense expecting Johnson later in the proceedings.
Constand is expected to take the stand on either later today or Tuesday.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.