In his opening statement this morning, Bill Cosby defense attorney Tom Mesereau spoke of a “con artist” betrayal, what happens when Hollywood turns into “a town of broken dreams,” and an older man who’d been trying to help people for years. It was all part of the strategy in Cosby’s sexual assault retrial to convince the jury about who the defense considered the victim in this case: Cosby, and not accuser Andrea Constand.
“She was not attracted to him, but she was madly in love with his fame and money,” Mesereau told the jury on Day 2 of Cosby’s retrial in Norristown, PA. “He was lonely and troubled, and he made the terrible mistake of confiding in this person what was going on in his life.”
Over the course of his 45-minute opening, Mesereau detailed the buildup and end of Constand and Cosby’s relationship, staying away from the January night in 2004 Cosby was accused of sexual assault and focused on the differing statements Constand gave to authorities and the recorded phone conversation between Cosby and Constand’s mother. Mesereau told the jury Constand took these actions to fortify her stature in a civil suit against the comedian.
“She’s now a multi-millionaire,” he said, “because she pulled it off.”
After Mesereau’s opening, the prosecution called its first witness, sexual assault expert Dr. Barbara Ziv. The defense showed its willingness to fight everything, with lawyer Kathleen Bliss objecting and getting the opportunity to challenge Ziv over her qualifications to provide testimony. The prosecution was unable to begin its questioning before the first break of the day.
Mesereau’s emphasis on Constand going after money marked a shift from Cosby’s defense last year. The comedian’s previous attorney, Brian McMonagle, categorized Cosby and Constand’s relationship as “romantic” in his opening statement. Mesereau, in contrast, started off by telling the story of Temple employee Marguerite Jackson.
Constand worked at Temple with Jackson and, Mesereau said, roomed with her several times during Temple women’s basketball road trips. During one of these away games, Mesereau said, they had a conversation about sexual assault. It ended with Jackson claiming Constand told her she could “set up a celebrity and get a lot of money for my school and business.”
Mesereau further tried to create the image of greed by telling the jury Constand had financial difficulties while she worked at Temple and how she had tried to get into the entertainment industry through connections with Cosby but failed.
“I think you’re in for a surprise when you find out who this person is,” he said. “We’re going to show you who she is. I saw the prosecution yesterday talk about betrayal. Does it sound like Mr. Cosby betrayed her or that she betrayed him and tried to milk him for over $3 million?”
On Monday, the prosecution also began with a shift of its strategy from last year, when a deadlocked jury forced a mistrial. Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele focused on Cosby’s statements to police and in the deposition, telling the jury how the comedian changed his story and even provided for investigators red pills he said he used with Constand even though he had talked about blue pills. The statement hinted at a strategy of attacking Cosby’s credibility.
Sexual assault cases often come down to “he said, she said” arguments, and both Steele and Mesereau acknowledged as much in their opening statements. But rather than settle for typical “he said, she said” roles, the prosecution and defense are primed to reverse them. The prosecution appears ready to to use Cosby’s own words against him, and the defense Constand’s words against her.
Toward the end of his opening statement today, Mesereau explained to the jurors how he wanted them to listen to only these words in the courtroom and not influence from #MeToo or anywhere else.
“What I think [the prosecutors are] hoping is that somehow in the current climate in America maybe you’ll be prejudiced. Maybe you won’t see the facts. Maybe you’ll just be blinded by the accusations,” he said. “But members of the jury I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think you’re going to give Bill Cosby a fair shake.”