Bill Cosby Rape Trial Begins: Rivaling O.J. In Media Glare, Case Will See Accuser Testify

Bill Cosby

After more than a year and a half of trying to dismiss or delay a trial since being charged in late 2015 in the only criminal case against him, the much-accused Bill Cosby has just walked into a Pennsylvania courtroom this morning to stand trial for the alleged 2004 rape of Andrea Constand. The trial that is also expected to pull in testimony from WME, another accuser, and a very unflattering 2005 deposition from Cosby, and crank up the media spotlight on a celebrity trial to a height not seen since a certain white Bronco went on a wild ride after a double murder in 1994.

“Bill Cosby’s criminal trial is the celebrity criminal trial of the new 21st century,” Pierce O’Donnell of L.A. firm Greenberg Glusker told Deadline. “In many ways, Cosby is a far more luminous public figure than O.J. Simpson; he was a national treasure, a beloved icon, and a revered pioneer for Black Americans,” the Hollywood litigator said.

“His fall from grace is mind boggling,” O’Donnell adds of the more than 60 women in recent years who’ve claimed Cosby drugged and/or assaulted them, and the implosion of the actor’s career and stature. “Cosby has already been convicted of this crime and many others in the court of public opinion, but the only court that counts is the court of law.”

Heading into the Montgomery County Municpial Courthouse this morning amid a near-O.J-level media frenzy, Cosby is facing more than 10 years behind bars if found guilty by a jury for three felony charges of second-degree aggravated indecent assault against the then Temple University employee. There had been a rumor that Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played Cosby’s TV daughter Rudy Huxtable on NBC’s iconic The Cosby Show, would be attending today, and she is.

While Cosby is not expected to be a witness in his own defense, Constand, in what could be the most vital testimony of the likely two-week-long trial, will testify later this week. Her appearance as a witness will be the first time Cosby’s 44-year-old accuser has publicly told her side of the events that transpired at the now 79-year-old actor’s nearby mansion more than 12 years ago.

Constand will not be the only alleged Cosby victim taking the stand this week during the trial. Claiming she was drugged and assaulted by Cosby in 1996 at a Hotel Bel-Air bungalow, the former assistant to Cosby’s now-deceased William Morris agent Tom Illius has been permitted to testify. Known as “Prior Alleged Victim Six” or “Kasey,” a name she used at a press conference with attorney Gloria Allred back in 2015, the alleged victim was the only one of 13 women prosecutors here wanted to have take the stand and allowed to do so by Judge Steven O’Neill. The D.A.’s office wanted the other women to testify to display Cosby’s pattern of “prior bad acts.” The judge disagreed except for the case of Victim Six and its seeming similarities to Constand’s case.

In response, a “custodian” from what is now WME | IMG is also set to testify June 12 or even before on behalf of the agency’s former client. Based on what they have seen from old William Morris files, Cosby’s lawyers believe that travel records and more that will show that “Prior Alleged Victim Six”s timeline and therefore claims don’t add up.

As well as hearing portions of potentially damning 2005 depositions by Cosby in Constand’s civil case, the court will listen to testimony in the next few days from a psychologist and a pharmacologist for the prosecution. Having tried before, the defense will likely seek to get a medical professional on the stand to focus on reliability of memory in regards to events that occurred years ago.

In many ways, that potential witness could be of great interest to several of the dozens and dozens of women who have accused Cosby of drugging and/or assaulting them since the 1960s and will certainly be watching the proceedings. Additionally, among the victories Cosby’s legal team has been able to score in the case so far was to have the sequestered jury picked from outside Philadelphia. The jury of seven men, five women, with two African-Americans among them, was eventually chosen from Pittsburgh and has been bused into Norristown, PA for the duration of the trial.

Just under the wire of the statute of limitations for such crimes in the Keystone State, newly elected District Attorney Kevin Steele charged Cosby at the end of 2015. He was arraigned December 30 that year and released on $1 million bail without entering a plea at the time. Since then, Cosby has gone through numerous lawyers before settling in the past year on his current team of Philly’s own pugilistic Brian McMonagle and Los Angeles’ Angela Agrusa, who is involved in several civil cases against the actor brought by other accusers.

While admitting in the explosive 2005 unsealed deposition in Constand’s civil case that he had given Quaaludes to give women for sex before, and that he gave the Temple basketball staffer at least two Benadryl supposedly for stress, Cosby has insisted the incident in question was consensual. After then-Montgomery County D.A. Bruce Castor declined to prosecute the case in 2005 but made a deal with Cosby’s then lawyer, who is now deceased, that the actor would not take the Fifth, a civil case saw Cosby pay Constand an undisclosed settlement. Cosby eventually sued Constand, her mother and her then-lawyers in federal court to get the settlement back, claiming Constand had broken the confidentiality agreement of the civil case. That sideshow was dropped in July 2016.

At one point earlier that year, Cosby’s lawyers tried to trip up the criminal case by claiming Castor’s verbal immunity determination from 2005 was binding. That fell apart after hearings in February 2016 revealed the agreement was never put in writing, nor had Castor followed the set procedure for such arrangements. Cosby pursued appeals and more motions to have the 2005 arrangement reinstated but to no avail.

Avoiding the O.J. comparisons made by O’Donnell, another prominent L.A. lawyer urges perspective — at least before the jury has its say.

“If he did what he is accused of, shame on him,” says Patricia Glaser. “If he didn’t, shame on the accusers.” Adds Glaser, the Glaser Weil Partner and Litigation Department Chair, “It is an ugly accusation and an uglier crime.”

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