NORRISTOWN, Pa. — The love is gone from Bill Cosby’s defense.
In the comedian’s first trial, he leaned on the narrative of a spurned mistress, arguing that his primary accuser, Andrea Constand, turned on him after their consensual relationship fizzled. Now, as Cosby’s retrial passes the one-week mark, the defense strategy has clearly taken on a rougher edge, painting Constand and other witnesses as money-grubbing connivers.
Here is Heidi Thomas, a music teacher with an air of small-town naivete who says Cosby drugged and raped her, painted as an opportunistic Internet-age entrepreneur capitalizing on the publicity about the scandal. Her listing on a website called Speaker Hub mentions contacting her regarding her fee, says defense attorney Kathleen Bliss with a disapproving “Aha!” edge to her voice.
Never heard of the site, Thomas says.
And here come the rest of the prosecution witnesses, one after another, pounded by the defense version of events in which they are supposedly angling for a piece of a nonexistent $100 million victims’ compensation fund. The questions are aimed rat-a-tat style at the witness stand, where Constand sat for hours Friday — following three days of testimony from five previous accusers, including Thomas. But the target was often not so much the women giving testimony as the meticulously coifed and ever-camera-ready woman who perched with perfect posture each day among the courtroom audience: the celebrity feminist attorney from Los Angeles, Gloria Allred.
Allred is deeply woven into the Cosby saga because she represents half of the 60 women who have publicly accused the comedian of sexual misdeeds. Her daughter, the attorney Lisa Bloom, also found her way from Southern California to the courthouse in this hardscrabble Philadelphia suburb because she represents a key prosecution witness, the onetime supermodel Janice Dickinson, who testified Thursday about allegedly being sexually assaulted by Cosby after he gave her a pill that he said would ease menstrual cramps.
The mother-daughter attorneys are masters of stirring media buzz, and Allred hit a headline-exploding bonanza in December 2014 when she said Cosby should place $100 million into a victims’ fund if he was not willing to waive the statute of limitations to allow his accusers to confront him in court. The fund, which has never been created, could be administered by a panel of retired judges or a mediator, Allred said at the time.
The suggestion quickly faded from the headlines, but it has been resurrected with great vigor inside the courtroom by Cosby’s lead attorney in the retrial, Thomas Mesereau, a famed Los Angeles lawyer with a penchant for tailored suits who also has been known to show up on cable television. Outside the courtroom, the specter of Allred as puppet master for a greedy cabal has also been bandied about by Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, a constant presence at the 80-year-old comedian’s side throughout the court drama.
At times, things have gotten weird. On Thursday, Wyatt shouted questions at Allred about the fund during dueling impromptu media gaggles on the courthouse steps, where swarms of video crews surround the well-known attorney every time she walks outside. Wyatt has dubbed Allred and Bloom “two of the greatest extortionists of the 21st century,” and given them nicknames, too: Gloria Awful-red and Lisa “Blasphemous” Bloom.
The full-throttle attack on the motives of the witnesses against Cosby is a departure from the more nuanced approach favored by the actor’s previous defense team, which was headed by Brian McMonagle, a high-profile Philadelphia attorney who withdrew from the case without explanation after a mistrial was declared in Cosby’s original trial last June.
McMonagle alluded to Constand’s possible financial motivations, reminding jurors that she’d sued Cosby. But he kept the details of the multimillion-dollar settlement out of the trial.
In his closing argument, McMonagle described Constand as Cosby’s “lover.”
“It’s a relationship,” he said.
But Mesereau, best known for winning an acquittal for pop star Michael Jackson on child molestation charges, has so far delivered a different message to jurors.
“You’re going to be saying, ‘What does she want from Bill Cosby?’ ” Mesereau said in a honeyed voice to jurors during his opening statement Monday. “The answer is ‘Money, money and lots more money.’ ”
Constand, who sat with eyes closed during breaks on the witness stand as if she were meditating, acknowledged that she received a $3,380,000 civil settlement in 2006. The amount was not revealed in the first trial.
On Friday, Kristen M. Feden, an assistant district attorney, sought to address the potential prosecution dilemma posed by the settlement in the way she phrased a question to Constand about what she did after a previous district attorney declined to prosecute in 2005.
“Did you try to seek justice in another way?” Feden asked.
“Yes,” Constand said. “Civilly.”
Asked by Feden whether there was an upside for agreeing — a decade later — to cooperate with the Montgomery County district attorney who reopened the case, Constand paused.
“There is no upside,” said Constand, a 6-foot-plus former college and professional basketball player.
In cross-examination on Friday, Mesereau pored over Constand’s deposition in the lawsuit, repeating with metronomic frequency phrases such as your “lawsuit for money” against Cosby. Mesereau’s strategy depends, in part, on making Constand look desperate and dishonest. To do so, he delved into personal financial matters that were not touched upon in the first trial.
He asserted that Constand ran a pyramid scheme at Temple University, where she was an official with the women’s basketball team. On Friday, during cross-examination, he noticeably unnerved Constand by showing her an email she’d forwarded that solicited $65 for a company that claimed to be “a pyramid without anyone at the top.” Constand, shifting in her seat and sounding confused, said she was simply cutting and pasting language sent to her by a friend who was involved with the pyramid outfit.
Despite repeated efforts, the defense has been unable to get any other prosecution witness who alleged sexual assault to acknowledge receiving any money from their participation in the case. Several said it was costing them money or other forms of compensation. Lise-Lotte Lublin, a schoolteacher who says she blacked out after taking drinks from Cosby, took vacation days to appear at the trial and missed a national championship competition for the school archery team she coaches. Thomas, a private music instructor, said she’d lost income from music lessons while traveling to media interviews about Cosby.
The defense strategy was met with disgust by several women in the audience who have alleged being drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby but have not been called as witnesses.
One of them — Linda Kirkpatrick, who says Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her after a tennis tournament in the early 1980s — said in an interview that the defense approach seemed like a relic.
“To say we’re out for money,” Kirkpatrick said, “is so rape culture 2018.”