NORRISTOWN, Pa. — On April 8, Janice Baker-Kinney stood before a monitor at San Francisco International Airport and snapped a picture of herself.
The screen read Virgin America Flight 1136. Destination: Philadelphia.
Baker-Kinney, a sports television stage manager from Northern California, would be on that plane.
At various points around the country, other women were making the same journey. Heidi Thomas, a private music teacher from Colorado, was bound for Philadelphia. So was Chelan Lasha, who spends her days caring for her aging father in Palmdale, Calif.; Janice Dickinson, a Los Angeles reality-TV star and former model; and Lise-Lotte Lublin, a schoolteacher from Nevada.
None of those women were eligible to testify last year when a jury deadlocked on sexual assault charges against comedic legend Bill Cosby. But this time, as the 80-year-old entertainer was being retried, they were all cleared as witnesses to give their accounts of drugging and assaults by Cosby. Baker-Kinney was so nervous when she took the witness stand to testify about being assaulted by Cosby in 1982 when she was 24 years old that she sat on her hands.
“My hands were shaking so much,” she said in an interview Friday, “that I had to use two hands to pick up a cup of water.”
But her voice wasn’t shaken, nor was her composure as she traded verbal jabs with Cosby’s aggressive lead attorney. On Thursday — in the emotional moments after a jury convicted Cosby of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a woman he mentored at Temple University — District Attorney Kevin Steele had a name for Baker-Kinney and the other four witnesses who flew in to support the prosecution case.
He called them “difference-makers,” those five women whose testimony created a kind of snowball effect blurring the wholesome reputation of Cosby and replacing it with an image of a methodical predator with a decades-long track record. Their presence also will loom large as the case moves into its next stage when the defense, in hopes of overturning the conviction, is all but certain to argue that it was unfairly prejudicial for the judge to allow Baker-Kinney and the others to testify.
“This thing was predicated on Cosby and Constand,” Ed Ford, a lifelong friend of Cosby’s who attended both trials, said in an interview Friday. “It wasn’t predicated on Cosby and all the other witnesses. If you just went by [Constand’s] testimony, her credibility was faulty.”
The intrigue around the five women who testified in support of the prosecution’s case is only heightened by the opaque nature of the decision to allow them to take the witness stand. Steven T. O’Neill, the verbose, high-energy Montgomery County judge who oversaw both trials, gave no reasons last year when he limited prosecutors to calling only one previous accuser for Cosby’s first trial. And he said little about his decision to allow five women this time.
It’s common for Pennsylvania state judges not to provide extensive reasons for the decisions about evidence, in part because their caseloads are so high that they don’t have time to write long opinions, said Dennis McAndrews, an attorney who attended both trials but is not associated with either side of the case. But when the verdict is appealed, McAndrews said, O’Neill will have to explain his reasoning. The bad news for the defense, McAndrews said, is that O’Neill does not have a reputation as a judge who is frequently overturned.
“The Pennsylvania appellate courts generally look to affirm unless there is some clear legal reason to reverse, and they give substantial deference to the trial court regarding admission of evidence,” McAndrews said in an interview Friday. “I think the likelihood of a reversal is low.”
Baker-Kinney was the third of the five women to testify, telling jurors about how a friend at Harrah’s Casino in Reno, Nev. — where she worked as a bartender — invited her to a party Cosby was hosting at the home of the casino’s owner. Her friend was attracted to large African American men. She assumed she would be her friend’s “wing man.”
When they arrived, though, there was no party. At Cosby’s invitation, Baker-Kinney said, she took two quaaludes that left her “slurring and blurry.” Then, she said, he sexually assaulted her.
“In hindsight, it was a stupid thing to do,” said Baker-Kinney, who testified about feeling guilty and blaming herself for many years.
When it was the defense’s turn to ask questions of Baker-Kinney, Cosby’s lead attorney, Thomas Mesereau, walked to a lectern perched across from the jury box. His first question had nothing to do with the 1982 incident.
Instead, Mesereau said: “Are you on any medication?”
In the audience, heads snapped toward the attorney. But Baker-Kinney didn’t flinch. She calmly explained that she takes Celexa, an anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication that she was prescribed to cope with the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, as well as the death of her mother.
Pressed by Mesereau about her use of intoxicants over the decades, Baker-Kinney testified without hesitation that she’d used a quaalude at least once before and that she has remained sober for many years after struggling with alcoholism. The questioning became so contentious that at one point, Baker-Kinney stared back at Mesereau and said with disdain: “Are you rolling your eyes at me?”
The well-known attorney responded, “Yes.”
In an interview Friday, Baker-Kinney said she had no idea when she would be called to testify when she arrived in Montgomery County, the suburban community where the trial was held.
Her appearance on the witness stand, she said, felt “surreal.”
She would have liked to stay to hear the verdict in person, but she is a freelancer and didn’t want to turn down job offers that were awaiting her back in California. She made her way to the airport, snapped another photo in front of the airport monitor and boarded a plane headed west.
“It wasn’t until I returned to California that I was able to take deep breaths,” she said.
When the verdict was announced, she got on the phone with her dear friend — Linda Kirkpatrick, a Cosby accuser who was not called to testify at the trial. They sobbed so hard that Baker-Kinney’s husband thought she was upset.