NORRISTOWN, Pa. — For two years, the seedy details of a late night at Bill Cosby’s estate have been regurgitated in headlines and debated on talk shows.
The announcement that Cosby’s main accuser, Andrea Constand, would be called to the witness stand sent a jolt through the jammed courtroom here, signaling the marquee moment in a trial that began Monday and has redefined the legacy of an entertainment legend. Five dozen women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual misdeeds spread across five decades, but Constand is the only one to ever confront him in a criminal court.
Much of the prosecution’s case rests on Constand’s credibility, and her arrival in the courtroom in this scruffy Philadelphia suburb prompted many in the audience to crane their necks and slide to the edge of their seats to catch a glimpse. But, unlike other witnesses, she did not enter at the exact moment she was called. Several minutes passed in tense silence before the 6-foot-plus Constand—at 44 still as lean and athletic as she was during her glory days on college basketball courts—strode into the courtroom.
On the witness stand, Constand’s voice cracked with emotion as she testified, particularly when she walked through the details of the night she says Cosby assaulted her. Constand described how she’d met Cosby while she was working as an operations director for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, where Cosby sat on the board of trustees. They spoke on the phone frequently and became friends, and then one night in January 2004, Cosby invited her to his suburban Philadelphia estate to talk about her career plans.
Cosby gave her three blue pills that night, Constand said.
“They’re your friends,” she said Cosby told her.
“He said, ‘Swallow them down,’” Constand recalled, turning to the jury.
Constand says she pressed Cosby to identify the pills. He told her they were herbal. Natural.
“I said, ‘I trust you,’” Constand said. “I swallowed the pills down.”
Soon thereafter, she began to “slur” her words, she said.
“I told Mr. Cosby that I had trouble seeing him,” Constand said, fighting back tears. “I could see two of him.”
Constand, who wears her hair in a tall, curly pile reminiscent of an Afro, said her “mouth was cottony.”
Cosby led her to the sofa, she said, and she could feel “Mr. Cosby’s hands groping my breasts under my shirt. I also felt his hand inside my vagina moving in and out.”
Then, Constand said, Cosby placed her hand on his penis and made her stroke it.
Constand described herself in harrowing terms, saying she felt “frozen.”
“I was trying to get my arms to move. I was trying to get my legs to move — and the messages didn’t get to them, ” she said.
A thought kept going through her head: “I wanted it to stop,” she said.
As Constand spoke, Cosby draped his hand across his brow and bowed his head. The 79-year-old entertainer tilted forward to listen. At times during the course of the legal saga he has been expressive at the defense table, smiling or chuckling, but with Constand on the stand a frown was on his face.
Constand, who wore a lightweight blue blazer and pants, betrayed some nervousness on the witness stand. Many of her answers were qualified in some way. She frequently used phrases, such as “I might have” or “he might have” to recount details of her friendship with Cosby, rather than being more precise or certain. Her voice, steady at times, but often cracking with emotion, is inflected with the rounded notes of her native Canada.
At a break, while waiting for the jury to re-enter the courtroom, Constand — who works as a massage therapist for athletes and cancer patients — held her hands together as if in prayer. She let out a deep breath and sat up straight.
Her saga with Cosby was far from over after that night in 2004 at his estate. In a sense it was just beginning.
Constand said she called Cosby and asked to speak with him about the alleged incident. Cosby told her to meet him at a restaurant where he was dining with a group of people. She wanted to know what he’d given her. But he wouldn’t say.
“I thought you had an orgasm,” Constand says Cosby told her.
She says she shot back: “No, I did not.”
Not long after, Constand returned home to Canada to study massage therapy. But she was troubled.
“I had a bad dream. I woke up crying,” she testified.
She called her mother and revealed for the first time what she says happened with Cosby.
“I said it’s wrong and I don’t want him to do it to another person,” Constand recalled.
She got some advice from someone with experience in criminal cases. It turns out that her brother-in-law , Stewart Parsons, is a Toronto policeman. Parsons, who testified just before Constand, said he advised her to make a criminal complaint and get a lawyer.
Constand and her mother also decided to call Cosby. It didn’t go well.
“He said again, with my mother on the telephone, that he thought I’d had an orgasm,” Constand testified.
Cosby said something else on the call that troubled her, Constand said. When she and her mother asked about the pills, the comedian said he would need to look at the “prescription on the bottle,” Constand testified, but that he couldn’t see the writing on the bottle.
The comment rattled her, she said, because it began to dawn on her that Cosby might have given her something much stronger than an herbal supplement. Constand’s testimony about the prescription comment is significant because Cosby has told police investigators that pills he gave Constand were Benadryl, an over-the-counter allergy medicine that doesn’t require a prescription.
Constand settled a civil lawsuit against Cosby in 2006, then slipped into relative anonymity until the entertainer’s previously sealed deposition testimony from that suit began appearing in news reports in the summer of 2015 amid a flood of public accusations by dozens of women.
In the audience, three other women who have accused Cosby of drugging and sexual assault —Victoria Valentino, Therese Serignese and Lili Bernard — sat rapt in one of the back rows. Bernard, an artist who was a guest star on “The Cosby Show,” clutched a handful of tall, spiky gladiolus in her hand that could be seen across the courtroom.
Cosby’s defense team is intent on undermining Constand’s credibility through aggressive cross-examination, which began Tuesday and is set to resume Wednesday morning. When it came time for the cross-examination, Cosby’s team turned to the woman on the defense squad, Angela Agrusa, a prominent Los Angeles attorney, best known for corporate work.
The diminutive Agrusa peppered Constand with questions about inconsistencies in her statements to police investigators. With a hint of mocking contempt in her voice, Agrusa repeatedly asked Constand whether police made mistakes in their report about the initial interview of the Cosby accuser.
In particular, Argusa homed in on Constand’s claim in a portion of the police report that said Constand stated she’d never been alone with Cosby before the alleged incident in January 2004 and did not remain in contact with him afterward.
Neither is true. And defense attorneys have proof, including Constand’s later interviews with police, in which she describes private meals with the entertainer before January 2004 and a visit to his hotel room at a Connecticut casino. The defense also has phone records that show Constand placing more than 50 calls to Cosby in the months after the alleged incident.
Confronted with those glaring inconsistencies, Constand maintained her composure.
“I was very nervous,” she said.
Then she just shrugged.
Earlier Tuesday, another prosecution witness, Pattrice Sewell, testified in support of her daughter’s sexual-assault allegations against the entertainer. Sewell said her daughter, Kelly Johnson, who worked for the Cosby’s personal appearances agent, “was very proud to introduce us to Mr. Cosby.”
Sewell and her husband were fans of “The Cosby Show,” which focused on the life of an upper-middle-class African American family. “We really related to that show,” said Sewell, a retired educator with a PhD. “It kind of reminded us of our own family.”
Her testimony marked an important moment in the case against Cosby: Prosecutors need her to bolster the testimony of her daughter, the star witness from Day 1 of the trial on Monday. The former talent agency worker testified that Cosby pressured her to take a white pill during a lunch at his bungalow at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and she awoke in bed with him with her breasts exposed.
Johnson is a vital witness because prosecutors need her to establish a pattern of behavior by Cosby as it relates to the Constand case.
Prosecutors also got a significant boost from testimony late Tuesday morning by Joseph Miller, an attorney involved in a workers’ compensation claim filed by Johnson in the 1990s. Miller, a former chief workers’ compensation appellate judge for the state of California, testified in graphic detail about what Johnson alleged about the incident with Cosby. Important for the prosecution, his memory of Johnson’s allegations precisely matched the former talent agency worker’s testimony the day before.
Miller said Johnson told him that Cosby had “taken out his penis and wanted her to fondle him. She didn’t want to do that.”
Johnson was involved in a workers’ compensation claim because she suspected that William Morris officials had wrongly fired her. And she blamed Cosby.
Johnson’s mother testified that she received a distressing phone call from her daughter in 1996.
“Mommy, something is going on,” Sewell said her daughter told her. “They’re telling lies about me. Mr. Cosby is trying to get rid of me. I’m scared.”
Sewell, a poised and confident presence, spoke in a measured tone, often turning to address the jury directly — a contrast with her daughter, who appeared vulnerable and fragile during hours of questioning on Monday.
Cosby’s attorneys have been intent on crushing Johnson’s credibility by suggesting that her attorney, Gloria Allred, coached her about what to say in her public statements about Cosby. But both Johnson and Sewell firmly rejected the suggestion, saying that Johnson — not her attorney — wrote the detailed news releases about her Cosby allegations.
Sewell’s testimony marked the first major appearance of Agrusa, who delivered questions in a calm, emotionless, nonthreatening manner — a contrast to the aggressive and confrontational approach used the day before by Cosby attorney Brian McMonagle, who handled the cross-examination of Johnson.
Agrusa, however, was frustrated in her efforts to suggest that Johnson was fired because of her own actions. During her questioning, Agrusa suggested that Johnson lost her job because she’d been socializing with William Morris clients, including Maxi Priest, a musician and actor with whom she had a child.
That line of questioning drew an angry objection from prosecutors. And Judge Steven T. O’Neill agreed that Agrusa was out of line. He told jurors not to consider Agrusa statement as evidence. Moments later, Agrusa, a look of frustration on her face, clapped a binder of documents shut and returned to the defense table.