NORRISTOWN, PA. — For years, Bill Cosby has tried to portray Andrea Constand as his ex-lover — not a victim of sexual assault.
The comedian and his attorneys have painted the former college basketball star and Temple University women’s basketball team official as confused and mendacious, a lost soul he not only seduced but also tried to guide to career success. But on Tuesday, during a key hearing in advance of Cosby’s April 2 retrial on charges of sexually assaulting Constand, the comedian’s attorneys signaled another prong in their strategy to undercut his accuser’s credibility.
They hope to portray Constand as money-hungry.
Thomas Mesereau, Cosby’s lead attorney, told a Montgomery County, Pa., judge that he wants to present evidence to the jury about a lawsuit settlement Constand received from Cosby to prove “just how greedy this person was.”
he civil suit has played an important, yet still somewhat cloaked, role in the saga of the comedian and the hoops star. It goes back to 2004 when Constand told authorities in Pennsylvania that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted her at his suburban Philadelphia home. At the time, the local prosecutor declined to press charges, and Constand filed a lawsuit in 2005 against the famous entertainer.
That lawsuit was settled for an amount that has been kept so secret that the current team of prosecutors attempting to convict Cosby said Tuesday they still don’t know how much money she received. Mesereau, Cosby’s attorney, wants to call a witness who says Constand told her that she could falsely accuse a celebrity of sexual assault, then collect a lawsuit settlement that would allow her to start a business. The same witness — a former Temple colleague of Constand’s named Margo Jackson — was blocked from appearing at Cosby’s first trial. But Mesereau has said he wants to reference her claim in his opening statement during the retrial. Prosecutors are asking the judge to block him from doing so.
A deposition Cosby gave as part of the civil case was introduced in his first trial, which ended last June in a hung jury. During the deposition, Cosby describes his sexual encounter with Constand in cringe-inducing detail, and also admits to acquiring Quaaludes, a powerful sedative, to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex in the 1970s.
Constand says Cosby sexually assaulted her at his suburban Philadelphia estate in January 2004 after meeting her through her work as an official with the woman’s basketball team at Temple University. Prosecutors are eager to delve back decades into Cosby’s life by persuading Judge Steven O’Neill to allow testimony from 19 women — besides Constand — who say Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them between 1965 and the 1990s. On Tuesday, one of Cosby’s attorneys, Becky James, argued that the testimony from past accusers would be unfairly prejudicial.
James sketched out the possibility of a defense attorney’s nightmare, in which Cosby’s legal team would be forced into 19 “mini-trials” if all the women were allowed to testify. James drolly described her dilemma as the “numbers issue.” One of the biggest problems, she said, is that many of the people she would need to interview to defend Cosby against the accusations are dead or dying, and many necessary documents are simply gone.
James also complained that she and her co-attorneys would not have enough time to prepare for such a broad and complex defense. But O’Neill seemed to have little sympathy, saying prosecutors had signaled their intention to call the additional accusers months ago.
“I’m telling you — prepare as if it were all 19,” O’Neill said.
Before Cosby’s first trial, O’Neill blocked prosecutors from calling 12 of the 13 past accusers they’d hoped to have as witnesses. But this time around. prosecutors have put forth half-a-dozen additional possible past-accuser witnesses, and presented new legal arguments for their place in the trial. In this week’s often prickly hearings, prosecutors have pointed out that another Pennsylvania judge allowed six previous accusers to testify in a sex assault case.
O’Neill hasn’t tipped his hand on how he’ll rule. But those looking for clues perked up late Tuesday when the judge estimated how long the retrial might take. The 80-year-old comedian’s first trial lasted two weeks. This time, O’Neill said, jurors should expect the trial to last one month — at the very least.