NORRISTOWN, PA — In a scathing closing argument Tuesday, one of Bill Cosby’s lead attorneys compared the cavalcade of sexual assault accusations against the comedian to “witch hunts, lynching and McCarthyism.”
The blistering remarks by Kathleen Bliss reached such a level of intensity that some in the audience gasped. Bliss, her voice thick with seeming disgust, called one of Cosby’s accusers, Janice Dickinson, “a failed starlet” and “an aged-out model.”
“It sounds as though she slept with every single man on the planet,” Bliss said. “Is Miss Dickinson really the moral beacon that the women’s movement wants?”
Bliss suggested that another accuser, Heidi Thomas, was reveling in attention after years ago failing to become a comedy theater star. “Ladies and gentlemen, she’s living the dream now,” said Bliss, a former federal prosecutor with a hint of a Southern twang.
Dickinson and Thomas were among five women who testified for the prosecution as “prior bad act witnesses” to bolster the charges that Cosby sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former operations director for the Temple University women’s basketball team. Constand, who was 30 when she says she was sexually assaulted by Cosby, testified that the comedy legend gave her pills that left her “frozen” in 2004 at his estate in suburban Elkins Park, Pa.
The retrial of Cosby, now 80, whose first trial on three counts of aggravated indecent assault ended last year with a hung jury, has played out against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. Dozens of women across America have publicly made sexual assault accusations, toppling some of the biggest names in American entertainment, politics and media, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, television anchor Charlie Rose and Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. But Bliss sought to disentangle the Cosby case from the cultural moment.
“Mob rule is not due process,” she said.
At the beginning of the trial, prosecutors called an expert witness who testified about “rape myths” — commonly held misconceptions about sexual assault, such as victims immediately reporting crimes, providing physical evidence to support their allegations and cutting off contact with their attackers. But Bliss asked jurors to dismiss the suggestion that these myths apply to the Cosby case.
“As women, we don’t abandon facts or science or truth,” Bliss said.
Her co-counsel, Thomas Mesereau, also delivered closing remarks, telling jurors that Constand “dead-bang lied.” The case, he said, was based on “shallow nonsense. Because that’s what our country is full of at the moment.”
The evidence, Mesereau argued, was “flimsy, silly and ridiculous.”
The defense attorneys reserved some of their most pointed remarks for Constand’s mother, Gianna, who testified about taping a phone call with Cosby from her home in Canada, where laws allow taping without informing all parties. Gianna Constand testified that when Cosby heard a noise during the call, she told him that it was her parrot Ozzie when, in reality, it was her other daughter calling on another line. Cosby would later tell police that he was suspicious.
“He smelled a rat here,” Bliss said, noting that Cosby had previously been extorted.
Instead, Bliss wanted jurors to focus on the familiar voice that poured through speakers in the courtroom when the tape was played during the trial.
“Listen to that voice,” Bliss said. “It’s sweet. It’s the kind of voice that sells concert tickets.”
At the defense table, Cosby — dressed in a dark suit — broke into a smile as Bliss spoke.
The defense has painted Constand as an extortionist and pathological liar, and Mesereau said Tuesday that “she hit pay-dirt” when she met Cosby. On the witness stand, Constand acknowledged that she’d received a $3,380,000 settlement in 2006 in a lawsuit that she filed against Cosby after a previous district attorney refused to prosecute the comedian.
“I call that settlement one of the biggest highway robberies of all time,” Mesereau said. “He got conned big-time. … He thought he was paying for peace. He didn’t get the peace.”
Mesereau went on to describe Constand as “a con artist.” His co-counsel Bliss dismissed Constand’s mother, Gianna Constand, as “either an angry mother or a co-conspirator.”
Cosby’s attorneys emphasized the testimony of Marguerite Jackson, a Temple University academic adviser. Jackson, who Bliss described as a “blockbuster” witness, told jurors that Constand confided to her about how Constand could falsely accuse a celebrity of sexual assault and extort enough money to quit her job and go back to school. Jackson testified that the conversation took place while she was rooming with Constand during a Temple basketball trip to Rhode Island.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this case was over with Miss Jackson’s testimony,” Bliss said.
During a cross-examination, prosecutor Stewart Ryan suggested that Jackson’s written affidavit about the allegations might have been massaged by Bliss and another Cosby defense attorney, Becky James. Mindful of that line of attack on the credibility of her star witness, Bliss injected gender Tuesday into her remarks about the assertion.
“They tried to suggest the women got together and tried to manufacture a statement,” Bliss said with a disapproving tone in her voice.
Constand had testified that she barely knew Jackson and never roomed with anyone on team trips. Neither the prosecution nor the defense produced documents to establish the rooming arrangements on team trips, leaving jurors with the task of deciding whether they found Constand or Jackson more credible.
Cosby’s wife of more than half a century, Camille, made her first appearance at the trial — now in its 12th day. She entered the courtroom before the arrival of the jury with her salt-and-pepper hair trimmed close to the scalp, and wearing large oval sunglasses and an ankle-length coat with a rust-colored scallop pattern. With a fixed smile, she walked into the well of the courtroom, and approached her husband at the defense table.
They chuckled for a moment, exchanging a few words. As she was about to turn around, Cosby reached for her shoulder. He gave her a somewhat stilted peck on the lips.
She found her seat in the front row, a few steps behind the defense table. As defense attorneys pleaded with jurors to acquit her husband, Camille Cosby watched intently with her sunglasses on all the while. No one in the courtroom ever saw her eyes.