Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Trial Ends In Mistrial
The sexual assault trial of comedian Bill Cosby ended in a mistrial today with the jury unable to reach a verdict after six days of deliberation:
NORRISTOWN, Pa. — A Pennsylvania judge declared a mistrial Saturday after a jury was “hopelessly deadlocked” on sexual-assault charges against Bill Cosby, the comic legend whose legacy as a promoter of wholesome values has been tarnished by a years-long sex and drugging scandal.
As the mistrial was declared, Cosby sat at the defense table with his chin held high, a flat, blank look on his face. Across the well of the courtroom, jurors stood one-by-one in the jury box and said, “Yes,” as the judge asked whether each whether they agreed that the jury is “hopelessly deadlocked.”
The jurors answered without hesitation, but several slumped forward in their chairs, elbows on their knees and fingers knit, looks of frustration on their faces.
After the questioning was done, the entertainer sat back in his chair, holding a slender cane that has been with him inside the courtroom each day to his chest. Cosby’s family was not in the courtroom to hear the judge’s decision.
The jury filed out almost within arm’s reach of Andrea Constand, Cosby’s accuser. She stood respectfully, with a strained smile on her face. Afterwards, prosecutor Kevin Steele announced in court that he will retry Cosby.
The courtroom emptied quickly, but the two main players in this 11-day melodrama lingered. Constand, in the brilliantly white lightweight blazer she’d worn on the witness stand, stood along the edge of the courtroom wall. Six accusers who had attended the trial as spectators, some with tears in their eyes, lined up to console her with long, sad hugs. The former professional basketball player’s face was flush, but her eyes were dry.
Across the courtroom, a small entourage of Cosby aides broke into wide smiles and clapped each other on the back. Amid the celebration, the aging comic sat by himself at his regular spot at the defense table. No one from his family was there to share the moment, and the members of his defense team and support staff had turned their attention elsewhere.
Cosby, knowing that he’ll be tried again, looked pensive as he sat tilted forward with his legs spread wide and his eyes cast to the floor. He draped a long finger across his upper lip, and for several minutes was alone with his thoughts. Then, his expression changed. For a split second, a smile crossed his face.
Finally, one of his defense attorneys, Angela Agrusa, spied him sitting there alone, and went over to offer her arm. They walked down the center aisle of the courtroom together, weaving through celebratory Cosby aides, and journalists. But the path was blocked and they had to stop.
Cosby and his attorney paused momentarily.
“You lead the way,” Cosby said to Agrusa.
Outside the courthouse, Cosby’s press spokesman thrust a fist in the air triumphantly as the comedian made his way down a ramp flanked by metal barricades and a leafy hedge in the rain. A handful of supporters chanted, “Let Bill go,” as Cosby was helped into an idling black SUV. Cosby turned for a moment to a crowd in which journalists outnumbered supporters at least 25-to-one. Then he was gone.
The jurors, who had complained of exhaustion, deliberated 52 hours before finally saying they could not reach a verdict on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against the 79-year-old entertainer. But the hung jury does not end Cosby’s legal troubles because he could be retried on the same charges and is still facing lawsuits filed by some of the 60 women who have accused him of sexual assault, rape or sexual harassment.
As deliberations dragged on, signs of discontent in the jury room kept emerging. The jurors, who had been kept working for 12- and 13-hour days by Steven T. O’Neill, the Montgomery County judge overseeing the case, since beginning their cloistered discussions Monday afternoon, asked to go back to the hotel early on Tuesday. The next day they expressed “concerns” to court officials, though the judge did not reveal the substance of their complaints.
Defense attorneys furiously demanded a mistrial many times in the courtroom during the lengthy deliberations, but Judge O’Neill insisted on letting the jury continue its work. Cosby’s press team angered the judge by holding impromptu news conferences on the courthouse steps, fulminating for a mistrial and criticizing the judge for allowing deliberations to stretch longer than anyone could remember in previous cases held in this scruffy Philadelphia suburb.
Late Thursday morning, just after passing the 30-hour mark in deliberations, jurors formally announced for the first time that they were deadlocked in a one-sentence note saying they could not reach a “unanimous consensus” on any of the counts. The judge gave the standard order to keep trying, but they were ultimately unable to break the deadlock. When he first heard about the deadlock, Cosby walked out of the courtroom with a smile on his face.
The jurors gave few hints as to their leanings. But a few, including an elderly man who entered court each day leaning on a cane, showed their fatigue by occasionally nodding off in the jury box. The jury seemed to take an unusually painstaking approach to deliberations, asking to rehear testimony from half of the prosecution witnesses and to look anew at evidence. The requests amounted to something akin to replaying the entire trial. And, by the end, jurors had deliberated for far more hours than the length of testimony, opening statements and closing arguments combined.
While I did not follow the trial closely — the remainder of the linked article from The Washington Post, as well as this one from The New York Times, appear to provide a good summary for those interested — it is apparent from the coverage I did manage to see that the case was closely fought and the odds of conviction were far from certain. For example, on cross-examination, the defense was able to bring to light the fact that Andrea Constand, the alleged victim in the case being prosecuted, kept in contact with Cosby for some time after the alleged assault and even sent him gifts, something that seems inconsistent with the allegations that she was lodging against him now. Additionally, the prosecution failed to convince the Judge presiding over the trial to allow them call a number of witnesses regarding similar incidents in which Cosby allegedly drugged and seduced women before having sex with them. In the end, the Judge only allowed one such witness in addition to the victim to testify on the ground that allowing multiple women to testify about essentially similar events, many of which occurred so long ago that the applicable statute of limitations had long ago expired, would be unduly prejudicial to the defendant, who of course is only on trial for the allegations made by one witness. The defense, meanwhile, surprised many by calling only one witness before resting its case, but at that time it was clear that
In any case, by this morning it was apparent that a mistrial would be the most likely result in this case. The jury had already informed the Judge that they were deadlocked earlier this week, and he responded by re-reading the instructions and telling them to resume deliberations with the goal of reaching a verdict one way or the other. By the time they convened this morning, the jury had been deliberating for longer than the trial itself and it seemed clear that either they would reach a verdict soon or there would be a mistrial. The prosecution has already announced that they intend to pursue a second trial against Cosby, but it seems likely that such a trial would either end in the same result absent some change in the evidentiary rulings that were made prior to the first trial that allows the prosecution to bring in more “prior bad acts” evidence in front of the jury. That kind of development, though, would likely mean years of appeals and the prospect that the entire process could last longer than Cosby himself is alive.