Judge declares mistrial in Bill Cosby sexual assault case

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

On Saturday, Judge Steven O'Niell of Norristown, Pennsylvania declared a mistrial in the trial of U.S. actor Bill Cosby for sexual assault because the jury had become deadlocked, unable to arrive at a unanimous guilty or not guilty verdict. Prosecutors immediately announced plans to retry the case.

Brian McMonagle, one of Cosby's lawyers, addressed the jury, "We came here looking for an acquittal but like that Rolling Stones song says, 'You can't always get what you want. But sometimes you get what you need.'"

Cquote1.svg It would be reasonable, based on the evidence presented, for the jurors to agree that Cosby is a sexual predator and still disagree on a verdict as to the assault of Constand. Cquote2.svg

—Former prosecutor Kevin Harden Jr.

The jurors had deliberated for a total of 53 hours, longer than the testimony of all witnesses combined. They had already declared themselves deadlocked Thursday morning, at which time Judge O'Niell told them to return to deliberations and try again. On Friday, they emerged to request copies of previous testimony and phone transcripts.

Cosby in 2011
Image: The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.

During their deliberations, the jury asked to review the testimony of alleged victim Andrea Constand, particularly her testimony about the 2004 night the alleged assault took place, which produced over 300 pages of transcripts. Constand claims that, in 2004 when she was working for Temple University, Cosby invited her to his home, where he gave her pills that left her "immobilized" and unable to speak and then touched her breasts and genitals and placed her hand on his exposed genitals. Cosby claims their contact was consensual and that the pills he gave her were ordinary Benadryl, though he has admitted on-record that he gave women quaaludes for sex in the 1970s. Cosby was accused of three charges of aggravated indecent assault, these being assaulting Constand without her consent; whilst she was unconscious; and after using drugs to impair her ability to give consent. On each charge, a guilty verdict could have placed Cosby, now 79, in prison for up to ten years. Many other women have claimed that Cosby assaulted them as well, with specifics ranging from inappropriate touching to rape, but the statute of limitations for many of these complaints has expired, meaning that the crime happened too long ago for the government to legally prosecute Cosby. However, Pennsylvania law does allow for the testimony of such victims in other sexual assault trials, and one of these women, Kelly Johnson, testified in last week's proceedings.

Constand did file a complaint with police in 2005, and the district attorney at the time, Bruce Castor, decided against charging Cosby. Constand then sued Cosby in civil court and the matter was settled with an undisclosed sum. However, during his deposition for this civil case, Cosby admitted on the record to giving women quaaludes.

When asked why he thought the jury was unable to come to a unanimous verdict in this case, former Philadelphia prosecutor Kevin Harden Junior said that the jurors probably had doubts regarding Constand's credibility and cited the fact that only one of Cosby's other accusers had been allowed to testify: "By limiting evidence of other accusers, the Court focused the jury on whether the prosecution presented enough credible evidence to convict Cosby of this particular assault. [...] It would be reasonable, based on the evidence presented, for the jurors to agree that Cosby is a sexual predator and still disagree on a verdict as to the assault of Constand."

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias commented on the prospects for a new trial: "The fact that the case turned substantially on one person's testimony may have made it difficult to win and the defense counsel made many efforts to undercut her testimony. The retrial happens next, and the prosecution may try to call other accusers."


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