Another alleged sex assault victim testifies against Cosby

Ms Heidi Thomas waits to testify on the second day of the sexual assault re-trial of actor Bill Cosby. She is one of five women who say he drugged and sexually abused them.
Ms Heidi Thomas waits to testify on the second day of the sexual assault re-trial of actor Bill Cosby. She is one of five women who say he drugged and sexually abused them.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Ms Heidi Thomas waits to testify on the second day of the sexual assault re-trial of actor Bill Cosby. She is one of five women who say he drugged and sexually abused them.
Andrea Constand

Former aspiring actress told the jury that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted her in 1984 at a house near Reno, Nevada, where he had invited her over for acting lessons

NORRISTOWN (Pennsylvania) • Bill Cosby's lawyers began a combative defence of the entertainer at his retrial on sexual assault charges here on Tuesday, portraying Cosby as the lonely victim of a desperate "con artist" with financial problems who was steadily working her famous mark for a big payday.

Mr Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., one of Cosby's lawyers, shredded any sense that the defence would be cowed by the #MeToo moment. He presented Cosby's accuser, Andrea Constand, in his opening remarks to the jury as a wilful, greedy woman who ran a "pyramid scheme" and took advantage of a man who had lost a son.

"You are going to be asking yourself during this trial, 'What does she want from Bill Cosby?' And you already know the answer, 'Money, money and lots more money,'" he said.

"She has a history of financial problems until she hits the jackpot with Bill Cosby," he added.

Ms Constand, 44, will present her very different version of events when she takes the stand in coming days.

She has accused Cosby, 80, of befriending her, winning her trust and plying her with gifts before finally drugging and sexually abusing her at his home near Philadelphia in 2004 when she was an employee of Temple University, his alma mater.

Her account will be accompanied by testimony from five other women who say Cosby also drugged and sexually abused them, accusations so similar to Ms Constand's that prosecutors say they demonstrate a predator's signature pattern of assault.

One of the five, a former aspiring actress, Heidi Thomas, 58, told the jury on Tuesday that Cosby sexually assaulted her in 1984 at a house near Reno, Nevada, where he had invited her over for acting lessons. She was 24. He was 46.

Ms Thomas, now a private music teacher, calmly recounted how "Mr. C", as she referred to him, asked her to perform acting roles, including that of an intoxicated person and gave her a glass of white wine.

"He said, 'OK this is a prop. So sip on it,'" she said. "'Sip on it and see if you can relax and see if you can get more into the character.'"

After one sip, she said she lost consciousness and had only the barest of memories of the next few days including a moment when she woke up on a bed.

"I have my clothes on and he did not," she said. "I was lying down and he was forcing himself in my mouth."

She said she could not remember the flight home, did not tell her agents or her parents what had happened and later flew to meet Cosby in St Louis to question him about what had occurred.

"I felt I must have said something that was misunderstood," she said, but indicated she was never able to talk to him alone.

On cross-examination, Cosby's lawyer, Kathleen Bliss, said Ms Thomas was inconsistent in her accounts to police about when she was contacted by Cosby to fly to Reno. "If you said before in an interview with police you were contacted in April, you were wrong," Ms Bliss said.

In Cosby's first trial, last summer, only one other accuser had been allowed to add her voice to that of Ms Constand. That trial, also at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, ended with a hung jury.

In his opening statement on Tuesday, Mr Mesereau rejected the prosecution's view that Cosby was a celebrity stalking younger women for sex and depicted him instead as a foolish man who had mistakenly told Ms Constand of his troubles, including the death of his son, Ennis, who was murdered in 1997 in a failed robbery attempt.

"He was lonely and troubled and he made a terrible mistake confiding in her what was going on in his life," Mr Mesereau said.

The defence plans to call as a witness a Temple University academic adviser who, Mr Mesereau said, would testify that Ms Constand told her several years ago that she could make money by falsely claiming she had been molested by a prominent person. The adviser, Marguerite Jackson, 56, was not allowed to speak at the first trial after Ms Constand testified that she did not know her. But the defence has since brought forward two former Temple colleagues of Ms Constand who said she and Jackson did know each other.

Ms Constand first reported an assault to police in 2005, a year after her encounter with Cosby. When prosecutors declined to bring charges, she brought a lawsuit against him. Prosecutors in Montgomery County filed the current charges after reopening the investigation in 2015.

On Monday, the opening day of the trial, prosecutors revealed that Cosby had paid Ms Constand US$3.38 million as part of a confidential settlement of the lawsuit in 2006. The amount had never been disclosed publicly, but Cosby agreed during pretrial discussions to reveal it.

The defence argued that the large payment is not an admission of wrongdoing on Cosby's part, but evidence of Ms Constand's financial incentive in pursuing charges against him, a perspective prosecutors vehemently deny.

As at the first trial, the defence on Tuesday told jurors that Ms Constand continued to have contact with Cosby after the night she said he assaulted her, including multiple phone calls.

Mr Mesereau said that the defence had evidence that Ms Constand was struggling at her Temple job and that she was running a "pyramid scheme" at the university. He did not elaborate.

More than 50 women have levelled accusations of some kind of sexual misconduct against Cosby in recent years, but Ms Constand's is the only case to result in criminal charges.

Mr Mesereau said Cosby was glad to finally get a chance for vindication. "This is no longer a media sound bite," Mr Mesereau said. "This is a court of law. Finally we welcome the opportunity for the truth to get out. Finally Cosby has his day in court."

Mr Mesereau referred to the #MeToo movement in his statement, asserting that prosecutors were hoping that "maybe in the current climate you will not see the facts."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'Another alleged sex assault victim testifies against Cosby'. Print Edition | Subscribe