Bill Cosby discusses his loss of sight as trial nears

Actor Bill Cosby (left) is escorted outside Montgomery County Courtroom on April 3, 2017 in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Actor Bill Cosby (left) is escorted outside Montgomery County Courtroom on April 3, 2017 in Norristown, Pennsylvania.PHOTO: AFP

(NYTIMES) - Six weeks ahead of Bill Cosby's trial on sexual assault charges, one of his lawyers, Ms Angela Agrusa, said in an interview released on Wednesday (April 26) that one focus of her defence will be to change the "optics" for a defendant who she said many people have already decided is guilty of abusing women.

That strategy seemed apparent when one of Cosby's daughters released a statement defending her father and Cosby himself gave a rare interview for an article that led with a depiction of his blindness.

"He loves and respects women," Ms Evin Cosby, 40, said of her father in a statement that she released to select media outlets. "He is not abusive, violent or a rapist."

Mr Andrew Wyatt, a spokesman for Bill Cosby, denied that the defence had begun a coordinated public relations campaign in advance of jury selection next month. "It's not one of those strategies," he said.

But he said that Cosby and his family do plan further interviews or statements in coming weeks. And Ms Agrusa in a separate interview made clear that she hoped to change public opinion as part of her defence of Cosby, who faces charges that he drugged and assaulted a Temple University staff member in his home north of Philadelphia in 2004.

"I can't identify one other case in which the public has so conclusively come to the verdict of guilty," she said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "It's like the court of public opinion has found him guilty, and our job as lawyers is we now have to convince not just the judge but also the public why the initial verdict is wrong. The burden of proof for this one human being has shifted."

She added: "The challenge for us is to change the optics." The timing of the various statements was a departure from months in which Cosby and his family refrained from the public debate about his conduct.

The impact that pretrial publicity could have on potential jurors is already such an issue in the case that the judge has agreed to import a jury from western Pennsylvania, across the state. The trial is set to begin in Norristown on June 5.

Mr Wyatt said that Ms Cosby, the youngest of his children, had decided on her own to come forward with a statement that was sent to four media outlets - The Hollywood Reporter, BlackPressUSA, CNN and ABC News - that he said she had selected.

In it, Ms Cosby said she did not believe the allegations against her father from dozens of women.

"Sure, like many celebrities tempted by opportunity, he had his affairs," she said, "but that was between him and my mother. They have worked through it and moved on, and I am glad they did for them and for our family."

Ms Cosby had defended her father publicly against the allegations before, issuing a brief statement in December 2014.

For his part, Bill Cosby did not address his legal battle in an interview with BlackPressUSA, his first interview since May 2015. But he talked about how he and his wife had "paid for the education of thousands of students; mostly low income African-American students" and discussed his loss of sight.

Members of his staff said that in recent years they would draw a line on the stage so that he could safely make his way from backstage to the chair where he typically performed.

His touring schedule was abruptly interrupted in 2015 after some venues cancelled his shows and others drew protests as the number of accusers against him grew. Many women said they had been given some kind of drug or alcohol before being assaulted. Cosby has denied the accusations and has said that any drug taking or sex was consensual.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have said that one reason they brought charges was the disclosure by Cosby himself - made during deposition testimony in a 2005 civil suit - that he had obtained quaaludes to use in his pursuit of sex with women.

In one article in BlackPressUSA, Ms E. Faye Williams, the president and chief executive of the National Congress of Black Women, suggested Cosby was being unfairly judged in a country where President Donald Trump has apologised for saying that his celebrity put him in a position to grab women in their genital area, a comment he later described as "locker room talk".

"If the president of the United States can go on working in the White House after he has bragged about doing gross, sexually explicit and abusive things to women, without their permission, then justice requires that Bill Cosby should not be punished, unless he is convicted of crimes," she said.

She said in an interview that she had been approached by a reporter for BlackPressUSA to comment on the case, but had not been solicited by Cosby's camp to speak out.