NORRISTOWN, United States (AFP) – The Pennsylvania jury at Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial announced they were deadlocked on Thursday (June 15), as tensions soared on day four of deliberations at one of America’s biggest celebrity trials in years.
The 79-year-old pioneering black actor could face the rest of his life in prison if convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and molesting 44-year-old Andrea Constand at his home in 2004.
But the 12-member jury informed the court after nearly 30 hours of deliberations that they were still unable to reach a unanimous decision. Judge Steve O’Neill ordered them back into their chamber to continue.
Outside the court, a handful of Cosby supporters quickly showed up calling for the man once adored by millions as “America’s Dad” to walk free, holding up posters with slogans such as “Free Mr Cosby Now.”
Although the trial concerns only the allegations of Constand, around 60 women have publicly accused the legendary entertainer of being a serial sexual predator in remarkably similar accusations that span four decades.
Several have been walking through the corridors of the court house, impatiently waiting for a verdict. One of them, Lili Bernard, burst into tears on Thursday after getting into an argument with a Cosby supporter outside.
To counter the supporters, another woman walked the sidewalk with a sign saying “perseverance to all survivors,” accompanied by two masked men with drums, to encourage some of Cosby’s accusers to dance and cheer.
On Thursday, the jury surpassed the 30 hours it took a California jury to acquit Michael Jackson of child sex abuse in 2005.
The trial marks a crushing fall from grace for an entertainer for decades loved by millions as “America’s Dad” for his seminal role as a lovable father and obstetrician on hit TV series The Cosby Show. The avalanche of allegations against Cosby, which have mushroomed since late 2014, have already ended the career and pulverised the reputation of a comedy legend who will mark his 80th birthday next month.
But if the seven-man, five-woman panel ultimately fails to reach a verdict O’Neill will be forced to declare a hung jury, leaving the prosecution with the option of requesting a re-trial.
In 1995, it took a Los Angeles jury four hours to acquit American football star O.J. Simpson of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.
“I’m very frustrated. Extraordinarily frustrated,” said Victoria Valentino, 74, anxiously waiting for updates in the corridors. A former Playboy playmate, she says Cosby drugged and raped her in 1969.
Cosby, on the other hand, has appeared almost serene, exhibiting no outward sign of fatigue, frustration or impatience.
During his comings and goings from the court house, the former TV star flashed a smile and exchanged pleasantries with representatives.
On Thursday, his spokesman Andrew Wyatt welcomed the jury’s impasse.
“Today we have really seen Mr Cosby get the justice he was looking for,” Wyatt told reporters outside the court house.
‘TRANSFORMATION IN SOCIETY’
In closing statements, the prosecution portrayed the actor as a sexual predator who deliberately drugged the Canadian citizen so she would be unable to resist his advances at his Philadelphia home.
Cosby refused to testify and his lawyers called just one witness, a police detective, before resting their case in minutes on Monday.
If convicted Cosby faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a US$25,000 fine on each charge. But there is no mandatory minimum, meaning that the judge overseeing the case could also allow him to walk free.
Nothing has filtered out about the state of the deliberations, with only hints to be gleaned from questions they have asked O’Neill.
They appear to have been drilling down into the testimony, asking the judge to re-read statements from Constand and the police, as well as Cosby’s original deposition in 2005, in order to compare the he-said, she-said allegations.
If Cosby is convicted, even on one count, prosecutors will probably petition for his $1 million bail to be overturned so that he be taken into custody immediately.
Valentino says she is prepared for anything, even an acquittal. If nothing else, she says the case has revived debate about rape and consent.
“It makes you think that if nothing is resolved here in a positive way at least there’s been some transformation in society thanks to the conversation.”