Bill Cosby sex assault case: Seven questions answered

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Bill Cosby has been convicted of sexual assault by a Pennsylvania jury. After years of allegations from dozens of women, how did we get to this point?

Mr Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand in a retrial at a courthouse in Pennsylvania.

 

Who is Bill Cosby?

Bill Cosby is an American comedian and actor best known for his role as the father in the television hit The Cosby Show which ran from 1984-92 and was a huge hit in the US and around the globe.

At one point he was the highest-paid actor in the US.

He was born on a council estate in Philadelphia and started his career as a stand-up comedian in 1962, debuting on NBC’s The Tonight Show in 1963.

In 1965, he became the first black actor to star in a drama series in the US, in the espionage show I Spy. He earned three consecutive best actor Emmys for his role, at a time of high race tensions in the US.

The Cosby Show was described by TV critics as “transformational piece of American culture”. He portrayed a doctor called Cliff Huxtable raising five children with his wife. By 1989, he was earning $4m (£2.5m) a month in syndication rights alone.

In 2013 he did a national stand-up tour and received rave reviews. After that, several women began to come forward with allegations of sexual assault, some going back nearly 30 years.

 

What was he on trial for?

He was on trial for a charge of three counts of felony indecent assault, alleged by a former colleague, Andrea Constand. Cosby has been found guilty on all three counts.

It is the only criminal case Cosby has faced thus far related to sexual assault accusations dating back years.

Ms Constand, a former employee of Temple University who now lives in Canada, has said that she came to think of Cosby as a “mentor and a friend” before she said he made unwanted sexual advances.

She went to visit him at his home in 2004 to discuss her career and her future where she said he drugged and sexually assaulted her.

A criminal complaint unsealed last year details the encounter.

She and Cosby settled a lawsuit in 2006 and she was paid an undisclosed sum.

Prosecutors re-opened her case last summer when they realised the statute of limitations had not run out and after other women had come forward.

 

What else has he been accused of?

In other states, he faces defamation lawsuits for branding his accusers liars. Over the years, nearly 60 women have come forward accusing Mr Cosby of sexual assault.

Thirty-five of those women told their stories to New York Magazine in 2015.

They alleged he assaulted them in their own homes and even in public.

In another case, an accuser named Judy Huth said Cosby molested her when she was 15 years old, forcing her to perform a sexual act on him at the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles.

Criminal charges were not filed against Cosby because of the statute of limitations. His lawyers called Ms Huth’s claims discredited or decades old.

In another prominent case, a 25-year-old model named Chloe Goins sued Cosby for a sexual assault at the Playboy Mansion she says happened in 2008.

She sought criminal charges but prosecutors decline to pursue them.

 

What was his defence?

He maintains the sexual encounters were consensual.

In Ms Constand’s case, he said she never said no, though she never said yes either.

A deposition for her case showed that he admitted pursuing sex with younger women and giving them Quaaludes, a sedative.

He said he was confident his behaviour was not rape.

The New York Times described the deposition as presenting Cosby as “as an unapologetic, cavalier playboy, someone who used a combination of fame, apparent concern and powerful sedatives in a calculated pursuit of young women”.

 

There was a mistrial then a retrial. What changed?

The first trial failed to reach a verdict in the spring of 2017.

In the second trial, the judge allowed more evidence to be admitted, for the defence and the prosecution.

So the court heard testimony from four more accusers, evidence not allowed in the first trial, when only Ms Constand’s account was heard.

That meant the prosecution could establish a pattern of behaviour on the part of the disgraced comedian.

There was also new evidence that worked in Cosby’s favour. A new defence witness who once worked with Ms Constand had talked about fabricating evidence against a celebrity for financial gain.

And a $3.38m payment that Cosby paid to her in a 2006 settlement – which the defence said showed she was a gold-digger – had not been previously disclosed.

 

Did #MeToo sway the jurors?

Since the first trial failed to reach a verdict in early 2017, there has been a slew of cases brought by women alleging sexual assault by high-profile men.

The men and women of the jury were asked during selection how much they knew about #MeToo and directed to make their decision based only on the evidence of this case.

But it would have been hard to ignore the new climate in which women have felt empowered to make accusations and a prevailing view that complaints no longer be ignored.

One of Cosby’s accusers, Lili Bernard, said after the verdict: “The MeToo movement has shown that women are worthy of being believed.”

 

What happens to his career and legacy now?

Since the allegations against Cosby first arose several years ago, Cosby’s work – including TV shows, films, and stand-up performances – has been pulled from many US networks, including TV Land, Centric, and Bounce TV.

Netflix and NBC both ended planned projects with Cosby after the assault charges as well.

In 2015, he was dropped by his talent agency, CAA.

Streaming television giant Hulu also eventually dropped The Cosby Show, though at the time they claimed it was unrelated to the rape allegations.

As writer and producer Larry Wilmore told the LA Times last year: “His legacy is forever going to be tarnished.”

In addition to Cosby’s erasure on television, he also lost several honorary titles and degrees following the accusations.

In 2014, the Navy revoked his honorary title of Chief Petty Officer.

Several US universities revoked Cosby’s honorary degrees in the years leading up to the trial, including Brown University, the University of Connecticut, Tufts University, Oberlin College, Marquette University, and Fordham University.

Shortly after Thursday’s guilty verdict, Wesleyan University announced they would do the same.

 

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