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Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial explained

Bill Cosby arrived in court June 5 for the start of his sexual assault trial.

The 79-year-old comedian, once known as “America’s Dad,” is charged with drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand more than a decade ago.

Cosby arrived to the Montgomery County courthouse on the first day of the trial with actress Keshia Knight Pullman who played his daughter Rudy Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.” Camille Cosby, the actor’s wife of 53 years, walked arm-in-arm with him to the courthouse on day six of the trial. 

While dozens of other women with eerily similar stories have accused Cosby of sexual assault as well, this is the only criminal case to be brought against him.

Constand alleges that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her while at his Pennsylvania home in 2004. She is expected to testify at the trial and share her story.

A 2005 deposition Cosby gave following Constand’s lawsuit was read to jurors on during the first week of the trial. Cosby’s words, from more than a decade ago, were expected to be all the jurors heard from Cosby.

Cosby confirmed to a judge on June 12 that he would not testify in his own defense at his sexual assault trial. This announcement comes after the former comedian’s spokesman said on June 9 that there was a possibility of Cosby taking the stand.

Cosby has been charged with three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault.

With so many accusations from so many different women over the years, Cosby’s reputation over the past few years has been shattered, and that’s sure to complicate the upcoming trial even more.

Here’s everything you need to know about the case.

What are the allegations against him in court?

While Constand was employed as Temple University’s director of operations for the women’s basketball team between 2001 and 2004, she met Cosby, an alumnus of the Philadelphia college, according to court documents. Eventually the pair “developed what [Constand] believed to be a sincere friendship,” and she looked to Cosby as a mentor, the court documents state.

Constand alleges that Cosby made sexual advances on multiple occasions and that she turned them down. But Constand is accusing Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her during one specific visit to his home sometime between mid-January and mid-February of 2004.

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According to court documents, Constand — then 30 years old — told Cosby about the anxiety she had regarding her career and said she felt “drained.” Cosby offered “three blue pills” that he said were “herbal” and instructed her to take them as they would “take the edge off,” court documents allege.

Constand said she took the pills with water but also sipped on wine as Cosby had instructed.

Within 20 to 30 minutes of taking the pills, Constand said her vision became blurry, and she had difficulty speaking, according to a probable cause affidavit. She also described not being aware of sounds or time and feeling as though she was “in and out.”

Court documents describe, in graphic detail, the alleged sexual assault.  “The victim told investigators that she did not consent to any of these acts, and was unable to move or speak during the assault,” the documents say.

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Constand said she couldn’t remember any kissing or intercourse between them, according to statements she gave police.

Cosby has maintained that the sexual activity between the two was consensual, and she never said “no.”  

Why is Cosby on trial for something that allegedly happened in 2004?

Constand didn’t tell anyone about the night in question for a year, according to People. She said she finally told her mother, Gianna Constand, on Jan. 13, 2005.

Upon learning of her daughter’s alleged assault, Gianna Constand made two calls — one to Cosby and one to the police in their town of Ontario, Canada.

The younger Constand said that “an element of fear” was what kept her silent about the incident for so long.

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“Before I was going to say anything to anyone, I had to put my own thoughts and feelings together. I was emotionally shocked. I was still traumatized about the whole situation,” Constand told People. “I had some emotional stress I was dealing with. I needed to come to terms with this on my own.”

In 2005, Constand sued Cosby. The suit included 13 Jane Does who also accused Cosby of wrongdoing.

The case was settled for an undisclosed amount the following year.

A federal court unsealed documents from the lawsuit in 2015 at the request of the Associated Press.

A judge ruled in December 2016 that potentially damning testimony Cosby gave in the civil suit can be used in the upcoming trial. In the testimony, Cosby admitted to buying Quaaludes and giving women drugs and alcohol before having sex.

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Cosby has demanded in court that Constand return the confidential settlement money as she broke the terms of the agreement by talking to police without first notifying him.

Constand’s lawyers said the settlement allows for Constand to talk to police and withhold it from Cosby at the request of law enforcement officials — a request the lawyer said she received.

What’s happened so far?

In her opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden pointed to Cosby’s past testimony regarding his interactions with Constand — especially his admission that he gave her drugs and had sexual contact with her.

But Cosby’s defense lawyer Brian McGonagle sought to discredit Constand as he pointed to inconsistencies in the account of the evening she gave to police. He also pointed out that the pair had spoken by phone 72 times following the alleged assault, and Constand initiated a majority of those calls, according to phone records.

When Constand took the stand on the trial’s third day, she said that she called Cosby to return messages he left regarding the women’s basketball team at Temple; he was a powerful member of the university’s board, and she was the director of team operations at the time.

McGonagle said that falsely accusing someone of sexual assault is also a terrible crime.

“[It] can destroy a man,” he said. “Can destroy his life.”

Constand testified some seven hours over two days during the first week of the trial.

Constand was direct and polite under cross-examination, even when Cosby lawyer Angela Agrusa’s questioning grew pointed and accusatory. Cosby kept still, looking down at the defense table through most of the morning.

Kelly Johnson, another woman who has accused Cosby of assault, testified June 5. She was emotional as she said that in 1996 she lost consciousness after Cosby coerced her into taking a large white pill.

At the time, Johnson was in her mid-30s. She said she remembered waking up with her dress pulled down.

Cosby’s 2005 deposition was read in court — during which the jurors heard that Cosby had admitted to giving Constand pills but thought the encounter was consensual.

Cosby told lawyers in the civil deposition that he only apologized for giving her pills and fondling her because he thought her mother saw him as a “dirty old man with a young girl.”

Cosby testified in the deposition that he thought he had caused trouble because he was 66 at the time and Constand was 30.

In the deposition, Cosby said he gave Constand three half-tablets of Benadryl.

Cosby said before the trial that he wouldn’t testify, but spokesman Andrew Wyatt said that could change now that the prosecution is nearing the end of its case.

Noticeably missing from Cosby’s team on the first day of the trial was his wife, Camille Cosby.

Wyatt said Cosby instructed his wife to stay away from the courthouse so she didn’t have to endure the “media circus.” 

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But he had support from Keshia Knight Pullman, the actress who played his daughter Rudy on “The Cosby Show.”

“I came to support because this is where you hear the facts, this is where the truth happens,” she told reporters outside of the Pennsylvania courtroom. “Ultimately, it’s easy to support someone … when things are great … but true family, friendship, integrity is how do people show up and support when things aren’t looking so great, when they aren’t as shiny.”

“You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty, and the job now is for the two sides to prove their cases, and I accept whatever verdict is handed down,” Pullman said.

Cosby tweeted a photo of himself with Pullman Monday afternoon with thanks. 

On day six of the trial, Cosby’s wife, Camille, walked arm-in-arm with him to court. After Cosby confirmed to the judge he would not testify at the trial, the defense called one witness, Cheltenham Police Sgt. Richard Schaffer, who took the stand briefly.

The jury is expected to hear closing arguments, and could begin deliberation later Monday.

What are the details of the trial?

The trial begins today in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Jurors were selected from outside Montgomery County due to the extensive local media coverage of the case.

Montgomery County judge Steven O’Neill will preside over the case.

O’Neill said in April that the trial is expected to take two weeks. However, it is unclear how long the jury will deliberate until a verdict is reached.

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The estimation of how long the trial would last was somewhat surprising, considering the length of time since the charges were filed  — in December 2015 — and the multiple pretrial hearings since then.

What about the other women? Will they be at the trial?

Cosby’s June 5 trial is only about his encounters with and alleged assault of Constand.

However, one other woman who has accused Cosby of sexual misconduct as a Jane Doe in the original civil suit will be permitted to testify at the trial.

But just because some women cannot testify or bring charges of their own due to the statute of limitations, that won’t necessarily keep them away.

Victoria Valentino and Therese Serignese will be at the trial as it is “important for us to show our faces,” Valentino said.

Now 74, Valentino claims that she was drugged and raped by Cosby in 1969. Serignese said she was given Quaaludes by Cosby backstage at an event in 1976.

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Donna Motsinger, who said she was one of the Jane Does in Constand’s suit, will not attend.

“It’s not about me,” she said.

What happens if Cosby is found guilty?

If Cosby is found guilty, he could spend 10 years behind bars.

How is Cosby’s health?

Cosby’s lawyers said in November 2016 that the septuagenarian is too blind to be able to identify his accusers in pictures or help with the defense.

Cosby said earlier this year that he is completely blind.

He’s also been seen struggling with his coat and walking with the help of an aide as he enters court.

Cosby’s lawyer, Monica Pressley, has said that her client’s health is “not a defense to a charge,” but instead a “fact.”

How could statute of limitations affect the allegations against Cosby?

Cosby was charged just as Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations was set to expire Constand’s case against her former mentor.

Sexual assault victims over the age of 18 have 12 years to report an assault in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Victims under the age of 18 and born after 2002 have 32 years after their 18th birthday to file charges; if born before 2002, underage victims have 12 years to report after their 18th birthday.

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For Constand, the statute of limitations was set to expire in January 2016; Cosby was charged in December 2015.

The comedian is protected from many of the sexual assault allegations he faces from other women because of statute of limitations laws.

Does race play a factor in this case?

In a May 2017 interview, Cosby alleged that race “could be” a reason for the onslaught of sexual assault accusations against him.

“There are many tentacles,” he said. “So many different — nefarious is a great word — and I just truly believe that some of it may very well be that.”

Daughter Ensa Cosby said in a statement in May that she believes her father is innocent and a victim of racism.

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“I believe that racism has played a big role in all aspects of this scandal,” she said. “How the charges came against him, how people believed them before they were ever scrutinized or tested, how people who questioned the claims were shut down and ignored.”

Cosby’s defense has also alleged racial bias in jury selection. His lawyers argued in May that Pennsylvania prosecutors “systematically” tried to keep black jurors off the panel after the prosecution struck two black women from the jury.

There are two black jurors on the 12-person panel. Five of the 12 people on the jury are women.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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