NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Bill Cosby, who once embodied the idealized American father on a wildly popular sitcom, was convicted of sexual assault on Thursday in a high-stakes retrial after a half-dozen women testified that the famed comedian drugged and assaulted them.
The jury returned with the guilty verdict Thursday afternoon after a second day of deliberations in which the judge read back testimony of the defense’s star witness, who testified that Cosby’s main accuser once said she could frame a “high-profile person.”
The jury was also read back Cosby’s deposition testimony from 2005, where the comedian admitted to giving a woman Quaaludes in order to have sex with her.
Cosby, 80, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of up to $25,000 on each count.
The verdict was a victory for the #MeToo movement, which has exposed sexual harassment and misconduct in entertainment, media, politics and beyond.
Cosby, 80, who has faced dozens of sexual misconduct allegations spanning decades, was charged with three counts of aggravated assault against one woman, Andrea Constand, 45, who claimed that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his home in January 2004. Cosby’s first trial ended in a mistrial in June.
Cosby, who has repeatedly denied all the allegations against him, has said the sexual encounter with Constand was consensual.
A few hours after deliberations began Wednesday, the jury returned to the courtroom to ask, “What is the legal definition of consent?”
But Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill said that he couldn’t give jurors a legal definition, telling them that was something they would have to answer on their own, using their own “common sense.”
The verdict marked a dramatic culmination of an 18-year case that spanned two criminal trials and multiple police investigations.
Assistant Montgomery County District Attorney Kristen Feden portrayed Cosby as a sexual predator who used his TV image as a man of wholesome values to target women he believed he could silence.
Prosecutors called five other women who alleged that Cosby also sexually assaulted them in a manner similar to the way he assaulted Constand.
“He preyed on Andrea Constand the same way he preyed on all those five women,” Feden said.
Last month, O’Neill ruled that the additional accusers could testify so the prosecution could try to establish that the assault on Constand fit a pattern or that Cosby didn’t make a mistake when he drugged and sexually assaulted Constand.
Attorneys for Cosby asked pointed questions about the accusers’ history of drug abuse, criminal backgrounds, personal relationships and sex lives.
Defense attorneys were especially hard on Janice Dickinson, a former supermodel.
Cosby’s lead attorney, Tom Mesereau, asked Dickinson whether she had spread false rumors about being pregnant with Sylvester Stallone’s child. She said the remark was an honest mistake.
“I had sex with two men that month. He wasn’t the only contender,” she said, garnering smiles from the jury.
Defense attorney Kathleen Bliss described Dickinson in closing arguments as a “failed starlet” and “an aged-out model.”
“It sounds like she has slept with every single guy on the planet,” Bliss said. “Is Ms. Dickinson really the moral beacon that women’s movements want?”
The defense also suggested that Constand and the other accusers were making false accusations in the hope of gaining fame or fortune.
They repeatedly pointed to nearly a $3.4 million payout that Constand received in 2006, the result of a civil settlement with Cosby. And they highlighted lawyer Gloria Allred’s proposal in 2014 to set aside a $100 million fund for victims of Cosby if he was unwilling to waive the statute of limitations to allow his accusers to confront him in court.
Allred and her daughter, Lisa Bloom, who is also a lawyer, represent four of the five additional accusers who were allowed to testify.
Some of the questions and arguments drew scorn from observers in the courtroom.
Lili Bernard, another Cosby accuser who sat in the courtroom for much of the trial, called the defense’s closing argument highly offensive.
“It was based solely on rape myths, on victim blaming, on victim shaming and on a character assassination of really credible witnesses, of very righteous victims, of victims that were clearly telling the truth,” Bernard told reporters as the jury deliberated Wednesday.
“It was just a display of utter misogyny and buffoonery, and you know, I’m just like wow, how low can they go?” she said.
Feden also sharply criticized Bliss over what she called “character assassination” of the accusers.
“That character assassination that Ms. Bliss put those women through was utterly shameful,” she said. “She’s the exact reason why women, victims of sexual assault and men don’t report these crimes.”
The #MeToo movement was a cloud over the defense’s closing arguments Tuesday, with Bliss telling jurors that they shouldn’t allow it to influence their decision.
“Don’t get me wrong — bad things definitely happen. But, ladies and gentleman, not every accusation is true. Your common sense tells you that,” Bliss said. “We do have to deal with sexual assault. It’s a worldwide problem, just like we do with sexual harassment, pay disparity, social inequality.
“But questioning an accuser is not shaming them,” she added.
Meredith Mandell and Adam Reiss reported from Norristown. Daniella Silva reported from New York.