Bill Cosby conviction: Accuser praised as 'the Joan of Arc in the war on rape'

Bill Cosby found guilty of sexual assault in Pennsylvania.

It was a defining moment for the #MeToo movement and a shattering fall for a once-beloved entertainment icon in his twilight years: A Pennsylvania jury's guilty verdict against comedian Bill Cosby on sexual assault charges marked the first high-profile criminal conviction since the start of a movement demanding sexual predators, even those with power and fame, be held to account.

Cosby was found guilty Thursday on charges he drugged and molested Andrea Constand, a former basketball official at Temple University who said she had once considered Cosby a mentor and friend.

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Drawing a ​​​​​loud gasp from spectators, the verdict followed a day and a half of deliberations, and came less than a year after a previous jury deadlocked over the innocence or guilt of the comic.

Cosby maintained his innocence, but a litany of accusers painted him as a relentless sexual predator whose attacks spanned decades. After the verdict, some of the witnesses and their supporters wept.

"Bill Cosby, we have three words for you," said Gloria Allred, a crusading feminist and lawyer who has represented dozens of Cosby accusers in civil actions. "Guilty. Guilty. Guilty."

Underscoring the polarizing nature of the proceedings, the comic was cheered and jeered as he left the courthouse. Some onlookers yelled "Burn in hell!" or "Rot in jail!" while others shouted out: "We love you, brother!" At one point, he raised his hand in the air and stopped to face the phalanx of cameras and onlookers before ducking into his dark SUV.

The three counts of aggravated indecent assault lodged against Cosby each carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a sentence that would likely put the 80-year-old comic behind bars for the rest of his life.

Cosby, who walks with a cane and recently revealed he is blind, listened to the verdict stoically, but moments later lashed out loudly at Dist. Atty. Kevin Steele and called him an "asshole" after the prosecutor asked that Cosby be immediately jailed because he was a flight risk.

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Later, Steele said the outburst was telling.

"I think everybody got to see who he really is," Steele said.

The judge decided Cosby can remain free on $1-million bail while he awaits sentencing, but ordered him to remain confined to his home except for future court appearances. Cosby will also undergo a sexual-predator assessment. No date for sentencing was set, but Steele said it would likely happen within 60 to 90 days.

The accusations against Cosby posed a deeply troubling juxtaposition for a public that grew up with his wholesome image cultivated over decades of putting out landmark family-friendly comedy albums, peddling pudding on TV and receiving the Kennedy Center honor in 1998. His image as America's favorite father was cemented in his role as obstetrician Cliff Huxtable, the kindly and wise patriarch in "The Cosby Show" that ran in the 1980s and early '90s.

In the months after the jury in Cosby's 2017 criminal trial deadlocked, the #MeToo movement erupted, with scores of powerful men brought to account over charges of sexually harassing or assaulting women, often in the context of an implied threat to block victims' professional advancement unless they submitted. The trial unfolded against that explosive backdrop, with jurors pledging to be impartial despite this being the first high-profile test of the movement in criminal court.

In the 2017 trial, just one woman was allowed to testify to an episode similar to the 2004 assault that Constand described. Prosecutors were more optimistic with this case as lawyers for Constand, now 45, were allowed to bring in five other women who told similar stories of being manipulated by Cosby into taking pills and then finding themselves immobilized and helpless to fight him off as he molested or raped them.

Cosby's legal team offered up a blistering portrayal of the accusers as opportunistic liars, and sought to undermine Constand's credibility by producing a witness, a onetime roommate, who described hearing her muse about falsely accusing a famous man in order to win a big payoff. Early in the trial, the defense disclosed that Cosby had earlier paid Constand nearly $3.4 million to settle a previously confidential civil claim.

Constand, who stood with Steele and the prosecution team after the verdict, was emotional — as was Steele — when talking about the journey from civil trial to the first criminal trial to Thursday afternoon. Constand didn't speak, but her attorney, Dolores Troiani, said she was happy to be able to say that "though justice was delayed, it was not denied."

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Steele said it took courage for Constand and the other women who testified to come forward and risk being attacked publicly in court by Cosby's defense team.

"I called each of them after the verdict," Steele said. "I wasn't able to talk to all of them, but they know what they've done and they know what their courage helped all of us do."

Dennis McAndrews, a Philadelphia-based attorney who has been following the case, said the defense presented a "broader-based attack" than what was offered during the first trial. He said the strategy appeared to be designed to get at least one juror to hold out on convicting Cosby. To obtain a criminal conviction, decisions must be unanimous.

During the two-week trial, the prosecution denounced what it called the defense's attempt to shame the victims into silence, and depicted Cosby as a calculating assailant who believed his celebrity would shield him against lurid accounts of assault and coercion against women who trusted him and believed he could help them in their careers. Dozens of women have come forward to accuse him.

The trial, held in a small suburb of Philadelphia known primarily for being on the edge of Valley Forge, drew national attention and a handful of Cosby detractors who stood outside the gray Montgomery County Courthouse.

Allred, who traveled to Pennsylvania to await the verdict, called it a historic moment.

"In my experience — 42 years as an attorney — that generally in a criminal case involving rape and sexual assault, the testimony of one woman alone without any other accusers against a celebrity or powerful person is often not enough," Allred said before the jury came back. "So in a he-said-she-said, generally it's the he-said who prevails with his denial. Of course, here it's a she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said against a he-said. That's my feeling about a how a woman's word — women even under oath — may not be considered to be of as much value. What does it take for women to be believed?"

Allred said she had been lowering expectations on a guilty verdict and admitted to be emotional as each guilty verdict was read. Outside the courthouse, she had to raise her voice several times to be heard above the buzz of several news helicopters floating overhead.

Standing with her was Lili Bernard, one of Cosby's accusers. Bernard called Constand "the Joan of Arc in the war on rape."

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"It is a victory for womanhood and it is a victory for all sexual assault survivors," Bernard said.

The retrial jury was made up of seven men and five women. All but two were white.

Cosby's legal team was led by Los Angeles lawyer Tom Mesereau, distinguished by his mane of white hair, who is best known for winning an 2005 acquittal for Michael Jackson on child-molestation charges. But in what might have been a move carefully calibrated to avoid antagonizing women jurors, some of the most scornful language directed against the accusers came from Mesereau's female co-counsel and former federal prosecutor, Kathleen Bliss.

Camille Cosby, 74, the entertainer's wife of 54 years, stayed away for most of the trial, but sat in the gallery as the proceedings were wrapping up earlier this week. She stayed away during days of graphic, emotional testimony from his accusers, including one who addressed the comic directly from the witness stand, asking him through tears, "You remember, don't you, Mr. Cosby?"

Twitter: @davemontero

Staff writer Laura King contributed to this report

Montero reported from Norristown. King reported from Washington.

UPDATES:

2:51 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details and reaction.

11:42 a.m.: This article has been updated with further details and Bill Cosby's reaction.

11:20 a.m.: This article has been updated with background on the case.

10:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with the guilty verdict.

This article was originally published at 10:45 a.m.

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