Anguished Cosby: 'I Want to Talk'

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a wide-ranging network television interview aired Monday, an emotional Bill Cosby described his anguish over his son's murder, vented frustration with the criminal justice system and acknowledged having an extramarital affair.

Cosby said the horror of losing his son had affected him in unexpected ways. "I have always imagined, if somebody killed one of my kids, I mean, I would go get five .357 magnums," the entertainer said in his first in-depth interview since Ennis Cosby was shot to death Jan. 16 while fixing a flat tire on a darkened road near Bel-Air.

"But . . . then you start to think about the person that you love, who is gone. And then that part of them comes to you and says, 'Hey, Dad, you have to go back to work, man. You know people want to laugh. You have to go back to work.' And you start to laugh," Cosby said. "His spirit from there wouldn't allow us to walk off and be anything other than what he wants."

While Cosby told "CBS Evening News" anchor Dan Rather that he needed to go on with his life, he emphasized that he and his wife, Camille, desperately want to see their son's killer brought to justice.

"There is a difference in this house. Mrs. Cosby wants this man--I mean she verbalizes she wants him. She wants him now. She refuses to accept the fact that this 'thing' is still out there," he said. "She doesn't accept the fact that nobody comes forward to help with the truth."

Cosby, who ended his seclusion and returned to work on his CBS sitcom Monday, said he wants police to conduct a meticulous investigation, so there are no lingering doubts as to the guilt or innocence of whoever is charged in the murder.

"When they find him, I want it laid out. I don't want, well, they took the blood and they dropped it and it's a sock and everything," the comedian said, referring to controversy over the handling of evidence in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. "I want the defense to sign papers saying if I lose this case and it's proven that he or she is the killer, then I will take the same punishment as his client."

During the 2 1/2-hour interview with Rather, additional portions of which will be aired in the coming days, Cosby addressed another issue that has rocked his family.

Cosby, who through his TV roles has become a symbol of wholesome family life, acknowledged that he had had a "rendezvous" with the mother of Autumn Jackson, a 22-year-old Los Angeles-area woman who was recently arrested on suspicion of attempting to extort $24 million from Cosby. In the extortion case, which authorities have said is unrelated to the Ennis Cosby shooting, Jackson said she would tell a tabloid newspaper that she was Bill Cosby's illegitimate daughter unless he paid her the cash, federal prosecutors charge.

"The mother [of Autumn Jackson] told me--the woman I had a rendezvous with--told me I am the father," Cosby said. "On the birth certificate it is not my name."

"I had not spoken to the mother during her pregnancy, nor her delivery, nor some 14 months until we finally spoke," Cosby continued. "Never--she never called me, and then one day when I called her for a second rendezvous, she came and made the announcement."

Cosby, who has emphatically denied through a spokesman that he was the father of Autumn Jackson, was asked the question again in the interview with Rather.

"There is a possibility," Cosby said in a transcript released by CBS, then added, "If you said, 'Did you make love to the woman?' The answer is yes. 'Are you the father?' No."

Jackson, who was arrested two days after the Ennis Cosby slaying, was freed Monday evening on $250,000 bond. For the time being, said her lawyer, Robert Baum, she would live with her grandmother in Northern California.

Baum said his client would not respond at this time to Cosby's statements. "There is a lot that can be said, but will not be said at this time," Baum said.

Federal agents arrested Jackson, along with Jose Medina, 51, in the New York office of Cosby's lawyers. Medina remained in jail Monday.

Under tight security, Cosby returned to work Monday at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York City on the TV show he was preparing to tape the day he learned his son was slain. At Cosby's request, the taping was conducted without the usual live audience.

In the TV interview conducted Sunday, the comedian focused on the pain of losing his 27-year-old son.

At one point, Cosby poignantly described Ennis' burial on the family's estate in Massachusetts. He told how his daughters and his son's friends carried the coffin in the cold from a barn to an herb garden.

"We picked up the coffin. There's about 10, 11 people just putting their hands on it, and we carried it down the hill and we set it down," Cosby said. "Then we joined hands . . . and I set the coffin down over the hole and I said, 'We now want to give praise to God for allowing us to know him--not for giving him to us, but just letting us know him.' "

At that point in the interview, Cosby gestured toward a painting of Ennis in his graduation cap and gown and wept.

The interview took place after Cosby called Rather's wife, Jean, at home Sunday. She reached the news anchor at Madison Square Garden, where he was watching a New York Knicks basketball game.

The CBS newsman said Cosby told him, "I want to talk. Bring a camera."

When Rather arrived at the Cosby's studio in Queens, the entertainer took him into his office.

"There were no ground rules," Rather said. "He said, 'Ask me anything you want.' He looked me in the eye and said, 'Anything.' "

Rather said at that point that he knew Cosby wanted to talk about Jackson's claim that she was his illegitimate daughter.

"I raised it very gently. Not only did he want to talk about it, but he talked about it at length and in detail," Rather said.

CBS broadcast excerpts of the interview on Monday's news shows and planned to use further sections on "60 Minutes."

Cosby told Rather that people can "do damage to themselves" if they remain negative even in the face of great tragedy.

"The kid went down. . . . I mean somebody took him down, but the, the, the sorrow is still a matter to rejoice."

"I'm talking about what was taken from us," Cosby added, looking in the direction of the painting of his slain son. "If you see that smile. That's what he wants."

Times staff writers Matt Lait and Eleanor Randolph and researcher Lisa Meyer contributed to this story.

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