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Bill Cosby faces topless protester on first day of sexual assault retrial

  • First trial collapsed last June after jury failed to reach a verdict
  • TV comic faces three charges of aggravated indecent assault

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Bill Cosby faces topless protester on first day of sexual assault retrial” was written by Ed Pilkington in New York, for The Guardian on Monday 9th April 2018 14.53 UTC

Bill Cosby faced a second jury of his peers in 10 months on Monday, as his retrial for alleged sexual assault got under way in a Pennsylvania court.

The comic also faced a topless protester, who jumped a barricade with “Women’s Lives Matter” and other phrases written in red and black on her body. The woman was intercepted by sheriff’s deputies, handcuffed and led away.

Cosby seemed startled by the commotion, as other protesters brandished placards that said “Take rape seriously” and “Justice for survivors”.

He was then led into the Montgomery county court of common pleas in Norristown, Pennslyania for what is likely to be remembered as the first major celebrity trial of the #MeToo era. Cosby faces three charges of aggravated indecent assault dating back to 2004. His first trial collapsed last June after the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

The court had intended to launch straight into opening statements and calling first witnesses, but it hit a snag on Monday morning that pushed the start back. Cosby’s new and aggressive defence team, led by the white-haired Hollywood attorney Tom Mesereau, raised objections to one of the selected jurors who had apparently been overheard last week remarking about the defendant: “I just think he’s guilty, so we can all be done and get out of here.”

Judge Steven O’Neill postponed the trial to quiz the juror, who is anonymous and is identified only as No 11, about his alleged comment. The session was held in private.

Much has happened in the months separating the two trials, not least the explosion on social media of the #MeToo movement prompted by revelations of sexual harassment and assault involving prominent men in Hollywood, the media, politics and many other walks of life. How that new public climate affects the retrial may have a large bearing on Cosby’s fate.

He faces up to 10 years in prison on each count, having pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Cosby, 80, was once lauded as “America’s Dad” for his role in the popular TV sitcom The Cosby Show. He has been accused by more than 50 women of sexual assault, though he denies the claims.

Both his trials have focused on a single individual – Andrea Constand, a Canadian massage therapist who forms the center of the prosecution case. She alleges that in 2004, when she was helping run the women’s basketball team in Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University, he invited her to his home outside Philadelphia.

Constand, 44, alleges that he drugged her with three pills that made her drowsy, then sexually molested her. She reported the alleged attack a year later and when the local district attorney declined to press charges she brought a civil lawsuit against Cosby that was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2006.

Constand’s claims, and the defense attorneys’ efforts to discredit her credibility, were at the heart of the first trial last June. On that occasion, Cosby faced a jury of seven men and five women.

The panel for the second trial was to have exactly the same gender balance, with 10 members being white and two African American.

In pre-trial deliberations, Judge O’Neill made rulings on the evidence that can be presented to the jury that could be critically important. In particular, he allowed the size of the 2006 financial settlement between Cosby and Constand to be disclosed in court.

Instead of permitting just one other woman who alleged she was drugged and molested by Cosby to give testimony, as in the first trial, the judge gave the green light to five women being heard this time.

O’Neill was himself the issue of legal proceedings after Mesereau called on him to step aside on grounds that his social worker wife is an advocate for assault victims. He dismissed the demands, saying he was “not biased or prejudiced” by his wife’s work.

After her topless protest, Nicolle Rochelle, 39, was charged with disorderly conduct. She faces a small fine. She was fingerprinted and told to stay away from the courthouse for the rest of the trial.

In a phone call with reporters following her release, Rochelle said her protest was designed as a peaceful expression of solidarity with the women who have spoken out about Cosby.

“I wanted to show him that I wasn’t disempowered, I wanted him to feel my presence,” she said.

Rochelle appeared in The Cosby Show with the comic about six times, she said, when she was 12 years old. She said that she had not had any bad experiences at his hands personally.

She had decided on removing her clothes as a way of drawing attention to her protest. The slogan “Women’s Lives Matter” that she had painted in red ink on her chest was conceived by her, as a black woman, to make the point that Cosby’s race should not obscure what he is alleged to have done.

“You can’t make it all about race and leave the rape out of it,” she said.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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