Norristown, 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.
Bill Cosby gestures as he leaves his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown after being convicted.
Cosby was found guilty on Thursday, local time, 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.
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 reached a deadlock.
Bill Cosby accuser Andrea Constand smiles after Cosby was found guilty in his sexual assault retrial.
Cosby maintained his innocence, but a series of accusers painted him as a 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 lawyer who has represented dozens of Cosby's accusers in civil actions. "Guilty. Guilty. Guilty."
Underscoring the popularising nature of the case, the comic was cheered and jeered as he left court. 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 and stopped to face the cameras and onlookers before entering a waiting car.
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 behind bars for the rest of his life.
Cosby, who walks with a cane and recently said he was blind, listened to the verdict stoically, but lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele, calling him an "ass-hole", after the prosecutor asked that Cosby be immediately jailed because he was a flight risk.
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 $US1 million ($1.3 million) bail while he awaits sentencing, but ordered him to remain at home except for future court appearances. He will also undergo a sexual-predator assessment. Steele said sentencing would likely happen within 60 to 90 days.
Gregg Donovan, left, who calls himself the unofficial ambassador of Hollywood, stands next to Bill Cosby’s star on the Hollywood Walk Fame, tagged with a “Guilty on All 3 Counts!” in Los Angeles on Thursday.
The accusations against Cosby posed a deeply troubling juxtaposition for a public that grew up with his wholesome dad image cultivated over decades of putting out landmark family-friendly comedy albums, peddling pudding on TV and receiving the Kennedy Centre honour in 1998. His image as America's favourite 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 his 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 immobilised and helpless to fight him off as he molested or raped them.
Heidi Thomas arrives to testify against actor and comedian Bill Cosby.
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 one-time roommate, who described hearing her muse about falsely accusing a famous man in order to win a big pay-off. Early in the trial, the defence disclosed that Cosby had earlier paid Constand nearly $US3.4 million to settle a previously confidential civil claim.
Chelan Lasha weeps as she returns to the courtroom after recess to testify against Bill Cosby.
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, Delores Troiani, said she was happy to be able to say that "though justice was delayed, it was not denied."
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 defence 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 defence 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 defence'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 travelled 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."
"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.
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?"
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