Monday 19 November, 2018

Topless protester disrupts start of Bill Cosby retrial

(Image: AP: A protester is detained as Bill Cosby arrives for his retrial on 9 April 2018)

(Image: AP: A protester is detained as Bill Cosby arrives for his retrial on 9 April 2018)

A topless protester with "Women's Lives Matter" written on her body jumped a barricade and got within a few feet of Bill Cosby on Monday as the comedian walked into a suburban Philadelphia courthouse for the start of his sexual assault retrial.

The unidentified woman ran in front of Cosby toward a bank of TV cameras but was intercepted by sheriff's deputies and led away in handcuffs.

Cosby seemed startled by the commotion as a half-dozen protesters chanted at him.

The disruption came ahead of opening statements on Monday, though a delay was expected while the judge sorted through allegations raised late on Friday that a juror was overheard saying he thought Cosby was guilty. Cosby's lawyers asked that the man be questioned and removed from the case.

Prosecutors have lined up a parade of accusers to make the case that the man revered as "America's Dad" lived a double life as one of Hollywood's biggest predators.

He is fighting back with a new, high-profile lawyer and an aggressive strategy: attacking Andrea Constand as a greedy liar and casting the other women testifying as bandwagon accusers looking for a share of the spotlight.

Cosby's first trial last spring ended in a cliffhanger, with jurors unable to reach a unanimous verdict after five days of tense deliberations on charges that the man who made millions of viewers laugh as wise and understanding Dr Cliff Huxtable on "The Cosby Show" drugged and molested Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

The 80-year-old comedian, who has said the sexual contact was consensual, faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

New witnesses

His retrial is taking place in a radically changed and potentially more hostile environment. The #MeToo movement caught fire four months after the first trial, raising awareness of sexual misconduct as it toppled Harvey Weinstein, Sen Al Franken, Matt Lauer and other powerful men.

Kristen Houser of the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre said that could help prosecutors overcome the scepticism some jurors had last time about Constand's year-long wait to report her allegations to the police.

After limiting the focus of the first trial, Judge Steven O'Neill has been willing to let both sides push the retrial well beyond Constand's allegations.

This time, O'Neill is letting prosecutors have five additional accusers testify - including model Janice Dickinson - as they attempt to show Cosby made a habit of drugging and violating women. The judge allowed just one other accuser to take the stand last time.

In another difference, the judge this time is letting Cosby's legal team call as a witness a former co-worker of Constand's at Temple University who said Constand spoke of setting up a "high-profile person" so she could sue and enjoy a big payday. Constand's lawyer has said the co-worker is lying.

The judge also decided the jury can hear the answer to one of the biggest questions hanging over the case: How much did Cosby pay Constand to settle her lawsuit against him more than a decade ago? The two sides agreed at the first trial not to mention the lawsuit.