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Cosby lawyers press Andrea Constand on her motives in pursuing a $3.4 million settlement

During hours of cross-examination, Constand denied that she fabricated the sexual assault claim against Bill Cosby to make money.

Retrial Of Bill Cosby Underway For Sexual Assault Charges
Andrea Constand.
Photo by Corey Perrine - Pool/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Andrea Constand, the woman at the center of the Bill Cosby retrial, faced another round of grueling cross-examination on Monday.

It was her second day on the witness stand. On Friday, she testified that, in 2004, Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her. It was the same story she told 10 months ago, in a trial that ended with a deadlocked jury.

Five other women who have accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting them also testified last week. But Constand’s allegation is the one for which Cosby is on trial, and the defense went after her hard in two days of cross-examination. His lawyers tried to discredit her story and portray the allegation against Cosby as a premeditated plot to make money off the comedian. (Cosby has maintained his innocence and says the encounter was consensual.)

How the jury receives Constand’s testimony — and how she withstands the defense’s questioning — will likely determine the outcome of this case more than any other evidence. The hours of questioning she withstood about her past, her reliability, and her financial situation sometimes made it seem as if Constand herself, not Cosby, were the one on trial.

Constand’s testimony: “I wanted it to stop”

Constand, a former Temple University employee, met Cosby in 2002 at a basketball game. She considered him a mentor and went to him for career advice. In January 2004 at Cosby’s home, she said, he gave her three blue pills that he told her would help to relieve stress. She took them, and became unfocused and confused. She said she passed out on the couch.

“I felt Mr. Cosby on the couch behind me, and my vagina was being penetrated quite forcefully, and I felt my breasts being touched,” Constand testified on Friday.

Constand said she was too weak to fight Cosby off. “I wanted it to stop,” she said. “I couldn’t say anything. I was trying to get my hands to move, my legs to move, and the message just wasn’t getting there.”

The prosecutors also tried to get out ahead of the issue the defense would press in cross-examination — Constand’s motivation for participating in the criminal investigation after she had received a $3.4 million settlement for Cosby. Montgomery County assistant district attorney Kristen Feden asked Constand why she was in court; Constand replied, “For justice.”

Cosby attorneys pressed Constand on her credibility and financial situation

The grueling cross-examination of Constand lasted hours on Friday, and resumed Monday.

Cosby’s lead attorney, Tom Mesereau — who defended Michael Jackson against child molestation charges — questioned Constand relentlessly about her allegation against Cosby and the terms of her settlement with the comedian.

Mesereau tried to discredit Constand by picking out inconsistencies in her statement about the night of the alleged assault — a strategy the defense deployed in the first trial, too.

The defense also tried to insinuate that Constand put herself in a position to be alone with Cosby, questioning a visit to Cosby’s hotel room in Connecticut, where she saw him perform months before the assault. “Did you think it was appropriate to be in a married man’s hotel room in Connecticut at that time of night?” Mesereau asked Constand.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,“When she responded that it was Cosby who had invited her to his room, Mesereau quickly moved on asking similar questions stressing Cosby’s marital status again and again.”

These lines of attack — that Constand had singled out a married man, that her story doesn’t add up — are the supporting threads to Mesereau’s main argument: It was about the money. The defense is trying to create a narrative that Constand wanted a payout,” and decided that Cosby was her best means to obtain it.

Cosby’s lawyer trawled her past to find examples of a tenuous financial situation that seemed unrelated to the case, including a long line of questioning about 16-year-old emails she sent to Temple co-workers asking for money for a “business opportunity” that was basically a pyramid scheme.

“I didn’t know anything about that stuff,” Constand replied. “I was an athlete my whole life. I was just helping a friend.”

The defense also drilled hard into the $3.4 million settlement between Constand and Cosby. Constand pursued civil litigation against Cosby in 2005, after she had reported the incident to police and they had declined to file charges against the comedian at that time.

Prosecutors have argued throughout the trial that it was they who reached out to Constand in 2015 when they decided to reexamine the case. Mesereau tried to dismantle the prosecution’s argument, making it seem as if once Constand collected on the settlement, she broke its terms. (The prosecution tried to fight this in later questioning, emphasizing again that if authorities reached out to her and compelled her to testify, it wouldn’t violate the settlement.)

Mesereau honed in on another element of the settlement: Cosby admitted no wrongdoing. Mesereau asked why Constand would accept such a settlement, if that were the case. The unspoken implication is that Constand didn’t want justice — she just wanted the money.

“I can’t speak for him, but I was glad it was over,” Constand said Monday, adding that it was “a very painstaking process for me and my family, it tore my family apart and we just wanted it over.”

The defense also brought up Marguerite “Margo” Jackson, a witness for Cosby’s lawyers expected to testify that Constand told her before the alleged assault that she planned to fabricate an assault claim to get money. Constand denied knowing Jackson beyond her name, but Mesereau still asked, “Did you ever tell someone that you could falsely accuse someone of sexual assault and make a lot of money?”

Constand replied, “No, sir,” but the jury heard the pointed question — the crux of the defense’s argument.

Over the course of two days, Constand spent more than seven hours on the stand. The grueling questioning put all sorts of details from her past under extreme scrutiny, forcing her to explain not just the alleged incident with Cosby, but her personal and professional decisions around 2004. Whether Cosby, who did not take the stand in his defense in the first trial, will face a similar barrage of questions seems unlikely — though not impossible.