clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Cosby case ends in mistrial after 6 days of deliberation. Here’s how it got there.

Andrea Constand’s case hits another crossroads.

Bill Cosby On Trial On Three Aggravated Sexual Assault Charges
Bill Cosby returns to the courtroom after a break during his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse.
Photo by Lucas Jackson-Pool/Getty Images

After six days of deliberations regarding accusations that comedian Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted a woman, a jury in Pennsylvania could not come to an agreement on whether he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, resulting in a mistrial, the New York Times reports.

On Thursday, the jury told Judge Steven T. O’Neill they were deadlocked, but he urged them to continue working on the case. Now with a hung jury, the prosecution will have to decide whether to retry the case involving the alleged assault on Constand, a former Temple University employee who first made the allegations more than a decade ago.

Cosby, now 79, faced three charges of aggravated indecent assault, all related to one incident that took place in 2004 in his Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, home. While the case was initially seen as a long shot to go to trial due to its tumultuous history, relentless media attention, and the looming statute of limitations, it did.

Constand is one of dozens of women who have accused the comedian of sexually assaulting or harassing them, but because of statutes of limitations, most of their cases (some women allege Cosby assaulted them more than 40 years ago) couldn’t go to trial. The women’s stories have forced Americans to confront the idea that Cosby may not be the silly but responsible dad that his Cosby Show and standup persona suggested — resulting in a public reckoning that intersects complicated themes of race, celebrity, and our society’s shifting attitudes about sexual consent. Here’s how Cosby, Constand, and the dozens of women who accused the comedian got to this point.

A pattern that flew under the radar for decades broke through in 2014

Nearly 60 women have now come forward to say Cosby either sexually assaulted them or attempted as much, in incidents occurring from the early 1960s, when Cosby was a young comedian and TV star on the rise, to 2008. Many of the allegations against Cosby follow similar patterns: The women say Cosby offered them a beverage — sometimes a cup of coffee, or sometimes a glass of wine or liquor, sometimes to chase down a pill. Then, they say, Cosby sexually assaulted them while they were impaired or even unconscious (though some women have said they were not drugged when Cosby attacked or groped them).

The women span social classes and occupations — from servers, aspiring actresses, and lawyers to celebrity models Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson. In Constand’s case, she was the director of operations of the women’s basketball team at Temple University. Cosby, a Temple alum and former student-athlete, kept close contact with the school and its athletics program. By 2002, he was acting as a mentor to Constand.

In January 2004, Constand was visiting Cosby at his home, seeking career advice, when she told Cosby she was feeling stressed. That’s when, she says, he gave her three pills, telling her they'd take the edge off. When she asked if they were herbal, he reportedly said, "Yes. Down them."

After taking the pills and drinking wine at Cosby's urging, Constand testified, her vision became blurry and her speech slurred. Cosby then went on to grope and digitally penetrate her, and also guided her hand to touch his genitals, she said. Hours later, Constand said, she awoke in his house with her clothing askew. Cosby greeted her in a robe, gave her a muffin, and walked her out of his house.

Constand reported the ordeal to local authorities in 2005, a year after it was alleged to have taken place. Cosby was questioned, and claimed the sexual acts were consensual. (Even before this incident, Constand said she refused Cosby’s advances from him two other times but wrote it off as flirting.) When the news of Constand's allegations first went public in early 2005, California attorney Tamara Green appeared on the Today show shortly after with a similar story about how Cosby gave her pills to help with a fever, and then sexually assaulted her in her apartment.

Cosby denied both allegations, and then–Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said Constand's case lacked enough evidence to move forward. Constand, who had moved back to Toronto at that point, filed a civil complaint against Cosby. Thirteen women had come forward to Constand and were mentioned in her case as Jane Doe witnesses.

Some of the women who had provided testimony for Constand's case even came forward publicly, telling reporters their stories of what Cosby had done to them. These stories got some coverage, but it never quite broke through to the national consciousness. Cosby and Constand settled the case on undisclosed terms in 2006.

But nearly a decade after that case was settled, a joke went viral. Standup comic Hannibal Buress skewered Cosby with a not-so-subtle reminder that the elder comedian had been accused of raping or sexually assaulting several women.

“I guess I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns,” Buress joked to a Philadelphia audience after a bit about Cosby and respectability politics. “Dude's image is, for the most part, a public Teflon image. I've done this bit onstage and people don't believe me; people think I'm making it up. I'm like, ‘Bill Cosby has a lot of rape allegations,’ and they go, ‘No, you do!’ No! ... That shit is upsetting. If you didn't know about it, trust me, if you leave here and Google ‘Bill Cosby rape,’ that shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’"

The allegations had laid mostly dormant until that moment at a Philadelphia comedy show in 2014. In the eight years since Constand settled with Cosby, America’s general understanding of sexual assault, rape, consent, and power had evolved, and the public appeared less willing to ignore the idea that “America’s dad” could be capable of sexual assault.

As Kathy McGee, a former radio host and one of Cosby’s accusers, told the Hollywood Reporter, "For 40 years, I didn't say anything because I thought it was just me. Imagine a girl in the early 1970s trying to make it in Hollywood and have a career. He was in his heyday when it happened. My common sense told me nobody would believe me."

Initially few did, as those who brought complaints against Cosby found. But after the seal was broken three years ago, more women came forward to add their names to the list of those who said Cosby had abused them in one way or another, creating a striking avalanche of individual stories.

New York magazine cover New York magazine

Constand recounts her story again

In July 2015, Constand filed a motion just weeks before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations would have run out for this case. Prosecutors didn’t pursue the case a decade prior. But a devastating deposition Cosby gave during Constand’s civil suit against him was made public by the New York Times that summer. There, he admitted to drugging her with Quaaludes and then having sexual contact with her, though he still maintained that contact was consensual. The deposition provided an avenue for prosecutors to pick up the case.

At the trial this month, Constand’s attorneys called 12 witnesses over five days last week. Though 60 women have made allegations against Cosby, spanning decades, only one other woman was allowed to testify at the trial aside from Constand. The woman, known as Kacey, was an assistant to Cosby’s former agent Tom Illius in the 1990s. She testified that Cosby invited her to his hotel room to discuss her acting career, according to the Guardian’s Molly Redden. There, Kacey said, Cosby urged her to swallow “a big white pill,” and then sexually assaulted her.

“I was very afraid because I had a secret about the biggest celebrity in the world at that time,” Kacey said on the stand. “And it was just me and my word against his. I was afraid.”

Constand herself took the stand, explaining that she had trusted Cosby as a university trustee, donor, and alum. That was until Cosby gave her three pills that debilitated her. She recounted the story as she had previously, though this time, on the witness stand, through tears.

“I was frozen and I was very limp,” she said through a cracked voice, reports the Guardian, “and so I wasn’t able to fight in anyway. I wanted it to stop.” After she awoke from being drugged, she said, she “felt humiliated and I was really confused because of what I remembered, and I just wanted to go home.”

With a seemingly insurmountable number of accusations, how was Cosby able to defend himself against Constand’s story?

Through attorneys and spokespeople, Cosby has vigorously denied the accusations, but since the allegations hit their peak, he has hardly spoken publicly. In a rare interview earlier this year, he told Sirius XM’s Michael Smerconish that he wanted avoid getting in the way of his legal team, which is why he would not testify.

“I just don’t want to sit there and have to figure out what I believe is a truthful answer to whether or not I’m opening a can of something that my lawyers are scrambling,” he said. In line with his defenses in the years since the civil case against Constand, Cosby added that the women making allegations against him were trying to take advantage of him, in order to gain money and fame.

The closest the jury got to hearing his side of the story was his unsealed testimony from the 2005 civil case, where he disclosed that he did give women Quaaludes with the intention of then having sex with them.

And after the prosecution presented its case for a week, Cosby’s defense took just six minutes to do the same on June 12 — to the shock of trial watchers — followed by a dramatic, two-hour closing statement, according to the Washington Post.

Cosby’s attorneys, through cross examination, attempted to discredit Constand, her mother, Kacey, and any other witnesses that came forward. Cosby attorney Angela Agrusa questioned inconsistencies of Constand’s timeline, including details of how Constand and Cosby met, and how she had initially told police that her contact with Cosby was “rare and brief.” During another point of Constand’s testimony, Redden reports for the Guardian, it was clear Agrusa was attempting to imply that Constand’s relationship with Cosby was “romantic in nature,” since they had private dinners together:

“You were sitting by the fire. The room was dark. There was a nice mood,” Agrusa said, summarizing Constand’s 2005 statement to police.

“I don’t know what that means,” Constand said.

“The lights were dim and the fire was going,” Agrusa continued.

“I don’t really remember how dim the lights were, but I did have to eat my dinner,” Constand replied.

Cosby’s defense attempted to portray his relationship with Constand, who is an out lesbian, as consensual (the defense could not bring her sexual orientation into the case, because doing so would violate Pennsylvania's rape shield law). Cosby’s defense team also questioned the political motives of Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele. He won his seat in 2016 by campaigning against his predecessor Bruce Castor, who decided not to pursue Constand’s case in 2005.

Race and the Cosby trial

When Buress inadvertently revived the allegations, it was in the context of criticizing Cosby’s famous finger-wagging messages urging black people to live up to the work of the civil rights movement by pulling up their sagging pants and putting an end to out-of-wedlock births.

“It’s even worse because Bill Cosby has the fuckin’ smuggest old black man public persona that I hate,” Buress said in 2014. “He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the '80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches. ‘I don't curse onstage!’ But yeah, you're a rapist, so … I'd take you saying lots of ‘motherfuckers’ on Bill Cosby: Himself if you weren't a rapist.”

While the case has been about women coming forward to disclose their experiences with sexual assault, to Cosby’s defenders it’s also been framed as a case about another black man being publicly hung out to dry. Smerconish brought up Cosby’s daughter Ensa’s defense of her father in an audio clip, in which she said, “I strongly believe my father’s innocent of the crimes alleged against him, and I believe that racism has played a big role in all aspects of this scandal.” Following up by stating that his accusers are “both black and white,” Cosby responded:

Well, let me put it to you this way. When you look at the power structure and when you look at individuals, there are some people who can very well be motivated by whether or not they're going to work. Or whether or not they might be able to get back at someone, so if it's in terms of whatever the choice is, I think that you can also examine individuals and situations and they will come out differently. So, it's not all, not every, but I do think that there's some.

Like his daughter, several other Cosby defenders have echoed this concern. As a black entertainer, after all, Cosby was a trailblazer on television and through comedy. Comedian Eddie Griffin told Vlad TV that he saw it all as part of a larger effort to tarnish black men in the entertainment industry. Rapper Waka Flocka Flame echoed this, calling the situation "an organized lie." So did Cosby Show co-star Phylicia Rashad, and, as Jenée Desmond-Harris wrote for Vox, her attempt to clarify her statements only made her sound more callous to the women involved.

Whoopi Goldberg, another pioneering black comedian and one of the co-hosts of The View, initially defended Cosby outright. More recently, she's been more neutral about the criminal accusations but still has extended words of support to Cosby and his wife, Camille.

By last year, Cosby had lost major points with Americans overall — 61 percent had an unfavorable view of him, according to YouGov. Among black Americans, it was more polarized: 35 percent approve of the decision to prosecute him, and 28 percent don't.

"It’s difficult for black people to accept the idea that Cosby could be guilty," University of Connecticut professor and New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb told Goldie Taylor, who wrote a controversial Ebony magazine cover story about Cosby’s downfall last year. "Certainly the long history of prominent African Americans being torn down in public lends itself to the idea that Cosby is being targeted because of his wealth and influence."

Sexual assault accusations and male dominance

For many, the acts Cosby was accused of were incomprehensible, especially for someone who had built a career on a fun yet somewhat wholesome family image, while also pushing for education and upward mobility for black Americans. So, yes, part of what people are debating is whether Cosby is guilty of the overwhelming number of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault claims.

But the mountain of allegations and the public debate that followed were also about those who have seen Cosby rise as an elder statesman and a cultural icon, and the reluctance to tear down a black man who has done so much to build himself up while helping others.

As my colleague Constance Grady wrote for Vox this week, Cosby’s defense team was able to plant the seed that Constand’s accusations were simply not credible; that women lie about being sexually assaulted regularly; that she hesitated to report her story to law enforcement, therefore casting doubt. It’s the reason the jury couldn’t come to a decision after five days of arguments from Constand’s side and less than 10 minutes from Cosby’s.

As far as what’s next for Cosby and Constand, it will be up to prosecutors to decide whether to bring this case to trial again. If they do, it will no doubt spark yet another wave of controversy.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.