With a mistrial declared in Bill Cosby’s closely-watched case, we are again doleful witnesses to the difficulty faced by a woman who alleges sexual assault against a powerful man.
In the days to come, we may learn more about why a jury, which deliberated for 50 hours over six days, could not reach a unanimous decision on whether Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004. This, even after Cosby admitted during a 2005 deposition that he had procured Quaaludes, a powerful sedative, to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
A mistrial is not an acquittal, but Cosby should be elated by this outcome. He faced three counts of aggravated indecent assault, and every day that passed without a verdict must have felt like a small triumph. It may also explain why Cosby, who declined to testify during his trial, made the arrogant decision to speak to crowds assembled outside the Norristown, Penn., courtroom Friday night. “I want to thank the jury for their long days and their honest work,” he said. “To the supporters, stay calm, do not argue with people.” This was before deliberations ended; Cosby seemed more like a plaintiff, than the defendant.
One can only wonder who the jury saw sitting at the defendant’s table. Did they see Cosby, a man accused of drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women over several decades? Was he a man who detractors say cunningly used his celebrity and power to lure young women seeking a mentor? Or did they see beloved Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the doting husband and father on “The Cosby Show”? That image was likely reinforced on the first day of the trial when Cosby walked into the courtroom with actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played youngest daughter Rudy on the classic sitcom. Were some jurors so awed by an image meant to evoke tender TV memories, they were convinced that the man they understood Cosby to be could not possibly have done what he stood accused of?
Years ago I served as a juror on a murder trial so I don’t take lightly the gravity of determining whether to acquit or convict a defendant. Sitting in the jury room trying to sift fact from fiction, I was struck by the seriousness of each person, and their palpable desire to get it right. Yet I also believe that the burden of proof can be impossibly high for women who allege sexual assault.
Always, it is the accuser on trial — what she did before the alleged assault, her recollections of the incident, how she behaved afterward, and whether, for some nefarious reason, she is now calling a consensual act a crime. Cosby’s lawyers did what they were paid handsomely to do — discredit Constand who worked at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, when she says the assault took place.
From the time the first Cosby accusers surfaced more than two years ago, they were subjected to character assassination, branded as golddiggers, or presented as proof of a racist nation’s insatiable desire to upend black excellence. Yet to watch Cosby supporters arguing with some of his accusers outside the courtroom, it seems absurd that any woman would subject herself to such public derision for anything reason other than justice.
Prosecutors said they would retry the case against the 79-year-old entertainer. If convicted, Cosby faced 10 years in prison. In the meantime Constand, and the many women whose cases will never reach a courtroom, continue their own life sentence of justice delayed and denied.