The jury in Bill Cosby’s indecent assault trial asked a question Wednesday that goes to the heart of the case against the former TV icon: “What is the legal definition of consent?”
The question came around 1 p.m., less than two hours after the 12-person jury began deliberating the case. Cosby is on trial on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, court Judge Steven O’Neill told the jurors he could not answer the question.
“The jury will decide what consent means to them,” he said.
The case against Cosby centers on testimony from Andrea Constand, a former employee with Temple University women’s basketball team. She testified that Cosby, a powerful trustee at Temple, drugged her and sexually assaulted her when she visited his home to ask for career advice in a Philadelphia suburb in January 2004.
Cosby’s defense team has argued that their interaction was consensual. Constand is a con artist, they argued, who wanted a piece of Cosby’s fortune.
The case is the first celebrity sexual assault trial since the #MeToo movement began last fall, and as such, it represents a test of how the cultural movement will translate into a courtroom arena. In closing arguments, defense attorney Kathleen Bliss positioned Cosby’s legal team as standing up against “witch hunts, lynchings (and) McCarthyism.”
The jury also asked two further questions on Wednesday afternoon, asking to see the attorney stipulations and statements from one witness, Margo Jackson. The judge re-read the attorney stipulations but did not offer Jackson’s statements, saying jurors should rely on their recollections.
Last year, a different jury could not come to a unanimous verdict on any of these three charges for Cosby, leading O’Neill to declare a mistrial.
The jury is made up of seven men and five women and they have been sequestered in a hotel during the trial’s two weeks of testimony. One man and one woman are African-American, and the rest appear to be white.
Cosby, 80, faces up to 10 years in prison on each count if convicted.
A ‘he said-she said’ case
The case has little forensic evidence and has largely consisted of the “he said-she said” arguments common to sexual assault cases.
Constand testified that Cosby offered her wine and three blue pills, saying “these are your friends, they will take the edge off.” She began to slur her words and feel woozy, she testified, and then became unable to move.
“The next thing I recall is, um, I was kind of jolted awake, and felt Mr. Cosby on the couch beside me, behind me, and my vagina was being penetrated quite forcefully,” Constand testified. “I felt my breasts being touched, and he took my hand and placed my hand on his penis and masturbated himself with my hand. And I was not able to do a thing to fight back.”
Cosby did not testify in his own defense during the trial, but he said in a 2005-2006 civil deposition with Constand that their sexual activity was consensual.
His defense attorneys have sharply criticized Constand in an attempt to undermine her credibility. They argued she was a “con artist” and a liar who was obsessed with Cosby’s fame and money.
“You’re going to be saying to yourself, ‘What does she want from Bill Cosby?’ and you already know. Money, money and lots more money,” Mesereau said in opening statements. “She was madly in love with his fame and money.”
In addition, five other women testified that Cosby drugged and assaulted them in previous incidents. Prosecutors said these “prior bad acts” witnesses proved that Cosby’s actions toward Constand were part of a pattern of behavior and were not a one-time mistake.