NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CN) – Not ready to declare a mistrial yet for comedian Bill Cosby, the judge presiding over the 79-year-old’s sexual assault trial ordered the deadlocked jury to keep deliberating Thursday.
“It’s simply inappropriate at this time, no matter how long it has been,” said Judge Steven O’Neill, rejecting a motion by Cosby’s defense team for a mistrial at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.
The 12-person jury has been sequestered in Norristown, Pennsylvania, weighing the three counts against Cosby, since closing arguments concluded late Monday.
After O’Neill sent the jury back to the deliberating room, explaining that he would not put a time limit on deliberations, court officials released a notice that said the jury would work through lunch this afternoon.
To ensure a fair trial, Cosby’s jury was called in from about 300 miles away in Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh. Sequestered juries are not uncommon for high-profile cases. Indeed the jury that acquitted O.J. Simpson of murder was sequestered for 265 days, the longest in American history.
As with Simpson, the Cosby on trial this month for three counts of sexual assault bears little resemblance to the onetime icon of wholesome entertainment. In the last three years, dozens of women have come forward about allegedly nonconsensual sexual encounters with Cosby dating back to the 1970s. Andrea Constand, the woman Cosby is charged with assaulting, is the only one of these accusers whose claims are not too old to prosecute.
Thirty-five years younger than the comedian, Constand met Cosby at Temple University where he was a trustee and she was director of operations for the women’s basketball team.
Taking the stand against Cosby last week, Constand testified that she had come to see Cosby as a mentor and father figure, unaware that the attention he paid her was romantic. On the night of her alleged assault in early 2004, Constand said she had sought Cosby’s guidance about a possible career change.
She claims that Cosby incapacitated her at his house in Cheltenham, a suburb of Philadelphia, and then had sex with her when she could not consent.
Though Constand reported Cosby to the police in 2005, about a year after her alleged attack, prosecutors initially found the case too weak to prosecute.
It is undisputed that Cosby gave Constand three pills that he now contends were Benadryl, and that they had sex.
Constand said Cosby told her at the time, however, that the pills were “herbal,” and that she was surprised when she began feeling their effects — losing control of her legs, and seeing double.
“I don’t really remember passing out or … I have no recollection, until some point later,” Constand had testified. “I was jolted conscious, jolted awake, and I felt Mr. Cosby’s hand groping my breast under my shirt and inside my vagina, moving in and out. I felt him place my hand on his penis and move it back and forth.”
Though Cosby did not take the stand himself, he maintains that the encounter was consensual. Led by Brian McMonagle and Angela Agrusa, the defense team worked over the course of the six-day trial to show that Cosby and Constand were romantically involved.
If the jury remains deadlocked, and O’Neill declares a mistrial, District Attorney Kevin Steele would get four months to decide whether to retry the case. The court’s bail conditions require Cosby to attend all the hearings while he is free on a $1 million bond.
Constand says the assault occurred in January or February 2004, and that she left her position at Temple by March. She returned to her family’s home Canada, ultimately waiting until January 2005 to report Cosby to the police.
Cosby reached an undisclosed civil settlement with Constand after Montgomery County prosecutors initially declined to bring charges in her case.
The allegations all but faded from the public eye until a stand-up bit about Cosby’s image by comedian Hannibal Buress went viral in 2014.
Just as the 12-year statute of limitations was set to run on Constand’s claims, the new district attorney of Montgomery County reopened her case and brought charges against Cosby.
Critical to that development was a federal judge’s decision to unseal deposition testimony that Cosby gave in the 2005 case. Citing significant interest, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno found that Cosby narrowed the zone of privacy by casting himself as a public moralist. In the deposition, Cosby admitted to giving quaaludes to women before having sex with them.
This pronouncement was read aloud to the jury last week by one of the state’s witnesses, as well as Cosby’s admission that he had seven prescriptions for the sedative over the years and never used any of them himself.
Constand remains the only Cosby accuser whose claims are not too old to prosecute. Many of the other women attended last week’s trial, though Judge O’Neill permitted only one of them to testify.
Kelly Johnson met Cosby while working for his agent in Los Angeles at the William Morris Talent Agency.
She testified that she was supposed to get lunch with Cosby at the Bel Air Hotel one day in 1996, but that Cosby answered the door to his bungalow in a robe and slippers.
Johnson told the jury that Cosby gave her a pill, saying she needed to relax, and then checked under her tongue to make sure she swallowed it.
Shortly after, her vision blurred and Johnson recalled waking up to “grunting sounds” in the bedroom. She said Cosby was behind her, her breasts were exposed, and that Cosby “made me touch his penis.”
In addition to Constand, Johnson and each woman’s mother, the jury heard testimony from a slew of law enforcement officials, one toxicologist and one forensic psychologist.
The initial criminal case in 2005 was opened by former Assistant District Attorney Risa Furman, who is now Judge Furman in Montgomery County.
Constand brought a federal defamation complaint against Furman’s former boss, former District Attorney Bill Castor, in 2005, saying he was exploiting her ordeal for political gain. Castor ran unsuccessfully against Steele for the district attorney job in 2015.