Cosby lawyer questions accuser’s credibility

Bill Cosby walks through the Montgomery County Courthouse during his sexual assault trial Wednesday, June 7, 2017, in Norristown, Pa. (AP photo)

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania, US — Suddenly the centre of attention after years of shunning the spotlight, the woman Bill Mr Cosby is charged with sexually assaulting kept her composure Wednesday under a second gruelling day of cross-examination, as her credibility emerged as the crucial factor in whether the world-famous entertainer will go to prison.

Before testifying this week, Andrea Constand had never before spoken publicly about the night in early 2004 when she says Mr Cosby drugged and abused her, but every detail of their relationship has been scoured since Tuesday by Mr Cosby’s lawyers, who seized on any hint of inconsistency. She admitted some mistakes in details, and acknowledged maintaining with Mr Cosby after the night she says she was assaulted, but she calmly and confidently tried to explain some discrepancies, while dismissing others as innocent errors.

“Ma’am, I was mistaken,” Ms Constand replied to questioning by a defence lawyer, Angela C. Agrusa, who asked why, when she first went to the police, a year after the incident, she had told them she had first met Mr Cosby in 2003. It was actually 2002.

She also acknowledged giving police the wrong date for the alleged assault at his home in a suburb of Philadelphia, instead giving the date of another encounter with Mr Cosby several weeks later. Ms Agrusa asked, incredulously, “It went from the day, the night that you were drugged and assaulted to something else?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ms Constand said. “I said I was mistaken.”

It remains to be seen whether the jury will embrace the account she gave at the Montgomery County Courthouse. But it is clear that for dozens of women who say Mr Cosby attacked them too, her testimony has been an empowering moment, and a possible pathway to his conviction and what they consider justice.

“They are trying to poke holes in her timeline and discredit her,” said Victoria Valentino, who says Mr Cosby assaulted her in 1970, and is attending the trial, “and she is being very prudent and authentic in her responses. It comes across very clearly that she is telling the truth.”

Ms Constand, 43, spent nearly nine hours on the stand over two days — including four hours Wednesday — as Ms Agrusa accused her of fabricating the assault and some details of her interaction with Mr Cosby. But in contrast to Tuesday, when Ms Constand cried recounting the incident, she remained dry-eyed and outwardly calm Wednesday, answering questions matter-of-factly.

Judge Steven T. O’Neill has admonished the jurors to ignore anything they have heard outside the courtroom, but to the wider world, Ms Constand walked to the stand as a sort of proxy for the dozens of women who have stepped forward to accuse Mr Cosby of drugging and assaulting them. None of the other allegations has led to prosecution — in many cases, too much time has passed — and it may be that none will.

A former star basketball player who grew up in Toronto, Ms Constand worked for Temple University when she met Mr Cosby, a Temple alumnus and trustee. Shortly after the incident at the heart of the case, in January or February 2004, she quit her job and moved back to Canada; the following year, she went to the police and sued Mr Cosby, later reaching an undisclosed settlement.

She faced him this week, for the first time in 12 years, as a different person — a massage therapist who practices yoga, and who, during breaks in the trial, appeared to be meditating.

Ms Agrusa suggested there was more than Ms Constand let on to in her relationship with Mr Cosby, 36 years her senior, who bought her gifts and introduced her to some of his entertainment industry s.

“Mr Cosby had already made clear that he had affection for you,” Ms Agrusa said.

“He had never disclosed to me that he had affection for me,” Ms Constand replied levelly.

She has said that before the alleged assault, he twice made sexual advances she rebuffed but continued to see him.

“You came back to Mr Cosby’s home,” Ms Agrusa said, and drove to Foxwoods resort in eastern Connecticut, where he was performing, and spent time in his hotel room there.

Ms Constand said she sat on the bed in that hotel room, but after he lay down on the bed, she thought, “What am I doing here?” and left.

When asked why she did not tell police certain details of their meetings, she replied, “I was never asked.”

The defence pointed to extensive s Ms Constand had with Mr Cosby after the alleged assault, which contradict what she told police in 2005, and which the lawyers have suggested is not the behaviour of a victim toward her abuser. They paid particular attention to phone records showing that Ms Constand called Mr Cosby repeatedly around the time of the alleged incident, including on Valentine’s Day, and dozens of times in the months after.

But Ms Constand said those calls were for her work “regarding Temple women’s basketball”, and many of them, she said, were her calling him back after he had left her a message; Kristen M. Feden, an assistant district attorney, cited a pattern in the phone records of Ms Constand calling her own voicemail to check messages, and then calling Mr Cosby.

Experts say it is not unusual for people who have been sexually assaulted or suffered other traumas to have gaps or inconsistencies in their memories, or to wait a long time before telling anyone.

“Delayed and partial reports of sexual assaults are normal, common and should be expected, particularly in cases of non-stranger sexual assault,” said Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, who is attending the trial. “Victims are often in a state of disbelief and trying to make sense of how a person they know and trust could betray and hurt them in such a personal way.”

The witness after Ms Constand was her mother, Gianna, who held a hand over her face and cried as she described Mr Cosby’s “betrayal”. She spoke of him as a man who was her daughter’s mentor, older than Andrea’s father. Mr Cosby, she said, drugged and assaulted Andrea, leaving her with nightmares that made her scream. “I could hear her”, she said.

Gianna called Mr Cosby in January 2005 after her daughter described what she said had happened. He apologised, she said, and tried to defend it as consensual. “He said to me, ‘Mom, she even had an orgasm.’”

She later taped a second phone call with Mr Cosby, she said, at her son-in-law’s suggestion, and he offered to pay for Andrea Constand’s schooling. The jurors heard the tape. “Would she feel comfortable going back to, applying to graduate school of her choice?” Mr Cosby said to Gianna Constand in the recording.

At one point he asked about a beep he heard on the line. “I have a parrot”, Ms Constand told him.

Mr Cosby, 79, whose wife, Camille, has not attended the trial, was accompanied Wednesday by Mary Frances Berry, a former chairwoman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, who described him as a longtime friend.

She told reporters that she was not surprised that few members of the public had turned out to support Mr Cosby, noting that many people remembered him not only as an amiable, even reassuring comedian and television star, but also as a scold who told black Americans to take more responsibility for their lives.

In black communities, she said, “There are some people who are still irritated by that.”

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