NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania – Comedian Bill Cosby was forced to come face-to-face Tuesday afternoon with the woman who says he took advantage of his role as her mentor, tricking her into taking a powerful drug so that he could sexually pleasure himself.
The announcement that Cosby’s main accuser, Andrea Constand, would be called to the witness stand at his sexual-assault trial sent a jolt through the jammed courtroom here. It signaled the marquee moment so far in a trial that began Monday and has helped to redefine the legacy of an entertainment legend.
Constand, who knew Cosby from her role as a women’s basketball official at Temple University, his alma mater, testified in a voice that cracked with emotion, particularly when she walked through the details of the night at the entertainer’s suburban Philadelphia estate where she says Cosby assaulted her.
Cosby gave her three pills that night in January 2004, said Constand, now 44.
“Put ‘em down. They’re your friends,” she said Cosby told her.
“He said, ‘Swallow them down,’” Constant recalled, turning to the jury.
She pressed him to tell her what the pills were. He told her they were herbal – natural.
“I said, ‘I trust you,’” Constant said. “I swallowed the pills down.”
Soon thereafter, she began to “slur” her words.
“I told Mr. Cosby that I had trouble seeing him,” Constant said, fighting back tears. “I could see two of him.”
Constand, a lanky former athlete who wears her hair in a tall, curly pile, said her “mouth was cottony.”
Cosby led her to the sofa, she said, and she could feel “Mr. Cosby’s hands groping my breasts under my shirt. I also felt his hand inside my vagina moving in and out.”
Then, Constand said, Cosby placed her hand on his penis and made her stroke it.
Constand described herself in harrowing terms, saying she felt “frozen.”
“I was trying to get my arms to move. I was trying to get my legs to move – and the messages didn’t get to them, ” she said.
A thought kept going through her head: “I wanted it to stop,” she said.
As Constand spoke, Cosby draped his hand across his brow and bowed his head. He tilted of while leaning forward to listen. At times during the course of the legal saga he has been expressive at the defense table, smiling or chuckling, but with Constand on the stand a frown was on his face.
Earlier Tuesday, another prosecution witness, Pattrice Sewell, testified in support of her daughter’s sexual-assault allegations against the entertainer. Sewell said her daughter, Kelly Johnson, who worked for the Cosby’s personal appearances agent, “was very proud to introduce us to Mr. Cosby.”
Sewell and her husband were fans of “The Cosby Show,” which focused on the life of an upper-middle-class African American family. “We really related to that show,” said Sewell, a retired educator with a PhD. “It kind of reminded us of our own family.”
Her testimony of Sewell marked an important moment in the case against Cosby: Prosecutors need her to bolster the testimony of her daughter, the star witness from day one of the trial on Monday. The former talent agency worker testified that Cosby pressured her to take a white pill during a lunch at his bungalow at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and she awoke in bed with him with her breasts exposed.
Johnson is a vital witness because prosecutors need her to establish a pattern of behavior by Cosby, who is charged with sexually assaulting another woman, Andrea Constand, in 2004.
Prosecutors also got a significant boost from testimony late Tuesday morning by Joseph Miller, an attorney involved in a worker’s compensation claim filed by Johnson in the 1990s. Miller, a former chief workers compensation appellate judge for the state of California, testified in graphic detail about what Johnson alleged about the incident with Cosby. Importantly, for the prosecution, his memory of Johnson’s allegations precisely matched the former talent agency worker’s testimony the day before.
Miller said Johnson told him that Cosby had “taken out his penis and wanted her to fondle him. She didn’t want to do that.”
Johnson was involved in a worker’s compensation claim because she suspected that William Morris officials had wrongly fired her. And she blamed Cosby.
Johnson’s mother testified that she received a distressing phone call from her daughter in 1996.
“Mommy, something is going on,” Sewell said her daughter told her. “They’re telling lies about me. Mr. Cosby is trying to get rid of me. I’m scared.”
Sewell, a poised and confident presence, spoke in measured tone, often turning to address the jury directly – a contrast with her daughter, who appeared vulnerable and fragile during hours of questioning on Monday.
Cosby’s attorneys have been intent on crushing Johnson’s credibility by suggesting that her attorney, Gloria Allred, coached her about what to say in her public statements about Cosby. But both Johnson and Sewell firmly rejected the suggestion, saying that Johnson – not her attorney – wrote the detailed news releases about her Cosby allegations.
Sewell’s testimony marked the first major appearance of Cosby’s high-powered Los Angeles attorney, Angela Agrusa, who is best known for work in corporate cases. Agrusa delivered questions in a calm, emotionless, non-threatening manner – a contrast to the aggressive and confrontational approach used the day before by Cosby attorney Brian McMonagle, who handled the cross-examination of Johnson.
Agrusa, however, was frustrated in her efforts to suggest that Johnson was fired because of her own actions. During her questioning, Agrusa suggested that Johnson lost her job because she’d been socializing with William Morris clients, including Maxie Priest, a musician and actor with whom she had a child.
That line of questioning drew an angry objection from prosecutors. And Judge Steven T. O’Neill agreed that Agrusa was out of line. He told jurors not to consider what Agrusa was saying to be evidence. Moments later, Agrusa, a look of frustration on her face, clapped a binder of documents shut and returned to the defense table.