In a verdict that seemed destined to stand as a milestone in the #MeToo movement against sexual assault, the once beloved actor and comedian Bill Cosby was convicted by a Pennsylvania jury on Thursday of drugging and molesting an acquaintance in 2004.
The jury announced its verdict after fewer than two days of deliberation. Cosby, 80, faces a possible maximum prison sentence of 15 to 30 years.
The verdict came as vindication for dozens of women who have publicly accused Cosby of sexual abuse, harassment or attempted abuse.
A trial on the same charges last summer ended in a mistrial with a hung jury.
Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former basketball player who was 30 years old at the time of the alleged incident. Cosby said the two had a consensual relationship.
Five women in addition to Constand testified for the prosecution at the trial that Cosby had assaulted them.
But the defense team called into question the motives and characters of Cosby’s accusers, branding Constand a “pathological liar” and declaring of one supporting witness: “It sounds as though she slept with every single man on the planet.”
Cosby was convicted on three charges of aggravated indecent assault. The charges included: that he “did penetrate the genitals of the complainant with a part of his body without consent”; that he “did penetrate the genitals of the complainant with a part of his body while the complainant was unconscious”; and that he administered “drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance”.
The verdict completes a dramatic downfall for one of America’s most popular and beloved entertainers, who now faces the prospect of spending the final years of his life in prison.
Cosby’s accusers have described alleged sexual assaults by him involving sedatives from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Dozens of new accusers stepped forward after video circulated of an October 2014 stand-up routine in Philadelphia, Cosby’s hometown, in which the comedian Hannibal Buress riffed on rape accusations against Cosby.
Soon after, transcripts emerged of depositions that Cosby had given in 2005 and 2006, when he was the defendant in a civil lawsuit brought by Constand that he would ultimately settle for $3.4m.
In a September 2005 deposition, Cosby acknowledged that he had, in the past, obtained seven prescriptions in his name for Quaaludes – a powerful sedative – that he never intended to take himself.
The deposition transcripts contained this exchange between Cosby and the plaintiff’s attorney Dolores Troiani:
Troiani: When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?
Asked by police whether he had ever had sexual intercourse with Constand, Cosby replied, according to court documents: “Never asleep nor awake.”
Cosby was a successful standup comedian and film actor and starred in hit television shows including Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and The Cosby Show. He was also a Jell-O pitchman and later a public moralist. In 2006, he embarked on a 20-city “Call Out with Bill Cosby” tour in which he diagnosed moral failings among low-income African-Americans and largely dismissed the impacts of systemic discrimination.
Cosby’s career collapse began before his first trial in June 2017, in which a jury deliberated for five and a half-days before declaring themselves unable to reach a verdict.
Prior to that trial, a planned standup comedy tour featuring Cosby was cancelled, as were a planned NBC sitcom and a Netflix special, and more than 20 universities rescinded honorary degrees. The DC institution Ben’s Chili Bowl painted over a famous outdoor mural of African American leaders that had prominently featured him.
Amid a growing public reckoning with sexual assault and discrimination prompted by the #MeToo movement, the Cosby trial took on broad social overtones.
As Cosby arrived at the courthouse as the trial began, a topless protester with “Women’s Lives Matter” and other phrases written across her body jumped a barricade near him and was arrested.
In their closing arguments, Cosby’s lawyers encouraged jurors not to make Cosby a scapegoat. The lead defense lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr, who successfully represented Michael Jackson on molestation charges in 2005, said the case was based on “shallow nonsense. Because that’s what our country is full of at the moment.”
But the prosecution, in its summing up, had slammed Cosby as “nothing like the image he plays on TV.”
The assistant district attorney Kristen Feden said in an impassioned address to the jury of seven men and five women: “He utilized that image and cloaked it around himself, so he could gain the trust of young, unsuspecting women to sexually assault them and strip their ability to say no.”