NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania— First there was the running—everyone was running to get inside the courtroom. All the updates from court officials had, so far, said it was a jury question, but this one was different. It said court will reconvene, and the guess was a verdict. The national and international media, mostly gone for the criminal retrial of Bill Cosby, were back. Bodies were everywhere, frantically scurrying up the marble steps with laptops clutched, waiting on the long line to get inside the once sparsely populated courtroom.
Inside, everyone waited. Reporters waited; spectators waited; the women in the gallery who said they, too, were drugged and sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby waited; the lawyers waited; and Andrea Constand and her family waited. After more than a month of pretrial motions, jury selection, and a brutal trial, this was all that was left. We all speculated. What else could we do?
Earlier in the day, court officials had reminded us there there could be no displays of support for either side, and Judge Steven O’Neill had reminded everyone of the decorum order. Given the profile of the person involved, the intense scrutiny of the proceeding, and myriad appeals expected from Cosby’s legal team if he was convicted, I was sympathetic to strident efforts to maintaining order in the court. When the first guilty rang out, though, I could hear the cries behind behind me. I had no idea who they were coming from or why, no idea whether they were cries of joy or horror. I did hear the vague, muffled sound of officials saying they had to leave. I found out later that they were from the other Cosby accusers in the gallery. I understand why they were removed, and I understand why they had to cry.
|Victoria Valentino hugs Therese Serignese on the right, and Caroline Heldman and Lili Bernard react after the guilty verdict.|
Minutes later, Cosby lashed out. After so many years of peddling himself as America’s Dad, wearing sweaters that said “Hello, Friend,” and selling one of the softest foods on Earth, the mask of innocence fell for a moment. District Attorney Kevin Steele had asked O’Neill to revoke Cosby’s bond, a request O’Neill denied. As part of the debate, Steele mentioned how Cosby’s great resources, including a plane, could allow him to flee. Cosby lashed out, bizarrely referring to himself in the third person: “He doesn’t have a plane, you asshole.” He had been convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault—told by a jury of his peers that he was guilty of drugging Constand and then, among other things, penetrating her with his fingers—and what seemed to offend him was the suggestion that he owned a plane.
Order was restored, the minutiae of Cosby’s legal responsibilities going forward were sorted out and, just like that, the courtroom quickly emptied. After so many years, so many women coming forward, so many campaigns to silence them, it all happened in minutes. By dusk, many of the satellite trucks were gone; the only evidence left was some litter and designations for photographers written on gaffers tape.
But in the moment after the verdict, the gauntlet of media remained. Out of habit, I apologized to the camera people outside for not being Cosby as I walked down the steps. When Cosby’s legal team emerged, nearly everyone ran after them, a stampede of heavy TV cameras. I quickly got out of their running path, because otherwise I just would have gotten knocked over. For weeks, the Cosby team had given lengthy press conferences in which nothing was held sacred and no blow too low. Today, they said very little; there were just a few sparse quotes from defense lawyer Tom Mesereau to tide the hungry mob over.
Next came the press conference from Steele’s office. Last year’s press conference was entirely different. It was a dreary, rainy Saturday, and you could feel the disappointment in the room. Reporters peppered Steele with questions about his campaign (an ad when he ran for district attorney mentioned the Cosby case), strategic choices prosecutors made in the case, and the cost to taxpayers of the trial and upcoming retrial. A few minutes before it started, Camille Cosby’s statement insulting nearly everyone in the criminal justice system, except her husband’s defense team, had gone out to everyone. Steele looked like he took the mistrial decision hard. I cursed on live TV. It was a shitty day.
This time, the very first thing Steele did was thank Constand.
“Andrea Constand came here to Norristown for justice, and that’s what 12 jurors from Montgomery County provided her,” Steele said. “I would be remiss if I did not thank those 12 jurors for their diligence, the sacrifice they made, as well as the sacrifices of their families so they could serve in this important duty that they did. So today we are finally in a place to say that justice was done.”
Steele thanked a lot of people. He thanked the judge who unsealed the deposition; he thanked Constand’s lawyers who so expertly grilled Cosby in that deposition; he thanked his predecessor, Risa Vetri Ferman, who reopened the case; he thanked his young prosecutors on the case, Kristen Feden and M. Stewart Ryan; he thanked all five of the additional witnesses who took the stand and underwent brutal cross examinations, having their own morality called into question; he even thanked those who said they would testify but couldn’t. (Steele’s office had requested that 19 “prior bad acts” witnesses be allowed, but O’Neill granted just five.)
“Nineteen were willing to stand up with us in this prosecution and take the stand,” Steele said. “We are humbled by the courage all of them showed.”
Constand didn’t speak; she’s still bound by the nondisclosure agreement she signed with Cosby. But plenty were willing to talk about the gratitude they believed she deserved, not just for what happened today but for the #MeToo movement. Steele, multiple times, openly gushed about his admiration for Constand.
“I hope the end result will not cause somebody to refrain from coming forward because we got the right result in this. And, yes, it was difficult. People were put through character assassinations and it was very difficult to sit through and watch. But you also saw what the jury did in the end, and I hope that people recognize that you have got to show courage like this lady,” Steele said, referring to Constand. “She showed courage. She stepped up. She went forward. And we got to the right result. And she stayed through this. She didn’t have to start down this journey with us. She didn’t have to come for the first trial. She didn’t have to come for the second trial. She did. That means so much.”
Constant’s lawyer, Dolores Troiani, also talked about her client.
“This is a life altering experience, for anyone, for any victim,” Troiani said. “And the person who I think needs to be heralded for what she had done is Andrea.”
Through it all, the cameras constantly clicked in the background. Turks, the now famous courthouse comfort dog, took a nap. This time, victory in hand, reporters were asking questions about sexual assault victims, and Steele spoke openly and passionately about the importance of prosecutors taking on cases like this, fighting for victims, and treating them with respect. And the questions about the cost of the case? Now that he’s been found guilty, Steele’s office can request that Cosby reimburse the Commonwealth for it. Steele said he will make that request.
“I will be relying on defense counsel’s opening remarks, when he talked about$3.38 million being a paltry sum, or nuisance. So clearly the cost of prosecution in this matter should not be a problem for the defendant,” Steele said.
Cosby’s legal team will appeal, and there’s no way to predict what will happen at sentencing. But nobody could have predicted, when Constand decided to call law enforcement back in 2005, the strange road this case would take to a conviction. It was not perfect. It was not ideal. Constand and her loved ones uprooted themselves—twice—to another country where they were called con artists, liars, gold diggers, and untrustworthy. But a jury of his peers found Cosby guilty today. None of this happens without her. That was true in 2005. That was true in 2014. That’s true now.