Bill Cosby should apologize

Story highlights

  • Mark O'Mara: Bill Cosby admitted to getting quaaludes to give to women to have sex with them
  • Now that the confidentiality of Cosby's admissions has been ruptured, the crack may burst open wide, O'Mara says

Mark O'Mara is a CNN legal analyst and a criminal defense attorney. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The most devastating word Bill Cosby ever uttered is "yes." When the attorney for one of his accusers asked Cosby whether he had acquired quaaludes (the 1980s version of Rohypnol) to give to women to have sex with them, Cosby answered "yes." Pursuant to a confidentiality agreement, Cosby thought that word would never be heard in public -- but now it has. And it will destroy a legacy built over a remarkable career that has spanned over four decades.

The legacy doesn't belong just to Cosby himself; it belongs to you and to me. His legacy has been adopted by generations who view Dr. Huxtable as a model for good parenting.
In the 1960s, while the nation struggled with integration, Cosby was a black actor who was welcomed into white living rooms on a weekly basis with his humor, success and selfless friendliness. He was someone we could trust. Colorblind, we looked to him as someone who can help us with parenting. He taught our children lessons through Fat Albert and Picture Pages.
Mark O'Mara
Now, instead of Cosby being the father and the grandfather to generations, his legacy lies tattered by the excesses that have become a cliche of the 1970s and 1980s: sex, drugs, and now rape.
According to the judge who ordered the release of Cosby's admission to reporters for The Associated Press, it was this stark contrast between his legacy and the truth of his personal life that created a public interest significant enough to justify the release.
From a legal perspective, now that the confidentiality of Cosby's admissions has been ruptured, we can expect that crack to burst wide open.
The evidence disclosed is utterly significant because it lends credence and credibility to what almost 50 women have been saying: that Cosby gave them drugs and had sex with them without consent. This type of corroborating evidence will have a significant impact on the legitimacy of complaints, filed and unfiled, by these women.
There is a concept in the law called "similar fact evidence." It means that the fact pattern from one case, if similar enough, can be presented in another case. When a judge allows lawyers to present similar fact evidence to a jury, it often dispels any doubt as to whether something occurred. For Cosby, the existence of this evidence will have a devastating impact on his "defense."
But, so far, Cosby hasn't had to mount a criminal defense, as Whoopi Goldberg pointed out recently on "The View," backing up her unwavering support of Cosby through all the recent allegations. (Goldberg has changed her view more recently.) As a criminal defense attorney, it is difficult for me to argue against an "innocent until proven guilty" point of view.
From what I know of the allegations, however, too much time has passed for Cosby to face criminal charges, and Cosby's presumed "innocence" may never be challenged by a prosecutor.
Time also presents a significant obstacle to any plaintiffs who would mount a civil challenge. Cosby may never face responsibility for his actions in a court of law.
In the court of public opinion, however, the verdict has been swift. As a statue of Cosby is removed from Disney World's Hollywood Studios, as Bounce TV stopped airing reruns of "The Cosby Show," and as a change.org petition asking President Obama to rescind Cosby's Medal of Freedom circulate, Cosby's shocking betrayal of his own legacy will lead to consequences far worse than any court could issue. Even President Obama weighed in, skirting a question about revoking Cosby's Medal of Freedom by giving a definition of rape.
Ironically, it was, in fact, a court that issued the order to release Cosby's previously confidential admission. Had he been a more private person, this wouldn't be proper, but I agree with the judge that Cosby's very public profile and his outspoken personality justified the painful consequences he now faces.
Cosby has few options left, but his decision to remain silent may be the worst choice of all. If he cares to redeem any of his lost honor, now would be the time to fess up, settle with all those he abused, fund a sexual abuse counseling center and apologize to the rest of us for shattering the trust we had invested in him.