Less than a year after his trial ended in a hung jury, Bill Cosby will again stand trial on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
This time, though, the proceedings will unfold in a markedly different courtroom – and a different world.
As before, the state criminal case centers on Cosby’s word against that of Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee who alleges Cosby drugged her, then assaulted her in January 2004 at his home near Philadelphia.
Cosby, whose reputation has collapsed since his ’80s sitcom redefined mainstream depictions of African-American families on TV, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. At his first trial, defense attorneys tried to poke holes in Constand’s version of events and argued that they had a consensual sexual relationship.
This time, Cosby faces a different landscape, including the pressure of the #MeToo movement, the testimony of as many as five other women who claim similar misconduct by Cosby and his own new team of aggressive defense attorneys.
Those key differences are likely to make this retrial more difficult for the 80-year-old entertainer to win, legal experts said.
“It’s unquestionably worse for him because of the five new witnesses that come in and also because the climate of the country is much worse” for defendants like Cosby, said Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in sex crimes.
“On the upside for him, I think the prosecution’s case, other than the five new people, is still the same case, and last time they were unable to get a conviction,” he said.
The jury was seated Thursday. Opening statements begin Monday. If convicted, Cosby could face up to 10 years in prison on each charge. Here’s a look at what’s changed in the case and what it might mean for Cosby.
The #MeToo movement
What happened then: As dozens of women publicly shared claims of sexual misconduct by Cosby, his professional options dwindled and his once-esteemed legacy fell apart. His fall from grace was remarkable, particularly compared with his clean, groundbreaking image as “America’s Dad.”
What’s happening now: Sexual harassment and assault allegations that emerged last fall against film producer Harvey Weinstein inspired a broader public reckoning with powerful men abusing their power and mistreating women.
The #MeToo movement has changed the way the public sees celebrities accused of misconduct and the women who say they’ve been abused. It has also solidified the idea that men who abuse their power should be punished for their misconduct, as we’ve seen other comedians, politicians and business executives who’ve lost their jobs and businesses.
What the change means: This cultural shift is particularly important for Cosby, a barrier-busting comedian who for years capitalized on his warm, fatherly reputation. The notion that celebrities with good reputations would not harm others “has been substantially deflated” by the #MeToo movement, Fordham Law associate professor James Cohen told CNN.
“It’s now become much, much easier because of the #MeToo movement to see through that (idea) and to accept the fact that, just as in some of these other cases, it’s likely not true,” he said.
Although Constand’s allegations against Cosby predate #MeToo, his retrial will unfold against its backdrop, Wu said.
“There is the potential that instead of the prosecution having to try a case against a very beloved American icon, instead there’s the possibility that they’re now bringing a criminal case against another male predator of this generation of guys who has been getting away with it for ages,” he said.
Cultural movements can impact juries, said Michelle Madden Dempsey, a former prosecutor and a law professor at Villanova University. But it will all depend on the specific makeup of the jury.
“I’m not naive enough to think that cultural shifts don’t impact the jury’s understanding of the evidence,” she said, “but I also have confidence that jurors make every effort to judge the evidence before them.”