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Cosby Convicted Of Sexual Assault


Bill Cosby was convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault yesterday. A Pennsylvania jury found the comedian and entertainer guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. His attorneys vowed to appeal. From our member station WHYY, Laura Benshoff reports that this is the first criminal consequence Cosby has faced after dozens of sexual misconduct claims.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Bill Cosby and Andrea Constand sat expressionless as the jury read the verdict. The only sound was a wail from Lili Bernard, who was quickly removed from the courtroom. Bernard, now in her mid-50s, appeared on "The Cosby Show" in the early '90s. That's around the time she says Cosby drugged and raped her. She was in court last June when a jury deadlocked on the same charges.


LILI BERNARD: Last year, I left with such a tremendous sense of disappointment. But today, this jury has shown what the Me Too movement is saying is that women are worthy of being believed.

BENSHOFF: During the trial, Cosby sat quietly as six women described graphic sexual assaults by the man who was known as America's dad. But when District Attorney Kevin Steele requested that Cosby be jailed before sentencing, noting the ease by which he could flee on his private plane, Cosby snapped. He yelled he doesn't have a private plane and called the DA an expletive. After the trial, Steele gave Constand kudos for going to the police in 2005, well before the recent wave of sexual assault accusations against high-profile men.


KEVIN STEELE: Fourteen years later, it may be easy to forget that she was that first courageous person that stood up in public to go to the authorities and say that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her.

BENSHOFF: As he spoke, Constand stood with her arm around her attorney, Dolores Troiani, who said her client would be making no statements about the verdict. The defense had called Constand a con artist who got nearly $3.4 million in a civil suit against Cosby. They painted the other women who testified against the comedian as failed starlets, fame seekers and liars. Philadelphia attorney Mark Tanner says while that strategy might have worked in the past. It holds less sway in the current cultural moment.

MARK TANNER: Their age-old tactic of attacking the character of the victims collided with the current Me Too movement and the sentiments that prevail right now.

BENSHOFF: On his way out of court, lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau said, we don't think Mr. Cosby is guilty of anything and the fight is not over. Mesereau promised to appeal. Dennis McAndrews, a former prosecutor who's been watching the case, says the bar is high for reversing the jury's decision.

DENNIS MCANDREWS: To be sure, the defense planted seeds for appeal. That's what good defense attorneys do, and he had some of the best defense attorneys in the country. But as someone who has done appellate work for 40 years, I would be surprised if this was overturned.

BENSHOFF: Within three months, Cosby will be back in court for a sentencing hearing. Until then, he can go home. Each of the three counts carries up to 10 years behind bars, but it's not likely legally blind 80-year-old with no criminal record will face the maximum penalty. Still, Cosby was convicted of a violent crime. Former prosecutor McAndrews says that means he should expect to spend years, not months, behind bars.

For NPR News, I'm Laura Benshoff in Norristown, Pa.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "MELANCHOLEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Benshoff