Bill Cosby’s efforts to overturn his conviction hit a roadblock Tuesday as a state appellate court upheld his guilty verdict, the first against a celebrity accused of sexual assault in the #MeToo era.
In a 94-page opinion, Superior Court affirmed the Montgomery County trial judge’s decision to permit testimony from five women whose claims of being drugged and molested by Cosby bolstered similar allegations from Andrea Constand, the case’s central accuser.
In so doing, the appellate judges reiterated their support for a tactic prosecutors have deployed with increasing frequency to shore up sexual assault allegations that might previously have been dismissed as “he said-she said” cases.
Cosby’s lawyers had dismissed the other women as “gold diggers” who perjured themselves in pursuit of fame or a financial settlement. Their unproved and uncharged claims, the defense argued, unfairly tainted the jury’s opinion against him during his trial last year.
But writing for the three-judge panel that heard Cosby’s appeal, John T. Bender said the women’s testimony “established [the comedian’s] unique sexual assault playbook” and undermined “any claim that [he] was unaware or mistaken about [Constand’s] failure to consent.”
Within hours, Cosby’s spokesperson lashed out. Andrew Wyatt called the court’s decision “appalling” and vowed an immediate appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a statement that also accused the state’s judiciary of corruption.
“We’re not shocked,” Wyatt said of Cosby’s loss in court. “It shows the world that this isn’t about justice, but this is a political scheme to destroy America’s Dad.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, meanwhile, said he hoped the court’s affirmation of Cosby’s conviction would allow Constand to finally put her 2004 assault behind her.
“The world is forever changed because of Andrea’s bravery,” he said. “With this decision, it has been affirmed that no one is above the law.”
At a hearing this summer in Harrisburg, prosecutors argued that the testimony from five of Cosby’s more than 50 other accusers — ranging from a casino bartender to supermodel Janice Dickinson — showed Cosby had a longstanding proclivity for drugging and attacking women who approached him for career advice.
While too old to lead to criminal charges, prosecutors said, the matching accounts of past misconduct made it all the more likely that Constand was telling the truth.
Constand, a 46-year-old Canadian massage therapist, consistently maintained through two investigations more than a decade apart — and later in two different trials — that Cosby drugged and assaulted her during a visit to his Cheltenham home in 2004. She had been working as an operations manager for Temple University’s women’s basketball team at the time.
In its ruling Tuesday, Superior Court also knocked down seven other complaints put forth by Cosby’s defense. They included claims that the trial judge, Steven T. O’Neill, had improperly allowed jurors to hear Cosby’s damaging deposition testimony from a 2005 civil case Constand filed against him.
The court also rejected Cosby’s argument that his prosecution should have been precluded by a promise from Bruce L. Castor Jr. The former Montgomery County district attorney has said he pledged in 2006 that Cosby would never be charged with Constand’s assault if he agreed to sit for that deposition in her civil case.
In their ruling Tuesday, the Superior Court judges said Castor and Cosby’s then-lawyers should have known Castor had no power to make such a proclamation.
“Only a court order conveying such immunity is legally binding in this commonwealth,” the court said.
Currently serving a minimum three-year prison sentence at a state prison in Collegeville, Cosby, 82, has maintained his innocence, called his trial a sham, and described himself as a “political prisoner.”