Cosby's fate in balance as clock ticks down on verdict


Norristown (United States) (AFP)

The fate of Bill Cosby rested Tuesday in the hands of a US jury deliberating for a second day on whether to convict the pioneering black comedian of sexual assault.

The 79-year-old legendary entertainer, once loved by millions as "America's Dad," risks being sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

The 12-member jury on Tuesday resumed a fifth hour of deliberations, after failing to reach a verdict late Monday and asking Judge Steven O'Neill to read extensively from Cosby's original deposition given in 2005.

Cosby was back in court to await the verdict, dressed in a dark suit and tie, at Montgomery County Court in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Each charge in the closely-watched case -- one of the biggest US celebrity trials in years -- is punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine.

The trial, which has moved more quickly than expected, heaped disgrace on the award-winning actor who was lauded a hero by African Americans and revered by whites for smashing through racial barriers in a five-decade entertainment career.

Around 60 women came forward to publicly accuse Cosby in recent years of being a serial sexual predator alleging that he drugged and assaulted them over a span of 40 years in cities across the United States.

Several of those accusers have attended the trial, but the allegations lodged by 44-year-old Canadian Andrea Constand dating back to January 2004 were the only criminal case brought against him.

Under US statutes of limitations, the vast majority of the alleged abuse happened too long ago to prosecute.

Cosby attained his greatest fame for his role as Cliff Huxtable, a benevolent father and affable obstetrician on "The Cosby Show."

- 'Frozen' -

One of the most popular television series in history, it jettisoned a man raised by a maid and a US Navy cook into a life of fame and wealth.

"Everybody knows you Mr Cosby," a police officer told him while taking down his original deposition in the case in 2005. "Not really," he replied.

Constand took the stand last week, keeping her composure under a fierce barrage of cross-examination from the defense, which sought to portray their relationship as consensual, and Cosby's accuser as a liar.

"I wanted it to stop," she testified.

At the time a 30-year-old director of women's basketball at Temple University, where the actor sat on the board of trustees, she said the assault left her "humiliated" by someone she had thought of as a friend and mentor.

She said Cosby gave her three pills and wine before touching her breasts, putting his fingers in her vagina and putting her hand on his erect penis after she sought his advice about moving to Canada and switching careers.

Cosby maintained in his deposition that he gave Constand the antihistamine Benadryl to relieve stress and had consensual relations, accusing her of lying.

On Monday, he refused to testify.

After taking the pills, Constand said, she had trouble talking and difficulty moving and was suffering double vision, before briefly losing consciousness.

"In my head, I was trying to get my hands to move, get my legs to move, but I was frozen and those messages didn't get there," she said, her voice breaking.

- Deserted -

The prosecution spent five days building their case.

But the high-powered defense team called just one witness to the stand and rested their case in just a handful of minutes.

While Cosby's wife of 53 years, Camille, has stood by him, she appeared in court just once, on Monday.

His legions of celebrity friends have largely deserted him. Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played his daughter Rudy on the 1984-1992 sitcom, attended the opening statements, but left at lunchtime on the first day.

The prosecution leaned on Cosby's words in the 2005 deposition, in which he admitted obtaining sedatives with a view to having sex.

In closing statements, they portrayed the actor as a sexual predator who deliberately drugged Constand so she would be unable to resist.

The defense savaged Constand's credibility and painted their relationship as one that involved many meetings, and saw her call the star 53 times after the incident.

"Don't let her declare victim," defense lawyer Brian McMonagle implored the jury.

Constand initially settled the case with a civil suit in 2006, but it was re-opened in 2015 when new evidence apparently came to light.

The judge will determine the sentence 60-90 days after the verdict and Cosby could technically walk free as there is no mandatory minimum punishment.