Bill Cosby is in prison after yet another highly publicized, epic fall from grace amid the #MeToo movement.
Once referred to as “America’s Dad,” the comedian and actor has moved from a lavish home to a 7×13 jail cell in Pennsylvania after a judge sentenced him to three to 10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand more than a decade ago.
It took two juries to convict Bill Cosby. His first trial in June 2017 ended with a hung jury, but it took a second jury just two days to convict him in his April 28, 2018, retrial.
How did the case of Bill Cosby go from a deadlocked jury to a sex crimes conviction? And will Cosby stay in prison, or will his lawyers win on appeal?
Shan Wu, a former sex crimes prosecutor based in Washington, D.C., believes the reasoning behind Cosby’s conviction is twofold: one is based on technical aspects of the trial, and the other is due to the shift in society’s views on sexual assault in the wake of #MeToo.
Wu explains that jurors who served for Cosby’s first trial only heard from two women — Constand and one other woman who accused Cosby of sexual assault. But the same judge who oversaw Cosby’s first trial inexplicably allowed five additional women to testify about Cosby’s past behavior. It was enough to secure a conviction.
“The No. 1 issue is definitely that big change, of letting in those additional complainants in the case,” Wu told The New York Times in September. “I am sure that Cosby’s team are licking their chops.”
The second trial also happened after a number of powerful men in Hollywood and the media were forced to step down because of sexual assault accusations. The cultural change, Wu notes, did play a role in Cosby’s second trial.
But whether that conviction holds up on appeal remains to be seen. The judge presiding over the case, Steven O’Neill, did not explain his reasoning for allowing the additional testimony the second time around. That could boost arguments for defense lawyers who are challenging Cosby’s conviction and prison sentence.
Not only did the judge fail to explain himself, he also refused to recuse himself after Cosby’s conviction. The defense requested that O’Neill recuse himself because he allegedly feuded with a key witness decades ago, but the judge called those allegations baseless and declined to step away from the case.
The defense alleged that the witness, Bruce Castor, Jr., was serving as district attorney in 2005. He vowed at the time not to bring charges against Bill Cosby for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, but the district attorney who took office after him did. Judge O’Neill is the judge who said that just because Castor didn’t bring charges against Cosby didn’t mean that the new district attorney couldn’t either.
Wu warns that O’Neill’s recusal refusal could come back to haunt him if appellate courts get involved, calling the alleged facts “troublesome.”