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In #MeToo’s shadow, Cosby awaits verdict in sexual assault trial

NORRISTOWN: The case against Bill Cosby, the man once known as “America’s Dad,” is now in the hands of a jury charged with deciding whether the comedian is guilty of drugging and molesting a onetime friend at his Pennsylvania home more than a decade ago.

It is the second time that Cosby, now 80, has faced the charges that he sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004. His first trial in Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, ended with a deadlocked jury in July 2017.

But that mistrial came before last year’s flood of sexual assault and harassment accusations against rich and powerful men. With the rise to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the outcome of Cosby’s second trial may hint at whether jurors are now more willing to believe women who say they were victims.

The seven-man, five-woman jury started deliberations after Judge Steven O’Neill gave the panel instructions for reaching a verdict. A different 12-member jury was seated during the first trial.

“The evidence provided by Andrea Constand, if believed by you, is enough to find Mr. Cosby guilty without further corroboration,” O’Neill said, referring to Cosby’s accuser.

The comedian, who won the hearts of TV audiences as the beloved father figure on “The Cosby Show” in the 1980s, declined to testify on his own behalf in both trials. He has denied wrongdoing, saying any sexual contact he had was consensual.

The panel, made up 10 white jurors and two black jurors, will try to reach a unanimous decision on the guilt or innocence of one of the country’s first African-American television stars. With his wholesome image and his outspoken advocacy of self-empowerment, the man known as “America’s Dad” became a role model for people of all racial backgrounds.

Around 1 p.m. (1700 GMT), the jury returned to the courtroom to ask for the legal definition of “consent” in a sexual assault case.

“That cannot be answered,” O’Neill told the jurors. “You have a legal definition of the crime. If that does not contain a definition of consent, the jury will decide what it means to them.”

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One question facing jurors is whether the alleged encounter could have occurred after Dec. 30, 2003. If not, Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations would have run out before prosecutors brought criminal charges against Cosby on December 30, 2015.

During the trial, which began April 9, the defense team introduced evidence in a bid to raise doubts about whether Cosby was even in the Philadelphia area during the period in question.

Constand, 45, a former administrator of the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, testified that the comedian drugged and raped her in 2004. She said she had been terrified to tell anyone for months afterward, finally telling her mother and going to authorities in 2005.

“Any evidence of delay of Andrea Constand making her complaint does not mean it is unreliable, but you may use it to consider whether act occurred at all or with her consent,” the judge told the jury on Wednesday.

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In all, some 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault going back decades, though only Constand’s case was recent enough for criminal prosecution. In Cosby’s second trial, the judge allowed five other accusers to testify, compared with only one in the first trial.

Cosby has remained free on bail. If convicted, the judge could decide to have him taken into custody immediately or allow him to remain out of jail until sentencing.

He faces up to 10 years in prison under state sentencing guidelines, although Pennsylvania law would allow the judge to impose up to three consecutive 10-year terms, one for each count.

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