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Cosby accuser slammed as 'con artist' in defense's scorching opening statement

By LAURA KING • Apr 10, 2018 at 6:07 PM

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Bill Cosby's lead attorney launched a blistering attack Tuesday on the character and credibility of the former Temple University basketball staffer who has accused the comedian of drugging and sexually assaulting her, calling Andrea Constand a "con artist" who "hit the jackpot" with an earlier $3.8-million civil settlement against him.

"Watch who this person Constand really is," Tom Mesereau, the Los Angeles attorney who heads Cosby's legal team, told the jury in his no-holds-barred opening statement at Cosby's retrial in suburban Philadelphia.

He painted the 44-year-old accuser as an opportunistic schemer who had calculatedly pursued Cosby, now 80, as a financial target, concocting a "so-called drugging and assault that never happened."

"A con artist, ladies and gentlemen of the jury," Mesereau said, repeating: "A con artist."

The case centers on an encounter 14 years ago between Cosby and Constand, which the defense claims was consensual sexual activity between the two. Constand says the comedian manipulated her into taking pills that incapacitated her, then groped her breasts and penetrated her digitally.

Cosby was 66 at the time; she was 30.

The combative rhetoric employed by Mesereau seemed to fly in the face of national sentiment surrounding the #MeToo movement, which has seen the toppling of powerful and prominent men over accusations of sexual misconduct and triggered ongoing debate about holding those in authority accountable for their sexual misconduct, particularly in the workplace.

The legal drama unfolding in the Montgomery County Courthouse is the highest-profile celebrity trial since the movement ignited last fall when a parade of well-known actresses and others came forward with stories of serially predatory behavior by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Mesereau seemingly sought to turn that believe-the-accuser zeitgeist on its head, suggesting that "the current climate in America" — an apparent reference to the #MeToo movement — could make it harder for the comedian to get a fair hearing. And he scoffed at the notion that Constand had come forward out of principle.

"The only principle was money," he said. "Money, money, money."

The harsh tone of Mesereau's statement signaled a likely effort to attack the credibility not only of Constand, but of other women who have come forward to accuse Cosby of a similar pattern of predatory behavior. The defense attorney derided in advance the expected accounts of assaults like the one Constand described as "prosecution by distraction."

In Cosby's first trial, which ended last June with a deadlocked jury, only one other woman besides Constand was permitted to testify about Cosby's alleged misconduct. This time, up to five others are expected to take the stand, out of 19 women whose testimony the prosecution sought to introduce.

They in turn are among dozens of women who have come forward and alleged drugging and groping by Cosby, but many of the alleged incidents date back decades and the statute of limitations has expired.

Mesereau, a flamboyant figure with flowing white hair, began by previewing the expected testimony of Marguerite Jackson, who years ago was a sometime roommate of Constand on the road with the Temple basketball team.

Jackson, he said, would detail a damning conversation in which Constand mused about falsely accusing a powerful man of sexual assault in order to seek a big payout.

"'Were you really assaulted?'" Mesereau said Jackson asked her then. "'No, but I can say I was, and set up a celebrity, and get a lot of money for my education and my business,'" Jackson said Constand replied, according to the defense.

Later, when Jackson heard on the news that Constand had publicly accused Cosby, "her reaction was, 'Oh, my God, she did it,'" Mesereau told the jury.

Judge Steven O'Neill repeatedly broke in to remind the jury that opening statements by the prosecution and the defense are not to be treated as evidence, but merely their assertions about what they would try to prove. Cosby faces three counts of aggravated assault.

Mesereau, who is best known for representing singer Michael Jackson on child molestation charges, sought to portray Cosby as a sympathetic character for whom the trial and retrial represented a punishing ordeal.

"It's brutal for him," he said. "He's 80 years old and legally blind." Nonetheless, he said, Cosby welcomed a chance to vindicate himself.

In his statement, Mesereau also set forth a broader indictment of the entertainment world in which a young Cosby rose from humble beginnings to become a talented and trailblazing performer.

"Hollywood is a treacherous place," he said. "If you're a young star, everyone wants a piece of the action."

In his opening statement on Monday, Dist. Atty. Kevin Steele had sought to sum up Cosby's behavior toward Constand on the night in question, telling the jury: "This case is about betrayal."

"Betrayal?" Mesereau said mockingly in response on Tuesday. "Does it sound like Bill Cosby betrayed her? ... Or did she try to use him, and milk him for over $3 million?"

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