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Bill Cosby goes on trial for sexual assault

Friday, June 2, 2017 - 16:12

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For decades Bill Cosby was "America's Dad," loved by millions for his role as an affable doctor and benevolent father on long-running hit TV sitcom "The Cosby Show." On Monday the disgraced 79-year-old goes on trial for aggravated indecent assault, accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a former university basketball director at his home in Philadelphia 13 years ago.

[NEW YORK] For decades Bill Cosby was "America's Dad," loved by millions for his role as an affable doctor and benevolent father on long-running hit TV sitcom "The Cosby Show." On Monday the disgraced 79-year-old goes on trial for aggravated indecent assault, accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a former university basketball director at his home in Philadelphia 13 years ago.

Some 60 women have since emerged to publicly accuse Cosby of four decades of serial sexual abuse - pulverizing his reputation, ending his career and cementing a brutal fall from grace for an actor who shattered racial barriers.

In remarkably similar allegations the women say that the pioneering black comedian gave them sedatives and alcohol, which left them powerless to resist his advances.

But the trial in Norristown, Pennsylvania is likely to be the only criminal case brought against Cosby, formerly one of America's most popular entertainers, as the vast majority of alleged abuse happened too long ago to prosecute.

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A 12-person jury in the Montgomery County Courthouse will decide Cosby's guilt or innocence in a trial expected to last two weeks.

If convicted, he risks spending the rest of his life behind bars on a minimum 10-year sentence and a US$25,000 fine.

His accuser is Andrea Constand, 44, who at the time was director of basketball operations at Temple University, Cosby's alma mater.

The comedian served on the university's Board of Trustees until his resignation under an avalanche of scandal in 2014.

Constand alleges that Cosby plied her with pills and wine, and then sexually assaulted her when she went to his home in early 2004 to discuss plans to move to Canada and switch careers.

Cosby admits giving her a pill, but insists relations were consensual. Constand, who is gay, waited a year to report the incident then initially settled the case with a civil suit in 2006.

Her case however was re-opened in 2015 by Montgomery County prosecutor Kevin Steele, who claimed new evidence had come to light, at a time that US airwaves were flooded with allegations of other sexual assaults by Cosby.

The actor was arraigned in December 2015 and released on a US$1 million bail.

In a rare interview last month Cosby suggested that racism could have played a role in the allegations against him, and insisted that he hoped to perform on stage again.

He also said he did not expect to testify, although his lawyers refuse to rule out that possibility.

The case is fraught with challenges on both sides - and ultimately comes down to her word against his.

Judge Steven O'Neill has permitted only one other Cosby accuser to testify, a defeat for the prosecution which had asked for 13 women to be allowed to speak.

The defense have mocked Constand's credibility, questioning why she waited a year to come forward and why she continued to meet with Cosby after the alleged rape.

In her original deposition in January 2005, Constand said the actor handed her three blue pills to "take the edge off" and urged her to sip wine. Within minutes, she claimed she started to have "blurred vision" and could not talk properly.

"I had no strength in my legs. They felt rubbery and like jelly," she alleged.

Cosby then laid her down on a couch and allegedly fondled her breasts, put his fingers in her vagina and put her hand on his erect penis.

The megastar - now abandoned by his celebrity pals and claiming to be legally blind - attained great fame for his role as Cliff Huxtable, the lovable obstetrician and New York family man in "The Cosby Show." The sitcom, which ran from 1984 to 1992, was one of the most popular TV series of all time and jettisoned the actor into a life of fame and wealth.

Cosby, who was raised by a maid and a US Navy cook, had a humble childhood. When he was old enough he joined the Navy and won an athletic scholarship to Temple University.

In addition to television, Cosby has written books and appeared in movies.

His wife of more than 50 years, Camille, has stood by his side.

The couple have five children. Their son Ennis was shot dead in 1997 while changing a tire in California. AFP

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