Innocent until proven guilty. That is the law of the land.
Sexual Assault Charges Against Bill Cosby
Over the past few months, more than 20 women have come forward claiming Bill Cosby drugged them and sexually assaulted them, with allegations reaching back nearly 50 years. Certainly, if the allegations are true, justice is long overdue. But if the allegations are false, a man's reputation has been destroyed and a legacy of philanthropy and civil rights demolished.
Andrea Constand was the director of operations for the women's basketball program at Temple University, Cosby's alma mater, when she met the man she soon considered a "grandfatherly" mentor.
However, in early 2005, Constand filed a police report saying that Cosby had drugged and molested her the year before. She told police that she went to Cosby's home, and when she complained of feeling stressed, he gave her pills to help her relax. She says she soon became dizzy and disoriented, and that Cosby then touched her breast and placed her hand over his penis.
An investigation failed to produce enough evidence to prosecute the case, and Cosby's attorney called Constand's allegations "preposterous." Still, a year later, Constand filed a civil suit against the actor/comedian. While Cosby said the encounter between himself and Constand was consensual, the case was settled out of court, the terms undisclosed.
No charges. No conviction.
But Constand's civil suit led to a number of other allegations against Cosby. The stories of some 13 "Jane Doe" women were included to support the lawsuit. Yet, the women were not plaintiffs, and when the case was settled, they were not called to testify.
Two of the "Jane Does" whose stories were to be used against Cosby in the civil suit allegedly went on to have consensual relationships with the man.
Potential Charges of Rape
Another woman says Bill Cosby assaulted her at a Reno hotel, at his townhouse in Manhattan, and again in Atlantic City. It is hard to imagine why she would keep going back to be alone with a man who was drugging and raping her. She attributes it to being a teenaged aspiring actress in denial of what was happening.
After the settlement, the case died down. That is, until a decade later, when comedian Hannibal Buress called Bill Cosby a "rapist" in his act. Buress said, "When you leave here, Google 'Bill Cosby rape,'" and apparently, people did.
After revived interest in the Bill Cosby sexual assault scandal, alleged victims came out of the woodwork, all telling similar stories. Bill Cosby was a mentor and someone they respected. Bill Cosby was offering them an acting gig--and then he was offering them pills. They were dizzy, drugged, but they remember Cosby sexually assaulting them. Or they became drowsy and disoriented, awakening to find themselves disrobed.
Among the accusers are models Janice Dickinson and Beverly Johnson. Dickinson says that she went to Cosby's home, and while she was there, she asked him for something to ease her menstrual cramps... She says the actor/comedian gave her some pills and some red wine, and that she passed out. She says the last thing she remembers from that night is Cosby dropping his patchwork robe and climbing on top of her. She says she awoke the next morning with semen between her legs. That was in 1982.
Beverly Johnson says that the actor promised to help her with her career in the mid-1980's. She told Vanity Fair that she went to Cosby's home, where he gave her a cappuccino, which she immediately knew was drugged. She called Cosby a "motherf---er"...he sent her home in a cab.
But the involvement of a high-profile celebrity--either as an accuser or as the accused--doesn't, or shouldn't, have any bearing on whether the allegations are believable.
Still, no charges. No conviction.
And herein lies the problem. Virtually the whole case against Bill Cosby is based on hearsay and allegations that either initially went unreported or were not disclosed for quite some time. There is no DNA evidence linking him to any crimes. Many allegations seem to be "tag-a-longs" to other civil complaints seeking damages.
I defend quite a few sex crimes allegations every year. Very often, my clients are faced with accusations that allegedly occurred months or years ago. Now, statistics do show that a great number of sexual assaults go unreported. Still, it seems odd that out of up to 35 women who claim to have been assaulted, only one reported the incident to police when it happened. One other woman reported the allegations a year later.
But their stories are all so similar. Doesn't that lend them credence? Well, it depends on who you ask.
A prosecutor will say the similarities go to motive, modus operandi, or common scheme or plan. A criminal defense attorney will point out it may simply be a matter of inserting oneself into a story that has already been heard in media reports. The recipe is there: take one Bill Cosby, add a spiked drink or some funny pills, and combine with a fuzzy memory of assault.
If it is true, it is despicable, and these women should not be dismissed. But if they are not telling the truth, if these allegations are based on greed or scorn, then justice looks a little different. As a defense attorney, it is my job to be skeptical of the evidence against the accused. The media, however, has a different approach.
On The Nightly Show, comedian Larry Wilmore opened by saying, "Tonight we are talking about Cosby. We're answering the question, did he do it? The answer will be yes...I'm telling you the motherf----r did it."
Convincing evidence indeed. A man who was not there can assure us all that Cosby is guilty as charged.
Well, not actually as charged. Remember, Bill Cosby has not been criminally charged in connection with any of these alleged crimes. At least, not yet.
No charges. No conviction.
Another Instance of Sexual Assault
Which brings us to Model Chloe Goins, who says that Bill Cosby drugged her following a party at the Playboy Mansion in 2008. She says that someone "spiked her drink" and that she awoke to find herself naked with Bill Cosby masturbating and licking her toes.
In Los Angeles, the statute of limitations for rape is 10 years. However, drugging someone, masturbating, and licking their toes isn't rape. It's criminal sexual assault--but it's not rape. The statute of limitations for sexual assault has run in the case, but if an investigation returns evidence of rape, this could be the first allegation in which Cosby is criminally prosecuted.
Regardless of the outcome of the Bill Cosby scandal, this case is an interesting study in how the court of public opinion influences perception of innocence or guilt. Just remember: until there are charges, Cosby can't be convicted...and unless he is convicted, Cosby is an innocent man.