NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Prosecutors are rallying from a blistering defense attack on Bill Cosby’s chief accuser with a parade of women who say the comedian drugged and attacked them long before he met Andrea Constand.
Prosecutors are lining up the additional accusers to make the case that Cosby, once revered as “America’s Dad,” was a big Hollywood predator who is only now facing a reckoning after allegedly violating Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
The women also could help prosecutors insulate Constand from the defense’s contention that she is a “con artist” who preyed on Cosby’s vulnerability after the 1997 killing of his son, Ennis, and then framed him to score a big payday via a $3.4 million civil settlement.
The first of the five women, Heidi Thomas, is returning to the witness stand on Wednesday after telling jurors that Cosby knocked her out with wine and forced her to perform oral sex in Reno, Nevada, in 1984.
Thomas, who was a 24-year-old aspiring actress, said her agent had arranged for Cosby to give her acting tips and that Cosby gave her the wine as they rehearsed a scene in which she was portraying a drunken woman.
She said she remembered she felt sick and wondered, “How did I get here?”
Court opened Wednesday with the defense arguing that jurors should hear about one accuser’s criminal past so they can fully assess her credibility.
Cosby lawyer Jaya Gupta told the judge that Chelan Lasha’s 2007 guilty plea for making a false report to Arizona law enforcement “bears on her veracity.”
State law bars talk of witness convictions more than a decade old, but Gupta argued Lasha’s conviction should be an exception since her allegations against Cosby date to 1986.
Assistant District Attorney Stewart Ryan argued the defense will get a chance to test Lasha’s credibility when she’s cross-examined.
The former model and aspiring actress said she was immobilized and unable to speak as Cosby assaulted her after giving her a pill he described as an antihistamine. Her lawyer, Gloria Allred, said the defense is trying to smear Lasha.
Tom Mesereau said in his opening statement Tuesday that the financially troubled Constand “hit the jackpot” when Cosby paid her in 2006. The settlement included a provision that she keep quiet about the alleged encounter.
“What did she want from Bill Cosby?” Mesereau said. “You already know the answer: money, money and lots more money.”
Constand outlined her scheme to a Temple colleague, Marguerite Jackson, Mesereau said. The defense plans to call Jackson as a witness, and Mesereau said she will testify that Constand mused about setting up a celebrity so she could sue and get money.
“A con artist is what you get, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he said. “A con artist. And we’ll prove it.”
The defense fought for the chance to tell jurors about the previously secret settlement. Allred, who is representing several accusers testifying, said she would put that move “under the heading of be careful what you wish for” because jurors could wonder why Cosby paid so much when he has denied wrongdoing.
Mesereau’s attack on Constand was a striking departure from the more subdued tone that Cosby’s previous lawyer took at the first trial, which ended in a hung jury last spring. The jury that time was not permitted to hear about the settlement, nor was Jackson allowed to take the stand.
It also was a likely glimpse of what is to come when the former Temple University basketball administrator takes the stand to say Cosby, an alumnus and former university trustee, made her woozy with pills and then penetrated her with his fingers.
Cosby, 80, is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
As they began building their case against Cosby, prosecutors chose Thomas, now a Colorado music teacher, as their first substantive witness.
Thomas testified she blamed herself for what happened, thinking she must have said or done something that led Cosby to believe she would be open to his advances. She never told her agent or her parents about the alleged assault.
“I was pretty sure whatever I did was my fault,” Thomas testified, adding: “I was just going to move on. And I did.”
Thomas, who went public with her allegations in 2015, has teamed with other Cosby accusers to lobby for longer statutes of limitations for sex crimes, including a successful effort to double Colorado’s to 20 years.
Under cross-examination, Thomas testified that she chronicled her trip to Reno in a scrapbook and recorded a cassette tape at the home where she had the encounter with Cosby. She said she wanted to recount the trip for her mother and agent but destroyed it years later after seeing a psychiatrist.
It made no mention of the alleged assault, Thomas said, because she had planned to give it to her mom.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand and Thomas have done.