The mother of one of Bill Cosby’s accusers recalled Tuesday how her daughter called her crying in 1996 to tell her that the famed actor had drugged and assaulted her, then tried to have her fired from the agency that represented him.
Patrice Sewell took the stand to corroborate daughter Kelly Johnson’s allegation that she called her mother after Cosby gave her an incapacitating pill and took advantage of her at his hotel in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. Sewell also recounted a call in which Johnson told her Cosby was pressuring Tom Illius, his now-deceased agent at William Morris talent agency, to terminate her.
“She called me at work. She was nearly hysterical. She was crying. She was telling me, ‘Mommy something’s going on. I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re telling lies about me,’ ” Johnson said, according to Sewell. “Mr. Cosby is telling Tom to get rid of me.”
Tuesday was Day Two of Cosby’s trial on charges that he drugged and assaulted Andrea Constand at his home in 2004.
The 79-year-old comedian has pleaded not guilty to three charges of aggravated indecent assault in the case.
Gripping the elbow of his publicist, Andrew Wyatt, Cosby smiled at times as he walked into the Montgomery County Courthouse. His head slightly downward, he closed or squinted his eyes. As was the case Monday, his wife, Camille, did not arrive at the courthouse with him. It isn’t clear if she will attend the proceedings.
Though Cosby has been publicly accused of assault by dozens of women, the charges deal solely with accusations from Constand. Johnson was allowed to testify as prosecutors seek to establish that the alleged assault was part of a pattern.
Johnson told jurors Monday that Cosby used his fame and influence to pressure her to take a pill that made her feel “underwater” and unable to resist his advances. Cosby then engaged in sexual activity with her when she could not consent or resist, she testified through tears.
On Tuesday, Sewell said Johnson’s father, a retired Los Angeles police detective, instructed his daughter at the time not to call the police because he “didn’t want her to be humiliated and feel shame and embarrassment, as he had seen others who went to the police at that time. He didn’t want that to happen to her.”
Jurors also heard from Joseph Miller, an attorney present at Johnson’s deposition during her 1996 workers’ compensation claim against William Morris.
Johnson told those present that Cosby gave her a pill that made her semi-unconscious and then asked her to fondle him, Miller testified.
“She didn’t want to do that,” Miller said. “That I do remember.”
Reason for termination argued
The defense was scheduled to cross-examine Miller later Tuesday. However, the tack of the Cosby legal team was apparent in its questioning of Sewell, and in its Monday cross-examination of Johnson.
Johnson, defense lawyers said, was dismissed from the agency for other reasons, noting that the woman’s complaints in her workers’ compensation claim address verbal abuse from Illius, not sexual advances from Cosby. (Johnson has said she wanted to complain about Cosby but couldn’t get the words out.)
Defense lawyer Brian McMonagle on Monday questioned why Johnson waited 19 years to come forward with her allegations and didn’t speak to police until 2016. He further alleged that Johnson had a romantic encounter with Cosby in 1990 but rebuffed his advances during a 1996 visit to his home, which Cosby respected.
When William Morris sought to fire her for violating its policy on dating clients, Johnson filed a workers’ compensation lawsuit, alleging Cosby had harassed her, McMonagle said.
“What she did was eerily similar to Mrs. Constand,” McMonagle said, accusing both women of changing their stories repeatedly. “You will never see Mr. Cosby under oath running from anything.”
‘He said, she said’ case?
On Monday, McMonagle pointed out inconsistencies in Johnson’s story, which he used to argue that the incident did not occur.
Legal experts have said the trial will hinge on the “he said, she said” arguments so common to sexual offense cases. There is little forensic evidence against Cosby.
In opening statements, prosecutors argued that Cosby gained the trust of Constand — a basketball manager at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, and more than 30 years his junior — by offering to mentor her.
He betrayed that trust when he pushed her to take drugs that incapacitated her and then took advantage of her sexually, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden said.
“This is a case about a man, this man,” Feden said, pointing to Cosby, “who used his power and his fame and his previously practiced method of placing a young trusting woman in an incapacitated state so that he could sexually pleasure himself so that she couldn’t say no.”
Defense: Sex was consensual
McMonagle said in opening statements that their sexual activity was consensual and that Constand had repeatedly changed her story while talking to law enforcement.
Constand told police about the incident in 2005, a year after it occurred. At the time, the district attorney declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence.
Constand sued in civil court, and Cosby provided sworn deposition in which he admitted to sexual activity with Constand but said the encounter was consensual. The drugs he gave Constand were over-the-counter Benadryl, he testified.
Cosby also said he had obtained Quaaludes to give them to women with whom he wanted to have sex. The civil suit was settled in 2006, and the deposition was sealed away from public eyes until 2015.
Based on that deposition, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele filed charges against Cosby in December 2015.
Cosby has said he does not plan to testify in the trial, so the deposition will serve to tell Cosby’s side of the story.
An American favorite
Cosby arrived in court Monday arm in arm with Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played his daughter Rudy Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”
Several women who have accused Cosby of assault were in court Monday, including ex-Playboy model Victoria Valentino, Florida nurse Therese Serignese and former actor Lili Bernard.
Cosby starred in “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” “I Spy” and “The Cosby Show.” Through the latter he turned the lives of an upper middle-class African-American family into a groundbreaking TV sitcom.
His sweater-wearing portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable made him a household name and one of the most beloved comedians in the world. In later years, Cosby became somewhat of a public moralizer, speaking out against what he saw as the failings of the African-American community in raising children.
Cosby is facing a jury of seven men and five women. Two jurors are black. The jurors, who were selected in Allegheny County in an effort to ensure a fair trial, will be sequestered in the criminal trial for about two weeks, the lawyers in the case have predicted.