If anyone had the notion that Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial would be anything but traumatic, reports of what went down in the courtroom today should dispel that pretty quickly. The trial kicked off yesterday, with Cosby’s lawyer Brian McMonagle attempting to present his client as a man who has been framed and telling the jury that “the only thing that is worse than [sexual assault] is the false accusation of sexual assault.” Today, Andrea Constand—the woman whose accusations against Cosby are at the center of this trial—took the stand, but not before the prosecution called Kelly Johnson, a former employee of the William Morris Agency and the only other Cosby accuser who is allowed to testify in this case.
Johnson worked for Cosby’s manager at the time, and she testified that he invited her to lunch at the Bel Air Hotel in 1996. When she arrived, Cosby offered her “a large white pill,” telling her it would help her relax, and when she tried to hide it under her tongue so she could spit it out later, Cosby “insisted that she swallow it.” That account comes from Variety, which adds that Cosby claimed “he would never ask her to do anything that would be harmful.”
From there, Johnson said she felt like she was “under water” and didn’t regain full consciousness until Cosby had her on his bed with her dress pulled down. Johnson and her story are a crucial part of the prosecution’s goal to establish that Cosby has a history of sexually abusing women, and it sounds like subsequent witnesses did a good job of backing up her account of the events. Johnson’s mother, Pattrice Sewell, said that her daughter had called her back in 1996 and told her “something is going on” with Cosby, saying that people at William Morris were “telling lies” and that Cosby was trying to “get rid” of her. Johnson ended up getting fired from the agency, and a judge who had worked on a workers’ compensation claim related to her firing also testified, with his memory of her allegations “precisely” lining up with what she said in court.
Constand took the stand later on, and as the Washington Post puts it, her testimony was “the marquee moment” for the trial. Constand used to work in the athletics department at Cosby’s alma mater Temple University, and she first met him in 2001. In 2004, he invited her to his mansion in Pennsylvania and promptly gave her three “herbal” pills, instructing her to “swallow them down” and saying that they were her “friends.” Constand says the pills made it hard for her to see and caused her to slur her speech, and when she told Cosby about that, he led her to a sofa and began groping her.
She says she felt “frozen” during the whole ordeal, and that she kept trying to move her arms and legs to “fight him away,” but she couldn’t. Vulture adds that Constand repeatedly contacted Cosby after the alleged assault happened in an attempt to find out what he gave her and to confront him about what happened, but Cosby only said at the time that he thought she “had an orgasm.” Constand filed a civil suit against Cosby in 2005 after a criminal investigation fell apart, and as part of the terms of her settlement in that case, she was forbidden to publicly speak about the alleged assault until her testimony today.