Bill Cosby’s retrial on charges of sexual assault began today in suburban Philadelphia, nearly a year after the jury in his first trial failed to reach a verdict last June. As everyone from Variety to The Wall Street Journal points out, this second trial begins in an even more electrified atmosphere than the first, amid the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have overtaken the entertainment industry. And the first day of Cosby’s retrial has already seen some high-profile protests, including a Cosby Show actress who was arrested after jumping a barricade and removing her shirt to reveal feminist slogans and the names of Cosby’s accusers painted onto her body.
Vulture has identified the woman as Nicolle Rochelle, a former child actress who was a regular on Shining Time Station and The Baby-Sitters Club as well as the characters of “Danielle” and “Davina” on four episodes of The Cosby Show. Rochelle, whose protest coincided with Cosby’s arrival at the courthouse this morning, has been charged with disorderly conduct. Among the phrases Rochelle painted onto her body was the name of activist group FEMEN, which praised her action on Twitter:
Speaking to reporters after her arrest, Rochelle clarified that she had not had any “bad experiences” with Cosby working on his show, but that she thinks it is “mathematically obvious” that he’s a serial predator. “The main goal was to make Cosby uncomfortable, because that is exactly what he has been doing for decades to women,” she said, adding that she chose to incorporate nudity into her protest to draw media attention and to show that “I can use my body as a political statement and not just a sexual object, like he did to other women. I wanted to show him that I was not disempowered.” She says authorities could still charge her, but that she was released before fingerprints were taken and told simply to leave Norristown, PA, where the trial is taking place.
Although the most dramatic, Rochelle’s was not the only protest outside the courthouse today: The National Organization for Women was also present, with New York NOW president Sonia Ossorio saying, “We are here to stand up for Cosby’s 57 victims and to educate the public about the realities of gender-based violence ... How does a man get away with sexually abusing and raping nearly 60 women before being held accountable? We are here to set the tone, and send a message that the era of impunity ends now.” A group of Cosby accusers is also attending the trial, and one of those women, Lili Bernard, says she will be holding a vigil outside the courthouse tonight. She posted on Instagram:
Meanwhile, inside the courthouse Judge Steven T. O’Neill held a closed-door session in which he said he would investigate a request from Cosby’s defense to replace a juror the defense says has been telling other jurors they think Cosby is guilty. Judge O’Neill—who also presided over a hearing where he denied Cosby’s request to dismiss all charges back in February—has the option of replacing the juror in question, known only as Juror 11, with an alternate if he decides they cannot be impartial in the trial. In the meantime, opening arguments in the case have been delayed.
Cosby is being charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault, all related to a 2004 incident where former Temple University employee Andrea Constand says Cosby, a mjaor donor to the university, invited her to his house, drugged her, and sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious. Cosby has hired a new defense team—including attorney Thomas Mesereau, who successfully defended Michael Jackson against molestation charges in 2005—in the period since his first trial. But the defense is expected to make a similar argument, namely that the relationship was consensual and Constand is drumming up charges for money. They’re also expected to more aggressively attack Constand’s credibility compared to the first trial.
O’Neill has ruled that five of the more than 50 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault can testify at the trial, four more than were allowed to testify last time. Each of the counts Cosby is charged with carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.