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Crime Exclusive

Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Trial Begins Monday: How He Went From ‘America’s Dad’ to Defendant

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On Monday, entertainer Bill Cosby will walk into a Norristown, Pennsylvania, courtroom to face trial for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple employee Andrea Constand in January 2004.

Whether he walks out a convicted man or an exonerated one is uncertain, experts say. It’s also an open question whether he can resume his career, as he’s publicly said he’d like to do after the trial.

On the trial’s first day, actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played his daughter Rudy on The Cosby Show, and Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, will be there to support him, according to Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s spokesman. Actress Phylicia Rashad is expected to attend as well, Wyatt says. Their appearances are all part of a public relations blitz Cosby has been on in recent weeks.

Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank

Cosby, 79, has done interviews with the NNPA Newswire and CNN as well as radio show host Michael Smerconish. Evin Cosby, one of his four daughters, wrote an essay defending her dad. Cosby recently tweeted about his son, Ennis, who was murdered in 1997.

The recent media blitz, plus the star power in court to support him, could have an impact on the jury, which is being brought in from Pittsburgh and consists of ten white people and two black people, says one crisis management expert.

“The goal is to ensure that at least one or two jurors who hear Cosby’s trial will remember the good side of the man when they pass judgment,” Gene Grabowski, a partner at Kglobal, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm, tells PEOPLE. “This strategy is proven to have worked. Even in murder trials, it can lead juries to impose life sentences rather than the death penalty. In many cases, it can lead to hung juries, mistrials and even acquittal.”

It has another purpose as well, Grabowski says.

“Regardless of the trial’s outcome, the goal of Cosby’s crisis managers is to ensure his legacy is at least partially preserved,” he says. “As President Trump is demonstrating, everyone — including Bill Cosby — has a base of supportive people who only need a few examples to buttress their favorable opinion of people they want to like. It’s the job of the crisis communications manager to keep those examples in the public eye so that even while critics say terrible things about Cosby, his supporters can cite times and events in his life that show he is, on balance, a decent person with human weaknesses.”

Bill and Camille Cosby in 2009
George Napolitano/FilmMagic

Staying mum in the lead up to the trial has been Cosby’s wife of 53 years, Camille, but she will attend the trial, Cosby spokesman Wyatt tells PEOPLE.

“Mrs. Cosby has never abandoned Mr. Cosby and her love and support will never leave him,” Wyatt says. Wyatt declined further comment about the trial.

Cosby, 79, is charged with  three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting  Constand, now 44, in his Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, mansion in January 2004. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, insisting their sexual contact was consensual. He denies similar allegations from more than 60 women. The trial will begin after some pre-trial motions Monday morning.

No matter the outcome, the allegations have represented a stunning turn of events for the man once known as “America’s Dad,” who was best known for his portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable on NBC’s The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992 and was loosely based on Cosby’s own family and some of his stand-up routines.

“Bill Cosby’s fall from grace is one of the most steep and startling in the history of our culture, especially because his iconic career in the public eye has spanned nearly six decades,” says Grabowski. “We’ve known Cosby for so long and we thought we knew him so well that many people seem to be as angry at him for his betrayal of his audience as they do about his alleged assaults of women.”

It Started With a Joke

Three years ago, Cosby was in the midst of a career comeback of sorts: He was traveling the country on a comedy tour, exploring a new TV show with NBC and had a Netflix comedy special in the works.

Then on Oct. 16, 2014, comedian Hannibal Buress performed a comedy routine at a Philadelphia nightclub in which he called Cosby a rapist. Philadelphia Magazine posted a video clip and wrote about it on the magazine’s website the next day.

The routine went viral on social media — much of which was in its nascent days when allegations against Cosby first surfaced in January 2005. When Cosby’s team attempted to start a funny meme generator  on November 10, nearly a month after Buress’ routine, it backfired when fans instead began posting about the rape allegations.

Barbara Bowman,who was one of a dozen “Jane Does” who came forward to support Constand in 2005 and told her story to PEOPLE magazine in November 2006, once again surfaced and did interviews with  CNN and The Washington Post. Soon, other women began coming forward as well. At last count, the total was more than 60 women, though Cosby denies the allegations.

It was all a bit surreal for Buress, who was more than a little surprised by the fallout from a routine he’d been doing off and on for several months and still doesn’t like talking about it with the media.

“It wasn’t my intention to make it a big part of a big discussion,” he told Howard Stern on Oct. 21, 2014 in a rare interview about the controversy. Buress declined to speak with PEOPLE.

Yet somehow he did.

Bill Cosby and spokesman Andrew Wyatt
Gene J. Puskar/AP

Within weeks, Cosby’s Netflix deal was on hold, his NBC show was killed, several future dates on his comedy tour were canceled and TVLand pulled re-runs of The Cosby Show.

Then, in July 2015, Cosby’s deposition in the civil suit he settled against Constand in 2006, in which he admitted to giving women he wanted to have sex with Quaaludes, became public. Subsequently, Montgomery County prosecutors quietly went to Dolores Troiani, one of Constand’s attorneys, to see if she’d cooperate if they reopened her case.

Kevin Steele, who was the county’s First Assistant District Attorney at the time, came to Troiani’s office and said “they were going to reopen the investigation provided my client was willing to cooperate,” Troiani testified  at a hearing on the case in February 2016.  He asked “if my client had the stamina to do this again.”

Steele was running for District Attorney of Montgomery County that year and released a television ad criticizing his opponent, Bruce L. Castor, Jr., for deciding not to prosecute Cosby in 2005. Steele won the election — and on December 30, Cosby was arrested and charged with Constand’s alleged sexual assault.

Cosby’s Other Accusers Watching Trial Closely

While Cosby has said he will not testify at his trial (though he could still change his mind), Constand and her mother, Gianna, will. And many of the women who have accused Cosby say they will be closely watching to see what happens. Two of them, including Therese Serignese, say they plan to attend the trial.

Beth Ferrier
AP Photo/Nick Ut

“I’m excited,” says Beth Ferrier, who was one of 12 original “Jane Does” who came out supporting Constand in 2005, when the story first broke. “I will be following the trial. I still have yet to meet Andrea Constand but will still support her.”

She and Heidi Thomas, another Cosby accuser, successfully lobbied to get the statute of limitations on rape in Colorado, where they both live, doubled from 10 to 20 years.

“All of us are indebted to Andrea Constand for being willing to go back into the maelstrom to try to see justice done,” Thomas tells PEOPLE. “She is the only one would could do it at this point, and we are so grateful for her courage. She now speaks for countless women…60 plus..who have gone public, many more who have not. What a hero she is.”

Heidi Thomas (holding up the magazine)
Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty

Joseph Cammarata, a Washington-D.C.-based attorney who represents several accusers who are suing Cosby for defamation, will also be at the trial.

“I think it’s important to actually experience the interactions,” Cammarata tells PEOPLE. “Reading plain words on a transcript do not provide all the nuances that are necessary for evaluation of credibility, evaluation of trial techniques and the like. So I think it’s important to be there to soak it all in.”

While prosecutors had sought to have testimony from 13 other Cosby accusers at trial, the judge is only allowing one of them, a woman identified only as “Kacey” represented by attorney Gloria Allread, to testify. Allred says she will be there as well.

“Kacey” will testify at the Cosby trial
Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Will He Be Convicted?

Legal experts differ on predictions of whether Cosby will be convicted.

Attorney Joe McGettigan, who successfully prosecuted former Penn State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for sexually abusing ten young boys in 2012, believes the prosecution has a “slight edge.”

“It is impossible for me to make a prediction because I have not seen, nor has anyone seen, the most significant evidence: that is, the live testimony of the two persons whose presentation and credibility will determine the case – Ms. Constand and the other [alleged] victim the judge will allow to testify,” McGettigan, who is now of counsel with McAndrews Law Offices in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, tells PEOPLE.

“That being said, the prosecution edge comes from the publicity surrounding Cosby’s many, many alleged sexual assaults which has been so pervasive that I think it is likely that at least some of the jurors are biased against him,” he says. “They will be just waiting to hear their beliefs confirmed.”

Andrea Constand in 1991
Brian Dexter/Toronto Star via Getty
Andrea Constand in 1991
Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty

Defense attorney Rich DeSipio, who was once a sex crimes prosecutor in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, predicts a hung jury.

“It is not a paper indictment and motions anymore,” he says.” This is Bill Cosby and 12 people who believed they have known for a very long and cherished time. This is celebrity spanning decades. For many spanning their own childhood into adulthood. When some of the jurors who are real people actually see him in person, some will see Dr. [Cliff] Huxtable and so many other beloved characters. They will not want to believe the accusations are true and they will search for doubt because they will not want too destroy their memories. You can be sure when they look at Bill Cosby sitting there at counsel table they are not going to see what those women saw. They are going to see what for many of them is the beloved Bill Cosby they grew up with.”

Even after a verdict, Cosby’s legal battles won’t be over. Various civil lawsuits against Cosby or related to the Cosby case — like Constand’s defamation suit against Castor, the former Montgomery County prosecutor who decided to charge the comedian in 2005 — are still unfolding.

Constand is still bound by the confidentiality agreement she signed when she settled the lawsuit against Cosby in late 2006. She is trying to get the agreement undone so she can’t speak outside of court.

Kristina Ruehli

But other alleged victims of Cosby have no restrictions from sharing their thoughts.

“If Cosby is convicted, yes, I want to see him go to jail,” says Kristina Ruehli, one of the original Jane Does who came forward in 2005. “I don’t care how blind he is. Then we will see how all of his power and wealth will be useless… There are a few things money can’t buy. One is your health and the other is your reputation. He appears to have lost both.”