NORRISTOWN – A US judge declared a mistrial on Saturday in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case after the jury remained deadlocked on whether the fallen star was guilty of drugging and molesting a woman in 2004, but prosecutors vowed to seek a retrial.
It was a stunning development — and a momentary victory — for the 79-year-old pioneering black entertainer who had risked spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted of assaulting Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia mansion.
Prosecutors announced immediately that they would retry the case, leading to the prospect of the now frail and disgraced comedian, once adored by millions as “America’s Dad”, could yet return to court.
For now, Cosby is free on bail.
About 60 women have publicly accused the Emmy-winning actor in recent years of being a serial sexual predator, alleging that he drugged and assaulted them over a span of 40 years across the United States.
But Constand’s allegations were the only criminal case brought against him as most of the alleged abuse happened too long ago to prosecute.
Her case was initially settled by a civil suit but re-opened in 2015 when prosecutors claimed that new evidence had come to light.
The sequestered seven-man, five-woman panel spent 52 hours deliberating in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, Pennsylvania — far longer than the amount of time dedicated to testimony and legal arguments.
They first informed Judge Steven O’Neill on Thursday that they were deadlocked, but were instructed to keep trying.
Less than 48 hours later, and working into the weekend on the 11th day of the trial, the panel informed the judge that they were still deadlocked on all three counts of indecent aggravated assault.
Legal experts had always warned that the “he said, she said” nature of the case was always going to be difficult to prove in court, not least because it happened so long ago and due to a lack of physical evidence.
But the trial has irrevocably damaged his legacy as a towering figure in US popular culture, once adored for his seminal role as a lovable father and obstetrician on the hit TV series “The Cosby Show”.
The actor, who says he is now legally blind, hung his head or looked up to the sky as he stood outside the courthouse flanked by his defence lawyers and representatives, but made no public comment.
“We came here looking for an acquittal, but like that Rolling Stones song says, ‘You don’t always get what you want, sometimes you get what you need’,” defence lawyer Brian McMonagle told reporters.
Cosby’s wife, Camille, who attended just one day of the trial, issued a fierce statement on Saturday, read out by a representative.
She condemned the district attorney as “heinously and exploitatively ambitious”, the judge as “overtly arrogant”, lawyers for the accusers as “totally unethical” and “many” in the media as “blatantly vicious”.
“I am grateful to any of the jurors who tenaciously fought to review the evidence, which is the rightful way to make a sound decision,” her statement said.
Cosby declined to testify and the defence spent just minutes presenting their case, calling one witness and arguing that the evidence just did not exist to convict their client.
The prosecution spent five days, painstakingly trying to build its case, calling Constand to the stand, her mother and another woman who alleged that Cosby also drugged and assaulted her in Bel Air in 1996.
The slew of allegations has disgraced Cosby, who was lauded as a hero by African Americans and revered by whites for smashing through racial barriers over a five-decade career in entertainment.
Cosby attained his greatest fame for his role as Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992.
One of the most popular television series in history, it propelled a man raised by a maid and a US Navy cook into a life of fame and wealth.
Constand was composed on the stand under a fierce barrage of cross-examination from the defence, which sought to portray their relationship as consensual, and Cosby’s accuser as a liar.
At the time director of women’s basketball at Temple University, where the actor sat on the board of trustees, she said the assault left her “humiliated” by someone she had thought of as a friend and mentor.
Cosby maintained in a 2005 deposition that he gave Constand the antihistamine Benadryl to relieve stress and had consensual relations. But he admitted obtaining sedatives with a view to having sex.
Gloria Allred, an attorney representing more than 30 Cosby accusers, welcomed the prosecutors’ decision to seek a retrial.
“It may not be over yet,” she told reporters.
“Sometimes a second jury will render a different outcome than the first jury and sometimes that’s conviction.”