Cosby sexual assault retrial stalled over juror issue

Norristown (United States) (AFP) - Bill Cosby's retrial for alleged sexual assault, the most high-profile trial to date in a #MeToo world, hit a snag Monday over claims that one juror may already believe the disgraced US megastar is guilty.

The now 80-year-old Cosby could spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted of drugging and molesting former university employee Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home in 2004.

The pioneering black entertainer's first trial ended in a hung jury in June last year, with a sequestered panel hopelessly deadlocked after six days of testimony and 52 hours of deliberations.

The case forever tarnished the legacy of an actor once adored by millions as "America's Dad" for his seminal role as lovable father and obstetrician Cliff Huxtable on hit 1984-92 television series "The Cosby Show."

As Cosby walked towards the Pennsylvania court on Monday, a topless protester jumped over the barrier and ran towards the comedian, before being tussled into the bushes by security and taken into custody.

"Women's lives matter," yelled Nicolle Rochelle, 39, with "Cosby rapist," "women's lives matter" and the names of Cosby accusers written on her naked torso. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

Rochelle is an actress who appeared on several episodes of "The Cosby Show" in the early 1990s. She told reporters that the star had never mistreated her.

In recent years, some 60 women have accused the Emmy-winning Cosby, who today claims to be legally blind, of being a serial predator, alleging that he drugged and assaulted them over a span of 40 years.

- Juror complication -

Yet the three counts of aggravated indecent assault in connection with Constand, who now lives in Canada, are the only criminal charges to stick against Cosby.

His retrial is now the most high-profile criminal case so far in a #MeToo world, the US cultural watershed that has ruined the careers of a string of powerful men in Hollywood, politics and the media.

But opening statements were delayed Monday after the defense team moved to strike one juror, who was allegedly overheard saying: "I just think he's guilty, so we can all be done and get out of here."

Judge Steven O'Neill announced that he would interview the juror who claims to have overheard the remark, behind closed doors. The court was due to reconvene at 1800 GMT.

Twelve jurors -- five women and seven men -- as well as six alternates were selected last week for the trial in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, but have not yet been sworn in.

Once they are, observers expect a dramatically different trial.

O'Neill has agreed to let five other Cosby accusers testify, compared to just one the last time, handing a major victory to prosecutors, who will seek to paint Cosby as a serial predator.

The defense team has also changed, now headed by Los Angeles celebrity import Tom Mesereau, with his distinctive mane of thick white hair, known for getting Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation.

- #MeToo fog -

O'Neill has handed a win to the defense in allowing testimony from a former co-worker who alleges that Constand schemed against Cosby.

Lawyers may also be able to make public the amount of money that Cosby paid Constand in a civil suit to settle her claim in 2006, which could strengthen efforts to portray her as a calculating money-grabber.

Permeating the entire case is the #MeToo movement, which erupted in October and which experts say may make jurors more inclined to believe victims.

"This case really is a representation of how our country has dealt with sexual violence over the last 50 years," said Sonia Ossorio, who leads the National Organization for Women of New York and was among the throng of protesters outside the court.

"Here we have someone who has not been held accountable until now."

At the time of the alleged assault, Constand was the director of women's basketball at Temple University, where the actor sat on the board of trustees. She will take the stand again the second time around.

In a 2005 deposition, Cosby said he gave Constand an over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve stress and that they had consensual relations, but admitted obtaining sedatives with a view to having sex.

Cosby, who was lauded as a hero by African Americans and revered by whites for smashing through racial barriers, is best known for "The Cosby Show" but won three acting Emmys for 1960s series "I Spy."

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