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Bill Cosby faces topless protester on first day of sexual assault retrial

  • First trial collapsed last June after jury failed to reach a verdict
  • TV comic faces three charges of aggravated indecent assault

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Bill Cosby faces topless protester on first day of sexual assault retrial” was written by Ed Pilkington in New York, for The Guardian on Monday 9th April 2018 14.53 UTC

Bill Cosby faced a second jury of his peers in 10 months on Monday, as his retrial for alleged sexual assault got under way in a Pennsylvania court.

The comic also faced a topless protester, who jumped a barricade with “Women’s Lives Matter” and other phrases written in red and black on her body. The woman was intercepted by sheriff’s deputies, handcuffed and led away.

Cosby seemed startled by the commotion, as other protesters brandished placards that said “Take rape seriously” and “Justice for survivors”.

He was then led into the Montgomery county court of common pleas in Norristown, Pennslyania for what is likely to be remembered as the first major celebrity trial of the #MeToo era. Cosby faces three charges of aggravated indecent assault dating back to 2004. His first trial collapsed last June after the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

The court had intended to launch straight into opening statements and calling first witnesses, but it hit a snag on Monday morning that pushed the start back. Cosby’s new and aggressive defence team, led by the white-haired Hollywood attorney Tom Mesereau, raised objections to one of the selected jurors who had apparently been overheard last week remarking about the defendant: “I just think he’s guilty, so we can all be done and get out of here.”

Judge Steven O’Neill postponed the trial to quiz the juror, who is anonymous and is identified only as No 11, about his alleged comment. The session was held in private.

Much has happened in the months separating the two trials, not least the explosion on social media of the #MeToo movement prompted by revelations of sexual harassment and assault involving prominent men in Hollywood, the media, politics and many other walks of life. How that new public climate affects the retrial may have a large bearing on Cosby’s fate.

He faces up to 10 years in prison on each count, having pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Cosby, 80, was once lauded as “America’s Dad” for his role in the popular TV sitcom The Cosby Show. He has been accused by more than 50 women of sexual assault, though he denies the claims.

Both his trials have focused on a single individual – Andrea Constand, a Canadian massage therapist who forms the center of the prosecution case. She alleges that in 2004, when she was helping run the women’s basketball team in Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University, he invited her to his home outside Philadelphia.

Constand, 44, alleges that he drugged her with three pills that made her drowsy, then sexually molested her. She reported the alleged attack a year later and when the local district attorney declined to press charges she brought a civil lawsuit against Cosby that was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2006.

Constand’s claims, and the defense attorneys’ efforts to discredit her credibility, were at the heart of the first trial last June. On that occasion, Cosby faced a jury of seven men and five women.

The panel for the second trial was to have exactly the same gender balance, with 10 members being white and two African American.

In pre-trial deliberations, Judge O’Neill made rulings on the evidence that can be presented to the jury that could be critically important. In particular, he allowed the size of the 2006 financial settlement between Cosby and Constand to be disclosed in court.

Instead of permitting just one other woman who alleged she was drugged and molested by Cosby to give testimony, as in the first trial, the judge gave the green light to five women being heard this time.

O’Neill was himself the issue of legal proceedings after Mesereau called on him to step aside on grounds that his social worker wife is an advocate for assault victims. He dismissed the demands, saying he was “not biased or prejudiced” by his wife’s work.

After her topless protest, Nicolle Rochelle, 39, was charged with disorderly conduct. She faces a small fine. She was fingerprinted and told to stay away from the courthouse for the rest of the trial.

In a phone call with reporters following her release, Rochelle said her protest was designed as a peaceful expression of solidarity with the women who have spoken out about Cosby.

“I wanted to show him that I wasn’t disempowered, I wanted him to feel my presence,” she said.

Rochelle appeared in The Cosby Show with the comic about six times, she said, when she was 12 years old. She said that she had not had any bad experiences at his hands personally.

She had decided on removing her clothes as a way of drawing attention to her protest. The slogan “Women’s Lives Matter” that she had painted in red ink on her chest was conceived by her, as a black woman, to make the point that Cosby’s race should not obscure what he is alleged to have done.

“You can’t make it all about race and leave the rape out of it,” she said.

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7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea

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7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea.

Preliminary reports warn tsunami waves could hit areas within 300km of the earthquake’s epicentre.

The quake hit off the coast New Britain region of Papua New Guinea earlier today. (Daily Star)

This is a breaking story and will be updated shortly

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NY Man Planned to Blow Himself Up at Washington Mall

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Police and FBI agents searched a Hudson Valley home Wednesday after learning about a man who was allegedly building a bomb in order to blow himself up in Washington D.C., two law enforcement officials told News 4 New York.

Investigators said they were concerned the man, identified as Paul Rosenfeld, at the home on Slocum Avenue in Orangetown was in the process of acquiring bomb parts.

Officials tell News 4 Rosenfeld had no criminal history but had told a reporter in Pennsylvania he planned to blow himself up on the Washington Mall around Election Day because he was angry about the country’s direction. 

He had no plans to hurt anyone else, officials said. He is believed to be a lone actor not affiliated with any international terror group or ideology. 

Full Article at https://nts24.co.uk/2A2oWjM 

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Trump ‘demanding’ answers from Saudis about missing writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.

Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent that the administration find out what happened to Khashoggi. The Saudi government has become a closer ally under Trump and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had been waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi went inside and has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.

Trump said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. He also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a former insider in Saudi government circles who has been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the past year after fleeing a crackdown on intellectuals and activists in the country.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information.

While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “there will definitely be consequences” if it turns out the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi disappearance. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “devastating” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.” But he said it was unclear whether the Trump administration was willing to “go beyond words.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”

Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration on the Khashoggi case. Officials have expressed concern but refused even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true. Pompeo has called on the Saudi government to conduct a thorough investigation and to be transparent about its results.

The reaction from European governments has also been cautious. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Saudi counterpart that if media reports about Khashoggi were correct, it “would be extremely concerning and the U.K. will treat the incident very seriously,” according to the Foreign Office.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, although it has failed to provide evidence.

Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers in a statement Tuesday, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”

Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.

Saudi authorities’ failure to provide video footage of Khashoggi’s movements at the consulate to rebut the Turkish allegations have only deepened suspicions.

The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.

Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.

Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taken adequate steps to prevent civilian despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chair of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.

“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”

___

Associated Press writers Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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