NOEL KING, HOST:
The woman whose story prompted the only criminal charges ever filed against Bill Cosby is back on the witness stand today in Cosby's sexual assault retrial in Pennsylvania. Bobby Allyn of member station WHYY has the story.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Andrea Constand has been here before. Last year, she testified over two days about what she says happened to her at Cosby's home in suburban Philadelphia in 2004. But a jury couldn't agree on a verdict, and the judge declared a mistrial, so she's doing it again. Before addressing the court, she sat with her eyes closed, silently meditating. She told jurors in the midst of a career crisis, Cosby invited her over. Quote, "these are your friends," she said Cosby said to her, handing her three pills. Quote, "they will take the edge off." Lawyer Gloria Allred represents several Cosby accusers and was in the courtroom.
GLORIA ALLRED: She trusted him. She had ingested the three blue pills that he gave her that he had gone upstairs to get.
ALLYN: Constand says she then started to see double and was getting woozy. She says Cosby assaulted her as she lay unconscious and defenseless on his couch. Over several days before this testimony, five other women took the stand and described remarkably similar stories. Cosby reached out to them, offering himself as a mentor. Then when he had them alone, they all say they were drugged and attacked. They said they were too scared to ever go public about it. One of these women, Heidi Thomas, looked Cosby square in the eyes from the witness stand and said, quote, "you remember, don't you, Mr. Cosby?" He stared down at the table with a stony expression.
LILI BERNARD: And what was just amazing was that all these stories - it was almost as if they were telling the same story, even though these are women who had never, ever met each other prior to coming public about this.
ALLYN: That's Lili Bernard. She's one of more than 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, but she's not a witness in this case. Bernard says she hopes the five other accusers protect Constand from days of expected attacks on her credibility by the defense team. And Bernard says in the Me Too era, perhaps it will be easier for the jury to see the disputed episode like she does.
BERNARD: What Andrea Constand is saying is the absolute truth.
ALLYN: Cosby's lead defense lawyer, Tom Mesereau, is hell-bent on proving that wrong. Mesereau is an aggressive trial lawyer who won an acquittal for Michael Jackson. And he's trying to show the jury that Constand is a, quote, "con artist" who ginned up a fake claim about Cosby to win a nearly $3.4 million civil settlement. That previously confidential payout, Mesereau says, was always Constand's goal. And before the money, he says Constand was financially struggling. Former prosecutor Dennis McAndrews anticipates the likely response to using the settlement against Constand.
DENNIS MCANDREWS: The prosecution's main tact in terms of the money has to be, why would an innocent man pay that much money to have a claim not come forward?
ALLYN: Outside the courtroom, Cosby's PR team portrays the defendant as the victim of a parade of unproven accusations by women who preyed on the man once known as America's Dad. Here's Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt.
ANDREW WYATT: They didn't get wealthy. They didn't get famous. They knew he was a married man. They went up to his hotel room knowing that he was a married man.
ALLYN: Here is accuser Bernard's comeback to that.
BERNARD: It makes absolutely no sense.
ALLYN: Sorting that out will be up to a jury of seven men and five women. Their decision could mean the difference between Cosby again walking free or setting him up to spend the rest of his life in prison. For NPR News, I'm Bobby Allyn in Philadelphia.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRAMBLES' "PINK AND GOLDEN BILLOWS")[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, the quote “You remember, don’t you, Mr. Cosby?” is incorrectly attributed to Heidi Thomas. In fact, it was Chelan Lasha who said that.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.