• Tue. May 30th, 2023

Despite the Cosby Ruling, Andrea Constand Feels Like a ‘Symbol of Hope’

Sep 7, 2021

The call came just before noon.

Andrea Constand had returned to her downtown Toronto apartment after walking her dog Maddy in a nearby park, when the Montgomery County district attorney’s office rang. Stand by, she was told, a ruling on Bill Cosby’s appeal could be handed down soon by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

By this day, June 30, Constand, the woman whose account of sexual assault had led to the conviction of the man once known as America’s Dad was finding ways to move past the trauma that the trial had brought to her daily life. She had sold her apartment, was moving to the countryside north of the city and preparing to publish a memoir, “The Moment,” to detail her singular experience with Cosby and the criminal justice system.

Though more than 50 women had accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, including assault, prosecutors had — for a variety of reasons — only successfully brought criminal charges in her case. And now Cosby was in prison far away, serving a three- to 10-year sentence in Pennsylvania after having been found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

He had already lost an appeal. The dust once kicked up by the trial, by the verdict, by the media attention, by the focus on her case as a breakthrough “moment” for the #MeToo era, had largely settled.

About an hour later, the phone rang again.

“Andrea,” said Kate Delano, the district attorney’s director of communications, “the Supreme Court has vacated his conviction.”

It is perhaps an understatement to say that for Constand, and many others, the decision came as a shock. Cosby would not only be freed: The court also ruled he could not be tried again. Constand said she found it deeply unsettling that Cosby, still a man of means and influence, was out of prison, unconstrained and able to contact her and others.

“I had a lump in my throat,” Constand, 48, said in a rare in-depth interview last month near her new home north of Toronto. “I really felt they were setting a predator loose and that made me sick.”

Constand’s reaction to the court decision and her long experience with the case are detailed in the memoir, which is to be released Tuesday.

Within minutes of the second call, Constand drove off, heading with her 22-year-old niece to her sister’s home outside Toronto, a trip that had been planned before the afternoon became untethered by the ruling. From the car, she spoke by phone with the two former prosecutors who had helped lead the case against Cosby, Stewart Ryan and Kristen Gibbons Feden. They explained that Cosby would no longer be officially designated as a sexually violent predator, a status that requires lifetime public registration and community notification — something that had afforded Constand special comfort.

At her sister’s house, she watched on television as Cosby got out of a car at his home near Philadelphia, the mansion where, she had testified, Cosby assaulted her after giving her a sedative in 2004. From her sister’s back porch, she worked over the phone with her two lawyers, Bebe H. Kivitz and Dolores M. Troiani, to put out a statement expressing their disappointment.

Her phone was otherwise blowing up with calls from friends and other women who had accused Cosby of sexual assault. Kevin R. Steele, the district attorney who had overseen the prosecution, had called earlier to say the decision did not take away from what she had achieved.

Still she worried, she said, that other women might find it too hard to come forward now. “It was not just me,” she said, “it was the message that it would send to the rest of the world and other survivors, to say, why should I fight for justice, when it ultimately gets stripped down. It won’t matter.”

The first trial in her case had ended with a hung jury. Cosby’s defense team insisted his encounter with Constand had been consensual. For the second trial, prosecutors were allowed to introduce testimony from five additional women who, like Constand, said that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted them.

When the jury in the second trial found him guilty in 2018, many thought that, were there to be any appellate ruling, it would likely focus on whether it had been prejudicial to allow the women from other incidents to testify — evidence that prosecutors said showed a pattern of abuse.

But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on different grounds, finding that the district attorney had been bound by what a predecessor had called a promise he made never to charge Cosby in the case. The predecessor said he had made the promise to persuade Cosby to testify in a subsequent civil action, which Cosby settled by paying Constand $3.38 million. During his testimony in the civil case, Cosby acknowledged giving women quaaludes as part of an effort to have sex with them, a statement that the June ruling said had been unfairly introduced at the 2018 trial.

Constand does not mince her words when it comes to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She blames it for undoing all the work she and others had done to bring Cosby to justice and for “putting him on the street.”

“After a few deep breaths, I just felt this is not my problem,” she said. “Now it made me feel the shame is on the Supreme Court. It’s not on me anymore.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said in its decision that it was upholding an important safeguard: Cosby’s due process rights had been violated. Its ruling was meant to prevent dangerous prosecutorial overreach.

Constand said that for days after the decision she fielded emails, texts and phone calls from people who were irate about the ruling. Many were from women who say they too were assaulted by Cosby and who had viewed the 2018 guilty verdict as justice for themselves. Some were now her friends. “They were devastated, they were so angry,” she said.

The book, just weeks from its release date, had to be updated. A publisher’s note described the ruling and said Cosby’s conviction had been overturned “on a procedural issue.”

The statement Constand had devised with her lawyers was added as were about 400 words to describe her reaction to the court’s decision.

“We cannot let moments of injustice quiet us,” she wrote. “We must speak up again and again and again — until we arrive at a moment of real change.”

The case accounts for roughly two-thirds of the 240-page book. Constand takes readers inside her tussles with defense attorneys, who cast her as a disappointed lover in the first trial and a gold digger in the second. She describes the connections she felt with jurors, the long stays in hotel rooms, the stress and the sacrifices her family had to make.

She got through it, she writes, with the help of her poodles, her spirituality and tattoos that give her strength. (The word “truth” is displayed across the top of her chest, a large phoenix on her back.)

The book spends some time on her childhood in Canada, her years as a basketball player at the University of Arizona and playing professionally in Italy. It also delves into her relationships and coming out as gay.

In the memoir, Constand describes herself as “wearied and weathered by what happened to me” and writes that Cosby had robbed a joyful young woman, the product of a nourishing family and happy childhood, of her smile. During an interview with The New York Times, she credited her faith for sustaining her and talked of starting a new chapter of her life.

Constand started the book, helped by a co-writer, Meg Masters, more than a year before the court’s June decision, at the start of the pandemic lockdown, as a way to get closure.

“The healer in me knew I had to dive back into everything again and really try to remember and it was really chilling for me at times,” she said. “Trauma is not wired for you to remember. It’s wired for you to forget.”

During the writing, she got Covid-19 and was sick on her couch in Toronto for six weeks with “an elephant on my chest.” The experience, the encounter with her own mortality, propelled her to finish the book.

“I thought it was important to write the story for other survivors who had stories, too,” she said. “I wanted to be a symbol of hope to them. That their stories matter. And their stories are important.”

Despite the court’s decision, she said the years of hard work were by no means wasted. Cosby, now 84, served nearly three years in prison, she pointed out. Publicity from the case helped change attitudes. Women were encouraged to come forward. People believed them when they did. Several of the Cosby accusers helped with successful legislative efforts to extend or eliminate states’ statutes of limitations in sexual assault cases.

“There were so many victories along the way,” she said. “Society paid attention.”

Since the court’s decision, Cosby has said he wants to re-emerge as a truly public personality, which Constand would have to contend with. He has taken to social media to proclaim the ruling a vindication of his innocence, an overstatement of the decision, which found he had not been given a fair trial, but did not exonerate him.

But he still has 3.2 million Twitter followers, and the day after the decision he posted a clip of Constand talking about the night she said she was assaulted. It was paired with a statement that took issue with media reporting on his case.

Constand said the posting showed a man emboldened by his new freedom who was trying to use it to damage her reputation.

On the same day, she retweeted a post from her sexual abuse support foundation that said “Bill Cosby is not innocent.”

But, otherwise, after a modest amount of publicity associated with her book, she said she intends to regain her privacy. She is not planning a book tour and said she wants to focus on her massage therapy business, which was hurt by the pandemic, and a nonprofit foundation she started, Hope Healing and Transformation. It provides resources for survivors of sexual assault, such as a library to help understand trauma, connections to lawyers and a platform for writing their stories. Some of the proceeds from her memoir are going to the foundation.

She says it was her destiny to take on Cosby, in what was a “David and Goliath situation.”

But would she do it again?

Prosecutors are examining the possibility of appeal. If they won, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to block a third trial could be overturned. And Constand said she might put herself through another trial if asked, but it would be a difficult decision and she would have to consult her family.

“Yeah, I would do it all over again,” she said. “If it was to do the right thing. I would do anything, as long as it was for the right reason.”

Whatever happens, she says, the fact that Cosby walked free should not change what the case achieved.

“I hope it doesn’t deter anybody,” she said. “I hope people will still find their voices. I hope that they don’t look at his freedom as a reason not to come forward. Quite the contrary, I hope they feel if Andrea can do it, I can do it.”

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