Bill Cosby sex assault trial begins in Pennsylvania

Case expected to be biggest US celebrity trial since OJ Simpson appeared in court in 1995

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby outside Allegheny County Courthouse in May
(Image credit: Nate Smallwood/Getty Images)

TV star and comedian Bill Cosby goes on trial in Pennsylvania today, accused of drugging and molesting a younger woman.

The trial, which is expected to last a fortnight, is likely to be met with as much interest as when the American football player OJ Simpson was tried for murder in 1995.

Cosby denies the allegations and claims some of the charges might be motivated by racism.

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Who is Bill Cosby?

Cosby was at one point the highest-paid actor in the US, says the BBC. Born in Philadelphia, he started out in stand-up comedy in 1962. Television soon followed and he became the first black actor to star in a TV drama series in 1965 (in the highly-rated I Spy). He produced and narrated the TV cartoon Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids from 1972 to 1985, and The Cosby show from 1984 to 1992.

What's the accusation?

Andrea Constand, a former employee of Temple University, Philadelphia, alleges that Cosby, who sat on the university's board of trustees, gave her three blue pills when she visited his house in 2004 and molested her. She says the drugs made her legs feel "like jelly".

What's the charge?

Cosby is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Each could be punished with up to 10 years in jail and a fine of almost £20,000.

Weren't there several women who alleged assault?

At least 50 women have come forward to accuse the 79-year-old of assault. However, most of their claims could not be prosecuted as the allegations are dated beyond the time limit of filing a criminal complaint in Pennsylvania, which is 14 years. The jury will not hear evidence about any of these claims.

What's Cosby's defence?

He says the sexual encounter with Constand was consensual and claims he offered women drugs as a way to help them relax.

Will Cosby take the stand?

He has said he will not, telling a radio station that he believed his words might be twisted if he were called as a witness. He told Sirius-XM: "When you have to deal with examination, cross-examination, et cetera, et cetera, more than two sides to every story – sometimes it's four or five."

What about the jury?

The jury is made up of seven men and five women. Two members are black and the rest are white. They have been brought in from Pittsburgh, 300 miles from the court, because the defence argued that local people might have been influenced by pre-trial publicity.

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