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The judgement of Hannibal Buress: How a stand-up routine from a comedian brought about the eventual fall of Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby was convicted by a jury in the Montogomery County Court of Common Pleas of three charges of aggravated indecent assault.
UPDATED JAN 22, 2020
Hannibal Buress (L) and Bill Cosby (R) (Source: Getty Images)
Hannibal Buress (L) and Bill Cosby (R) (Source: Getty Images)

Bill Cosby, the man who was once considered by the African-American community, as well as a vast majority of Americans as a hero for his groundbreaking work in the 70s and 80s, has been found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting 45-year-old Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home in 2004.

The verdict marks a watershed moment for the 59 women who have accused Cosby of rape, drug-facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, and other sexual misconduct, with some waiting for justice to be served from as far back as the 1960s. Despite the momentous occasion and the symbolism accompanying it in light of the #MeToo movement, Constand, the primary witness in the case, maintained her composure as the jury proclaimed Cosby's guilt at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.

A jury found Cosby guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault (Source: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The verdict came after the jury deliberated for over 14 hours beginning Wednesday, 11 am, with any fears that this trial would end in a similar fashion to the last one, which was declared a mistrial after a hung jury, entirely unfounded.

The 80-year-old comedian faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine for each count, though it has not yet been decided whether he will be serving those consecutively or concurrently. That will depend on the discretion of Judge Steven O' Neill, with whom Cosby will soon have a sentencing hearing. However, until such a time, he will be free on bail.

O'Neill said that he would not 'simply lock him up' because of the comedian's age and medical condition - he has poor eyesight - but ordered that Cosby surrender his passport and remain in his nearby home. Cosby had not reacted visibly to the guilty verdict - he was seen with head bent, eyes shut - but erupted when prosecutors tried to revoke his bail by stating that he owned a private plane and was a flight risk, exclaiming: "He doesn't have a plane, you a*****e! I'm sick of it, you a*****e!"

The judge also noted if Cosby wanted to stay in one of his homes in another state, he would have to do so by arranging with the appropriate authorities and getting fitted with a GPS tracking device.

Bill Cosby accuser Andrea Constand (C) reacts with lawyer Dolores Troiani (R) and Delaney Henderson (L) after the guilty on all counts verdict was delivered in the sexual assault retrial at the Montgomery County Courthouse on April 26, 2018, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Cosby was found guilty on all accounts after a former Temple University employee alleges that the entertainer drugged and molested her in 2004 at his home in suburban Philadelphia. More than 40 women have accused the 80-year-old entertainer of sexual assault. (Source: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Because of a stark lack of forensic evidence in the case, the prosecutors relied entirely on the testimony of Constand for a conviction, which meant that the entire case boiled down a 'he said she said' dynamic. The 45-year-old was a former employee with Temple University women's basketball team and testified that Cosby, a powerful Temple trustee, had sexually assaulted her in 2004. She said that when she had visited his home to ask for career advice, he had drugged her and proceeded to rape her.

Constand is not the only one to have come forward with the sexual assault allegations against Cosby. Several dozen other accusers' allegations, unfortunately, fell outside the statute of limitations for assault cases, meaning their testimonies was inadmissible and that Constand's case was the only one that yielded charges against the 80-year-old.  

Because of how much the case hinged on Constand's testimony, Cosby's defense attorneys constantly tried to undermine and discredit the 45-year-old. Terming her as a 'so-called victim,' they stated that she had a history of financial problems and was after their client's money, revealing for the first time that she had been paid $3.38 million by Cosby as part of a civil settlement related to a lawsuit she had filed in 2005. The comedian had not admitted liability, fault, or wrongdoing in the statement. They used these two factors to try to swing the case in their favor.

 Bill Cosby accusers (L-R) Caroline Heldman, Lili Bernard, and Victoria Valentino react after the guilty on all counts verdict was delivered in the sexual assault retrial at the Montgomery County Courthouse on April 26, 2018, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Cosby was found guilty on all accounts after a former Temple University employee alleges that the entertainer drugged and molested her in 2004 at his home in suburban Philadelphia. (Source: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

But the prosecution had an ace up their sleeve as well. They called up five other women who have also claimed that Cosby drugged and assaulted them. Legal experts say that the trick probably had its desired effect in showing to the jury that Constand was not just a one-time mistake but a part of a deliberate pattern of behavior by a serial sexual predator. 

The deposition from the 2005 lawsuit, while not containing an admission of guilt, equally hurt Cosby's chances of walking free from the trial. Cosby had confessed to giving prescription sedatives to the women he had sex with and those crucial parts of that deposition were made public by a judge in 2015.

He testified under oath during that deposition that he gave the victim multiple doses of Benadryl - an antihistamine which is known to commonly cause sleepiness - under the guise that it was a herbal supplement and then had sex with her after it kicked in. He said that he didn't "hear her say anything" and didn't "feel her saying anything. And so I continue to go in the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped."

Cosby faces 10 years in jail and a $25,000 for each count (Source: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

To many, this verdict has been the culmination of a struggle for justice that lasted well over five decades. According to numerous reports, the earliest incidents took place in the mid-1960s, and despite mounting allegations over the years, Cosby has managed to repeatedly skirt the law by denying any knowledge of the incidents.

He has consistently refused to speak about the accusations, saying in May 2015: "I have been in this business 52 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. Reality is a situation and I can't speak." His involvement in providing a voice for the oppressed African-American community at a time when equal opportunity was still a dream for many meant that he acquired a colossal fan following, most of whom who still refuse to believe in his guilt.

Cosby managed to capitalize on this cult of celebrity, as well as his vast wealth, to undermine the constant stream of accusers, as evidenced by the startling lack of media attention to the case until 2014. This was when a routine by a little-known standup comedian reached the far corners of the Internet and set forth a chain of events that started his downfall and irreversibly damaged his reputation.

October 16, 2014, was the day when Cosby's world began unraveling at the seams. 31-year-old Hannibal Buress is scheduled for a bit at The Trocadero, a club in Cosby's hometown of Philadelphia. Up and coming and making waves in the stand-up comedy scene, few expected a routine show to have such far-reaching implications.

Referring to Cosby's time in the leading role of 'The Cosby Show,' and his propensity to talk down to the black youth by proclaiming that the only reason they lacked opportunity was because of their behavior, Buress said: "Pull your pants up people, I was on TV in the '80s."

In the extended routine, he also addressed Cosby's legacy of patronizing young black men for their style of dress and lifestyle, criticizing the actor's sanctimony and public moralizing by saying: "Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby, so that kind of brings you down a couple of notches." When the audience seemed to react to his accusations with incredulity, he asked them to 'Google Bill Cosby rape' when they got back home, promising they would get more results than if they searched for his name. 

Cosby had used his wealth and influence to repeatedly escape justice (Source: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

At the time, dozens of women had already come forward with accusations against Cosby, and the nation's media was already following the case intently. But when that short clip of Buress addressing the issue went viral after it was posted on Philadelphia magazine's website, it brought a wider spectrum of attention to the case and encouraged several of the actor's other victims to come forward with their own stories.

There is a peculiarity about the whole ordeal, however, as if the forces of fate were conspiring to use that routine in Cosby's hometown, in particular, to take the 80-year-old down once and for all. Buress had used the same Cosby routine for the previous six months in numerous other clubs but had garnered little reaction or response. But that October performance and the circumstances surrounding those performances had kicked up the perfect storm.

A media frenzy ensued and soon, outlets around the country were questioning how the actor had managed to maintain, as Buress put it 'a Teflon image,' despite the plethora of sexual assault allegations against him over the decades.

To many, Cosby was still the warm, fatherly figure they had grown up watching (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Cosby's spectacular fall from grace will have come as a shock to those who grew up watching a man lovingly referred to as 'America's Dad.' He was, for all intents and purposes, a trailblazer in the TV industry. He became the first-ever African American actor to win an Emmy for his leading role in the 1960s television show 'I Spy.' Then, later, he produced and starred as Cliff Huxtable in 'The Cosby Show,' which was rated as the number one show in America for six years and one of the first shows to highlight the experiences and growth of an upper-middle-class black family. 

Unsurprisingly, his impending jail sentence and the fine is not the only fallout from the case. Cosby has had a glittering career and won numerous accolades - including America's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom - but once the accusations began to mount, 25 of the universities that awarded him honorary degrees rescinded them.

The brave women who came forward to speak out against Cosby's predatory behavior are no doubt to be applauded but it would be criminal to ignore the impact that the burgeoning #MeToo movement has had in his eventual conviction. For years, Cosby had escaped scrutiny because the so-called 'fatherly reputation' he had managed to cultivate had given him a sort of a perverted immunity. The public just refused to believe that a man they regarded as a hero had engaged in such nefarious behavior.

Harvey Weinstein's victims will hope that he is brought to justice (Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

But as Fordham Law associate professor James Cohen explained to CNN, the notion that celebrities with good reputations do not harm others 'has been substantially deflated' by the emergence of the #MeToo movement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that rocked Hollywood. 

This cultural shift has played a vital role in the outcome of Cosby's trial, with Cohen saying: "There is the potential that instead of the prosecution having to try a case against a very beloved American icon, instead there's the possibility that they're now bringing a criminal case against another male predator of this generation of guys who have been getting away with it for ages."

Sexual assault victims across the country will hope that Cosby's conviction is the first of many more to come. Harvey Weinstein is somewhere in the country pretending to be in rehab, and his 80-odd victims will hope that he's the next in line for prosecution.