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Norristown (United States) (AFP) – Bill Cosby’s sexual assault accuser was a money-grabbing “con artist” who lied to police and falsely accused the star to transform herself into a multi-millionaire, his US lawyer claimed Tuesday.

The now frail and isolated 80-year-old Cosby could spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted at retrial of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand, 44, at his Philadelphia home in 2004.

The case has besmirched the legacy of an actor once adored by millions as “America’s Dad” for his role as lovable father and obstetrician Cliff Huxtable on hit 1984-92 television series “The Cosby Show.”

The pioneering black entertainer’s first trial ended in a hung jury in June last year, with a sequestered panel hopelessly deadlocked after six days of testimony and 52 hours of deliberations.

On Tuesday, his new lawyer Tom Mesereau, famous for getting Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation, calmly delivered his opening statement on day two of his client’s Pennsylvania retrial.

“What does she want from Bill Cosby,” Mesereau told jurors. “You already know the answer: money, money and lots more money,” he said.

“What do you get?” he said, summing up inconsistencies in Constand’s story to the police. “A con artist, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. And we’ll prove it. A con artist,” he hectored.

“She’s now a multi-millionaire because she pulled it off.”

– ‘Prosecution by distraction’ –

At the time of the alleged assault, Constand was the director of women’s basketball at Temple University, where the actor sat on the board of trustees.

In Cosby’s deposition in 2005, to resolve a civil suit, the actor said he gave Constand an over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve stress and that they had consensual relations.

Constand says the alleged assault left her “humiliated.” The prosecution said Cosby betrayed her trust.

But Mesereau told jurors that a former co-worker at Temple University claims Constand confided that she “could set-up a celebrity” in exchange for money.

The judge has agreed to let the defense call Marguerite Jackson as a witness, having ruled at the first trial her evidence was hearsay.

“We’re going to ask that you keep your eye on the ball,” Mesereau said. “It’s called prosecution by distraction. When you don’t have a case you’ve got to fill the time with something else.”

Constand, he claimed, was in debt and embittered, leading her to make the confidential settlement in 2006, in which Cosby paid her $3.38 million — a sum revealed Monday by the prosecution for the first time.

Mesereau alleged that Constand pursued Cosby, “madly in love with his fame and money,” driving to his home six or seven times, “sneaked in the back door” and sat alone with him by the fire sipping brandy. 

He asked the jury to pity Cosby, saying that despite his wealth and celebrity, he had never recovered from his son’s murder.

– ‘Foolish and ridiculous’ –

“He was lonely and troubled and he made the terrible mistake of confiding in this person what was going on in his life,” he said.

Mesereau tore into the inconsistencies that Constand gave to police about the date of the alleged assault, subsequent contact with the actor and ridiculed the lack of physical evidence in the case.

Even after the alleged assault, she met him alone at his home, introduced him to her parents and called him 75 times in subsequent year, including late at night and twice on Valentine’s Day.

In recent years, some 60 women have accused the Emmy-winning Cosby, who today claims to be legally blind, of being a serial predator, alleging that he drugged and assaulted them over a span of 40 years.

Yet the three counts involving Constand, who now lives in Canada, are the only criminal charges to stick against Cosby.

His retrial is the most high-profile criminal case since the start of the #MeToo era, the US cultural watershed that has ruined the careers of a string of powerful men in Hollywood, politics and the media.

Experts say the movement may make jurors more inclined to believe victims. Mesereau alluded to what he called “the current climate in America,” asking jurors not to be blinded by accusations.

“He was foolish, he was ridiculous and lonely, and attracted to a young woman, but he didn’t commit a crime. He’s not a criminal and you will gladly declare him not guilty,” he finished.

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