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Bill Cosby Lawyer McMonagle Takes on Witness During First Day of Comedian's Sexual Assault Trial

Bill Cosby's lawyer Brian McMonagle, center, rides the elevator with his client in the Montgomery County Courthouse on June 5, 2017 in Norristown, Pa.
David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, Pool

Bill Cosby's lawyer Brian McMonagle, center, rides the elevator with his client in the Montgomery County Courthouse on June 5, 2017 in Norristown, Pa.

Kelly Johnson hid the large white pill Bill Cosby had given her under her tongue, she says, with the intention of spitting it out later; she pretended to swallow it with water, she told a packed Montgomery County courthouse on Monday (June 5) during the opening day of testimony in the comedian's trail on allegations that he sexually assaulted and drugged former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his home in 2004.

Johnson said the actor had pressed the pill on her at a bungalow at the Bel-Air Hotel one day in 1996; he’d invited her there for lunch, told her that she needed to relax. “And he said, ‘Lift up your tongue?’ And I did, and there it was, under my tongue.”

“Trust me,” Cosby told her. “Would I give you anything that would hurt you?”

Johnson swallowed the pill.

Scared, she went into the bathroom, where the whole sink was covered with prescription pill bottles, she said. She tried and failed to identify the drug he’d given her: “I was crying a little bit but trying to compose myself, I don’t know how long I’ve been in here, he’s going to wonder what I’m doing in here, very frustrated with myself…” She flushed the toilet and left the bathroom. When she woke up, she was in the bed, with her dress pulled down, she said, Cosby behind her. She doesn’t remember getting home.

Johnson’s boss, the late Tom Illius, was Cosby’s agent; he was the biggest client at William Morris, one of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies. She was Illius’s personal assistant, a humble-sounding gig but in Hollywood, such a job means proximity to world-famous people, a good salary and much prestige. Johnson was dazzled by the special relationship that Cosby developed with her and her family — he invited her, her sisters and parents to a performance in Las Vegas — even though she felt awkward and uncomfortable when he insisted that she not tell Illius about the friendship. She characterized Cosby’s interest in her as “Huxtable-like,” in reference to the avuncular character he played on TV on The Cosby Show. He was interested in her education, in her future.

Bear in mind that Johnson is not the plaintiff in this case; that’s Constand, who has yet to testify. Johnson is what is known as a Rule 404(b) witness, brought in to establish a “signature” pattern of criminal behavior on Cosby’s part — in this case, a pattern of incapacitating a younger woman with an intoxicant and then abusing her unconscious body sexually. Johnson is one of thirteen 404(b) witnesses the prosecution asked the judge to permit to testify against Cosby. He finally allowed just one of them, Johnson, to testify. (Late Monday afternoon those of us present in the courtroom learned that there is a chance that Johnson’s mother may also be allowed to testify as to the truth of her daughter’s recollections.)

The arguments against the thirteen 404(b) witnesses advanced by Cosby’s lawyers are a sight to behold. The similarity of the crimes is insufficient, they allege; one of the victims claimed a brutal rape, compared with the “banality” of another, who merely woke up at home not knowing how she got there (for serious, “banality,” you can read it for yourself at the link.) These alleged incidents all took place in different cities, what’s more. And also: “For the purposes of Rule 404(b), vaginal intercourse and digital penetration are not sufficiently similar as a matter of law.”

The day’s harshest spectacle was Cosby lawyer Brian McMonagle’s attempt to paint Johnson as a serial fake-sex-crime accuser. (Also a liar, a benefits cheat and a drug user.) In his opening statement, McMonagle intimated that Johnson had accused her late boss, Illius, of sexual harassment, in addition to accusing Cosby. But when Johnson was on the stand, no amount of sneering or theatrics on McMonagle’s part could disguise that she was completely shocked by this suggestion. “You’re saying that there was something sexual… with Tom,” she said, after puzzling it out for a moment.

There had indeed been a dispute once with Illius, but it wasn’t sexual. Johnson had been pregnant in 1992, and was going on maternity leave. She had worked until one week before the birth of her son. He asked her how long she planned to be off work. “I told Mr. Illius I would be out for 12 weeks,” she said. “And he said, ‘Oh, no, I can’t hold my desk for you. I’m not firing you, but you can come back and be a floater or something’… I stood in front of his desk, nine months pregnant and couldn’t believe he would do that.”

To be clear, this woman worked at the William Morris Agency as a personal assistant — a notoriously demanding job — until her water broke, practically, only to learn that her job wouldn’t be there for her after she returned from maternity leave.

McMonagle, though, painted this episode as proof of Johnson being a troublesome employee. He suggested that company policy, which forbade personal relationships with clients, had prompted Illius to decide to fire her.

“You told Louise that Tom Illius was harassing you!” McMonagle bellowed.

“I don’t remember saying that Tom Illius was harassing me,” she said.

“I’m going to ask my question again. When you went to see Louise [in HR] about the way Tom Illius was treating you?”

“You went right down to HR and said Tom was mistreating you, yes? Isn’t it a fact that you went to HR and told Louise…”

This back-and-forth managed to overshadow the fact that Illius apparently hired Johnson back at some point, after a period as a “floater” or temporary assistant, until she left the firm in 1996 in the wake of the Cosby imbroglio. McMonagle took full advantage of the long-ago confusion of exact dates and details, layering up meetings, allegations, conversations, in a rapid-fire interrogational whirlwind. His tone was unfailingly incredulous, squeaking with disbelief and contempt.

Sixty different women have come forward, each with a similar Cosby story, but a (male) judge has decided that this jury only gets to learn about two of them. The jurors, too, are mostly men. But just a little bit of reasonable doubt and Bill Cosby will be off the hook, probably forever.

This article originally appeared on Death and Taxes.

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