NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania—Janice Baker-Kinney, like so many other women who say Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them, has told her story before she took the stand on April 11, at the disgraced comedian’s retrial. She was a bartender at Harrah’s in Reno, Nevada, in the 1980s when she went over with a friend to see Cosby for a pizza party. It was at a house where Harrah’s let entertainers stay. Soon after Baker-Kinney arrived, she said that Cosby gave her two pills, which she assumed were Quaaludes. From there, Baker-Kinney said, her memory gets hazy. She testified that she remembers sitting down to play Backgammon, saying “this game isn’t fair anymore,” then face-planting into the board.
Next, she recalled, it sounded to her like her friend was leaving, and Cosby was fondling her, placing his arm inside her shirt and then down toward her underwear. Baker-Kinney’s next memory, she said, is of waking up in the house, hearing Cosby on the phone, and realizing that neither of them had clothes on. She rushed out of the house, joking with him that she wouldn’t tell the media.
Baker-Kinney’s story was followed by interrogation from a defense lawyer, which focused on what you might expect: Baker-Kinney’s admission that she had used drugs at times in her life became a string of questions about what parties she went to, when they were, and how many drugs she did at them. Baker-Kinney, who testified that she struggled with a problem with alcohol, was quizzed on the exact dates of when she realized this. She was asked, over and over again, why she had retained attorney Gloria Allred (a series of questions the defense team has asked every witness who has worked with Allred so far). Baker-Kinney was asked about telling her roommate at the time, “I really got fucked up last night and slept with Bill Cosby.”
But few moments were as heated as when defense lawyer Tom Mesereau pushed her on why she waited 30 years to say that Cosby had raped her. Baker-Kinney said that even when she told her husband approximately 10 years ago what happened and he told her it was rape, she responded with “well, I took drugs.”
“So for 30 years you didn’t suspect that someone had sexually assaulted you?” Mesereau asked.
“I have to think about how to answer that,” Baker-Kinney said. She paused slightly before continuing. “For 30 years I really didn’t think about it. I didn’t want to think about it. And I will tell you that when women started coming forward and my husband—my current husband—started seeing articles in the paper about it, he kept pointing them out to me. And what I said was, ‘I don’t want to read them. I don’t want to hear about those.’ I...don’t know how to sum it up.”
Judge Steven O’Neill then asked her, politely, to try to answer the question.
“I felt isolated in that it happened to me,” Baker-Kinney said.
Mesereau continued. He asked, “But you have made statements that for 30 years I had no idea anyone had raped me.”
“I didn’t say I had no idea unless I didn’t know how to answer that question,” Baker-Kinney replied. “Now, I think I did by saying for 30 years I didn’t think about it. For 30 years I kept it pushed down inside me. For 30 years I didn’t want to, didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to hear about anyone else who might have said similar things.”
Baker-Kinney talked a bit more, and Mesereau replied by asking her again, “For 30 years you didn’t know you were raped until you heard other women claim they were raped?”
“No,” Baker-Kinney replied. “That is an incorrect statement.”
Mesereau pushed forward with another question. Baker-Kinney repeated what she had said before about how she she had avoided thinking about it for 30 years, then added, “Because I felt isolated in what had happened to me. Again the guilt and the shame come out and that I was to blame for what happened to me. I did the stereotype to myself.
“One day I see an article and it was like a light bulb went over my head because that’s like what happened to me. It still takes me everything within my being to say the words ‘I was raped’ because I still carry the guilt. So even if I knew I was raped the 30 years ago, back then there was no acquaintance rape or date rapes or anything like that ...”
Mesereau replied with, “Please just answer my question.”
Baker-Kinney said, “I thought I was.”
A similar exchange would happen, again, between Mesereau and Baker-Kinney over her 30-year delay in which Baker-Kinney said, “I blamed myself. I don’t know how many other ways I can say that. I blamed myself.” It only ended after an objection from prosecutors was sustained by O’Neill.
Mesereau went on to press Baker-Kinney about why she had a statement released through Allred. So far, Cosby’s defense lawyers have brought up Allred with both women who released statements through her—using it to mention that Allred once called for Cosby to create a $100 million fund for the women speaking out. It fits with a theme expressed in their opening statements: that everything about the Cosby accusers is just a cash grab.
Mesereau also probed Baker-Kinney about two times she briefly met another Cosby accuser, Andrea Constand. As she gave her answer, explaining one time was at the Women’s March, very briefly, and the other time was when Constand FaceTimed a mutual friend, she suddenly stopped and confronted Mesereau, asking, “Are you rolling your eyes at me?”
“Yes,” Mesereau replied.
Baker-Kinney then got back to answering the question, which ended with her stating unequivocally multiple times that she and Constand never talked about Cosby. Mesereau stopped asking her about it when O’Neill objected: “This has been asked before.”
There are many reasons women don’t report sexual assault to law enforcement, and Baker-Kinney’s testimony was a reminder of one of them—knowing a defense attorney will grill you about details of your life and seemingly every decision you made after your rape. Like this question on why Baker-Kinney kept a card from the time Cosby performed at Harrah’s:
Mesereau: “So you keep a souvenir from a man who sexually assaulted you.”
Baker-Kinney: “If you want to put it that way, but what I would say is ....”
Mesereau: “Just answer my question.”
Chelan Lasha underwent similar grilling about her delays in reporting to police, her guilty plea in 2007 for making a false report, and going to see Cosby perform after the date on which she has said Cosby sexually assaulted her.
I’m going to insert myself here, to talk for a moment about this line of questioning and where it comes from. Cosby’s lawyers don’t need to convince me, or you. They need to convince the jurors that women who say they were raped cannot be trusted because of the testimony they’ve elicited about drugs, alcohol, their mental health, their decision-making process, and every possible embarrassing detail of their lives. Defense lawyers do this type of questioning because it works. Their job is to, within the rules of the court, get an acquittal—and it’s a constitutional right anybody charged with a crime both has and deserves. Lawyers will only stop asking these things when juries stop being convinced by them. The jury has to decide not only about Cosby, but, in this post-Weinstein world, how much these types of questions matter.
Court resumes on Thursday, April 12, with more testimony from Baker-Kinney, on cross examination.