By David DeKok

 

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - Bill Cosby's lawyer opened the defense's case in his sexual assault trial by portraying his accuser as a "con artist" bent on extorting money from the famed comedian, saying she concocted a false story to pay for her education and set up a business.

 

"She was madly in love with his fame and money. She's now a multimillionaire because she pulled it off," defense attorney Thomas Mesereau said of Andrea Constand, 44, who won a $3.4 million settlement from Cosby in a civil lawsuit in 2006.

 

The 80-year-old entertainer, once known as the wise and witty father in the 1980s television hit "The Cosby Show," is facing his second criminal trial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting Constand in 2004.

 

His first trial ended in June with the jury unable to reach a verdict. Unlike then, the new jury was told Cosby agreed to the settlement. The prosecution revealed the information on Monday during its opening statement.

In between trials, U.S. popular culture was shaken by the #MeToo movement, which encouraged an increasing number of women to step forward with stories of sexual harassment or assault at the hands of the rich and powerful.

Before the advent of #MeToo, some 50 women accused Cosby of assault, many alleging, as Constand did, that he drugged them beforehand. All the accusations except Constand's were too old to be the subject of criminal prosecution.

Cosby has denied wrongdoing, saying any sexual contact was consensual. If convicted of aggravated indecent assault, he could face 10 years in prison.

Even after the alleged assault in January 2004, Constand called Cosby as many as 60 times and visited his home alone, said Mesereau, who successfully defended Michael Jackson against child molestation charges.

After the defense laid out its case, the prosecution called its first witness to explain why a sexual assault victim might behave that way.

Forensic psychiatrist Barbara Ziv said public understanding of rape is rife with myths, such as erroneous beliefs that victims are to blame, that they fight back, or that they report the assault quickly to police.

Ziv said victims are especially conflicted when their assailant is someone they knew and trusted.

"I would challenge you to find one victim of sexual assault who is not humiliated by the fact they were sexually assaulted, who does not blame themselves in some way, and who is not deeply ashamed of it," she said.

(Reporting by David DeKok; Writing by Daniel Trotta; editing by Jonathan Oatis)