By Joseph Ax
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - The first witness to testify in Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial said on Monday that the comedian had drugged her before sexually abusing her in 1998 - the same method he is accused of using in the alleged 2004 attack that he is on trial for.
Cosby, who was once one of the most-beloved entertainers in the United States, is accused in both instances of inviting a young woman to visit him for career advice, offered her pills that he said would help her "relax" and then sexually abused her once she was incapacitated by the drug.
The 79-year-old entertainer is charged with sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, an employee of his alma mater Temple University, at his home in the Philadelphia suburbs in 2004.
Constand is one of dozens of women who have accused Cosby of sex assault but hers is the only case recent enough to be subject to criminal prosecution. The allegations have essentially ended Cosby's long career.
The first witness at his trial, Kelly Johnson, described an incident that she said took place at Cosby's hotel suite in Los Angeles in 1996. Her emotional testimony was intended to persuade jurors that Cosby demonstrated a pattern of behavior when he allegedly attacked Constand in 2004.
A tearful Johnson, who worked at the time for Cosby's agent, said she initially hid the pill under her tongue but that Cosby checked to see if she had swallowed it. She later woke up disoriented and partially clothed in Cosby's bed with the comedian behind her, grunting, before he forced her to touch his genitals, she testified.
"I was trying to say something," she said. "I don’t know if I was actually speaking."
Cosby has denied all the allegations related to the trial, as well as similar claims from more than 50 women dating to the 1960s.
His lawyer, Brian McMonagle, fired aggressive questions laced with sarcasm at Johnson. He claimed she offered much different details during a 1996 deposition, including that the assault occurred in 1990, six years earlier than she testified on Monday.
Cosby, once known as "America's dad" for his role as Heathcliff Huxtable on the 1980s hit TV series "The Cosby Show," walked into court on the arm of Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played his youngest daughter, the pigtailed Rudy Huxtable.
His wife and business manager, Camille Cosby, was not seen in court on Monday.
Like Johnson, Constand will testify that Cosby told her the pills he offered would help her "relax" before assaulting her, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden said in her opening statement on Monday.
In his opening statement, McMonagle said Cosby is the victim of false accusations. He pointed out that Constand's initial allegations were investigated in 2005 and found to be insufficient at that time.
"Today I get a chance, with your help, to right a wrong," he told jurors.
McMonagle made it clear he will take aim at Constand's credibility as he did Johnson's. He told jurors that Constand's story suffered from numerous inconsistencies in her accounts to police in 2005.
Constand, who did not report the alleged assault for nearly a year, said she had not maintained contact with Cosby after the incident. In fact, McMonagle said, she called him 53 times.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)