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Why One Woman Testified Against Bill Cosby: ‘I Had the Strength’

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© Roger Kisby for The New York Times Lise-Lotte Lublin at home in Las Vegas on Thursday. She was one of several women to testify against Bill Cosby in the trial that ended with his conviction for sexual assault.

By CARA BUCKLEY, The New York Times

For many years Lise-Lotte Lublin thought of Bill Cosby as a fatherly figure, as much of the country did, though for her it was personal: He had been a mentor and friend who had once even referred to her as a daughter.

But three and a half years ago, she heard the former model Janice Dickinson’s account of having been drugged and assaulted by Mr. Cosby in 1982. The story had disturbing similarities with a strange episode Ms. Lublin recalled from 1989.

Slowly she came to the sickening conclusion that Mr. Cosby had drugged her and, she believes, sexually assaulted her, too.

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The realization launched Ms. Lublin, a schoolteacher in Las Vegas, on an extraordinary trajectory. By December 2014, she had joined the growing chorus of women who publicly counted themselves as Mr. Cosby’s victims. In 2015, she and her husband led a successful fight to change Nevada’s statute of limitations for sexual assault.

Then this month, she appeared in a Pennsylvania courtroom. Sitting on her hands because they were shaking so much, she became one of the few among Mr. Cosby’s dozens of accusers to face him again, helping secure his felony convictions on Thursday for sexually assaulting a former Temple University employee.

“I realized I had the strength to look in the face of somebody who would commit a crime like this,” Ms. Lublin, 51, said in a phone interview from her Las Vegas home. “I knew I was strong enough to say, ‘You won’t whip me, you won’t hold me down, and you won’t shut me up.’ ”

That the jury convicted Mr. Cosby on retrial, after a hung jury last summer, might be attributed in part to the new cultural awareness born out of the #MeToo movement. But in his remarks after the verdict, the Montgomery County district attorney, Kevin R. Steele, praised the witnesses for their courage, saying they were crucial to the case.

He also called each of them separately to convey his gratitude and, choking up, told Ms. Lublin that because she and the other witnesses had stepped up, they were able to win the case.

In 1989, Ms. Lublin was 23, living in Las Vegas, her hometown, and modeling to help pay for college when she was summoned by her agency to meet Mr. Cosby. Guessing he had seen her portfolio pictures, she went.

On their second meeting, she said, he invited her to his suite at the Las Vegas Hilton, because he wanted her to practice improvising, even though she wasn’t an actor. He gave her alcohol to relax, she said, and soon afterward she felt woozy and sick, like she might topple.

Mr. Cosby beckoned her over, she said, pulled her down between his legs, so that her back was against his groin, and began stroking her hair. Ms. Lublin remembers wondering why he was doing that, and that she couldn’t understand a word he was saying. She has a few fractured memories of being guided by him down a hallway of the suite, and then nothing, until she woke up at home in her bed.

Ms. Lublin was mortified, but not, at the time, because of anything Mr. Cosby might have done. “I looked at it as ‘Oh my god, Lisa, you got sick from alcohol; you don’t even remember how you got home,’” she said.

When Mr. Cosby reached out to her again, and even forged a friendship with her mother, she felt reassured: Maybe her blackout behavior hadn’t been that bad. Ms. Lublin said she and Mr. Cosby met several times after that — though never alone — and that at his urging, she began running at a track as he looked on.

When bystanders asked what Mr. Cosby was doing there, Ms. Lublin said he replied, “I’m out here with my daughter, Lisa.” (Lisa is the name she goes by.) Eventually they fell out of touch.

After Ms. Dickinson went public with her story late in 2014, Ms. Lublin began reconsidering what really happened at the hotel that night.

“I started to kind of accept that, yeah, something has happened to you,” she said. Her mother, outraged at feeling hoodwinked herself, began calling television shows, and Ms. Lublin found herself on “Dr. Phil,” publicly recounting her story for the first time.

It took her six weeks to muster the courage to file a police report, but when she did, a detective told her there was nothing they could do; too much time had passed.

Ms. Lublin felt like she had been punched, but then rebounded. “I’m a fighter,” she said. In 2015, she successfully urged Nevada legislators to extend the statute of limitations for bringing forward rape charges to 20 years from four years, though the change does not apply retroactively.

Ms. Lublin said she never hid what was going on from her children, a daughter who is now 11 and a son, now 13, or from her sixth-grade students, who sometimes came up after class, asking if it was her they had seen on TV. “Yes,” she said she replied, “And I’m working to change laws to protect you.”

When vicious online comments about her — detractors called her a “liar” and a “whore” — inevitably surfaced, one student wrote back, “Ms. Lublin’s my teacher, and she’s a wonderful person.”

In 2017, as prosecutors were preparing to try Mr. Cosby on charges of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, the former Temple employee, detectives contacted Ms. Lublin and told her she might be called as testify as a “prior bad acts” witness who could help prove a pattern of criminal behavior by Mr. Cosby.

“One of the reasons the district attorneys picked Lisa was when they heard her talking about him petting her hair,” her husband, Benjamin Lublin, said. “That was a marker for them.”

She wasn’t called for Mr. Cosby’s first trial. Then, in mid-March, just before the Lublins left for a spring break cruise to Mexico, the confirmation came. Ms. Lublin was going to be one of five women called to bolster Ms. Constand’s testimony. The district attorney’s office flew her and her husband to Philadelphia on a red-eye flight April 9.

A few days later, a detective picked them up from their hotel and drove them to the courthouse. They were deposited in a witness room, where they played with Turks, the russet Labrador therapy dog the prosecutors had brought in to soothe people’s nerves.

To further loosen things up, Mr. Lublin set up his Bluetooth speakers, began playing his favorite country singer, Jon Pardi, and pulled out a favorite card game, Sequence.

Early in the afternoon, a court officer came and escorted Ms. Lublin, her husband by her side, to a courtroom door near the jury box. Ms. Dickinson, who had just testified, emerged from the door. The pair embraced, and then Ms. Lublin stepped in.

“Just get safely to the podium, and don’t trip,” she told herself. The witness stand seat surprised her — it was like a bar stool with a back. She sat down, and began slowly scanning the courtroom. “Take this in,” she said to herself.

She spotted Gloria Allred, the lawyer who had handled some of Ms. Lublin’s publicity and represented many of Mr. Cosby’s accusers, including some in the courtroom, women Ms. Lublin had become close with over the years. She avoided meeting their eyes. “Locking eyes would expose my vulnerabilities, and I’d either cry or laugh,” she said.

She wanted to come across as calm and poised, and sat tall. Only after that did she see Mr. Cosby, far off to her left, in the corner, not looking her way. “He looked pitiful,” she said.

The only person she felt slightly intimidated by, she said, was Mr. Steele, the district attorney. “He’s got eyes of steel, too,” she said.

She suddenly got the chills, and felt herself quaking, so she shoved her hands under her thighs. “The shaking was uncontrollable,” she said, “but my mind was clear.”

A prosecutor, Kristen Gibbons Feden, questioned her for an hour, and then turned it over to one of Mr. Cosby’s lawyers, Kathleen Bliss.

Ms. Lublin had girded herself for a grilling, but compared with Ms. Bliss’s questioning of Ms. Dickinson, whom she would later call a “failed starlet,” Ms. Lublin said her own cross-examination felt almost toothless.

She said Ms. Bliss pressed for inconsistencies in Ms. Lublin’s old statements about changing Nevada’s statues and about meeting with Ms. Allred. Ms. Lublin found herself bickering with Ms. Bliss, getting snippy and worn down, but she never wavered. “The story doesn’t change when you tell the truth,” she said in the interview last week.

Ms. Lublin was back in her classroom of 25 sixth graders on Thursday when her husband called with news of the verdict. Hours later, at home, she still found herself stunned, and pacing. “At some point,” she said, “I just gotta let myself feel.”

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