William Cosby of East St. Louis, convicted of murder in the court of heroin addict Michael Cook, cleared his name and won his freedom in a new trial with a sober judge.
St. Clair County jurors found Cosby not guilty in the death of Antwan “Twix” Thomas on Dec. 19, after four days of testimony before Circuit Judge Robert Haida.
Cosby took the witness stand, a rare move for a murder defendant, and testified he was afraid for his safety.
When defense lawyer Lloyd Cueto asked him why he shot Thomas, he told jurors, “Because I didn’t want him to shoot me.”
A gun expert for the state, describing Cosby’s 38 Special, tipped the jury toward Cosby instead, after defense counsel Justin Kuehn asked him to describe an AK-47.
Jurors had heard that after Cosby shot Thomas, friends of Thomas with AK-47s fired into the home of Cosby’s father and two other homes.
The expert described an AK-47 in chilling detail and added that the Taliban uses it.
At closing argument Kuehn said, “I find it strange that Antwan Thomas’s friends had quick access to AK-47’s.”
Trial ended at 11 a.m. on Friday. Jurors returned the verdict at 3 p.m.
Cosby shot Thomas in 2012, at the entrance to Yogi’s nightclub, in front of witnesses.
State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly charged Cosby with first degree murder, and public defender Charles Baricevic chose not to plead self defense.
Cook held trial in April 2013, while drug agents prepared a criminal case against him.
A month earlier, Joe Christ had died of cocaine intoxication at Cook’s hunting lodge.
Jurors convicted Cosby, who returned to county jail to await his sentence.
Baricevic moved for a new trial on May 15, 2013, assigning various errors to Cook.
On May 22, 2013, agents arrested Cook and charged him with heroin possession.
Chief Judge John Baricevic, father of Cosby’s lawyer, assigned Cosby’s case to Haida.
A friend of Cosby’s family, Lee Griffin of Belleville, advised Cosby to file another motion for a new trial due to Cook’s addiction.
He drafted a motion that Cosby filed from jail on Aug. 22, 2013, seeking to discharge Baricevic.
The motion stated that Baricevic refused to raise issues of Cook’s “conduct, demeanor, impatience and obvious drug problem while presiding over this case.”
Cosby didn’t know that Baricevic had already amended the new trial motion.
Baricevic wrote that “criminal activity may have occurred during the course of trial.”
Haida denied Cosby’s motion to withdraw Baricevic.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Baricevic wrote, “The defendant cannot point to a specific instance when Judge Cook was on drugs. The defendant is neither an expert nor familiar with addicts.”
Next day, Haida ordered a new trial “in the interest of justice.” He set it for April 21, 2014.
Cosby asked for a new lawyer again in December 2013, with Griffin’s help, pleading that Baricevic would not argue self defense and would not communicate with his family.
Haida denied the request, but Cueto entered an appearance as Baricevic’s assistant and served notice that Cosby would plead self defense.
Four days before the scheduled start of the trial, Baricevic and assistant state’s attorney Deb Phillips agreed to postpone it.
Cosby moved for a new lawyer again on Aug. 6, stating that Baricevic expressed hate for his family.
Haida did not grant Cosby’s motion, but chief public defender John O’Gara granted his wish.
O’Gara removed Baricevic and replaced him with Kuehn.
Trial started on Dec. 16, and Cosby’s lawyers poked holes in testimony of state’s witnesses.
A witness swore that Cosby uttered an angry death threat with the f-word in it, but no one else heard it and she didn’t tell police about it at the time.
A female witness testified in a canary yellow jail suit. A juror looked straight at her and shook his head.
Text messages that Cosby sent as he fled to Indiana didn’t help the state's case either.
Phillips translated them as a plan to get away with murder, but Cosby’s lawyers drew out testimony that they might show fear of Thomas’s friends rather than fear of capture.
On Dec. 18, Phillips rested her case.
Haida sent jurors out and asked Cosby if he wanted to testify. Kuehn said he did.
Jurors returned to find Cosby on the stand.
Answering Cueto, he told jurors he was at Yogi’s, he went there about twice a week, and he didn’t really want to go there that night.
When asked how long he had known Twix, Cosby said, “About half my life.”
“He was a bully," weighing about 250 pounds, Cosby said.
Cueto asked if he ever saw Twix carry a weapon. Cosby said twice.
Cueto asked if he kept it in a holster. Cosby said he kept it in his waistband.
Cueto asked if the two of them ever fought. Cosby said they did, around 2009.
Jurors had heard that Thomas grew jealous of attention Cosby paid to his girlfriend.
Cueto asked Cosby if he was aware of a relationship between Twix and the woman.
“Yes, he was angry," Cosby said. "From out of nowhere I got sucker punched.”
He said multiple people attacked him, and that a bouncer broke up the fight.
“I was terrified,” he said.
He testified that Twix was told to leave and he did.
Cueto said, “After this fight was it your intention to kill Antwan Thomas?” Cosby said no.
Cueto asked what happened leading up to the shooting near the entrance.
“I see Twix," Cosby said. "He sees me. He goes reaching in his waistband.”
"You think he’s coming in for you?” Cueto asked. Cosby said yes.
“What do you think he will do?” Cueto asked.
“To grab his gun and shoot me," Cosby said.
“Why did you shoot him?” Cueto said.
“I didn’t want him to shoot me,” Cosby said.
When Phillips cross examined Cosby she asked, "You didn’t see him with a gun that night?” He said no.
She asked if Thomas ever came after him, after the fight in 2009. He said no.
“You never called 911, did you?” she said. Cosby said no.
“You didn’t turn yourself in, did you?” Phillips said. Cosby said no.
She asked if he rubbed elbows with a woman knowing Thomas was jealous. He said yes.
"He never pulled a gun?” Phillips said. Cosby said no.
On re-direct, Cueto asked Cosby how much time he had to react when Twix reached to his waistband.
“Seconds,” he said.
"Did you expect to see him?” Cosby said no.
After four hours of deliberations, jurors set Cosby free. He joined his family later that day, Griffin said on Dec. 22.
Cosby had spent almost 1,000 days in county jail.