SANTA MONICA, Calif. — A jury on Tuesday found that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted Judy Huth in 1975, when as a 16-year-old girl she accepted his invitation to join him at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
The decision by the jury once again tarnished the reputation of a man whose standing as one of America’s most beloved entertainers dissolved as dozens of women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct.
As part of its decision, the jury awarded Ms. Huth $500,000 in compensatory damages, but declined to award punitive damages.
Beyond its significance to Ms. Huth, who first came forward with her accusations in 2014, the verdict offered a degree of satisfaction for many of the women who for years have accused Mr. Cosby of similar abuse. The Huth case, for them, offered a second chance at getting public vindication of their accounts after Mr. Cosby’s criminal conviction in the Andrea Constand case was overturned by an appellate panel last year on due process grounds.
Many of the accusers had been time-barred from filing their own suits because they had not come forward at the time when they said Mr. Cosby had attacked them. But Ms. Huth’s suit was able to move forward because the jury agreed she was a minor at the time, and California law extends the time frame in which people molested as children can file a civil claim.
After the verdict was announced, and the jury dismissed, Ms. Huth hugged her lawyers.
“I feel good, I feel vindicated.” Ms. Huth said.
The verdict was a damaging setback for Mr. Cosby who, upon his release after serving nearly three years in prison, had promoted the appeals court decision as a full exoneration, an overstatement now overshadowed by a finding that reinforces an image of him as a person who wielded his celebrity to take advantage of women.
Mr. Cosby has consistently denied the accounts of all of the women, asserting that, if he had sexual encounters with anyone, it had always been consensual. He invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and did not attend the trial. But parts of his deposition, which was videotaped several years ago, were played for the jurors and they heard him say he had no recollection of ever meeting Ms. Huth.
The 12-person jury was not unanimous in its findings and voted 9 to 3 to award Ms. Huth the compensatory damages. After the jury was dismissed, one juror, Aldo Reyna, 25, explained why he decided in her favor.
“Given the time frame, you have to go on somebody’s word,” he said in an interview. “Either you believe them, or you don’t. I believed her on the stand.”
Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer for Mr. Cosby, claimed some victory in the fact that the jury had decided against awarding punitive damages.
“We do feel some relief,” she said. “Finding no punitive damages was a significant win for us.”
A spokesman for Mr. Cosby, Andrew Wyatt, said the entertainer would appeal.
“Mr. Cosby continues to maintain his innocence,” Mr. Wyatt said in a statement, “and will vigorously fight these false accusations, so that he can get back to bringing the pursuit of happiness, joy and laughter to the world.”
The jury, which began deliberating Thursday, heard 10 days of testimony during which Ms. Huth, now 64, told of how a chance meeting with Mr. Cosby while he filmed a movie in a local park eventually led her to an isolated bedroom in the Playboy Mansion. In often emotional testimony, she described how a famous man she had once admired, whose comedy records her father collected, tried to put his hand down her pants and then forced her to perform a sex act on him.
“I had my eyes closed at that point,” Ms. Huth said in court. “I was freaking out.”
Afterward, she said, she was “mad — I felt duped, fooled. I was let down. I was hurt.”
The Playboy encounter occurred several days after Ms. Huth and a friend, Donna Samuelson, met Mr. Cosby as he filmed a scene for a movie, “Let’s Do It Again,” in a park in San Marino, Calif., not far from their homes.
Ms. Huth and Ms. Samuelson testified that Mr. Cosby invited them several days later to his tennis club and then to a house where he was staying, where they played billiards, he gave them alcohol and got them to follow him in their car to the Playboy Mansion, where he told them to say they were 19 if anyone asked their age.
Mr. Cosby, 84, denied Ms. Huth’s allegations, with his lawyer Jennifer Bonjean describing her account as “a complete and utter fabrication.” Though the jury was shown photographs of Mr. Cosby with Ms. Huth at the Playboy Mansion, taken by Ms. Samuelson, Mr. Cosby said in the deposition that he takes pictures with a lot of people and his lawyer suggested Ms. Huth had made up the assault and coordinated with her friend to make money.
Ms. Bonjean pointed out that Ms. Huth, by her own account, had spent hours at the mansion after what Ms. Huth had described as a callous molestation, swimming in the pool and ordering cocktails. And she challenged Ms. Huth’s explanation for why she had not spoken about the episode in the months and years afterward, questioning whether Ms. Huth had really repressed a terrible experience or whether she simply came forward with an accusation to join others who were providing accounts of misconduct by Mr. Cosby at that time.
Ms. Huth said she had simply buried the traumatic experience for years.
“It’s like trash,” she said. “You dig a hole and throw trash in it.”
The jury sided with Ms. Huth. But its decision came after lengthy deliberations punctuated by multiple questions from jurors who sought guidance on how to interpret the language of questions on a verdict sheet they were given as a guide. The process was further complicated when the jury forewoman had to be excused after the second day of deliberations. The panel, which reported it was close to a verdict on Friday, had to take on an alternate and was told to start over.
As the trial progressed, Mr. Wyatt increasingly criticized the judge and one of Ms. Huth’s lawyers, Gloria Allred. Mr. Wyatt said the judge had unfairly favored Ms. Huth and he objected when Ms. Allred made an acknowledgment of Juneteenth in court, releasing a statement that she was exploiting the memory of “enslaved people” even as she helped a suit against Mr. Cosby, whom he called “Black America’s Icon.”
After the verdict, Ms. Allred congratulated Ms. Huth on persevering through a long legal battle.
“She has demonstrated so much courage and made so many sacrifices to win justice,” Ms. Allred said. “She won real change. She fought Bill Cosby and won.”
Ms. Huth’s was the first civil case accusing Mr. Cosby of sexual assault to reach trial. He had been sued by other women, many of whom said he had defamed them after his legal team dismissed their allegations as fictions. Eleven civil cases ended in settlements, with 10 of the settlements having been agreed to by Mr. Cosby’s former insurance company over his objections, his spokesman said.
Ms. Huth’s case had largely been put on hold while prosecutors in Pennsylvania pursued Mr. Cosby on criminal charges that he had drugged and sexually assaulted Ms. Constand, a former Temple University employee.
One remaining civil case was filed last year by Lili Bernard, an actor and visual artist, who accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her at a hotel in Atlantic City in 1990, when she was 26. Mr. Cosby has denied her account, and the case is still in its early stages.
Ms. Bernard was one of several women who have accused Mr. Cosby of abusing them sexually who attended the trial in Santa Monica on some days in support of Ms. Huth. She praised the verdict, saying, it “goes way beyond Cosby survivors.”
“Judy Huth is a hero!” she said. “Her coming forward inspired others to find their voices.”