A federal jury yesterday convicted a young woman charged with trying to extort $40 million (£27 million) from black actor Bill Cosby by threatening to sell a story claiming that she is his illegitimate daughter. Autumn Jackson (22), was charged with threatening to ruin Cosby's reputation by offering to sell her story to the Globe supermarket tabloid if she did not receive money from the actor.
The Manhattan federal jury, made up of seven men and five women, began deliberating on Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday, as the guilty verdict was returned, Jackson was left sobbing uncontrollably in the court room.
Jackson was on trial with two others, Jose Medina (51), and Boris Sabas, also known as Boris Shmulevich (42). They were named in a three-count indictment charging them with conspiracy, extortion and violating the federal law that prohibits the use of interstate commerce to commit crimes.
The indictment charges that the scheme began in late December and lasted until January 18th. Jackson and Medina were arrested just two days after Cosby's only son Ennis (28) was shot dead in Los Angeles. Federal prosecutors have said there was no evidence the scheme was connected to the January 16th murder.
Medina was also convicted on all counts, while Sabas was found guilty of all but the extortion charge.
District Judge Barbara Jones had instructed the jury that Cosby's paternity was irrelevant in the case and that the real issue was whether the defendants committed extortion. Cosby testified he had sex once with Jackson's mother, Shawn Thompson, but denied being Autumn's father.
She also said it was irrelevant whether the defendant was owed money. The key issue is whether the defendants conspired to extort money from Cosby by threatening to ruin the actor's reputation.
During the trial, prosecutors had introduced as evidence letters addressed to President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, the Rev Jesse Jackson, Cosby's publisher, CBS, and Cosby's television sponsors. In some letters she threatened to expose the actor as a "deadbeat dad" unless she received money.
The court discovered that the actor had already paid $40,000 towards Jackson's education and given her mother a total of $100,000 in the ensuing years since their brief affair.
He told them he had suffered 22 years of "psychological torment" and been paying "hush money" to preserve his image as a good family man.
As the creator and star of The Cosby Show, which focuses on traditional family values, he has always made a public issue of only accepting advertising contracts which he claimed reflected honourable family values, such as Ford cars, Kodak and Jell-O.
Jackson will be sentenced in October. Though it is expected the judge may be lenient, she faces a maximum term of 12 years in jail.