Prosecutors are trying Bill Cosby for an alleged 2004 sexual assault only so that a “bandwagon” of women can pursue old, unsubstantiated claims that the 79-year-old comedian drugged and assaulted them, a defence lawyer has told a court.
Lawyer Brian McMonagle asked a judge to prevent prosecutors from calling 13 of Cosby’s other accusers as witnesses at next year’s trial, saying uncertainty about where and when some of the sexual encounters took place made them impossible to defend against.
The women went public at the urging of “clever, cunning lawyers who had the agenda of bringing down an American icon”, he told Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill, who must determine whether some or all of the accusers will be permitted on the witness stand.
Prosecutors in Pennsylvania are trying to show that Cosby already had a long history of drugging and molesting women by the time of his 2004 encounter with Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home, the subject of the sexual assault case against him.
Mr McMonagle said prosecutors charged Cosby with attacking Ms Constand just as the statute of limitations was about to expire as a way of digging deep into his past and dredging up ancient allegations.
“This case has nothing to do with Andrea Constant,” Mr McMonagle argued. “This case was a way to try to vindicate what is a bandaged bandwagon of claims that have been put together in Pandora’s box.”
The case began a decade ago when Ms Constand, a Temple University employee, filed a police complaint against Cosby, her friend and mentor. A prosecutor at the time declined to file charges.
Authorities reopened the investigation last year after scores of women raised similar accusations and after Cosby’s damaging deposition testimony from Ms Constand’s lawsuit became public.
Mr O’Neill ruled last week that the deposition may be used at Cosby’s criminal trial, arming prosecutors with Cosby’s testimony about his affairs with young women, his use of quaaludes as a seduction tool and his version of the sexual encounter with Ms Constand.
Cosby’s lawyer said on Wednesday that Ms Constand has offered shifting accounts of the encounter, making comparisons with the other accusers impossible. Prosecutors must demonstrate substantial similarities in the accusers’ accounts to be able to call them to the witness stand.
Prosecutors have argued that sexual assault victims often recall more details in subsequent interviews, and they say the discrepancies in Ms Constand’s accounts are not material to the case.
But District Attorney Kevin Steele argued earlier on Wednesday that the other women should be allowed to testify, because their stories are so similar they show the “handiwork of the same perpetrator”.
Cosby befriended women who saw him as a mentor, knocked them out with pills and drinks and molested them, he said.
“This is a lifetime of sexual assault on young women,” he told the judge.
The judge must walk a fine line in weighing the accusers’ testimony, given a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Roman Catholic Church official’s child-endangerment conviction because the Philadelphia trial judge let too many priest abuse victims testify about the alleged church cover-up.
The defence has questioned the women’s motivation, noting many are clients of celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who has suggested Cosby should put up a 100 million US dollars settlement fund for potential sexual assault and defamation claims.
Ms Allred argues that her clients have a duty to testify if the court wants to hear from them. She called the defence’s dismissal of their accounts “out of context or just plain wrong”.