Bill Cosby’s lawyers are fighting to block a parade of women from giving evidence against him at his sexual assault retrial, calling them “ancient allegations” that would prejudice the jury against him.
Stung by a hung jury the first time around, prosecutors are pushing to widen the scope of Cosby’s April retrial to cast the 80-year-old comedian as one of the biggest serial predators in a Hollywood suddenly aware of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era.
The defence argued that prosecutors want to call as many as 19 other accusers to give evidence because they are desperate to bolster an otherwise weak case.
Cosby lawyer Becky James told a judge that none of the women should be allowed to tell their stories to a jury because that would subject Cosby to “multiple mini-trials”.
“Even one would be too prejudicial here,” she said. “The inference is too tempting to say, ‘He must’ve done it here, because he did it before’.”
Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted Andrea Constand, a Temple University women’s basketball administrator, while he was a powerful alumnus and trustee. He has said the encounter was consensual. He remains free on bail.
Prosecutors say they are trying to insulate Ms Constand from what they called the defence’s “inevitable attacks” on her credibility.
Of the other potential witnesses prosecutors want to call, the oldest allegation against Cosby dates to 1965 and the most recent is from 1990 or 1996, at least eight years before prosecutors say he assaulted Ms Constand.
The allegations are impossible to defend against, Ms James argued.
“It’s not about what happened 50 years ago. It’s not about what happened with other people,” she said. “The jury has to be focused on that one issue.”
Pennsylvania allows prosecutors to present evidence of alleged past misdeeds if they demonstrate the defendant engaged in a signature pattern of crime.
Prosecutors argue Cosby used his power and appeal as a beloved entertainer to befriend younger women, then plied them with drugs or alcohol before assaulting them.
Prosecutor Adrienne D Jappe said the other accusers show that Cosby had a long history of sexual misconduct.
“I didn’t pick the 19,” Ms Jappe said. “The defendant picked the 19.”
Judge Steven O’Neill said on Monday he would not rule on whether to allow the evidence by the end of the two-day hearing, calling it an “extraordinarily weighty issue” that he needs time to review.
He allowed just one other accuser to take the stand at Cosby’s first trial last year, barring any mention of about 60 others who have come forward to accuse Cosby in recent years.