Bill Cosby sex assault case starts in California

US actor Bill Cosby arrives at court in Norristown, Pennsylvania to face sentencing for sexual assault on Sep 24, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A trial against Bill Cosby began on Monday (May 23) in California, with a civil suit alleging the disgraced comedian sexually assaulted a teenage girl almost five decades ago.

Ms Judy Huth, 64, says Cosby attacked her at the Playboy Mansion in the mid-1970s when she was around 15 years old.

She says she suffered "psychological damage and mental anguish" as a result of the alleged assault.

The case is the latest in a raft of legal actions against Cosby, 84, who was once one of the most popular performers on American television.

He is best known for his role as the lovable husband and father in the sitcom The Cosby Show (1984 to 1992), earning him the nickname "America's Dad".

Dozens of women have said they suffered sexual assault at Cosby's hands.

Ms Huth's case was originally filed in 2014, but had been on hold while Cosby faced aggravated indecent assault charges in Pennsylvania.

Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman 17 years ago, but freed from his prison sentence after the state's supreme court ruled he had been denied a fair trial.

His release from prison - he had served more than two years of his three-to-10 year sentence - infuriated many advocates of the #MeToo movement.

His conviction was the first sexual assault guilty verdict against a celebrity since the advent of the worldwide reckoning against sexual violence and abuse of power.

But the court did not exonerate him and overturned the conviction on a technicality.

Judges wrote that a non-prosecution agreement between a former district attorney and Cosby over evidence he gave in a different civil case meant the actor should not have been criminally charged in the first place.

In the case that local broadcasters reported had started on Monday, Ms Huth claims she met Cosby on a film set, and days later was invited to his tennis club.

There, she says, he gave her alcohol and took her to the Playboy Mansion, where he forced her to perform a sex act.

Cosby has denied her version of events, as the defence leapt on apparent discrepancies in Ms Huth's claim.

The assault was initially alleged to have happened in 1974 when she was 15 years old, but more recently was said to have taken place a year later.

The case is being heard in Santa Monica, next to Los Angeles, and begins with jury selection.

Opening arguments are set for next week.

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