NORRISTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA • Bill Cosby, the comedian and television star who faces charges that he drugged and molested a woman he once mentored at his suburban Philadelphia home more than a decade ago, will be tried starting on June 5, a Pennsylvania judge ruled on Tuesday.
The long-awaited trial will take place about 18 months after criminal charges of sexual assault were first filed against Cosby, who is accused of assaulting Ms Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee.
Judge Steven T. O'Neill said that he would consider a motion filed by the prosecution to allow as evidence accounts from 13 other women who say they were drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby, in episodes stretching from the 1960s through the 1990s.
In Pennsylvania law, as in most states, there is a general rule against admitting evidence from other cases in which no crime has been charged because it could prejudice a trial. But under Pennsylvania's "prior bad acts" exemption, the judge can allow such evidence - for instance, if the other behaviour demonstrates a "common scheme or plan", a kind of unique fingerprint of the defendant's behaviour.
In a statement on Tuesday, a spokesman for Cosby, Mr Andrew Wyatt, attacked lawyers for accusing the entertainer "of crimes for unwitnessed events that allegedly occurred almost a half-century earlier", and the news media for repeating the accusations.
Cosby, 79, who has denied all charges, "is not giving up the fight for his rights", Mr Wyatt said.
Judge O'Neill, who said he would set dates to hear arguments on the "prior bad acts" motion before the trial, called the list of the 13 women "the elephant in the room".
District Attorney Kevin Steele said after the hearing that the unnamed women had all agreed to appear as witnesses. Details of their claims, outlined in the prosecutors' motion, match those of several women who have come forward publicly.
Those accusers include Heidi Thomas, an aspiring actress; Linda Kirkpatrick, who played tennis with Cosby in Las Vegas; Margie Shapiro, a former doughnut shop employee; and Rebecca Lynn Neal, a masseuse.
The women will probably be the subject of strenuous investigations by news organisations, given what the judge said was "acute national interest" in the case. The court will also hear arguments on two other defence motions: to suppress a deposition testimony made by Cosby during a civil suit brought against him by Ms Constand in 2005, and to not allow into evidence a recording of a phone call between Cosby and Ms Constand's mother.
NEW YORK TIMES