BALTIMORE • It is round one to prosecutors in the Bill Cosby sexassault case after a judge on Thursday ruled that five previous accusers can be called as witnesses in an effort to establish a pattern of alleged predatory behaviour.
The decision by Judge Steven O'Neill stated that prosecutors can choose five women among the eight making the most recent allegations dating back to 1982.
The decision has the potential to completely reshape the case, which is set to hear testimony on April 2 in a retrial. At the first trial in June last year, which ended in a mistrial, prosecutors were hampered in their efforts to paint Cosby as a serial abuser because the judge allowed only one accuser to testify.
But this time, prosecutors mounted an aggressive push to add accusers to the witness list. In a contentious hearing earlier this month, Cosby's lawyer argued that allowing a large number of accusers to testify would amount to creating a series of "mini-trials" that would unfairly prejudice the jury against the comedian.
The 80-year-old is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Ms Andrea Constand, a former Temple University basketball official, in 2004. A mistrial was declared in June last year after jurors said they were deadlocked following more than 50 hours of deliberation.
Among the witnesses that prosecutors could call is a Harrah's Reno bartender who said Cosby sexually assaulted her at a Nevada home in 1982 after insisting that she take two pills. She said she lost consciousness only to awake to discover evidence of sex.
Another possible witness is described as a successful model whom Cosby flew to Lake Tahoe in 1982, ostensibly to offer career guidance. She said she became "immobilised" after taking a pill he gave her.
At least 60 women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. But prosecutors have focused on those whose claims follow a pattern of mentorship, followed by drugging and sexual assault. Ms Constand had testified that Cosby took a special interest in assisting her career.