Judge allows 5 more Bill Cosby accusers to testify at retrial

Disgraced comedian Bill Cosby has repeatedly denied assaulting anyone, saying all the encounters were consensual.
Disgraced comedian Bill Cosby has repeatedly denied assaulting anyone, saying all the encounters were consensual. PHOTO: AFP

STROUDSBURG (Reuters) - Five women who have accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them will be allowed to testify at his upcoming retrial on charges of sexually assaulting a former friend, a Pennsylvania judge ruled on Thursday (March 15), in a victory for prosecutors.

The decision by Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill will likely have a major influence on the second trial of Cosby. The 80-year-old is accused of attacking Andrea Constand, now 44, at his home near Philadelphia between Dec 30, 2003, and Jan 20, 2004.

His first trial in June in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, Pennsylvania, ended in a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict following six days of deliberations. Jury selection begins March 29 in the same court.

Constand, a former administrator of the women's basketball team at Temple University in Philadelphia, Cosby's alma mater, is one of more than 50 women who have accused him of sexual assaults, some dating back decades. All the claims but Constand's are too old to be the subject of criminal prosecution.

Prior to the allegations, Cosby was best known to Americans for his starring role as a beloved TV dad in the 1980s hit The Cosby Show. He has repeatedly denied assaulting anyone, saying all the encounters were consensual.

His spokesman Andrew Wyatt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors had sought to call 19 other accusers as witnesses to show the incident fit a pattern of criminal behaviour. Like many other alleged victims, Constand has said Cosby gave her an intoxicant that left her disoriented and unable to stop his advances.

O'Neill said prosecutors could select five women from the eight accusers whose allegations are most recent, ranging from 1982 to 1996. Defense lawyers had argued that accusations dating back to 1965 were so old that they would be impossible to counter, given Cosby's age.

The accusers were not named in court documents, but the descriptions of their accounts match those of several women who have come forward publicly, including model and television personality Janice Dickinson.

The judge allowed one other accuser to testify at Cosby's first trial.

A defendant's history usually is not admissible as evidence that he committed a particular crime, but prosecutors mounted an aggressive push to add additional accusers to the witness list, citing a legal concept known as the Doctrine of Chances. The doctrine essentially says that the more often the same person is accused of the same crime with the same set of circumstances, the less likely that the accused was innocently involved in those situations.

Cosby's lawyers argued that permitting other accusers to testify would unfairly prejudice jurors, especially against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged millions of women to share their experiences of sexual abuse or harassment.

Additional information from WP