NORRISTOWN >> Five additional women who accuse Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct can testify for prosecutors at the actor’s upcoming retrial on charges he sexually assaulted one woman at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004, a judge has ruled.
Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled Thursday that prosecutors “shall be permitted to present evidence…regarding five prior bad acts of its choosing” from a list of eight other accusers who alleged sexual misconduct by Cosby between the years 1982 and 1996.
The judge added that he “would have the authority to dictate how many cumulative witnesses may testify” but cannot “dictate which of those witnesses the commonwealth may call to prove its case.”
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele sought the judge’s permission to allow 19 other accusers to testify when Cosby stands trial on charges he had inappropriate sexual contact with Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, at his Cheltenham home after plying her with blue pills and wine sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004.
During Cosby’s first trial last June, which ended in a mistrial after two weeks of testimony and deliberations, O’Neill permitted only one other alleged accuser to testify. Now that five other women will be permitted to testify, the retrial set to begin April 2 will likely last much longer.
Steele and co-prosecutors Adrienne Jappe, M. Stewart Ryan and Kristen Feden argued during a pretrial hearing last week that the testimony of the other accusers is “strikingly similar” to Constand’s claims and should be admissible as evidence against Cosby.
Prosecutors argued the testimony of the other accusers is relevant “to establish a common plan, scheme or design” for the jury and “to establish that an individual, who over the course of decades intentionally intoxicated women in a signature fashion and then sexually assaulted them while they were incapacitated, could not have been mistaken about whether or not Ms. Constand was conscious enough to consent to the sexual abuse.”
But Cosby’s defense team, led by Los Angeles lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr., argued none of the other accusers should be permitted to testify, claiming the women’s accusations are “ancient” and prejudicial and that such testimony would result in “multiple mini-trials.”
Mesereau and co-defense lawyers Kathleen Bliss, Becky James and Lane L. Vines also suggested allowing any of the 19 other accusers to testify at a time when the current #MeToo movement against sexual harassment is sweeping the social climate would be unfair to Cosby.
Defense lawyers suggested the prosecution’s case “is so weak” that prosecutors are desperate to salvage it with the testimony of other women who accuse Cosby of misconduct. The other accusations are not corroborated, James argued, claiming the women also have shared their stories with one another to the point their recollections are tainted or manipulated and are not reliable.
Many of the women, according to defense lawyers, did not come forward until more than a decade after the prosecution’s highly publicized 2005 investigation of Constand’s allegations.
O’Neill’s ruling to allow five other accusers to testify is considered a major decision in the case.
Legal insiders believe the key to the prosecution’s case against Cosby is the admissibility of evidence involving accusers who came forward after Constand’s allegations came to light.
During Cosby’s first trial last June on charges he sexually assaulted Constand, O’Neill allowed prosecutors to present the testimony of only one “prior alleged victim,” Kelley Johnson.
Johnson, 55, accused Cosby of engaging in sexual misconduct with her in 1996. Johnson testified she met Cosby around 1990 through her employment working as an assistant to Cosby’s personal appearance agent at the William Morris Agency.
Johnson also is included in the list of other accusers that prosecutors can call to testify at the upcoming retrial.
At the first trial, Steele had asked the judge to allow a total of 13 other accusers to testify, but O’Neill ruled on Feb. 24, 2017, that 12 of the women could not testify, opening the door to only Johnson’s testimony.
When Steele sought a retrial he asked O’Neill to reconsider his earlier ruling, arguing a decision by a state court in a homicide case, “that was decided after” O’Neill’s February 2017 ruling, determined that certain “prior bad acts evidence” is admissible at a trial.
The other four alleged accusers who the judge is allowing to testify during the retrial are among six who are being proffered to the court by prosecutors for the first time.
William Henry Cosby Jr., as his name appears on charging documents, faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault in connection with allegations he had inappropriate sexual contact with Constand. Cosby has maintained his contact with Constand was consensual.
Cosby, 80, remains free on 10 percent of $1 million bail, pending the retrial.
Cosby faces a possible maximum sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The case represents the first time Cosby, who played Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992, has been charged with a crime despite allegations from dozens of women, some of whom have filed civil suits, who claimed they were assaulted by the entertainer.
The newspaper does not normally identify victims of sex crimes without their consent but is using Constand’s name because she has identified herself publicly.