Comedian Bill Cosby’s defence team has urged a judge to bar 19 accusers from testifying at his upcoming sexual assault retrial, saying the burgeoning MeToo movement against sexual harassment would unfairly prejudice a jury against him.
Lawyers for the actor, best known for his starring role in the 1980s TV hit The Cosby Show, said the 19 women should be blocked from testifying to ensure Cosby receives a fair retrial on charges he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former administrator of the women’s basketball team at his alma mater, Temple University.
“The purpose would just be to enrage the jury beyond what is going on outside the courtroom with the MeToo movement and other things that have nothing to do with Mr Cosby at all,” defence lawyer Becky James told Judge Steven O’Neill on Tuesday during the second day of a pre-trial hearing in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
“In that environment, allowing the 19 to testify would be hugely prejudicial,” she said of the retrial slated to begin with jury selection on March 29.
Mr Cosby, 80, is accused of sexually assaulting Ms Constand, 44, at his home near Philadelphia between December 30, 2003 and January 20, 2004.
Ms Constand is one of more than 50 women who have accused him of assaults dating back decades; all accusations but hers are too old to be the subject of criminal prosecution.
Mr Cosby has repeatedly denied assaulting anyone, saying any sexual encounter was consensual. His first criminal trial ended in a mistrial in June.
Mr O’Neill allowed one of the 19 women to testify in that trial. In general, a defendant’s history is not admissible as evidence that he or she committed a particular crime.
The Cosby case qualifies as an exception, prosecutors argued, because the way he abused the 19 women was repetitive and consistent.
“Nineteen prior bad acts are needed to demonstrate that these events are not random and remote,” Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Jappe said in her rebuttal argument on Tuesday.
Mr O’Neill said he was unlikely to make a decision on the request on Tuesday, needing time to review evidence.
As the morning hearing ran into its second hour without a break, Mr O’Neill broke with his normal practice to say that anyone who needed to leave the courtroom to use the restroom would be allowed to return, adding, “I don’t see anyone squirming.”
“I’m squirming,” Mr Cosby said. “But it’s OK.”