Friday 20 September 2019

Cosby jokes in court as judge to decide if sex accusers can testify

Bill Cosby at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Philadelphia. Photo: Matt Rourke/PA
Bill Cosby at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Philadelphia. Photo: Matt Rourke/PA

Maryclare Dale in Philadelphia

Bill Cosby greeted security officers with a joke before a hearing in his sexual assault case, quipping, "Don't tase me, bro" as they pointed him on his way into a suburban Philadelphia courtroom.

The prosecution plans to call 13 other sexual assault accusers to show that the 79-year-old comedian and actor had a pattern of drugging and molesting women. The defence will attack their credibility and relevance as they try to keep them off the witness stand at the trial, scheduled for the spring.

"To come up with the required showing of a 'signature', the commonwealth reaches for a cliché: a giant in the entertainment industry using his power to take advantage of young aspiring actresses. Even if proven . . . the age-old 'casting couch' is not unique to Mr Cosby," defence lawyer Brian McMonagle wrote in an October defence brief opposing the testimony.

That "prior bad act" evidence could make or break the case, which began a decade ago when Temple University employee Andrea Constand filed a police complaint against her friend and mentor over a 2004 encounter at Mr Cosby's home near Philadelphia. A prosecutor at the time declined to file charges.

But authorities reopened the case last year after scores of women raised similar accusations and after Mr Cosby's damaging deposition testimony from Constand's lawsuit became public.

The trial judge last week said the deposition was fair game at trial, arming prosecutors with Mr Cosby's own testimony about his affairs with young women, his use of quaaludes as a seduction tool and his version of the sexual encounter with Ms Constand the night in question.

Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill must now rule on the testimony from the 13 other accusers in the hearing, which began yesterday and will continue today.

Mr Cosby's lawyers had hoped to question the women in person, but Judge O'Neill rejected the idea. He will instead hear what are sure to be strenuous arguments from both sides about their accounts.

Some of the women had ongoing friendships or romantic relationships with Mr Cosby, while others knew him for only a few days. Some, like Ms Constand, took pills knowingly - she thought it was an herbal drug; he later said it was Benadryl - while others believe he slipped something stronger in their drinks.

Mr McMonagle has petitioned to ask each accuser as many as 80 questions as he tries to defend what he calls decades-old, vague accusations that were never vetted at the time. The defence has also questioned the women's motivation, noting many are clients of celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who has suggested Cosby should put up a $100m (€97m) settlement fund for potential claims.

Ms Allred said last week that her clients have a duty to testify if the court wants to hear from them.

She called the defence's dismissal of their accounts "out of context or just plain wrong".

Judge O'Neill must walk a fine line in weighing their testimony, given a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Roman Catholic Church official's child-endangerment conviction because the Philadelphia trial judge let too many priest-abuse victims testify.

Irish Independent

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