A judge ruled Thursday that five additional women can testify at Bill Cosby’s upcoming trial in Pennsylvania on charges of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, marking the first time in the #MeToo era that a celebrity will face multiple accusers in a courtroom.
The three counts of aggravated indecent assault against the comedian and star of the 1980s television hit “The Cosby Show” remain the same from last June when his first trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial. But attitudes about sexual assault have shifted since October when accusations of sexual misconduct by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein gave rise to a movement. Mr. Weinstein has admitted mistakes but denied allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Legal experts said the inclusion of additional accusers would make Mr. Cosby’s defense more difficult the second time around.
“The climate is so much more accepting of victims’ stories than it was even a year ago,” said Wes Oliver, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
Prosecutors sought to have 19 women who have alleged Mr. Cosby assaulted them testify to establish a pattern of “bad acts” at his retrial scheduled to begin April 2 in Montgomery County Court near Philadelphia.
On Thursday, Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled that prosecutors could select five women from the 19 to testify. Last June, the judge had permitted one additional accuser to testify of 13 that prosecutors had tried to include.
Prosecutors and Mr. Cosby’s defense team declined to comment for this article. Each count against Mr. Cosby carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Mr. Cosby’s attorneys argued this week in court filings that the additional accusations weren’t legally admissible under rules of evidence and would unfairly prejudice the jury. They noted that some alleged assaults date to the 1960s and would now be hard to defend against.
“This trial is about one issue—what occurred between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand during one night,” Mr. Cosby’s lawyers wrote in a court filing Tuesday. The case is “not about broader social issues impacting other people in other circumstances.”
Prosecutors say the 80-year-old Mr. Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in his home outside Philadelphia in 2004. Ms. Constand, 44 years old, met Mr. Cosby while he was a member of the Temple board of trustees.
Mr. Cosby has said he had a consensual sexual relationship with Ms. Constand and that he is innocent of the charges. On the night of the alleged assault, he said he gave her three Benadryl pills. Ms. Constand said the pills incapacitated her.
After Mr. Cosby’s first trial, several jurors said that among other things, they were divided about how to apply words like “unconscious” and “reasonable doubt” while deliberating.
Mr. Cosby’s lawyers have said in court filings that they want to call witnesses to dispute Ms. Constand’s prior statements that she didn’t have a romantic relationship with Mr. Cosby, who has been married tohis wife, Camille, for more than 50 years. Moreover, his attorneys have indicated they will contend that Ms. Constand made up her account to get money from Mr. Cosby.
Ms. Constand settled a civil lawsuit with Mr. Cosby in 2005 for an undisclosed amount.
Mr. Cosby’s new legal team, which was hired since the first trial, includes Los Angeles-based attorney Tom Mesereau, who successfully defended Michael Jackson from child molestation charges in 2005. Mr. Mesereau declined to comment.
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