By MARYCLAIRE DALE
PHILADELPHIA — A crucial pretrial hearing set for next month in Bill Cosby’s criminal sex-assault case will determine whether jurors hear from 13 other accusers and see the damaging testimony he gave in a 2005 civil case.
Prosecutors in suburban Philadelphia hope to call the other women to try to show that the actor-comedian has been drugging and molesting women since the 1960s. Defense lawyers have promised a showdown over their testimony, arguing that the blind, 79-year-old Cosby can no longer even recognize the women, least yet recall details of any encounters.
“Because of the commonwealth’s delay, Mr. Cosby can no longer defend himself,” defense lawyers Brian McMonagle and Angela Agrusa wrote last week in a motion to dismiss the charges. “Compounding the problem are the vague allegations of many of the accusers about the time and place of the alleged incidents.”
The criminal case involves only a single 2004 encounter with Andrea Constand, who met Cosby at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was a famous booster and trustee and she managed the women’s basketball team. Her lawyer said she was dating a woman at the time and went to Cosby’s home for advice about a career change.
Cosby, in a 2006 deposition, said they engaged in consensual “petting” that included digital penetration. Cosby also acknowledged giving her three unlabeled blue pills for stress. Constand said she thought it was herbal medication until they left her in a stupor.
Cosby’s felony sex-assault trial is scheduled for June 5 in Norristown, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The pretrial hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1 to Nov. 2.
Common Pleas Judge Steven T. O’Neill in the coming months must decide whether Cosby’s deposition is fair game at trial; whether Cosby is the victim of an ambitious prosecutor seeking office as the case was reopened last year; and whether his now-deceased lawyer had an agreement with a former prosecutor that Cosby would never be charged in the case. O’Neill has so far ruled there was no binding immunity agreement.
Cosby has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains free on $1 million bail. He has appeared relaxed so far at the pretrial hearings, as he is led into court by a team of lawyers and handlers.
In his deposition, the long-married Cosby acknowledged a string of affairs, “rendezvous” and one-night stands with young women over the years, but insisted they were all consensual. He said he gave many of the women drinks beforehand, and a few drugs or pills, although he remained sober.
“(The) defendant has engaged, over the course of his lifetime, in a pattern of serial sexual abuse,” District Attorney Kevin Steele wrote in asking O’Neill to allow “prior bad act” evidence.
Constand, and the 13 women who may testify, told authorities they were too impaired to give consent. Cosby settled Constand’s lawsuit for an unknown sum after his deposition. Constand had sued Cosby for sexual battery and defamation after the prosecutor at the time declined to press criminal charges.
Prosecutors reopened the criminal case last year after a federal judge unsealed portions of the deposition and dozens of other accusers stepped forward. They filed charges Dec. 30, weeks before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.