By David DeKok
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) – Allowing 19 other women who have accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault to testify at his retrial would unfairly prejudice jurors, especially against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, his lawyers told a judge on Tuesday.
Cosby, best known as the star of the 1980s TV hit “The Cosby Show,” is accused of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, now 44, at his home near Philadelphia between Dec. 30, 2003, and Jan. 20, 2004. His first trial in June ended with a hung jury.
Constand, a former administrator of the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, is one of more than 50 women who have accused him of sexual assaults, some dating back decades.
Cosby, 80, has repeatedly denied assaulting anyone, saying any sexual encounter was consensual. The retrial is set to begin with jury selection on March 29.
All of the accusations except Constand’s are too old to be prosecuted, but prosecutors asked Judge Steven O’Neill on Monday to allow 19 of the other accusers to testify in support of Constand’s case.
Cosby’s lawyers objected on Tuesday, arguing that they should be barred because the #MeToo movement has created an atmosphere in which the other women’s testimony would prejudice the jury against him.
The movement, which grew out of accusations against a host of entertainment, sports, and news media figures, has encouraged millions of women to share their experiences of abuse and harassment.
Having the other women tell their stories on the witness stand would only enrage jurors, and that appeared to be the prosecution’s purpose in making its request, defense attorney Becky James said in the second day of a pretrial hearing in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
“In that environment, allowing the 19 to testify would be hugely prejudicial,” she said.
The judge allowed one other accuser to testify in Cosby’s first trial. In general, a defendant’s history is not admissible as evidence that he or she committed a particular crime.
But the Cosby case is 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.
The judge said he was unlikely to make a decision on the request on Tuesday because he needed time to review evidence.
He also indicated he was leaning toward allowing testimony at the retrial from defense witness Marguerite Jackson, a Temple University coworker who said Constand told her she could get money by accusing a celebrity of drugging and abusing her.
“I see this in a different light now,” said O’Neill, who had barred Jackson from testifying in the first trial.
Cosby’s lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, who won an acquittal for Michael Jackson at his 2005 child molestation trial, said the retrial could last a month. The first trial lasted about two weeks, including jury deliberations.
Before the hearing came to a close at midday, 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,” Cosby said. “But it’s OK.”
(Writing by Barbara Goldberg; editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Szekely)