Bill Cosby's lawyers seek to bar some alleged victims from sexual assault trial

New DelhiUpdated: Nov 01, 2016, 11:21 AM IST

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby leaves a preliminary hearing on sexual assault charges on May 24, 2016 in at Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Photograph:(Getty)

Bill Cosby's lawyers will ask a Pennsylvania state judge on Tuesday to keep more than a dozen women who have accused the comedian of sexual assault off the witness stand at his trial on charges of molesting a former basketball coach at his alma mater.

More than 60 women have accused the 79-year-old entertainer, once beloved by Americans as the father on the 1980s TV hit "The Cosby Show," of sexually assaulting them, often after plying them with drugs and alcohol, in a series of attacks dating back decades.

A surprising and sad fall from grace

The Cosby Show was important for, among other reasons, portraying an African American family as upper-middle class at a time when American TV was acutely short of such depictions of black families. Cosby was known for being safe because of his fatherly image playing Doctor Huxtable on TV, and offscreen he had a habit of making moral pronouncements that now stand in stark contrast to his alleged crimes. 

In 2008 Cosby went on a nationwide tour emphasising the need for self reliance in the African American community rather than protesting systemic racism. As Ta-nehisi Coates put it in The Atlantic: "Instead of focusing on some abstract notion of equality, he argues, blacks need to cleanse their culture, embrace personal responsibility, and reclaim the traditions that fortified them in the past." Cosby lamented for a bygone era: "I"m talking about a time when we protected our women and protected our children."


Establishing a pattern

Despite the fact that Cosby has more than 60 accusers, only one of those claims resulted in criminal charges, filed against Cosby days before the statute of limitations was to expire. Andrea Constand, a former basketball coach at Cosby's alma mater Temple University, said he gave her pills before assaulting her at his Pennsylvania house in 2004.

Prosecutors have asked Judge Steven O'Neill of Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania to allow 13 other women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault to testify at trial in order to show he engaged in a pattern of drugging and attacking his alleged victims.

Cosby has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. O'Neill has scheduled two days of hearings on the proposed witnesses and other pre-trial matters.

In general, prosecutors are barred from introducing evidence of a defendant's unrelated prior bad acts for fear it could prejudice the jury. On rare occasions, however, judges will allow it if the evidence shows a clear and longstanding pattern of behavior.

Prosecutors are also seeking permission to use Cosby's sworn testimony from a deposition during Constand's 2005 civil lawsuit, in which Cosby acknowledged providing women with medication and then having consensual sexual encounters with them.


Courtroom strategy

Cosby's lawyers have asked O'Neill to bar that deposition from the trial, arguing that Cosby only agreed to testify after the then-Montgomery County district attorney assured him no criminal charges would be brought.

In addition, his lawyers have mounted yet another attempt to dismiss the case, this time based on the argument that prosecutors waited too long to bring the case.

In court papers filed last week, his attorneys said that Cosby is legally blind and has memory problems, preventing him from fully participating in preparing his own defense.

The trial is set for June 2017.

(With inputs from Reuters)