March 15, 2018 / 8:02 PM / 4 months ago

Five more Cosby accusers to testify at sex assault retrial: judge

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday ruled that five other women who have accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault over the years could testify at his retrial on charges of drugging and assaulting a former friend, giving prosecutors an early win.

FILE PHOTO: Actor and comedian Bill Cosby (2nd L) walks into the courtroom with Andrew Wyatt (3rd L), for a pretrial hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/David Maialetti/Pool/File Photo

Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill’s decision will likely have a major influence on the second trial of Cosby, 80, who is accused of attacking Andrea Constand, now 44, at his home near Philadelphia between Dec. 30, 2003, and Jan. 20, 2004. Jury selection for the next trial begins on March 29.

The prosecution was limited to calling one other accuser in the first trial in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, Pennsylvania. It ended in June with a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict following six days of deliberations.

Constand, a former administrator of the women’s basketball team at Temple University in Philadelphia, Cosby’s alma mater, is one of more than 50 women who have accused him of sexual assaults, some dating back decades.

All the claims but Constand’s are too old to be the subject of criminal prosecution.

Prior to the allegations, Cosby was best known to Americans for his as the beloved TV dad in the 1980s hit “The Cosby Show.” He has repeatedly denied assaulting anyone, saying all the encounters were consensual.

“It shows how desperate they are and that this is a very weak case. Mr. Cosby is innocent of these charges,” his spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, said in a statement.

Prosecutors had sought to call 19 other accusers as witnesses to show the incident fit a pattern of criminal behavior. Like many other alleged victims, Constand has said Cosby gave her an intoxicant that left her disoriented and unable to stop his advances.

O’Neill said prosecutors could select five women from the eight accusers whose allegations are most recent, ranging from 1982 to 1996. Defense lawyers had argued that accusations dating back to 1965 were so old that they would be impossible to counter, given Cosby’s age.

The accusers were not named in court documents, but the descriptions of their accounts match those of several women who have come forward, including model and television personality Janice Dickinson.

A defendant’s history usually is not admissible as evidence that he committed a particular crime.

Cosby’s lawyers argued that permitting other accusers to testify would unfairly prejudice jurors, particularly given the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged millions of women to share experiences of sexual abuse or harassment.

Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; writing by Barbara Goldberg in New York; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis

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