NORRISTOWN, Pa. — In a significant development, prosecutors in the sexual assault trial of comedian Bill Cosby divulged for the first time Tuesday that they will ask a Pennsylvania judge to allow testimony from 13 women who have accused Cosby of sexual abuse.
The women, whose names have not been disclosed, would be called to the witness stand in an effort to establish a pattern of past conduct by Cosby, who faces felony charges for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former Temple University women’s basketball team official, in 2004.
Sixty women have accused Cosby of rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment, a cavalcade of allegations that has generated headlines around the world and wrecked his reputation. But only one accusation – Constand’s claim that Cosby sexually assaulted her at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004 – has led to a criminal charge.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Steven O’Neill of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas set a June 5 trial date for the 79-year-old entertainer.
Cosby’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, declared that he will seek to have the trial moved out of Montgomery County, which is in suburban Philadelphia, because the allegations became an issue in last year’s district attorney election. Cosby is being tried by District Attorney Kevin Steele, who defeated Bruce Castor, the former Montgomery County district attorney who refused to file criminal charges against the comedian a decade ago.
The 13 women Steele hopes to call to testify about Cosby’s prior alleged “prior bad acts” have made accusations that span from the early 1960s through the 1990s. They include several aspiring actresses and models, as well as waitresses, a flight attendant, a masseuse and a donut shop clerk. One woman worked at the Playboy Club in New York.
The women say Cosby drugged them through a variety of means — one says he gave her Quaaludes, others say he assaulted them after giving them drinks or pills. In one instance, an accuser says Cosby offered her a “miracle cure for headaches.”
The accusations, which are detailed in a lengthy document filed Tuesday by prosecutors, portray Cosby as a man who used his fame and promises of mentorship to put women at ease before he allegedly assaulted them.
Cosby has adamantly denied assaulting women. After the court hearing, Cosby’s newest attorney — Angela Agrusa — lambasted the media, accusing news organizations of not doing enough investigation to determine whether the accusations made by dozens of women can be corroborated.
She painted the comedian as a victim of a “shoot first, ask questions later” frenzy.
The Cosby case has been marked by intense pretrial maneuvering. On Tuesday, McMonagle argued vigorously that prosecutors should be blocked from introducing evidence gleaned from a taped 2005 phone conversation between Cosby and Constand’s mother, Gianna Constand. The call is significant because Cosby offers to pay for the education of Andrea Constand. Pennsylvania law requires both parties to know that a call is being recorded, but Constand’s mother taped the call in her native Canada, which does not have the same requirement.
The defense claims that Cosby did not know he was being recorded. In a transcript of the call, Cosby says he hears beeps, and he asks whether the conversation is being recorded. Constand’s mother tells him the noise he hears is being made by her pet parrot.
McMonagle, his voice rising, told the judge that his client was “lied to.”
“The whole thing stinks,” McMonagle said.
Cosby’s argument that he was unaware of the recording may have been undercut by prosecutors who cited a deposition in which Cosby said he thought it was a possibility that the call was being recorded.
Cosby was charged in December with three counts of aggravated indecent assault. For months, his legal team has tried to impede, block or otherwise forestall prosecutors from taking him to trial.
The most prominent prong of the defense strategy has been a dogged, but failed, effort to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case by arguing that a previous district attorney promised not to charge Cosby if the comedian agreed to be deposed in a civil lawsuit filed in 2005 by Constand, who was 30 at the time of the alleged assault. The case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.
In that deposition, Cosby described his sexual encounter with Constand in graphic detail, although he portrayed it as consensual. He acknowledged giving her pills, which he said were Benadryl, an over-the-counter allergy medication. In the deposition, Cosby also admitted to previously acquiring quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Cosby appeared in a seersucker jacket and chatted nonstop with attorneys and court personnel for more than half an hour while waiting for the proceedings to begin. His mood seemed light, a contrast to the scowl he has often worn for long stretches of previous hearings. The comedian, who had once sent peals of laughter through concert-hall audiences, played to a smaller crowd of half a dozen, clustered around the defense table, where he occupied a center seat.
“Did you see that?” Cosby said, at one point, his voice loud enough to be heard beyond the well of the courtroom. “Just now!”
Whatever it was that Cosby was joking about cracked him up, too. He laughed hard, tipping forward and resting his forehead for a moment on the table.