‘This evidence … never should have been admitted at trial…’
(Liz Navratil, Jeremy Roebuck and Laura McCrystal, The Philadelphia Inquirer) Bill Cosby‘s lawyers will urge a panel of Pennsylvania appellate court judges Monday to overturn his sexual assault conviction, setting the stage for a pivotal ruling that could shape the future of the #MeToo movement‘s push to hold celebrity abusers accountable in court.
Arguing that testimony from five other accusers unfairly biased the jury against the 82-year-old comedian at his trial last year, the defense is scheduled to ask the Superior Court to grant Cosby a new trial at a 2 p.m. hearing here.
“This evidence was used to strip Cosby of his presumption of innocence and try to establish that Cosby had the propensity to sexually assault women,” his attorneys—Kristen L. Weisenberger, Brian Perry, and Sarah Kelly-Kilgore—wrote in recent court filings. “[It] never should have been admitted at trial.”
But prosecutors maintain that the women’s testimony was not only proper but crucial to establishing Cosby’s “signature” pattern of drugging and then assaulting young women who came to him seeking career advice.
His 2004 assault of central accuser Andrea Constand “was the culmination of a decades-long pattern of behavior,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele has said in court papers.
The Superior Court panel is unlikely to rule during Monday’s hearing, which Cosby is not expected to attend. He remains jailed at a state correctional facility in western Montgomery County, serving the minimum three-year prison sentence he received in September.
Whatever the court decides, more is at stake than one aging comedian’s future. The questions raised by Cosby’s legal team strike at an area of law that is rapidly evolving as a parade of high-profile men have found themselves in court facing similar assault claims.
As the likes of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and singer R. Kelly have been brought down by criminal assault charges in the last two years, the question of what role, if any, old allegations that fall outside the statute of limitations should play in their criminal trials has emerged again and again.
Pennsylvania law allows such evidence only in limited cases that show an alleged crime was part of a larger pattern, not a mistake or to rebut defense claims.
Prosecutors charged Cosby with only the 2004 assault of Constand, a former Temple University employee, at his Cheltenham mansion. But they sought to bolster her claims that Cosby had drugged and assaulted her with testimony from the five other accusers—each alleging similar incidents dating back as far as the 1970s.
At his retrial in April, jurors heard from supermodel Janice Dickinson, who alleged that Cosby attacked her in 1982 at a hotel in Reno, Nev., where he had invited her under the auspices of offering career advice; and Chelan Lasha, a onetime aspiring model and actress who said she had been attacked when she met the comedian as a 17-year-old.
In an opinion issued after the verdict, Common Pleas Court Judge Steven T. O’Neill said he allowed that additional testimony because the accounts of the other women shared “chilling similarities” that pointed to a “signature” crime.
“In each instance, [Cosby] met a substantially younger woman, gained her trust, invited her to a place where he was alone with her, provided her with a drink or drug, and sexually assaulted her once she was rendered incapacitated,” the judge wrote.
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