Cosby prosecutors ask to call 19 more accusers at retrial

In this Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 photo, Bill Cosby pauses to talk to reporters as he leaves following a dinner at an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.

Montgomery County prosecutors want a second shot at persuading a judge to allow Bill Cosby’s other accusers to testify at his retrial this spring.

In a motion filed Thursday, they laid out potential testimony from 19 women — six more than they asked to call during Cosby’s first trial, and 18 more than Judge Steven T. O’Neill ultimately permitted to take the stand and describe sex assault allegations against Cosby.

If O’Neill agrees to revisit the issue, his decision could dramatically expand the length and scope of the proceeding, scheduled to start in April.

The women would be called to help bolster the claims of the central witness, Andrea Constand, whom Cosby is charged with drugging and molesting at his home in Cheltenham in 2004. Cosby’s first trial on charges of aggravated indecent assault ended in mistrial in June, after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Little has changed legally since O’Neill rejected prosecutors’ attempt to bring in testimony from 13 additional accusers. But their request that he reconsider comes amid a cultural shift regarding sexual assault. In the months since Cosby’s last trial ended with a hung jury, several Hollywood and media figures have been brought down by allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct. Cosby himself mentioned the #MeToo movement at a dinner in Philadelphia last week.

In his motion, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele contended there was a “significant need” for the additional witnesses, because during the trial Cosby’s lawyers questioned Constand’s credibility, claimed she had consented to their sexual contact, and criticized her for waiting a year to go to police. Prosecutors could blunt those arguments if they could call other women to recount their similar experiences with Cosby, he wrote.

Kelley Johnson, the only additional accuser to testify at the first trial, said Cosby drugged and assaulted her in a Los Angeles hotel room in 1996.

Steele said his office investigated the claims of more than 50 women. The filing Thursday outlined 19 of the alleged assaults in chronological order, one occurring every few years between 1965 and 1996.

Most were among the dozens who have already come forward with claims against the man once known as “America’s Dad.” Several are represented by feminist lawyer Gloria Allred. Some have sued Cosby, including former supermodel Janice Dickinson, whose allegations appear to match one of the six described by prosecutors for the first time Thursday.

Pennsylvania law allows prosecutors to show jurors evidence of a defendant’s “prior bad acts,” but judges must determine whether the alleged past behavior follows a pattern similar to the crimes charged.

The six women added to the timeline all claim — like the other 13 — that they took a drink or pill from Cosby before becoming woozy or blacking out, and that he engaged in sexual activity with them while they were unable to consent.

Most of the women — like Constand, who met Cosby through her job for Temple University’s women’s basketball team — said they saw Cosby as a friend and mentor.

“I couldn’t think of a man that I would have assumed I would be safer with than the persona of Bill Cosby at that time,” one told prosecutors, according to the court filing. She alleges that he drugged and raped her at a hotel in Las Vegas in the 1980s.

When O’Neill decided jurors at the trial needed to hear only from one of 13 accusers prosecutors wanted to call as witnesses, he did not explain what distinguished the one he did allow to testify — Johnson — although her claim was the most recent of the group.

“After having had the benefit of proceeding with a full trial, the initially proffered claims of inevitable attacks on the victim’s credibility have now become a reality,” Steele wrote. “To be sure, defense counsel’s entire cross-examination of the victim was  geared toward an attack on her credibility.”

Prosecutors also noted that a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision issued in March — a month after O’Neill ruled that only one of the women could testify — offers new guidelines for this type of evidence.

Cosby’s spokesman declined to comment on Thursday’s filings. In hearings about this issue before the last trial, lawyers representing Cosby at the time railed against all 13, calling their stories the “tainted, unreliable memories of women now in their senior years.” They argued that there was no physical evidence to back up any of their testimony and that since many of their alleged assaults occurred decades ago, it was difficult to impossible to try to investigate their claims.

Cosby’s new lawyers — Tom Mesereau, Sam Silver, and Kathleen Bliss — are likely to make similar attacks as they prepare for the second trial.

The 80-year-old entertainer has denied all allegations against him, and his encounter with Constand is the only case in which he is facing criminal charges.