Cosby going back on trial in shadow of #MeToo

Will #MeToo sway judge to let more of Cosby's alleged victims testify?
Published : March 05, 2018 Updated : March 05, 2018
Bill Cosby mistrial
Actor and comedian Bill Cosby departs a Norristown court after his first trial ended in a hung jury, on June 17, 2017. (Reuters)

Disgraced entertainer Bill Cosby will be back in a Norristown courthouse on Monday as he gears up for a second criminal trial on charges that he molested an unconscious 29-year-old woman in his Cheltenham mansion in 2004. His first trial ended last year with a hung jury.

 

But out of some 50 women who have come forward in recent years to say they were drugged and molested by Cosby, jurors in that trial only heard from two: Andrea Constand, the former Temple assistant coach whose alleged assault led to the current case a decade later, and Kelly Johnson, an office assistant who Cosby allegedly assaulted in 1996.

 

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, as powerful men like Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein,accused by nearly 100 women, were brought down by multiple accusers establishing patterns of sexual misconduct, Montgomery County DA Kevin Steele will be trying again to bring more Cosby accusers into court.

 

At Cosby's pretrial hearings, scheduled for March 5-6, Steele will argue that jurors should hear from at least 19 out of of Cosby's alleged 50-plus victims.

 

"William H. Cosby, Jr., has spent a lifetime entertaining audiences in front of the camera. Off camera, he has followed, and indeed, mastered, a more nefarious script - a victimizing sexual script," Steele's office argued in court papers arguing for 19 accusers to be allowed to testify at Cosby's coming trial. "Throughout the course of decade, he as manifested a desire for young, unconsicous women whom he has rendered totally passive due to his administration of intoxicants. To satiate his desire, he has engaged, over the course of his lifetime, in a pattern of serial sexual abuse of dozens of young women."

Steele's team will be arguing these and other pretrial legal matters on March 5 and 6 in the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown, Pa., before Judge Steven T. O'Neill, the same judge who presided over Cosby's first trial and who previously ruled against allowing 13 accusers to testify.

But Steele, who has added six more accusers to the list, has not just the #MeToo movement on his side, but also a new state Supreme Court decision which endorsed the so-called "doctrine of chances," under which "prior bad acts" may be considered at trial. As Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor wrote, the doctrine acknowledges "the improbability of so many accidents befalling ... defendant or ... defendant becoming innocently enmeshed in suspicious circumstances so frequently."

The above decision was issued in March 2017, one month after Judge O'Neill ruled that only Constand and one other accuser could testify in the first trial, and thus could potentially affect the judge's decision.

"More than 50 other women fell victim to defendant's sadistic sexual script. ... These women suffered nearly identical trauma at the hands of defendant," Steele wrote in court papers. "As the number of victims reporting similar drug-induced sexual assaults by defendant increases, so does the objective improbability that defendant mistakenly assessed each victim's level of consciousness when engaging in sexual conduct with her."

Cosby, 80, who is now blind and currently resides in Massachusetts, has denied all charges.

He has made a few forays into public life since his first trial, and after getting dinner at Philly's Ristorante La Veranda in January, told an Inquirer reporter, "Please don't put me on 'Me Too.'"

 
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