NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) – Bill Cosby’s lawyers insist the 79-year-old actor has vision and memory problems that make it difficult for him to help defend himself in his upcoming sexual assault trial.
But the actor seemed mentally fit on Tuesday in a suburban Philadelphia courtroom as he shouted out answers to questions meant for the prosecutor.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele was trying to recall where one alleged assault took place, when Cosby helpfully announced that “the Drake (Hotel) is in Chicago.”
At another point, Cosby told the judge, who was trying to figure out his age, that he was born in 1937. On July 12th.
Prosecutors at this week’s pretrial hearing are trying to show that Cosby, who was once known as “America’s Dad” for his top-rated family sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” had a history of drugging and molesting young women. He is charged with sexually assaulting one woman in 2004, but prosecutors are hoping to call 13 other accusers to testify at his spring trial.
“The defendant has engaged, over the course of decades, in a signature pattern of non-consensual sexual assaults on young women who were in an unconscious state due to an intoxicant that the defendant administered to them,” Steele argued.
Cosby’s lawyers want the accusers barred from taking the stand. The defense is expected to attack their credibility when the hearing resumes on Wednesday.
Judge Steven O’Neill must decide whether to permit all or some of the women to testify under a state law that allows prosecutors to call witnesses of alleged prior bad acts. The accusers include onetime aspiring actresses, a cocktail waitress and a flight attendant, and are among 50 women who have come forward with accusations against Cosby since prosecutors reopened the 2004 case last year.
Tuesday’s hearing was testy from the start, with the judge twice warning the lawyers to maintain decorum after courtroom shouting matches that centered on the defense team’s practice of publicizing the names of the accusers.
Steele clashed with Cosby lawyer Brian McMonagle over the defense’s insistence on identifying accusers by name in public documents and a court hearing. Steele suggested that Cosby’s lawyers were publicizing them in an attempt to intimidate the women.
McMonagle said many of the women had already gone public with their allegations.
“These are witnesses in a trial. They are not children,” he argued.
The judge ultimately ruled that Cosby’s lawyers could identify 11 of the women by name since they had already told their stories publicly. He said two of the women have remained out of the spotlight and should not be identified in court.
Later, Steele blew up at the defense over the positioning of a projection screen, saying Cosby’s lawyers had it placed so the women’s names would be seen by dozens of reporters in the courtroom gallery.
McMonagle said courtroom staff positioned the screen, but he agreed to remove accusers’ names from a planned presentation.
The judge said he would be forced to call in sheriff’s deputies if the lawyers couldn’t behave.
The case began a decade ago when Temple University employee Andrea Constand filed a police complaint against Cosby, her friend and mentor, over an encounter at his home. A prosecutor at the time declined to file charges.
Authorities reopened the case last year after scores of women raised similar accusations and after Cosby’s damaging deposition testimony from Constand’s lawsuit became public. The trial judge last week said the deposition was fair game at trial, arming prosecutors with Cosby’s testimony about his affairs with young women, his use of quaaludes as a seduction tool and his version of the sexual encounter with Constand.
The judge must walk a fine line in weighing the accusers’ testimony, given a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Roman Catholic Church official’s child-endangerment conviction because the Philadelphia trial judge let too many priest abuse victims testify about the alleged church cover-up.
The defense has questioned the women’s motivation, noting many are clients of celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who has suggested Cosby should put up a $100 million settlement fund for potential sexual assault and defamation claims.
Allred argues that her clients have a duty to testify if the court wants to hear from them. She called the defense’s dismissal of their accounts “out of context or just plain wrong.”
The Associated Press doesn’t typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they have come forward publicly, as Constand has done.
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