NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Bill Cosby made his first court appearance of the #MeToo era on Monday as defense lawyers tried without success to get his sexual assault case thrown out, then turned their attention to blocking some of the 80-year-old comedian's dozens of accusers from testifying at his looming retrial.
Cosby's retooled defense team, led by former Michael Jackson lawyer Tom Mesereau, argued that telephone records, travel itineraries and other evidence show the alleged assault couldn't have happened when his accuser says it did and thus falls outside the statute of limitations.
Judge Steven O'Neill said he'd leave that for the jury to decide, rejecting a defense motion to dismiss the charges.
Cosby, who entered the courtroom on the arm of his spokesman, is charged with drugging and molesting a Temple University women's basketball executive at his suburban Philadelphia home. Cosby said the encounter was consensual. A jury deadlocked on the case last year, setting the stage for a retrial.
Prosecutors sought Monday to persuade the judge to allow as many as 19 other accusers to take the stand, including model Janice Dickinson, in an attempt to show a sinister flip side to Cosby's public persona as "America's Dad," cultivated through his role as an affable Jell-O pitchman and the star of the top-rated 1980s family sitcom "The Cosby Show."
Prosecutors said the women's testimony is vital to refuting the defense team's "inevitable attacks" on the credibility of accuser Andrea Constand.
The accusers will provide evidence that Cosby "systematically engaged in a signature pattern of providing an intoxicant to his young female victim and then sexually assaulting her when she became incapacitated," said Assistant District Attorney Adrienne D. Jappe.
Cosby's lawyers have argued that some of the other accusers' allegations date to the 1960s and present the defense with a nearly impossible burden. They say they will seek to delay the retrial if any of the women are permitted to testify so they can have more time to investigate their claims.
O'Neill said he would not rule on whether to allow the testimony by the end of the two-day hearing, calling it an "extraordinarily weighty issue" that he needs time to review.
The judge allowed just one other accuser to take the stand at Cosby's first trial, barring any mention of about 60 others who have come forward to accuse Cosby in recent years.
The only other hint that jurors got of Cosby's past came from deposition excerpts from 2005 and 2006 in which the star admitted giving quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with.
Jury selection in the retrial is slated to begin March 29.
Earlier Monday, the defense disputed Constand's testimony at last year's trial that he drugged and molested her at his suburban Philadelphia home in January 2004. Constand didn't give a specific date, but said the incident had to have happened prior to Jan. 20, when her cousin moved into her Philadelphia apartment.
Cosby's lawyers told O'Neill they'd found evidence that Cosby wasn't even in Pennsylvania during that time. Constand testified she would have called Cosby to be let into his home, but his lawyers said her phone records don't reflect such a call within her timeframe.
The date is important because Cosby wasn't arrested until Dec. 30, 2015 — meaning any assault prior to Dec. 30, 2003, would have fallen outside the 12-year statute of limitations.
Even before the arguments got underway, Cosby's lawyers were rapped by the judge for falsely accusing prosecutors of hiding or destroying evidence.
District Attorney Kevin Steele asked O'Neill to throw Cosby's legal team off the case for claiming that prosecutors failed to reveal they'd interviewed a woman who cast doubt on Cosby's accuser.
The defense withdrew the allegation days later after his former lawyer confirmed he knew that the prosecution interviewed the woman before Cosby's first trial.
The DA argued Cosby's new lawyers acted recklessly and "are at best incompetent and otherwise unethical."
O'Neill, who presided over Cosby's first trial, said he was reluctant to break up Cosby's legal team with his retrial several weeks away. But he added the defense lawyers were essentially "on notice."
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done.
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