Bill Cosby should be celebrating Friday: There won’t be a parade of accusers at his trial.
When he goes before a jury on criminal sexual assault charges in suburban Philadelphia, set for June, prosecutors will be able to call only one accuser — out of a total of 13 sought by prosecutors — besides the complainant in the case, Judge Steven O’Neill ruled in an order Friday.
O’Neill said in his order that he carefully balanced the probative value of such testimony versus its prejudicial impact on Cosby and concluded that one accuser would be allowed to testify at the trial.
“It’s a huge win for Cosby,” declared Stuart Slotnick, a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia who has been following the case.
“It’s a mixed decision,” says Dennis McAndrews, a former prosecutor who now practices in suburban Philadelphia. “The positive for the defense is that they only have to test the credibility of two people as opposed to a what I consider a critical mass of four or more.
“Once you get four or more, the optics and the psychology of attacking that many people becomes dramatically different — it’s much easier for a jury to disbelieve two rather than four or more,” McAndrews says.
Andrew Wyatt, spokesman for Cosby’s legal team, said there would be no comment until at least Monday, after a scheduled hearing on whether to change the venue for the trial due to pre-trial publicity.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele issued a statement that attempted to cast the ruling in a positive light.
“This ruling is important as the jury will now be allowed to assess evidence that is relevant to establishing a common plan, scheme and design of sexual abuse,” he said.
Cosby is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent sexual assault stemming from a 2004 encounter at his nearby home with Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee whom he had mentored. She said he drugged and molested her; he said the encounter was consensual.
But Steele did not bring the charges until December 2015, and ever since the teams of defense lawyers and prosecutors have been arguing in multiple pretrial hearings over various issues, including whether Steele can call up to 13 other women who say Cosby did to them — drugged and/or raped them — what he’s accused of doing to Constand.
Now prosecutors will be able to call only one woman, known only as “Kacey” in media accounts and “Prior Alleged Victim Six” in court documents, to testify about Cosby’s alleged “prior bad acts.” She tells a similar story to Constand: In 1996, she was 29 and worked for Cosby’s agent. The two were friends and when she went to his hotel room to talk about her career, he offered her wine and a pill. She passed out but recalls being sexually assaulted on his bed.
“The prosecution wanted to parade in an army of witnesses saying that what happened to (Constand) happened to me and thereby infer that he must have committed a crime in (the Constand) case,” Slotnick says. “They want to gloss over the major deficiencies in the complainant’s story by focusing on another case…When they bring in only one person, it’s much easier for the defense to say this is a copycat allegation, he’s a celebrity target of this kind of thing.”
Cosby’s lawyers had argued that multiple accusers were being “paraded” before the media over the last two years by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and other lawyers before their accounts were vetted by police. Allred said in a statement Friday she represents Prior Alleged Victim 6.
“We have seen a barrage of new accusers claiming, ‘Me, too,'” Cosby defense lawyer Angela Agrusa said at a hearing last year.
On the other hand, says McAndrew, the trial will still feature more than one accuser. “If you have two credible witnesses whose veracity is not successfully challenged, it’s much easier to convict than (if there is) just one.”
Steele could appeal this ruling but it would be an uphill battle, McAndrews added, because trial judges in Pennsylvania have broad discretion in deciding such matters.
The dozen other witnesses prosecutors sought to call are only a fraction of the five dozen women who have recently accused Cosby of drugging and/or raping them in episodes dating back to the 1960s. The Constand case is the only one to result in criminal charges because the statute of limitations on rape is comparatively lengthier in Pennsylvania than in other states where women have accused Cosby.
Cosby is also fighting civil defamation lawsuits filed by some of his accusers.