NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CN) – On track to kick off Bill Cosby’s retrial next month, prosecutors pushed a Pennsylvania judge Tuesday to let them admit testimony from 19 women who say the 80-year-old comedian drugged and assaulted them.
Cosby has had to report to the Norristown court for the two-day pretrial hearing as a condition of his $1 million bail package.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele indicted the former comedian in 2015 before the statute of limitations had run out on claims Andrea Constand first made in 2005.
A lesbian who met Cosby while working as director of operations at Temple University, where Cosby was a trustee, Constand claims that Cosby drugged and raped her at his Cheltenham home.
Dozens of women have come forward with similar claims against Cosby, dating back to the 1970s, but Constand is the only one whose allegations are not time-barred.
At Cosby’s original trial, which ended in a hung jury in 2017, Judge Steven O’Neill agreed to admit witness testimony from only two of Cosby’s accusers: Constand and Kelly Johnson.
Cosby’s defense attorney Becky James urged O’Neill on Tuesday to reject a motion by prosecutors to call 19 Cosby accusers as witnesses.
“It is impossible to defend claims from 30 or 40 years ago," James said, noting that none of the women’s stories intersect, having happened at various times and places.
"We can't have 19 mini trials in this case,” James said.
Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Jappe fired back meanwhile by saying that time and place don’t matter given the "systematic abuse” being alleged.
"It's what happened and how and it happened that's important" Jappe said.
Predicting that he would rule on the motion by "next week,” Judge O'Neill appeared reluctant meanwhile to admit testimony from all of the women.
"That's a lot of prior-bad-acts witnesses,” O’Neill said.
With trial set to begin on April 2, the defense made little headway with their claim that it would be "unfair" to prepare for 19 additional witnesses.
"This is not a surprise,” O’Neill said, adding, "It's standard trial preparation."
Also at the hearing, O’Neill blocked the parties from discussing Cosby’s prosecution in the context of the social movement known as #Metoo.
O'Neill made clear there was no way to monitor the influence of the #Metoo movement within the jury. We cannot control "cultural context,” O’Neill said.
Though O’Neill insisted that he would not delay the retrial, he said he might call another hearing to focus on what the jury can learn about the settlement Cosby paid in 2005 to settle Constand’s civil claims against him.
Defense attorney Tom Mesereau said the jury should learn the exact amount of the settlement. "We will show how greedy she was,” Mesereau said.
O'Neill confirmed the jury selection would begin in Montgomery County as early as March 29.