UPDATE 1:39 PM: A criminal trial that could see Bill Cosby in jail for up to a decade and paying big fines if found guilty of sexually assaulting a then Temple University employee in 2004 may come sooner than expected, a Pennsylvania judge indicated today.
Currently the actor’s trial on the three felony charges of second-degree aggravated indecent assault is set for June 5, 2017. But Wednesday, Judge Steven O’Neill said the trial “could be earlier” if pre-trial motions are fully dealt with in scheduled December hearings – that’s a big “could.”
The comments by the state judge today came near the end of two-days of pre-trial hearings on a variety of motions and a request for dismissal by the 79-year-old Cosby’s lawyers that saw no expected rulings. Decisions were expected in this round of hearings on the Montgomery County D.A. office’s wish to have 13 other women who say they have been sexually assaulted and drugged by Cosby as Andrea Constand claims she was 12 years ago.
Cosby was charged late last year just before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations on sex crimes expired. He was arraigned December 30 and released on $1 million bail without entering a plea. In the subsequent months, Cosby and his frequently changing team of lawyers have tried everything to get the case tossed out – unsuccessful so far.
With issues of Cosby’s health and apparent blindness taking up most of this week’s sessions, Judge O’Neill wasn’t able to examine if more than a decade-old taped phone conversations between the actor and Constand’s mother, and 2005 deposition in the civil case, can be used as evidence in the trial – whenever it starts.
Though one of his lawyers said that Cosby had been “vilified,” the actor has had around 60 women go public in recent years saying he assaulted them and/or drugged them. In that 2005 depo, which was made public last year, Cosby admitted to have drugs on hand to have sex with women.
“We are hopeful in the next set of hearings to come that we will be able to successfully resolve this case in a way that gives Mr. Cosby some justice,” said attorney Brian McMonagle outside the courtroom with fellow lawyer Angela Agrusa and Cosby by his side.
PREVIOUSLY, 9:26 AM: The second day of the transit strike in Philadelphia also saw the start of another day of pre-trial hearings for Bill Cosby over the alleged 2004 sexual assault of Andrea Constand. It is also the last days of the increasingly close presidential election, and today Cosby’s lawyers wasted little time leaping into local politics in their latest effort to get the criminal case dismissed. A trial is set to start in June in the case that could find the ailing 79-year-old actor behind bars for up to a decade if found guilty.
“We believe that this case is not about depositions,” Angela Agrusa told a Norristown, PA, courtroom this morning about the three felony charges of second-degree aggravated indecent assault laid last year by newly elected Montgomery County D.A. Kevin Steele. “We believe it’s about a prosecutorial change of policy.”
“My client is not a meme,” Agrusa also said of Cosby. “He’s a human being. And his rights have been trampled on by ego and ambition.”Claiming that Steele decided “that he’s going to use Mr. Cosby as a pawn in that election,” the recently retained Agrusa added, “a trump card if you will.”
To push home the point that the re-opening of the case just before the Keystone State’s 12-year statute of limitations on sex crimes expired was politically motivated, the defense team played a Steele ad from last year’s D.A. race that called out incumbent Bruce Castor for not taking action against Cosby more than a decade ago.
Cosby was arraigned December 30 and released on $1 million bail without entering a plea. Since then he and his various lawyers have tried unsuccessfully in various courts to have the only criminal case against him dismissed. “Everything from being vilified in court to being charged as guilty in the media,” Agrusa said today of Cosby. “He has not had the opportunity to defend himself.”
This week’s hearings are expected to determine whether a 2005 deposition in the civil case Constand, an employee at Temple University in 2004, brought against the comic can be used. Agrusa and fellow lawyer Brian McMonagle also have argued that Cosby’s fading health and near-blindness make him unable to defend himself and identify his accusers, or perhaps even recall many of the supposed incidents in question. Judge Steven O’Neill called that last point a “leap” in court today and that there is not proof that not being able to see faces and photographs will not “trigger memories.”
In trying to see the whole matter tossed, Cosby’s lawyers insist that the actor’s right to due process was violated by the authorities’ long delay in mounting a criminal case — especially after then-D.A. Castor made a decision in 2005 not to pursue charges if Cosby would participate in a civil case.
Additionally, the pre-trial hearings before Judge O’Neill are set to address whether 13 other women who say Cosby sexually assaulted or drugged them over the years will be able to testify. Around 60 women have gone public in recent years alleging they were sexually assaulted or drugged by Cosby, going back to the 1960s.
Like yesterday, Cosby was in court today but much more active than on previous occasions. After entering the courthouse with a walking cane that never seemed to touch the ground, The Cosby Show creator at one point stood up uneasily from his chair as if he was going to leave. The move prompted O’Neill to ask, “Is he OK?” Cosby sat down, but the incident caused the judge to call a break in the proceedings. Earlier, the actor also acted strangely when he spun his chair around to face away from the bench and spent several minutes staring at the floor.
When the hearing resumed, Cosby was back in the courtroom and seemed fine.
Also like Tuesday, lawyer Gloria Allred is in the courtroom. The L.A.-based attorney represented a number of the women who might be called to testify.
Today’s hearing is expected to run all day. More pretrial hearings are scheduled in Cosby’s criminal case later this year.
Anna Orso contributed to this report.