A judge agreed Thursday to let five additional Bill Cosby accusers testify at his April 2 sexual assault retrial, giving prosecutors a chance to portray the man once known as “America’s Dad” as a serial predator who made a sadistic habit of drugging and molesting women.
Judge Steven O’Neill said prosecutors could choose the witnesses from a list of eight women whose allegations date to 1982. Prosecutors had wanted to have as many as 19 women testify about alleged assaults over a five-decade span.
Among the women who could take the witness stand: model Janice Dickinson, who suspects Cosby drugged and raped her while she was unconscious during a 1982 trip to Lake Tahoe.
“We are reviewing the Judge’s order and will be making some determinations,” District Attorney Kevin Steele said.
Cosby’s lawyers went to court last week to block any additional accusers from testifying, contending they were only needed because prosecutors were desperate to bolster an otherwise weak case.
They argued that jurors should only hear testimony about the alleged 2004 assault that led to the criminal charges against Cosby, not “ancient allegations” that would confuse, distract and prejudice the jury against the 80-year-old comedian.
“It just shows how desperate they are and that this is a very weak case,” Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt said after O’Neill made his ruling. “Mr. Cosby is innocent of these charges.”
Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges he drugged and molested former Temple University women’s basketball official Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. He remains free on bail.
Pennsylvania allows prosecutors to present evidence of alleged past misdeeds if they demonstrate the defendant engaged in a signature pattern of crime.
Prosecutors argue Cosby used his power and appeal as a beloved entertainer to befriend younger women and then plied them with drugs or alcohol before assaulting them.
Prosecutors tried to have 13 additional accusers testify at Cosby’s first trial last year, but O’Neill limited them to just one and barred any mention of about 60 others who have come forward to accuse Cosby in recent years.
Kelly Johnson, who worked for Cosby’s agent, testified Cosby knocked her out with a pill during a 1996 meeting at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles. She said she woke up to find her dress disheveled, her breasts exposed and Cosby forcing her to touch his genitals.
Cosby’s first trial ended in a hung jury.
For prosecutors, having several accusers tell similar stories about Cosby would give them a chance to smooth over issues with Constand’s credibility and insulate her from attacks from his lawyers, who are keen to portray her as a money-grubbing liar.
Dave Zuckerman, a former prosecutor who practices criminal defense in the Pittsburgh area, said that “might help put the case over the edge in favor of the prosecution.
“Now it becomes more than just one accuser against Bill Cosby,” he said. “Now you have a pattern of multiple women.”
Also Thursday, Dickinson’s defamation lawsuit against Cosby was allowed to move forward after the California Supreme Court refused his appeal. Dickinson sued Cosby after he and his representatives said her allegations were false.