PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In a stunning decision that could test the legal framework of #MeToo cases, Pennsylvania’s highest court will review the trial decision to let five other accusers testify at Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial in 2018, which ended with the longtime TV star’s conviction.
Cosby, 82, has been imprisoned in suburban Philadelphia for nearly two years after a jury convicted him of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in 2004. He’s serving a three- to 10-year sentence.
The Supreme Court has agreed to review two aspects of the case, including the judge’s decision to let prosecutors call the other accusers to testify about long-ago encounters with the actor and comedian. Cosby’s lawyers have long complained the testimony is remote and unreliable.
The court will also consider, as it weighs the scope of the evidence allowed, whether the jury should have heard Cosby’s own deposition testimony about getting quaaludes to give women in the past.
Secondly, the court will examine Cosby’s argument that he had an agreement with a former prosecutor that he would never be charged in the case. Cosby has said he relied on the alleged promise before agreeing to give the deposition in trial accuser Andrea Constand’s lawsuit.
Those issues have been at the heart of the case since Cosby was charged in December 2015, days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.
Prosecutors in suburban Philadelphia had reopened the case that year after The Associated Press fought to unseal portions of Cosby’s decade-old deposition in Constand’s sex assault and defamation lawsuit. Cosby paid $3.4 million to settle the lawsuit in 2006.
Cosby, in the deposition, acknowledged a string of extramarital relationships. He called them consensual, but many of the women say they were drugged and molested.
Dozens came forward in the years that followed to accuse Cosby, long beloved as “America’s Dad” because of his hit 1980s sitcom, of sexual misconduct. Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill allowed just one of them to testify at Cosby’s first trial in 2017, which ended in a mistrial.
But a year later, after the #MeToo movement exploded in the wake of reporting on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men, the judge allowed five other accusers to testify at the retrial. The jury convicted Cosby on all three felony sex-assault counts.
Lawyer Brian W. Perry argued in the appeal that letting other accusers testify in #MeToo cases “flips constitutional jurisprudence on its head, and the ‘presumption of guilt,’ rather than the presumption of innocence, becomes the premise.”