Key ruling still undecided as Bill Cosby braces for retrial

PHOTO: Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthousein Norristown, Pa., on March 5, 2018.PlayBrendan McDermid/Reuters
WATCH Cosby charges remain as lawyers fight to limit testimony

Two days of key pretrial hearings in the felony sexual assault case against comedian Bill Cosby ended on Tuesday without a ruling on one the most critical issues at stake: whether or not as many as 19 additional Cosby accusers should be allowed to testify for the prosecution at a trial that begins this month.

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Pennsylvania Judge Steven T. O’Neill said he would be issuing a written ruling on “this very weighty issue,” but gave no indication of his timeline.

PHOTO: Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthousein Norristown, Pa., on March 5, 2018.Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthousein Norristown, Pa., on March 5, 2018.

Legal experts described the ruling to ABC News as vital to the outcome of the retrial. Yale Law School professor Steven B. Duke said the whole case “virtually turns on this ruling.”

Jury selection for Cosby's retrial in Montgomery County Court in Norristown, Pennsylvania, is scheduled to begin on March 29 and opening arguments are slated for April 2.

When one of Cosby's defense attorneys suggested on Tuesday that her team needed the judge’s ruling on the additional accusers before they could properly prepare for trial, a seemingly exasperated O’Neill said he hadn’t made up his mind.

“Prepare as if it was all 19, that’s all I can tell you,” he said. “I don’t know what my ruling is. I really don’t.”

PHOTO: Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthousein Norristown, Pa., on March 5, 2018.Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthousein Norristown, Pa., on March 5, 2018.

Later, O’Neill said he expects the trial to last “easily a month” -- more than twice as long as last year’s trial, which ended in a hung jury and a mistrial.

The judge also said he wouldn’t be making a ruling prior to trial on whether to allow potential defense witness Marguerite “Margo” Jackson, whose affidavit casts doubt on the motivations of Cosby's main accuser, Andrea Constand, to take the stand.

Cosby's attorneys say Jackson is prepared to testify that Constand -- the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Cosby's alma mater, Temple University -- told her she was going to make up allegations against a prominent person for money. Jackson is a former Temple University adviser, but Constand claims she has no memory of ever meeting her.

Constand testified at Cosby's first trial that the 80-year-old comedian drugged her and sexually assaulted her at his home in 2004.

During the last trial, O'Neill denied a defense effort to call Jackson to the witness stand, ruling that her submitted affidavit is hearsay.

But O’Neill indicated that decision could change, saying, “This is a whole new trial.”

On Tuesday, defense attorney Rebecca James argued that additional accusers should not be allowed to testify because they merely show a pattern of accusations, not a pattern of behavior.

“These are accusations that have never been brought into court,” James said.

PHOTO: Bill Cosbys lawyer Tom Mesereau arrives for a pretrial hearing for Cosbys sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., on March 5, 2018. Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Bill Cosby's lawyer Tom Mesereau arrives for a pretrial hearing for Cosby's sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., on March 5, 2018.

Cosby, who is facing three felony charges of aggravated indecent assault, has denied all of the women's accusations, saying that any drug taking or sex was consensual.

James argued that in light of the growing #MeToo movement against mistreatment of women, “It’s going to be hard enough to get the jury to focus on the case [itself]. But to bring in 19 additional witnesses in that environment would be extremely prejudicial.”

She charged that prosecutors simply want additional accusers to “enrage the jury.”

On Monday, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Jappe argued that the testimony of numerous women with similar accusations is crucial to demonstrate that Cosby played out a “sadistic sexual script” of drugging and sexually assaulting young women for decades.

“The defendant systemically engaged in a signature pattern of providing an intoxicant to his young female victim then sexually assaulting her once she became incapacitated,” Jappe said. “Each of these victims have come forward with harrowing accounts of drug-facilitated sexual assaults with the defendant.”

Lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau foreshadowed an aggressive defense when he told O’Neill his team intended to introduce evidence about the negotiations behind the 2005 settlement of a civil lawsuit Constand brought against Cosby, saying the behind-the-scenes negotiations would show “just how greedy this person was.”

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