Bill Cosby used his fame to gain the trust of women before knocking them out with pills and drinks so he could sexually assault them, prosecutors argued Tuesday as they sought to persuade a judge to allow 13 of Cosby's accusers to testify in the 79-year-old entertainer's upcoming sexual assault trial.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele told a judge he wants the accusers' testimony to show that Cosby had a lengthy history of drugging and molesting young women. Cosby is charged with sexually assaulting a woman at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
"The defendant has engaged, over the course of decades, in a signature pattern of non-consensual sexual assaults on young women who were in an unconscious state due to an intoxicant that the defendant administered to them," Steele argued.
Cosby's lawyers want the accusers barred from taking the stand at his spring trial. The defense is expected to attack the women's credibility and relevance when his lawyers make their arguments on Wednesday.
Judge Steven O'Neill must decide whether to permit all or some of the women to testify under a state law that allows prosecutors to call witnesses of alleged prior bad acts. The accusers include onetime aspiring actresses, a cocktail waitress and a flight attendant, and are among 50 women who have come forward with accusations against Cosby since prosecutors reopened the 2004 case last year.
The hearing was testy from the start, with O'Neill twice warning the lawyers to maintain decorum after courtroom shouting matches that centered on the defense team's practice of publicizing the names of the accusers.
Steele clashed with Cosby lawyer Brian McMonagle over the defense's insistence on identifying accusers by name in public documents and a court hearing. Steele suggested that Cosby's lawyers were publicizing them in an attempt to intimidate the women.
McMonagle said many of the women had already gone public with their allegations.
"These are witnesses in a trial. They are not children," he argued.
O'Neill ultimately ruled Cosby's lawyers could identify 11 of the women by name since they'd already told their stories publicly. He said two of the women have remained out of the spotlight and shouldn't be identified in court.
Later, Steele blew up at the defense over the positioning of a projection screen, saying Cosby's lawyers had it placed so the women's names would be seen by dozens of reporters in the courtroom gallery. He again accused the defense of witness intimidation.
McMonagle said courtroom staff positioned the screen, but he agreed to remove accusers' names from a planned presentation.
O'Neill said he'd be forced to call in sheriff's deputies if the lawyers couldn't behave.
The case began a decade ago when Temple University employee Andrea Constand filed a police complaint against Cosby, her friend and mentor, over an encounter at his home. A prosecutor at the time declined to file charges.
But authorities reopened the case last year after scores of women raised similar accusations and after Cosby's damaging deposition testimony from Constand's lawsuit became public. The trial judge last week said the deposition was fair game at trial, arming prosecutors with Cosby's testimony about his affairs with young women, his use of quaaludes as a seduction tool and his version of the sexual encounter with Constand the night in question.
O'Neill must walk a fine line in weighing the accusers' testimony, given a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Roman Catholic Church official's child-endangerment conviction because the Philadelphia trial judge let too many priest-abuse victims testify about the alleged church cover-up.
The defense has questioned the women's motivation, noting many are clients of celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who has suggested Cosby should put up a $100 million settlement fund for potential sexual assault and defamation claims.
Allred told The Associated Press last week that her clients have a duty to testify if the court wants to hear from them. She called the defense's dismissal of their accounts "out of context or just plain wrong."
Cosby, once known as "America's Dad" for his top-rated family sitcom, "The Cosby Show," which ran from 1984 to 1992, was noticeably more engaged and animated Tuesday than at previous hearings.
Unsolicited, he blurted out "1937," then shouted "July 12!" when the judge asked the lawyers for Cosby's date of birth.
He chimed in again a few minutes later when O'Neill and the lawyers were trying to figure out the location of a hotel mentioned by one accuser.
"What city is this?" O'Neill asked.
"New York, I believe," Steele said.
"No," Cosby, interjected. "The Drake is in Chicago."
Cosby greeted security officers with a joke before Tuesday's hearing, quipping, "Don't tase me, bro," as they wanded him on his way into court.
The AP doesn't typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they have come forward publicly, as Constand has done.