Disgraced comedian Bill Cosby is attempting to have his sexual assault conviction overturned in Pennsylvania. Cosby’s attorneys argued on August 12 in front of a Superior Court judicial panel in Harrisburg that their client was deprived of a fair trial.
Cosby, 82, was once beloved as a father figure for his role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable in the 1980s TV series “The Cosby Show.” Dozens of accusations of sexual assault against him led Cosby to become one of the first celebrities to be convicted in the #MeToo era. In April 2018, he was found guilty of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004, Reuters reported.
On August 12, Cosby’s lawyers appeared before a trio of judges to argue that he was not given a fair trial before Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill. Cosby’s appeal deals with O’Neill’s decision to allow five people accusing Cosby of sexually assaulting them to testify at the trial, which only dealt with Constand’s allegation.
During Cosby’s first trial in 2017, Judge O’Neill allowed just one other accuser to testify. That trial ended in a mistrial when the jury failed to reach a verdict. Cosby’s lawyers claimed that O’Neill’s decision to allow five accusers to testify at the retrial was arbitrary and prejudicial. The panel said that the judge was not bound by his earlier trial ruling.
Pennsylvania law allows the use of witnesses as evidence of “prior bad acts” in rare exceptions. “Prior bad acts” witnesses are viewed as potentially prejudicial and are permitted to prove the defendant engaged in a similar pattern of criminal behavior.
Prosecutors argued that the additional testimony was justified because it showed a larger pattern of sexual assault by Cosby. However, Cosby’s lawyers claimed the allegations by the five women were too dissimilar, occurred at different times, and involved women whose professions were vastly different.
President Judge Emeritus John T. Bender pushed back against Cosby attorney Kristen L. Weisenberger’s claim that “everything is different” about each case, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “The reality of it is he gives them drugs, and then has sex with them,” Bender said. “That is the pattern, is it not?”
Cosby’s lawyers also claimed that former Montgomery Court district attorney Bruce Castor promised Cosby in 2005 that no criminal charges would result from Cosby testifying in a deposition when Constand brought a civil case against the comedian. Cosby would go on to settle the civil case with Constand for millions of dollars.
His sworn deposition, in which he acknowledged drugging young women with sedatives in the 1970s to facilitate sex, was unsealed nearly 10 years later. The deposition then led a new district attorney in Montgomery County to reopen Constand’s case and charge Cosby.
Judge Carolyn Nichols argued that without a written agreement or a court-approved deal giving Cosby immunity, the new district attorney was allowed to charge the comedian. “How can an elected district attorney bind that office in perpetuity?” Nichols asked, according to Reuters.
The three-judge panel also asked Cosby’s attorneys why his lawyers in 2005 did not get the immunity agreement in writing and approved by a judge, KXAN reported. “This is not a low-budget operation.… They had an unlimited budget,” Bender said. “Could it be they knew this was something the trial court would never have allowed?”
Cosby was not in court on August 12 for the hearing. The 82-year-old is serving a three-to-10 year prison sentence in a state correctional facility in western Montgomery County. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cosby is being housed in the prison’s general population.
Cosby’s accuser, Andrea Constand, was also absent from the hearing. Constand alluded to the appeal in a tweet on August 12. “The wheels of justice are again in motion today,” she wrote. “May the supreme Laws — those indirectly governed by God himself be upheld! Jai!”
Another one of Cosby’s accusers, Therese Serignese, was at the hearing, according to KXAN. Serignese, who met Cosby at a Las Vegas hotel when she was 19 years old, was one of the women Cosby acknowledged that he gave quaaludes, a powerful sedative, to before sex in the 1970s.
“Remember, there are 60 accusers,” Serignese told KXAN. “Out of 19 prior bad act witnesses requested by the prosecutor, the judge only allowed five. I say Bill Cosby got a good deal there.”
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.