Sexual harassment and assault

Will Bill Cosby’s jury hear him admit to drugging a 19-year-old with quaaludes? Not if his lawyers have their say

Lawyers spar over Cosby’s deposition from a civil suit ahead of his retrial on criminal charges on April 9; jury selection scheduled Monday

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 March, 2018, 3:53am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 March, 2018, 5:01am

Prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred Friday over whether jurors at Bill Cosby’s retrial will hear lurid deposition testimony from the comedian about giving sedatives to women before sex.

Cosby faces charges that he drugged former Temple University athletics administrator Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004 after surreptitiously giving her quaalude tablets.

He admitted to police in a previous deposition that he gave drugs to women in the 1970s before having sex with them.

But his defence lawyer, Becky James, insisted on Friday that “The ‘70s isn’t relevant in this case”, and claimed that use of the drug as a sex aid was common then. 

“It was not to assault them”, said James. “It was not to make them incapacitated. It was never with the purpose or intent of having sex with unconsenting women.” 

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele had asked a judge during a pretrial hearing to let them read the testimony into the record at Cosby’s retrial, just as it was at the first one that ended in a hung jury last year.

Steele said that the testimony, along with the testimony of up to five additional accusers, bolsters their plan to portray Cosby as a serial predator. 

Those women were not allowed to testify at the first trial.

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But the judge for the retrial hinted Friday that he could keep jurors from hearing the comedian’s prior testimony, a potential blow to the prosecution’s plans. 

Judge Steven O’Neill said at the pretrial hearing that he would not rule on the testimony until it is brought up at the retrial.

“This defendant is not on trial for what he said in his deposition,” O’Neill said.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday. The retrial is set for April 9.

The quaalude testimony came from a deposition that was part of Constand’s civil suit against Cosby. 

It was included in the first trial, which ended with a hung jury; prosecutors contend it is more evidence of his prior bad acts. 

Cosby admitted in the testimony that he gave quaaludes to a 19-year-old woman before having sex with her in the 1970s, but his lawyers say the testimony is irrelevant to the trial because there is no hard evidence that he gave Constand the drug. 

Prosecutors say they want O’Neill to allow the drug testimony, because otherwise they would only be able to use it to cross-examine Cosby if he testifies. 

Cosby did not testify in the first trial.  

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Constand says Cosby gave her three blue pills. His lawyers say quaaludes never came in that colour. The comedian contends he gave her the over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl. 

Assistant District Attorney Stewart Ryan argued that Cosby’s deposition testimony is important because it shows he had an awareness of the effects that central nervous system depressants like quaaludes have on women, and it shows his admitted intent for using such drugs. 

“The man sitting right over there said these things and they were typed down,” Ryan said. 

While O’Neill dealt Cosby’s lawyers a blow by allowing the testimony from additional accusers, Cosby’s lawyers are counting on him to make rulings critical to their plan to portray the accuser as a greedy liar who framed the comedian. 

The judge has to decide how much jurors will hear about Cosby’s financial settlement with Constand. 

His lawyers say the amount will show “just how greedy” she was. 

Prosecutors said the theory that Constand wanted to set Cosby up is undermined by his testimony in a 2005 deposition that she only visited his home when invited and that he gave her pills without her asking. 

Cosby’s lawyers also argued in court papers Friday that the retrial should be postponed if prosecutors are allowed to bring in more witnesses in a bid to bolster the accounts of the five additional accusers. 

They argued that the 14 proposed supporting witnesses, including celebrity doctor Drew Pinsky and book publisher Judith Regan, are irrelevant and would only further confuse and distract the jury. 

O’Neill said he would decide on the supporting witnesses one by one during the trial.

O’Neill, who presided over Cosby’s first trial, remained on the case after rejecting the defence’s assertions Thursday that he could be seen as biased because his wife is a social worker and advocate for sexual assault victims.