A Pennsylvania judge ruled Friday that only one additional woman who has accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault may testify against him in his upcoming trial, dealing a setback to the lone viable criminal case against the entertainer.
Prosecutors were hoping the testimony of 13 alleged victims would help persuade a jury that Cosby was guilty of assaulting another woman at his estate near Philadelphia in 2004.
But only one of the 13 women — known in court filings as Prior Alleged Victim Six — will be permitted to testify when the trial gets underway this spring, Judge Steven T. O'Neill said.
Cosby, 79, who is free on $1-million bail, is facing three counts of aggravated indecent sexual assault for a 2004 incident at his Pennsylvania home involving former Temple University basketball staff member Andrea Constand.
It is the only alleged instance of sexual assault — among the more than 50 women who've accused Cosby in interviews and civil suits — in which the statute of limitations has not expired.
Prosecutors, however, had argued the women's accounts established a pattern of prior bad acts — that Cosby essentially had a method of behavior the jury should consider — as they sought to bolster their case.
The prosecution and Cosby's attorneys battled in a tense two-day hearing in December. Montgomery County Dist. Atty. Kevin Steele argued that the women's accusations demonstrated a modus operandi, and the defense team, led by Brian McMonagle, said such claims were both specious and irrelevant.
O'Neill did not offer a reason for the ruling. Key to the defense's argument was that the instances occurred too long ago to adequately defend (Pennsylvania law looks at time as a factor in whether to permit such testimony). Many of the other alleged instances happened in the 1970s and 1980s, while the accusation involving Prior Alleged Victim 6 was comparatively recent; the incident in question occurred in 1996.
According to court filings, Prior Alleged Victim No. 6 said she came to know Cosby in 1990, at age 29, and had gone to his hotel and home six years later in the hope of receiving professional advice. She claims he offered her a pill and ordered her to take it, then proceeded to violate her sexually.
Two years ago, the woman whose account aligns with that filing appeared at a news conference organized by Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred. In an emotional statement, the woman, who identified herself only as Kacey, said she was working for Cosby's agent when she was invited to his hotel room and given a pill, then woke up next to a naked Cosby.
"I no longer have to feel alone with this secret," she said in a statement as she explained her state of mind.
Friday's ruling was a modest surprise to some experts, who thought Steele might prevail in getting the judge to admit the testimony of a few, but not many, of the 13 women.
"It's very difficult to introduce prior criminal acts," said Dennis McAndrews, a former prosecutor and longtime legal expert in Pennsylvania. "I thought they might get more than one but not many more — something closer to three or four."
The testimony of other accusers is considered crucial to the case. Many experts believe Constand's testimony on its own is legally vulnerable because of her delay in coming forward and several inconsistencies in her account, which the defense will seek to exploit.
McAndrews said the case against Cosby was "a little weaker" than it was before Friday's ruling, when the possibility existed that multiple accusers could be allowed to testify. But he said that the prosecution still had Constand, Prior Alleged Victim Six and Cosby's own deposition to rely on. The judge had earlier ruled the Cosby deposition, in a civil case filed by Constand more than a decade ago, would be admissible.
Friday's ruling was the latest development in a case that began 14 months ago, when the newly elected Steele — who had run on a prosecute-Cosby platform — filed charges against the comedian just before the statute of limitations on Constand's case was set to expire. O'Neill has said he wants the trial to start no later than June.
Many victims-rights and women's groups have rallied around the case as the best chance for Cosby to face justice. They also have said they wish for other victims to have their day in court.
Steele issued a statement suggesting the upside of the decision.
"[It] is important," he said, "as the jury will now be allowed to assess evidence that is relevant to establishing a common plan, scheme and design of sexual abuse."
4:25 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with Times reporting.