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Cosby prosecutors score major victory: Five other women allowed to testify in new trial

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby (Associated Press/File)

WASHINGTON — A Pennsylvania judge handed a major victory Thursday to prosecutors in the Bill Cosby sex-assault case, ruling that five previous accusers can be called as witnesses in an effort to establish a pattern of the star’s alleged predatory behavior.

The unusual decision by Judge Steven O’Neill did not specify which accusers can provide testimony at Cosby’s retrial, instead giving prosecutors the option of selecting five women from a portion of a list of 19 they’d submitted as possible witnesses. The judge’s ruling states that prosecutors can choose five women from among the eight making the most recent allegations, dating back to 1982, but cannot select women who say they were sexually assaulted before that date.

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The decision represents a dramatic shift with the potential to completely reshape the case, which is set to begin with jury selection on March 29 and testimony on April 2. At Cosby’s first trial last June, which ended in a mistrial, prosecutors were hampered in their efforts to paint Cosby as a serial abuser because Judge O’Neill only allowed one previous accuser to testify. They had asked for 13.

But this time, prosecutors mounted an aggressive push to add additional accusers to the witness list, increasing their request to 19 women, and citing a legal concept known as the ‘‘Doctrine of Chances.’’ The doctrine essentially says that the more often the same person is accused of the same crime with the same set of circumstances, the less likely that the accused was innocently involved in those situations.

Cosby, now 80, is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former Temple University women’s basketball official, at his suburban Philadelphia estate in 2004. A mistrial was declared last June after jurors said they were deadlocked following more than 50 hours of deliberation on three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault.

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