NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Bill Cosby is starting 2017 in a legal dragnet that has only tightened around him since his stunning arrest a year ago.
Cosby was charged with aggravated sexual assault on Dec. 30, 2015, just days before the 12-year statute of limitations would have run out over a 2004 encounter at his estate near Philadelphia.
A year later, it’s increasingly unlikely that he can avoid a felony trial slated for June. The judge has denied nearly each defense motion as the two sides fight over Cosby’s deposition, other accusers and the decadelong delay in filing charges.
“It doesn’t sound like the prosecutors are inclined to give him a deal that will matter,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who is not involved in the case. “It’s an elderly man, and any (jail sentence) is probably, in his mind, worth fighting.”
A recent tabloid news report suggested a plea could be in the works, but Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele’s spokeswoman calls the report unfounded. Still, some celebrity lawyers don’t rule it out.
“Ultimately, I think they work something out. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the deal he wants,” said Los Angeles lawyer Mark Geragos, who represented Michael Jackson on child molestation charges. “If they can work out a felony with minimal time, I think he’d be wise to take it, given his age and infirmities.”
On Friday, his attorneys filed a motion seeking to move the trial or bring in a jury from elsewhere, arguing there’s been widespread negative news coverage that would make juror bias inevitable.
Cosby’s lawyers said he has been the target of an “inflammatory and prejudicial smear campaign” and branded a monster, a sociopath and a sexual predator in news accounts.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said Steele has previously told the judge and Cosby’s lawyers he does not oppose the request.
Cosby, 79 and legally blind, had appeared shaken last year as he maneuvered past the cameras that mobbed him outside the small court office where he posted $1 million bail after his arrest. But he now appears more comfortable in court after a half-dozen or so hearings.
He quipped “Don’t Tase me, bro” to security guards wanding visitors at the Montgomery County Courthouse this month; shouted out answers to questions meant for lawyers at the latest pretrial hearing; and drifted into a comedic riff as he and a handler left the ceremonial courtroom where the case is being heard to accommodate the media.
Yet inside the room, it’s been rough going for “the Cos,” long beloved for his portrayal of family man Cliff Huxtable on the top-ranked 1980s sitcom “The Cosby Show.” The aging comedian is accused of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a basketball team manager he knew through Temple University, where he was a trustee and high-profile booster.
Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill has said the jury can hear the damaging deposition he gave in her 2005 lawsuit, when Cosby acknowledged a long list of affairs and hookups with young women during his 52-year marriage. He also testified to giving at least one woman quaaludes before sex and giving others, including Constand, pills and wine.
Scores of women now say they were drugged and molested. Steele wants 13 of them to testify at trial.
O’Neill heard two days of arguments on the issue this month. Steele called Cosby a lifelong sexual predator with a signature style. The defense questioned the women’s memories and motivations as they sought to keep them from testifying as “prior bad act” witnesses.
“It’s hard to know what the (plea) deal would be if the prosecution wins on the prior bad act motion,” Levenson said. “Although it’s not impossible, because the prosecutors also have to see and calculate how well their witnesses will hold up.”
O’Neill has knocked down repeated defense efforts to dismiss the case over the delay or over what the defense calls a promise from a former prosecutor that Cosby would never be charged.
Steele’s office reopened the case after Cosby’s deposition became public last year. O’Neill has also appeared cool at times to Cosby’s revolving team of lawyers from Los Angeles. His lead criminal lawyer remains local Philadelphia standout Brian McMonagle, who has a warm, easygoing style that engages jurors but who can also turn up the heat, as he did this month when he sparred with Steele over naming the other accusers in open court.
Once O’Neill decides if they can testify, the defense will start prepping for trial in earnest. McMonagle did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.
“You get ready to cross-examine the key witnesses in the case, unless you think some kind of deal can be worked out,” Levenson said.
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