DISGRACED US megastar Bill Cosby is due to stand trial for sexual assault on June 5, 2017 in what could see up to 13 other alleged victims testify against the award-winning comedian turned pariah.
Judge Steven O’Neill set the date after the 79-year-old pioneering black comedian made multiple attempts to head off the possibility of a trial stemming from one alleged incident at his Philadelphia home in 2004.
But O’Neill advised lawyers that the trial could start even earlier if schedules permit. He also said that given the defense assertion that Cosby is blind, the defendant may require special assistance in court.
Andrea Constand, who worked for the Temple University basketball team at the time, alleges that Cosby plied her with pills and wine, then sat her down on a couch at his Philadelphia home where he assaulted her.
Cosby says he gave her a pill, but insists their relations with consensual. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a US$25,000 fine if convicted.
Dressed in a pinstripe jacket and gray pants, Cosby had appeared animated and engaged in conversation with his lawyers before Tuesday’s hearing at Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, northwest of Philadelphia.
But the prospective trial cements a brutal fall from grace for the once treasured father figure and apparent model citizen who smashed through racial barriers and delighted audiences with his gentle, self-deprecating humour.
In recent years, more than 50 women have publicly accused him of being a sexual predator spanning four decades, making remarkably similar allegations that he fed them sedatives and alcohol that made them unable to resist his advances.
US$1 million bail
The vast majority of the alleged abuses happened too long ago to prosecute, making the Constand case the only criminal charge brought against Cosby.
Montgomery County prosecutor Kevin Steele told the court that he wants up to 13 other alleged victims to testify at trial. The judge has yet to agree and Cosby’s legal team will likely put up fierce resistance.
The defense vowed their client would continue “the fight for his rights” and accused a lawyer representing other alleged sexual assault victims of waging a campaign built “on racial bias and prejudice.”
“When the media repeats her accusations – with no evidence, no trial and no jury – we are moved backwards as a country and away from the America that our civil rights leaders sacrificed so much to create,” they said.
Those allegations have seen celebrity pals and millions more malign the legend who attained his greatest fame for his role as a lovable obstetrician and family man in the hit 1980s television sitcom The Cosby Show.
The Constand case was initially settled by a civil suit in 2006 but prosecutors reopened claiming that new evidence had come to light.
The former star posted bail at US$1 million in the case last December, but has yet to enter a plea.
‘The Cosby Show’
If he pleads guilty, Cosby could avoid the enormous publicity that will come with one of America’s most famous entertainers going on trial.
In her original deposition in January 2005, Constand said Cosby plied her with pills and wine, then sat her down on a couch, where the actor allegedly fondled her breasts, put his fingers in her vagina and put her hand on his erect penis.
Cosby’s legal team mock Constand’s credibility, saying she chopped and changed her evidence, and omitted from the final version lying down on a bed next to the actor and later visiting his home for dinner.
Constand, who now lives in Canada, has yet to appear at any public hearing.
Cosby’s most famous role was as Cliff Huxtable, the affable father of an upper middle class black family in New York, in The Cosby Show from 1984 to 1992.
It was one of the most popular TV series of all time and jettisoned the actor into a life of fame and millions, following a humble childhood during which he was raised by a maid and a US Navy cook.
Cosby served in the Navy himself and won an athletic scholarship to Temple, before moving into comedy. In addition to television, he wrote books and appeared in movies.
His wife Camille has stood by his side. The couple have five children. Their son Ennis was shot dead in 1997 while changing a flat tire in California. – Agencies