Bill Cosby’s Appeal Begins with Sharp Questioning by Judges
HARRISBURG, Pa. — A panel of appellate judges pressed lawyers for Bill Cosby on Monday to explain why the entertainer should have his conviction for sexual assault overturned at the first hearing prompted by Mr. Cosby’s appeal.
Mr. Cosby is serving a three to 10-year sentence for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home outside Philadelphia after giving her some pills.
His lawyers told a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court that the trial judge should never have allowed the testimony of five other women who said they too had been drugged and sexually assaulted by Mr. Cosby.
The prosecution contended the women’s testimony showed a series of “prior bad acts” that fit the pattern of conduct in the Constand case. But the defense challenged the existence of such a pattern and said the admission of the women’s testimony had hurt the presumption of innocence toward their client.
Kristen Weisenberger, a lawyer for Mr. Cosby, said the experiences of the five women were not sufficiently similar to the Constand case to establish a pattern of “prior bad acts,” as required under Pennsylvania law. In fact, Ms. Weisenberger said, their experiences were “different across the board,” and to argue their similarity in front of a jury was “prejudicial.”
But Judge John Bender seemed skeptical, asserting that the women’s testimony had supported the prosecutors’ argument that Mr. Cosby had treated them in the same way that he treated Ms. Constand, a former Temple University employee whose complaint led to Mr. Cosby’s conviction on three charges of aggravated indecent assault.
“He gives them drugs, then he has sex with them,” Judge Bender told Ms. Weisenberger. “That’s the pattern, is it not?”
The trial judge, Steven T. O’Neill of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, had allowed only one additional accuser to testify at Mr. Cosby’s first trial, which ended with a hung jury. Adrienne Jappe, assistant chief of the appeals division for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, said the judge had shown restraint in the second trial by allowing testimony from only five of the 19 women that prosecutors had hoped to call as witnesses.
During the hearing, Ms. Weisenberger was repeatedly interrupted by questions from the judges as she sought to present several lines of appeal for Mr. Cosby, 82, who was not present.
Judge Carolyn Nichols asked Ms. Weisenberger to justify her argument that a statement in 2005 by former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, in which he said he would not prosecute Mr. Cosby because of a lack of evidence, represented an agreement that bound his successors in that office.
Judge Nichols also said she saw no evidence to support a defense claim that the Judge O’Neill should have recused himself because of defense allegations that there was a history of bad blood between him and Mr. Castor.
“There is nothing in the record to show that there was any kind of animus between O’Neill and Castor,” Judge Nichols said.
Outside the court, Mr. Cosby’s publicist, Andrew Wyatt, said the introduction of the additional testimony from the women was one sign that his client was not given a fair trial, and was instead victimized because he is a wealthy black man. “The deck was stacked,” Mr. Wyatt said. “This was going after a wealthy black man who used his career and his celebrity to humanize all races, all genders, all religions.”
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