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US prosecutors push to widen scope of Bill Cosby retrial

Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Pennsylvania Picture by Matt Slocum/AP
By Michael R Sisak, Associated Press

US prosecutors are pushing to widen the scope of Bill Cosby's looming retrial to spotlight allegations that the comedian is one of the biggest serial predators in a Hollywood suddenly aware of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era.

The 80-year-old will be back in a Philadelphia courtroom on Tuesday as his lawyers try to convince a judge to block some of his dozens of accusers from giving evidence against him at his April 2 retrial.

Prosecutors want as many as 19 of Cosby's accusers to go into the witness box as they attempt to show he had a long history of drugging and attacking women.

They also are trying to insulate the accuser in his lone criminal case, Andrea Constand, from what a prosecutor called the defence's "inevitable attacks" on her credibility.

Cosby's lawyers have argued in writing that some of the aspiring actresses, flight attendants and other women the prosecution wants to call have allegations dating back to the 1960s which are impossible to defend against. Some witnesses are dead, memories are failing and evidence has been lost, the lawyers argued.

On Monday, prosecutors made their case for allowing the women, including model Janice Dickinson, to give evidence. It was the first day of what is scheduled to be a two-day pre-trial hearing at Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown.

Allowing the women to enter the witness box would show jurors that Cosby "systematically engaged in a signature pattern of providing an intoxicant to his young female victim and then sexually assaulting her when she became incapacitated", assistant district attorney Adrienne D Jappe argued.

Judge Steven O'Neill said he would not rule on whether to allow the evidence by the end of the hearing, calling it an "extraordinarily weighty issue" that he needs time to review.

He allowed just one other accuser to enter the witness box at Cosby's first trial last year, barring any mention of about 60 others who have come forward to accuse the actor in recent years.

The only other hint that jurors got of Cosby's past came from deposition excerpts from 2005 and 2006 in which the star admitted giving quaaludes (sedatives) to women he wanted to have sex with.

That jury was deadlocked, setting the stage for the retrial.

Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges that he assaulted Ms Constand, a Temple University women's basketball administrator, while he was a powerful alumnus and trustee. He has said the encounter was consensual and he remains free on bail.

Cosby's revamped defence team, led by former Michael Jackson lawyer Tom Mesereau, argued on Monday that telephone records, travel itineraries and other evidence show the alleged assault could not have happened in January 2004, when Ms Constand says it did, and thus falls outside the statute of limitations.

The date is important because Cosby was not arrested until December 30 2015 – meaning any assault prior to December 30 2003 would have fallen outside the 12-year statute of limitations.

Judge O'Neill said he would leave that for the jury to decide, rejecting a defence motion to dismiss the charges.

Jury selection is schedule to begin on March 29.

Even before the hearing started, the judge rapped Cosby's lawyers for falsely accusing prosecutors of hiding or destroying evidence.

He rejected a prosecution request to throw the lawyers off the case, saying he was reluctant to break up the defence with a retrial weeks away. But he added that the defence lawyers were essentially "on notice".

Ms Constand and Ms Dickinson have waived their right to anonymity.

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