Cosby judge to decide if ‘Spanish fly’ comments, additional jury vetting will be permitted

     Bill Cosby leaves the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after a pretrial hearing Feb. 2. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks, file)

    Bill Cosby leaves the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after a pretrial hearing Feb. 2. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks, file)

    During his 50-plus years in the spotlight, comedian Bill Cosby has made several remarks — during standup routines and in court testimony — about using drugs to seduce women.

    Now, whether an anecdote about his 13-year-old self searching for the aphrodisiac called “Spanish fly” as told in a 1991 memoir — along with a similar discussion during an interview that same year with talk show host Larry King — are up for debate as potential evidence in his impending criminal sexual assault trial.

    Judge Steven O’Neill will hear arguments over this evidence, as well as whether to allow Cosby’s lawyers to pre-emptively question up to 2,000 potential jurors, in a hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse Monday morning.

    In December 2015, the Montgomery County district attorney’s office charged Cosby with aggravated sexual assault stemming from a 2004 encounter with Andrea Constand, a former employee of Temple University women’s basketball program.

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    Constand said Cosby, who was a friend, drugged her before engaging in unwanted sexual contact. Cosby maintains the sexual encounter was consensual. Prosecutors are hoping to use Cosby’s own words to show he knew how to incapacitate Constand — and intended to do so.

    The trial is scheduled to begin in early June.

    To try to dispel a “he said, she said” stalemate, prosecutors are reaching far back in the Philadelphia comedian’s biography for evidence. In one vignette from “Childhood,” a memoir Cosby put out in 1991, he describes a party where he and his friends try to get girls at a party to eat cookies the boys believed they’d doused with Spanish fly.

    “My style could have been smoother, but this, after all, was the first aphrodisiac I ever had pushed,” wrote Cosby.

    Cosby also mentioned obtaining Quaaludes from a doctor with the intent of giving them to women before sex in a 2005 civil deposition.

    Cosby’s defense team has filed briefs requesting that the court exclude Cosby’s comments about Quaaludes — including those in the deposition that is already admitted as evidence — or any discussion of other accusers besides the two already permitted to testify. Prosecutors sought to have the testimony of 13 accusers admitted, but O’Neill has allowed only one.

    Questioning for bias

    Cosby’s defense team also wants to send a questionnaire to between 1,500 and 2,000 residents of Allegheny County — where the jury pool will be drawn — as a kind of selection test.

    The questions are intended to determine whether potential jurors have a bias against Cosby, according to court documents filed by the defense.

    Montgomery County prosecutors say the existing selection process is enough to weed out bias, and that Cosby’s request to expand vetting — and to receive extra opportunities to exclude potential jurors without giving a reason, called a peremptory challenge — is unlawful.

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