Judge: Cosby accusers’ testimony points to ‘signature’ crime

Bill Cosby walks from the Montgomery County Courthouse during his sexual assault trial in Norristown, Pa., Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Bill Cosby walks from the Montgomery County Courthouse during his sexual assault trial in Norristown, Pa., Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The judge who presided over Bill Cosby’s criminal case said he let five other accusers testify at the sex-assault trial because their accounts had “chilling similarities” that pointed to a “signature” crime.

A jury last year convicted Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004, after hearing from her and the five others. Cosby, 81, is appealing his conviction based on the women’s testimony and other key rulings by Montgomery County Judge Stephen O’Neill.

He began serving a three- to 10-year prison term in September at a state prison near Philadelphia.

O’Neill, in a lengthy opinion filed Tuesday, said he found “striking similarities” in the women’s descriptions of their encounters with Cosby.

“In each instance, (he) met a substantially younger woman, gained her trust, invited her to a place where he was alone with her, provided her with a drink or drug, and sexually assaulted her once she was rendered incapacitated,” O’Neill wrote. “These chilling similarities rendered (their) testimony admissible.”

O’Neill had allowed just one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial in June 2017, when a jury deadlock led to a mistrial. Cosby was retried in April 2018, months after the #MeToo movement burst into view with sexual assault accusations against director Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men in Hollywood and beyond.

In the ruling Tuesday, O’Neill said the new defense team that handled Cosby’s retrial never directly challenged him on the difference in his two trial rulings about the other accusers’ testimony. At any rate, he said, they acknowledged that judges are not bound by their prior decisions.

The defense, in outlining their appeal issues, has also argued that Cosby had a binding agreement with a former prosecutor, Bruce Castor, that he would never be charged in the case. O’Neill rejected the claim Tuesday, repeating earlier rulings that the signed press release from Castor — used to bolster the claim — falls short of an immunity agreement.

O’Neill also rejected defense efforts to have him step down from the case because of his alleged personal feud with Castor and because of what they called a “doctored tape” recording of a phone call between Cosby and Constand’s mother.

Cosby’s lawyers have been awaiting the opinion so they can proceed with their appeals in Pennsylvania. The lead lawyer handling Cosby’s appeal, Brian Perry, did not immediately return a phone message on Tuesday.

The Associated Press does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.

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