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Bill Cosby appeals sex assault conviction over testimony from other accusers

#MeToo movement's impact on Cosby case

Bill Cosby has filed a lengthy appeal of the sex assault conviction that landed him in prison, complaining the testimony of five other accusers was "strikingly dissimilar" to the pending felony charges and should not have been aired in court. The appeal Tuesday challenges Judge Steven O'Neill's view that the women's testimony showed "chilling similarities" and pointed to a "signature" crime.

The 81-year-old comedian has been serving a three- to 10-year prison term since September at a state prison near Philadelphia. His insurance company this year recently settled lawsuits filed by at least eight other women who had accused Cosby of sexual misconduct and, in most cases, defamation.

The appeal, filed in Pennsylvania Superior Court, attacks Cosby's conviction on a number of grounds that have been central to the case, and argued repeatedly, since his December 2015 arrest. The defense has long argued that any testimony from other accusers would unfairly stack the deck against Cosby, given that he was never charged in those cases. Cosby's lawyers have also complained that many of the accounts are decades old, and nearly impossible to defend.

And they say the five women who testified to bolster the prosecution case at Cosby's retrial last year alleged different types of sexual contact than Andrea Constand did.

Bill Cosby
Chelan Lasha weeps as she returns to the courtroom after recess to testify against Bill Cosby during Cosby's sexual assault retrial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. AP

"This evidence was used to strip Cosby of his presumption of innocence and to try to establish that Cosby had the propensity to sexually assault women. This evidence never should have been admitted at trial," wrote lawyers Kristen L. Weisenberger, Brian Perry and Sarah Kelly-Kilgore.

They also said O'Neill should have stepped down over an alleged feud with a former prosecutor who had declined to charge Cosby when Constand first went to police in 2005.

And they said the jury should not have heard Cosby's 2006 deposition testimony from Constand's civil case, in which he talked of getting quaaludes in the 1970s to give women before sex. That testimony, unsealed after a decade, led a new district attorney to reopen Constand's police complaint and ultimately charge Cosby.

O'Neill, in his memo this year, said the other women's accounts showed a long pattern of criminal behavior.

"The defendant's actions were so distinctive as to become a signature. The striking similarities between the assaults were not confined to insignificant details," the judge wrote. "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."

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Bill Cosby leaves the courtroom in handcuffs after being sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison for sexual assault, Sept. 25, 2018. CBS Philadelphia

Each woman, the judge said, was substantially younger than Cosby and physically fit. O'Neill said Cosby initiated contact with the women primarily through their employment and that most believed Cosby sincerely desired to mentor them prior to the assaults, during which they were given an intoxicant while in a place Cosby controlled. Each was incapable of consent when they were assaulted, the judge said.

O'Neill also noted that prosecutors asked to call 19 witnesses, but he allowed only five to mitigate any prejudicial effect against Cosby.
 
Cosby's conviction came after a storied, 50-year entertainment career in television, film and comedy, and he'd earned the moniker "America's Dad" through his top-ranked sitcom, "The Cosby Show."

His wife, Camille Cosby, in a statement Tuesday, called her husband "one of our great American treasures," and said his appeal was important for all "wrongfully convicted of a crime, without any proof."