Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear appeal of Bill Cosby’s 2018 sexual assault conviction

EAGLEVILLE, PA – SEPTEMBER 25: In this handout image provided by the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Bill Cosby poses for a mugshot on September 25, 2018 in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. Cosby was sentenced to three-to 10-years for sexual assault. (Photo by Montgomery County Correctional Facility via Getty Images)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear an of Bill Cosby’s 2018 sexual assault conviction, with his lawyers asking the justices to either grant him a new trial or drop the case.

“The American criminal justice system was designed to convict defendants based upon their conduct – not on their general character,” Cosby’s lawyers argue in their brief. “The fervor of the #MeToo movement rendered this cherished constitutional tenet obsolete at Cosby’s trial.”

Cosby was the first celebrity convicted of sexual abuse after the start of the #MeToo movement. His lawyers attribute his conviction in part to the movement. Cosby is serving a three-to-ten-year sentence in a state prison near Philadelphia.

Cosby, a comedian and actor best known as the lovable father from the 1980s TV hit “The Cosby Show,” was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault after drugging a former friend, Andrea Constand, in January 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia mansion. At the time Constand was director of operations of Temple University women’s basketball team.

One prong of Cosby’s appeal attacks the decision by Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill to allow testimony at the trial by five “prior bad act” witnesses. Cosby’s legal team will argue that the five women’s claims are too dissimilar to Constand’s complaint to have been allowed.

Prosecutors hoped the testimony of five women who over the years have also accused the entertainer of sexual assault, would show a pattern of behavior by Cosby of befriending younger women with promises of career help and then drugging and raping them.

They were among some 50 women who accused Cosby, now 83, of sexual assaults going back decades, though all the accusations but Constand’s were too old to prosecute.

His lawyers will also argue that Cosby was given immunity from prosecution by former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor in 2005 in return for his deposition in Constand’s civil suit.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele’s legal team, led by Adrienne Jappe, an assistant prosecutor at the 2018 trial, disagrees on both counts.

“The trial court properly denied the non-prosecution claim. Its credibility determination and factual-finding that there was no promise is supported by the record. Even if it existed, the district attorney lacked the authority to grant non-statutory immunity,” they write in their brief.

Prosecutors note that testimony by the five women and the invalidity of Castor’s supposed non-prosecution agreement with Cosby passed muster both with O’Neill and the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the state’s intermediate appellate court.

In December 2019, a Pennsylvania appeals court dismissed Cosby’s bid to overturn his conviction.

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