NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - The judge presiding over U.S. comedian Bill Cosby’s trial for sexual assault accusations refused on Thursday to remove himself from the case, rejecting defense attorney concerns over his wife being an advocate for sexual assault victims.
The judge also postponed ruling on a host of other motions that will shape Cosby’s second trial. The once-beloved comedian and television star has been accused by more than 50 women of sexual assault going back decades.
Only one of those accusations was recent enough to prosecute. Cosby, 80, is charged with drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, 44, at his home near Philadelphia between Dec. 30, 2003, and Jan. 20, 2004. Jury selection is due to start on Monday.
Cosby, best known as the wise and witty dad in the 1980s TV hit “The Cosby Show,” has denied criminal wrongdoing, saying any sexual contact he had was consensual.
Cosby’s first trial ended in June with a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict following six days of deliberations.
Cosby, who now walks with a cane and has poor vision, sat at the defense table on Thursday for the first of two days of pre-trial arguments, with the defense and prosecution clashing over what witnesses and evidence the jury should be allowed to see.
Cosby’s defense team sought the judge’s recusal because his wife, Dr. Deborah O’Neill, is a psychotherapist at Penn who coordinates a group that helps sexual assault victims. She made a $100 donation to a feminist group at the University of Pennsylvania sponsoring the annual V-Day activities, which include a production of the play “The Vagina Monologues.”
O’Neill dismissed the request, saying, “She’s an independent woman and has a right to be involved in anything she believes in.”
Prosecutors want to quash any mention of a 2005 press release in which former District Attorney Bruce Castor announced that he would not prosecute Cosby, and of how current District Attorney Kevin Steele later decided to file charges.
Defense lawyers want the jury to hear from Margo Jackson, who they say will testify that she heard Constand say she could make money on a sexual assault accusation against a celebrity.
In the first trial, O’Neill ruled Jackson’s testimony was inadmissible as hearsay but now he is reconsidering.
The pre-trial hearing was due to resume on Friday morning.Jury selection is to begin on Monday, with the jury pool being sequestered starting on Sunday night, O’Neill said.
Reporting by David DeKok Writing by Daniel Trotta Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott