NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) – Bill Cosby’s defense lawyers on Tuesday were set to make their opening statements in his retrial on sex assault charges, a case that is expected to include testimony from a woman who claims his accuser had mused about profiting from allegations against a famous man.
The 80-year-old entertainer, once best known as the wise and witty father in the TV hit “The Cosby Show,” is facing the same charges of sexually assaulting a friend in 2004 that he faced in a trial last year that ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict.
His defense will include new elements this time, after Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill said he would allow testimony from a friend of accuser Andrea Constand, a 44-year-old former administrator at Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University. The friend claims Constand once spoke of extracting money from celebrities by making such accusations.
About 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault, sometimes after drugging them, in a string of alleged attacks dating back decades. All the accusations, apart from Constand’s, were too old to be the subject of criminal prosecution.
Cosby has denied wrongdoing, saying that any sexual contact he has had was consensual. If convicted of aggravated indecent assault, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
The new jury on Monday heard in prosecutors’ opening statements that Cosby had paid $ 3.38 million to a woman who accused him of sexual assault as part of a 2006 settlement of a civil lawsuit. That fact had not been revealed at Cosby’s first trial almost a year ago.
Both sides had wanted to divulge the settlement at trial, with prosecutors possibly seeking to portray it as an admission of guilt, while defense lawyers could argue that it bolstered their cases that Constand was seeking a big payout.
Cosby has changed lawyers for this trial, with his defense headed by Tom Mesereau, a Los Angeles attorney best known for successfully defending singer Michael Jackson at his 2005 child molestation trial.
Prosecutors will have a chance to call witnesses that were blocked from the first trial, including five more women who accuse Cosby of sex assault. Their testimony could bolster an argument that Cosby, who built a long career on a family-friendly style of comedy, was a serial predator who preyed on vulnerable women.
In Cosby’s last trial, prosecutors were allowed to call just one such witness.
Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum