Montgomery County prosecutors on Tuesday asked the judge overseeing Bill Cosby's sex-assault case to let them call as witnesses 13 women who say the entertainer attacked them, potentially transforming the trial by airing sexual-misconduct allegations that span decades.
Cosby's lawyers immediately signaled their intention to fight the request, which they said would represent the "trampling" of his civil rights.
The women, who were not publicly identified, were selected from a group of more than 50 who have accused the 79-year-old entertainer of sexual abuse, prosecutors said.
"What became clear was that the defendant has engaged, over the course of his lifetime, in a pattern of serial sexual abuse," District Attorney Kevin R. Steele wrote in a court filing Tuesday, describing his office's investigation into other women's claims.
Steele filed the motion Tuesday afternoon, as Cosby appeared in court in Norristown for a pretrial hearing.
Judge Steven T. O'Neill set a trial date of next June 5, but said he would like it to begin earlier. He said he would hold a hearing later about the potential testimony of other women, to determine "if I would even permit one or all to testify."
Pennsylvania law allows a judge to accept testimony about past acts at trial if it shows "a common plan scheme, or design." Cosby is charged with sexually assaulting and drugging Andrea Constand in his Cheltenham home in 2004, after befriending her through her job with Temple University and offering her career advice.
The accusations of the 13 women - the same number included as "Jane Doe" witnesses in a lawsuit that Constand filed against Cosby in 2005 that was settled out of court - parallel the allegations in the criminal case. The accusations date to as early as the 1960s.
Each story, according to prosecutors, unfolds nearly the same way. The women often met Cosby through their work. He allegedly befriended each and earned trust by offering career advice, guidance, or invitations to shows or dinners. He encouraged them in their careers, even inviting one to audition for The Cosby Show, according to accounts laid out by prosecutors.
He eventually offered them pills or drinks that he encouraged them to take and that made them feel incapacitated - one said she felt "disoriented," another "blacked out" - and Cosby made nonconsensual sexual advances. One woman told investigators she refused to take what Cosby identified as Quaaludes, but later agreed to drink champagne and had difficulty staying conscious.
Steele said Tuesday that all 13 women were willing to testify if permitted by the judge.
Cosby's lawyers are expected to fight against including testimony from other accusers at trial.
He has pleaded not guilty in the one criminal case against him and has maintained that all of his sexual encounters have been consensual.
After Tuesday's hearing, Cosby's lawyers spoke out against prosecutors, accusers, and lawyers such as Gloria Allred, who represents some of Cosby's accusers.
"When the media repeats her accusations - with no evidence, no trial, and no jury - we are moved backwards as a country and away from the America that our civil rights leaders sacrificed so much to create," Cosby lawyer Brian J. McMonagle said.
Dressed in a seersucker jacket, tie, and gray pants, Cosby stood with his lawyers outside the courthouse but stayed silent. He was led into court by aides, and sat talking with one of his lawyers. His lawyers have said he is blind; the judge asked them to better describe his condition to court staff so that necessary accommodations could be made.
In addition to ruling on the testimony of other women, O'Neill will have to decide whether to allow the use of a deposition Cosby gave when Constand sued him in 2005, and whether the decadelong delay between the alleged 2004 encounter and Cosby's arrest in December was unfair. Cosby's lawyers said they also plan to request a change of venue.
O'Neill heard arguments from both sides Tuesday afternoon on the first of several pretrial issues: whether jurors should be allowed to hear the recording of a phone call between Cosby and Constand's mother a year after the alleged assault. In it, Cosby offers to pay for Constand to attend graduate school.
McMonagle said the recording should be excluded from trial because Pennsylvania law prohibits recording a conversation without the consent of both parties.
"They want you to apply a foreign country's law," McMonagle said. "That's a slippery slope."
Steele said Cosby believed he was being recorded because he later admitted his suspicion in a deposition, and even asked during the call why there was a beeping noise. In response, Gianna Constand, Andrea's mother, told him the beeping was a parrot, according to a transcript of the call. Because Cosby expressed doubt and kept talking, Steele said, he did not have "an expectation of privacy."
"In order for me to determine his expectation of privacy, I have to make a determination [if it is] an electronic beep, or is it a really good parrot?" O'Neill asked, casting doubt on Steele's argument.
"Maybe it was a really good parrot that is able to mimic back beeps. I don't know that, I just don't know that."
Steele played the recording for O'Neill after a break in the hearing. He did not rule on the issue.
Lmccrystal@philly.com 610-313-8116 @LMcCrystal