April 9 earliest for Cosby sexual assault re-trial

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby leaves with his spokesman Andrew Wyatt after a pretrial hearing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania on March 29, 2018

New York (AFP) – The US judge presiding over Bill Cosby’s retrial for alleged sexual assault Thursday set opening statements for April 9 at the earliest, a week after jury selection is to begin.

The disgraced comedy legend’s first trial in Pennsylvania collapsed last June when the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

The 80-year-old once pioneering African American comedian and actor is accused of drugging and molesting a former university basketball official at his Philadelphia home in 2004. He says their relations were consensual.

Judge Steven O’Neill set the April 9 date on Thursday while hearing pre-trial arguments from prosecutors and a defense team headed by Tom Mesereau, the celebrity Los Angeles attorney who got Michael Jackson acquitted of child molestation in 2005.

A court official in Norristown told AFP that April 9 was the earliest that opening statements would begin, assuming that jury selection was completed the previous week.

The June 2017 trial irrevocably damaged the once towering icon of US popular culture, loved by millions as “America’s Dad” and best known for his seminal role as a father and obstetrician on hit 1984-92 TV series “The Cosby Show.”

Around 60 women have publicly accused the Emmy-winning actor of being a serial sexual predator, but most of the alleged abuse happened too long ago to prosecute, meaning that the trial last year concerned only one of the alleged victims.

Cosby, now frail and isolated, risks spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

O’Neill is allowing testimony from five additional women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by Cosby, after last time allowing only one other to take the stand.

Canadian citizen Andrea Constand says Cosby gave her pills that left her semi-conscious, then made sexual advances — a story similar to those recounted by many of the other accusers. The actor denies the charges, saying their relations were consensual.