By Daniel Kelley
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - Bill Cosby will face a challenge on Wednesday from Pennsylvania prosecutors who have charged him with sexually assaulting a woman a decade ago and are denying the comedian's claim that he cannot be prosecuted for the alleged crime.
Cosby, 78, arrived for the second day of hearings on Wednesday dressed in a gray suit and could be seen smiling as an associate held his arm and helped him walk into the courthouse.
More than 50 women have accused the entertainer, whose long career was based on family-friendly comedy, of sexually assaulting them in attacks dating back to the 1960s. Many of the incidents are too old to prosecute. The Pennsylvania case is the only incident for which Cosby has been criminally charged.
A former Montgomery County district attorney, Bruce Castor, testified on Tuesday that he had declined to bring charges in 2005 that Cosby had assaulted Andrea Constand, a former employee at Cosby's alma mater Temple University in Philadelphia, because he did not consider her case "viable."
Defense attorneys on Tuesday presented a 2005 press release from Castor's office that they said represented a non-prosecution agreement. Prosecutors on Wednesday are expected to begin making their case that there was no binding agreement not to bring charges.
Castor said he believed Constand's charges but thought a jury would view her as less than credible because she had waited a year to bring charges and had hired a lawyer to look into a civil suit.
He said declining to prosecute Cosby set the stage for a civil deposition in which the entertainer admitted to giving Constand the anti-allergy drug Benadryl before a sexual encounter he described as consensual.
Constand, now 44, said Cosby plied her with alcohol and drugs before raping her.
Marci Hamilton, a professor at New York's Cardozo School of Law, said the civil lawsuits accusing Cosby of sex assault could actually make prosecutors' work easier.
"The remarkable similarity of the pattern over the course of all those years, that is evidence that may well be relevant," Hamilton said. "What they definitely don't have in front of them is one woman in a he-said, she-said case."
Karen Polesir, a leader of the Philadelphia arm of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group that advocates for victims of sexual abuse, said she hoped the judge would rule against the entertainer.
"If Cosby wins today, the blame lies squarely on Bruce Castor and Pennsylvania's predator-friendly statutes of limitations," Polesir said.
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Andrew Hay and Will Dunham)