By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - Bill Cosby is set to return to a Pennsylvania criminal court on Thursday, when the comedian's lawyers will mount their latest attempt to have the sexual assault case against him thrown out.
Lawyers for Cosby, 78, will argue that the accuser, Andrea Constand, should be required to testify and answer questions from the defense before the case is permitted to proceed to trial.
Cosby, once one of the most beloved U.S. entertainers thanks to his family-friendly persona, is facing accusations of sexual assault from dozens of women stretching back decades. The Pennsylvania case is the only criminal prosecution against him, as most of the other allegations involve incidents that are too old to produce charges.
Cosby has denied assaulting anyone and has portrayed his 2004 encounter with Constand as consensual.
Thursday's hearing could provide a preview of the defense's trial strategy, which is likely to focus on undermining Constand's credibility by attacking her story and questioning her behavior following the alleged assault.
Prosecutors in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, chose not to call Constand as a witness at a preliminary hearing in May. Instead, two police detectives who took her statement in 2005 testified as to what she told them at the time.
Cosby's lawyers have argued that the use of such hearsay evidence to hold the case over for trial violated his rights. But the judge overseeing the May hearing rejected that position, citing a recent state appeals court ruling that victims do not have to testify in person at preliminary hearings.
The issue is pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in another case.
Cosby's lawyers have asked the court to either throw out the charges or hold a new preliminary hearing at which Constand would be forced to testify and submit to cross-examination.
Constand, a former basketball coach at Cosby's alma mater Temple University, has accused him of drugging her at his home near Philadelphia in 2004 and then assaulting her on a couch. Cosby has admitted giving her the allergy medication Benadryl but has maintained they engaged in consensual acts.
Cosby's lawyers have tried unsuccessfully to have the case dismissed for various reasons. A trial date has not been set.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Richard Chang)