By Joseph Ax
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - Pennsylvania prosecutors want a "bandwagon" of unreliable accusers on parade at Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial next year, egged on by a celebrity attorney intent on bringing down an American icon, the comedian's defense lawyers said on Wednesday.
But the lead prosecutor, Kevin Steele, told a state judge the women can help prove that Cosby is a serial predator who engaged in a "lifetime of sexual assault."
The judge, Steven O'Neill, is weighing whether to allow 13 accusers to testify, in addition to the woman whose allegations of sexual abuse form the basis for the case.
Cosby, 79, faces sexual assault claims from about 50 women altogether, though the Pennsylvania case is the only criminal prosecution to result. The actor, who once enjoyed a family-friendly image, has denied any wrongdoing.
The two-day hearing that concluded on Wednesday was seen as crucial for both sides. If prosecutors prevail, Cosby would face multiple witnesses describing attacks going back four decades.
If not, Cosby's defense lawyers could focus on undermining just one account: that of Andrea Constand, whose allegations of a 2004 drug-fueled sexual assault led to the Pennsylvania charges a decade later.
Evidence of "prior bad acts" is typically disallowed to avoid unfairly prejudicing jurors. But prosecutors can be permitted to introduce such evidence if it shows a clear pattern of behavior.
Steele said the 14 women's accounts share "remarkable similarities." In each case, he said, Cosby targeted young women, established trust and then incapacitated them with intoxicants.
But McMonagle said the prior accusations, which stretch back to the 1960s, were "ancient, remote, incredible and uncorroborated," and lacked key details like exact dates. He also argued that the alleged assaults were far too different to suggest a specific pattern.
"Take my case that was in a garbage can for 10 years ... and breathe life into it by changing the law. That's what they're asking you to do," McMonagle told O'Neill.
Cosby's lawyers also accused prominent attorney Gloria Allred, who represents most of the women and was sitting in the courtroom, of using prosecutors to advance her clients' interests.
"Gloria Allred has been brilliant," said defense lawyer Angela Agrusa. "She executed a plan, and she got the district attorney's office to be her bagman."
Speaking to reporters outside court, Allred said, "When you have the facts on your side, you argue the facts. When you don't have the facts, then you either attack the victim or other lawyers."
O'Neill said it would take time for him to render a decision. The trial is scheduled for June.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown)