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Bill Cosby a political pawn being wrongly prosecuted, argues defence lawyers

Bill Cosby’s lawyers painted him Wednesday as a political pawn who’s only being prosecuted for sexual assault because a suburban Philadelphia district attorney used public furor over the decade-old case to win election last year.

Cosby’s lawyers are asking a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the long delay between the encounter with his accuser and his arrest violated due process. A key witness has died, and Cosby, now 79 and blind, is unable to assist in his defence, they said.

At the same time, dozens of additional accusers have come forward, including 13 women whom prosecutors plan to call as trial witnesses to show they were drugged and molested in similar fashion. Cosby’s lawyers are opposing that strategy.

Prosecutors reopened Cosby’s case last year after portions of his lurid deposition from a related civil case in 2005 were made public. In them, Cosby acknowledged a series of extramarital affairs and said he had obtained quaaludes from a doctor in the 1970s to give women before they had sex.

Cosby’s lawyers said the comedian answered questions under oath only after then-District Attorney Bruce Castor made it clear that he’d never face arrest over a 2004 sexual encounter with Andrea Constand, a former Temple University basketball manager.

Cosby has said his encounter with Constand was consensual. He could get 10 years in prison if convicted. He is free on $1 million US bail.

Cosby lawyers attack current DA

Cosby’s lawyers are using that supposed promise to support their dual arguments at a hearing continuing Wednesday that the case should be thrown out and that prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to use the deposition as evidence.

They’re also focusing on the battle between Castor and the current district attorney, Kevin Steele, in last year’s election in Montgomery County.

Bill Cosby

Cosby’s lawyers have attacked Montgomery County District Attorney, Kevin Steele (at centre), saying that ‘his cause célè​bre became attacking Mr. Cosby…And now he’s in a situation where he’s got to act on it.’ (Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia InquireR/Associated Press)

Steele, a longtime deputy prosecutor, ran press releases and television commercials attacking Castor for not prosecuting Cosby even as more accusers came forward. In the same ads, Steele stressed his own record of convictions and long sentences for sexual predators.

Steele made Cosby a “pawn in that election,” Cosby lawyer Angela Agrusa argued.

“His cause célè​bre became attacking Mr. Cosby, stating publicly that his opponent had not been aggressive enough, had not done his job,” she said. “And now he’s in a situation where he’s got to act on it.”

Steele signed Cosby’s arrest papers last December in his last days as a deputy and took office as district attorney a week later.

Judge Steven O’Neill, who is presiding over the case, said Tuesday that Cosby’s decision to testify at the civil deposition could have been strategic. He found no evidence Cosby’s lawyers tried to get the promise in writing before allowing him to give four days of testimony.

They might have thought it was better for him to testify than plead the Fifth Amendment and have a civil jury think he had something to hide, the judge suggested.

Defence attorney Brian McMonagle said the judge would set a bad precedent if he let the testimony in.

“I don’t want DAs making promises that they don’t later keep,” McMonagle said. “That strikes at the heart of fundamental unfairness.”

It’s not clear when the judge will rule.

Andrea Constand 42 walks dogs in Toronto Dec 30 2015 Cosby accuser

Canadian Andrea Constand, a former basketball team manager at Temple University in Philadelphia, Cosby’s alma mater, accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Cosby, a long-married comedian once known as America’s Dad for his role on the “The Cosby Show,” was questioned a decade ago as part of a lawsuit brought against him by Constand.

Constand eventually settled in 2006 for an undisclosed sum.

Cosby’s lawyers want the judge to bar such testimony about “prior bad acts,” saying prosecutors are reaching back to the “casting couch” era to round up accusers and build a “stale” case. The defence contends the women’s memories have been compromised by time, age and widespread news coverage of the case.

“The fact that even the most fervently held memories can actually be tainted — or altogether false — is supported by a vast existing and growing body of science,” McMonagle wrote.​