A Pennsylvania appeals court rejected Bill Cosby’s bid to overturn his sexual assault conviction Tuesday over the trial judge’s decision to let five other accusers testify.
The Superior Court ruling was being closely watched because Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era. The same issue has been hard-fought in pretrial hearings before movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial.
Cosby’s lawyers in his appeal said the trial judge had improperly allowed the five women to testify at last year’s retrial although he’d let just one woman testify at the first trial in 2017.
But the Superior Court said Pennsylvania law allows the testimony if it shows Cosby had a “signature” pattern of drugging and molesting women. He can now ask the state Supreme Court to consider his appeal.
Cosby, 82, has been serving a three- to 10-year prison term for the 2004 encounter at his suburban Philadelphia home, which he deemed consensual. His lawyers also argued that he had a binding promise from a former prosecutor that he would never be charged in the case and could testify freely at a deposition in accuser Andrea Constand’s related lawsuit.
He was arrested a decade later, after a federal judge unsealed portions of the deposition at the request of The Associated Press and new prosecutors reopened the criminal case.
Related: #MeToo and #TimesUp movements
#MeToo and #TimesUp movements
#MeToo and #TimesUp movements
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Orla Dean, 5, holds a placard during the Time's Up rally at Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street on January 21, 2018 in London, England. The Time's Up Women's March marks the one year anniversary of the first Women's March in London and in 2018 it is inspired by the Time's Up movement against sexual abuse. The Time's Up initiative was launched at the start of January 2018 as a response to the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Activist Tarana Burke, the original creator of the 'Me Too' hashtag, speaks at the #MeToo Survivors March & Rally on November 12, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/FilmMagic)
Ada Kennedy, 7, looks up at her mother as they participate in a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other House Democrats wear black as they participate in a photo-op at the U.S. Capitol prior to President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. House Democrats plan to show up in black when attending the State of the Union address this evening in support the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 08: Women attend the beginning of a march for women's rights at Schlesisches Tor on International Women's Day on March 8, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Millions of women across the world are celebrating and maching today, many of them newly motivated by the #metoo movement. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 5: Harvey Weinstein and attorney Benjamin Brafman exit State Supreme Court, June 5, 2018 in New York City. Weinstein pleaded not guilty on two counts of rape and one count of a criminal sexual act. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Attorney Gloria Allred (L) participates in the LA Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California on June 10, 2018. The annual LGBTQ celebration drew an estimated crowd of 150,000 people. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 04: (EDITORS NOTE: This image has been shot in black and white. Color version not available) Activists attend the MeToo vs. Kavanaugh Survivors March on October 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Lucianna Faraone Coccia/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: 75th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Actors Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer and America Ferrera arrive to the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018. (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Activists participate in the Take Back The Workplace March and #MeToo Survivors March & Rally on November 12, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images)
Activists protest Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Los Angeles, California on September 28, 2018. Professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A woman who declined to give her name wears an outfit with the names of all the men in Hollywood who sexually harrassed her during a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Samantha Hanahentzen, 17, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Hanahentzen said: "When I saw the #MeToo hashtag I was just coming to terms with my sexual assault. It happened when I was in middle school by one of my teachers. It took me a while to come forward with what had happened to me and then when I went to the administration I was told I didn't have enough evidence to prove anything and I should just keep quiet about it because I and the school could be sued for slander if I went public with my experience. It was really silencing because when I was being assaulted it was that stereotypical line of 'let's keep this between me and you.' And then when I found the courage to come out with it I was told again 'let's keep this quiet.' So for me too, it was a way to have a voice and it was a way for me to see that I'm not the only one that has gone through this and that women all around the world have all experienced the same thing. It was really unifying." REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Demonstrators gather on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for a protest for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28: Activists participate in the 'Believe Survivors. STOP Kavanaugh.' rally hosted by TIME'S UP & Partners at Los Angeles City Hall on September 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 20: Actor Sarah Hyland at 2018 Women's March Los Angeles at Pershing Square on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images)
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The three-judge Superior Court panel, in arguments in Harrisburg in August, asked why Cosby’s lawyers didn’t get a written immunity agreement and have it approved by a judge, instead of relying on an oral promise.
“This is not a low-budget operation we were operating here. They had an unlimited budget,” said Superior Court Judge John T. Bender, who questioned whether any court would have approved the deal.
O’Neill’s decision to let five other accusers testify came after more than 60 women accused Cosby of sexual misconduct. Prosecutors asked to call 19 of them. Superior Court Judge John Bender appeared to agree with O’Neill’s logic in letting some take the stand.
“The reality of it is, he gives them drugs and then he sexually assaults them. And in four out of the five, those were in mentor situations,” Bender said.
Kristen L. Weisenberger, representing Cosby, said one of the women wasn’t even sure she was sexually assaulted. However, prosecutors said, that’s how Cosby planned it.
O’Neill had allowed just one other accuser at Cosby’s first trial in 2017, when the jury deadlocked. Cosby’s lawyers called his later decision to let more women testify arbitrary and prejudicial.
The long-married Cosby, once beloved as “America’s Dad” for his TV role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the hugely popular sitcom “The Cosby Show,” has acknowledged having sexual contact with a string of younger women, many of whom came to him for career advice and took alcohol or pills he offered them.
He and his lawyers and agents have suggested that many of the accusers were gold diggers seeking money or fame. He told a news outlet in November that he expects to serve the maximum 10-year sentence if he loses the appeal, because he would never express remorse to the parole board.
Cosby agreed to pay Constand, a former Temple University basketball team manager, about $3.4 million to settle her lawsuit. His insurance company, following his conviction, settled at least nine other defamation lawsuits filed by accusers for undisclosed sums.
The AP does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.
This story has been updated to correct that the court ruled Tuesday, not Monday.