Bill Cosby’s retrial on sexual assault charges will be delayed until next year as his new legal team gets up to speed on the case, which pits the 80-year-old comedian against a woman who says he drugged and molested her more than a decade ago.
Judge Steven O’Neill on Tuesday granted a defence request to postpone the retrial, which had been scheduled to start in November, saying there’s no way that Cosby’s lawyers would be ready by then.
“To ask someone to review the voluminous record over 18 months — now 20 months in this case — simply cannot be done,” O’Neill said from the bench.
Cosby’s new lawyers made their first court appearance on behalf of The Cosby Show star, who’s charged with knocking out accuser Andrea Constand with pills and sexually assaulting her at his home near Philadelphia in 2004. He says Constand, a former executive with Temple University’s women’s basketball program, consented to their sexual encounter.
His first trial ended without a verdict after the jury deadlocked, setting the stage for a retrial.
The judge on Tuesday asked Cosby’s lawyers to consider a start date sometime between March 15 and April 1. He said he’ll issue a firm date once they get back to him.
“Hopefully they’ll get up to speed quickly so we can bring this case to justice. It’s a case that deserves a verdict and we intend to get there,” District Attorney Kevin Steele told reporters outside court.
The jury for the retrial will likely come from the Philadelphia suburbs. Signaling an early change in strategy, Cosby’s new lawyers said they would be willing to pick a local jury, and Steele’s office said it wouldn’t object.
Cosby’s former defence team insisted on picking a jury from a different county, partly because the case was a campaign issue in the 2015 race for Montgomery County district attorney. The jury in Cosby’s first trial came from the Pittsburgh area and spent two weeks in June sequestered 300 miles (483 kilometres) from home.
The attorneys who represented Cosby at that trial, Brian McMonagle and Angela Agrusa, had asked to be let off the case. O’Neill approved the request Tuesday, praising them for their “extraordinary advocacy.”
As they left the courtroom, the departing lawyers shook hands with Cosby and his new legal team, which includes Tom Mesereau, the high-profile attorney who won an acquittal in Michael Jackson’s child molestation case. Mesereau told TMZ last month that the case against Cosby was “weak” and that retrying him was “a waste of time.”
Other lawyers on the retooled legal team are former federal prosecutor Kathleen Bliss and Sam Silver, who represented now-imprisoned former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in a corruption case.
None of the defence lawyers commented as they left court Tuesday.
The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done.