NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Bill Cosby, the comedian and television star who faces charges that he drugged and molested a woman he once mentored at his suburban Philadelphia home more than a decade ago, will be tried starting June 5, 2017, a Pennsylvania judge ruled on Tuesday.
The long-awaited trial will take place about 18 months after criminal charges of sexual assault were first filed against Mr. Cosby, who is accused of assaulting Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee.
Judge Steven T. O’Neill of Montgomery County also said that he would consider a motion filed by the prosecution to allow as evidence accounts from 13 other women who say they were drugged and sexually assaulted by Mr. Cosby, in episodes stretching from the 1960s through the 1990s.
In Pennsylvania law, as in most states, there is a general rule against admitting evidence from other cases in which no crime has been charged because it could prejudice a trial. But under Pennsylvania’s “prior bad acts” exemption, the judge can allow such evidence — for instance, if the other behavior demonstrates a “common scheme or plan,” a kind of unique fingerprint of the defendant’s behavior.
Prosecutors said that since they reopened the investigation last year, investigators had interviewed nearly 50 women who made similar accusations of drugging and sexual assault against Mr. Cosby. “What became clear was that the defendant has engaged, over the course of his lifetime, in a pattern of serial sexual abuse,” prosecutors said in a court filing.
In a statement on Tuesday, a spokesman for Mr. Cosby, Andrew Wyatt, attacked lawyers for accusing the entertainer “of crimes for unwitnessed events that allegedly occurred almost a half-century earlier,” and the news media for repeating the accusations.
Mr. Cosby, who has denied all charges, “is not giving up the fight for his rights,” Mr. Wyatt said.
Judge O’Neill, who said he would set dates to hear arguments on the “prior bad acts” motion before the trial, called the list of the 13 women “the elephant in the room.” Even though the women have not been publicly identified, they will probably be the subject of strenuous investigations by news organizations, given what the judge said was the “acute national interest” in the case.
Lynne M. Abraham, a former Philadelphia district attorney and judge, said that in deciding whether to permit the testimony the judge would have to determine whether the testimony’s probative value would outweigh any prejudice against the defendant.
The court will also hear arguments on two other defense motions: to suppress a deposition testimony made by Mr. Cosby during a civil suit brought against him by Ms. Constand in 2005; and to not allow into evidence a recording of a phone call between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand’s mother.
In the deposition, Mr. Cosby admitted obtaining quaaludes as part of his effort to have sex with women. This evidence has been cited as a key factor in the prosecution’s decision to reopen the decade-old criminal investigation, which stemmed from a 2004 encounter between Ms. Constand and Mr. Cosby at his home.
Mr. Cosby’s lawyers say that he testified freely in that civil case only because a former district attorney who carried out an investigation in 2005 had made a binding commitment never to pursue charges against Mr. Cosby.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Cosby’s lead lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, urged the judge not to allow the recording of a call between Mr. Cosby and Gianna Constand, Ms. Constand’s mother, to be used as evidence at trial.
The recording was played in court at the judge’s request so that he could authenticate an exchange he had only read as a transcript. During the call, Mr. Cosby discussed paying for further schooling for Ms. Constand, according to prosecutors. The call included an exchange in which Mr. Cosby asked whether the call was being recorded, and Gianna Constand said that the beep he had heard during the call was actually made by her parrot.
Mr. McMonagle said the call violated a Pennsylvania law that requires both parties on a call to consent to being recorded, and Mr. Cosby had not consented. Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County district attorney, argued that the call should be admitted, either because Mr. Cosby knew he was being recorded or because Gianna Constand was in Canada at the time — and Canadian law does not require the consent of both parties for a call to be recorded.