NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — Bill Cosby’s trial on sexual assault charges can proceed, a Pennsylvania judge ruled, and Cosby’s accuser, Andrea Constand, won’t have to testify in person at a pretrial hearing.
Lawyers for the 78-year-old entertainer asked Judge Steven O’Neill to throw out the charges against Cosby. He is accused of drugging and assaulting Constand, a former Temple University employee, at his Philadelphia-area home in 2004.
Cosby’s lawyers argued Constand should have been required to testify at a preliminary hearing in May and face cross-examination.
At that hearing, Cosby’s statement to police as well as the statement Constand made to authorities were read by a Montgomery County law enforcement officer who was present while Constand made parts of her statement. Constand was not in court for the May pretrial hearing or the hearing on Thursday.
A judge ruled at the May hearing that there was enough evidence to move the case to trial. In Pennsylvania, the law does not require an alleged victim to testify at a preliminary hearing.
“The commonwealth does not have to put witnesses on the stand,” O’Neill said in court. “Hearsay evidence shall be sufficient. …This case shall proceed to trial.”
No trial date has been set. Cosby, who has denied the accusations, faces three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault. Constand will have to testify at the trial.
One of Cosby’s lawyers, Andrew Wyatt, said in a statement:
“Once again the prosecution had the opportunity and the obligation to place Mr. Cosby’s accuser under oath so that we can search for the truth but they refused. In this courthouse and in this state, we have always protected the liberty of our citizens by requiring accusations like these to be tested by an examination under oath but not today. Today a man who has meant so much to so many; a man who has given so much to so many; has had his constitutional rights trampled on. We truly believe that our Supreme Court will right this wrong and reverse this decision so that we can finish the mission of proving Mr. Cosby’s innocence.”
After the hearing, the chief prosecutor criticized defense lawyers.
“The defense operated under a mistaken belief that they had a right to confront the victim at this stage,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said outside court. “They do not. If he wants to confront witnesses let’s get this case to trial.”
Though more than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct and some have filed lawsuits, the Constand case is the only criminal prosecution, because the statute of limitations has passed for the other cases.
Constand filed a lawsuit against Cosby and the two sides reached a civil settlement in 2006. The criminal case was reopened as new evidence came to light, including a number of other accusers coming forward and the release of some of Cosby’s remarks during a 2005 deposition that were recently unsealed.
Steele, the newly elected district attorney, turned the Cosby case into an election issue. He promptly reopened it after taking office.
Cosby was charged with three felonies and arraigned in December, then released on $1 million bond.
Cosby sued Constand in February, claiming she violated terms of the 2006 settlement.
Jean Casarez reported from Pennsylvania and Ralph Ellis wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Steve Forrest contributed to this report.