By Joseph Ax
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - Lawyers for comedian Bill Cosby and Pennsylvania prosecutors clashed in court on Monday over whether his own words can be used against him at his sexual assault trial in June.
Prosecutors are seeking to use numerous statements they say show Cosby's willingness to use intoxicants to incapacitate women before assaulting them.
"This evidence demonstrates that he thinks it's OK to give women drugs in order to have sex with them," Assistant District Attorney M. Stewart Ryan told Judge Steven O'Neill of the Court of Common Pleas in Montgomery County in Norristown, just west of Philadelphia.
But Cosby's lawyer, Brian McMonagle, accused prosecutors of trying a "back-door play" that would effectively let them introduce evidence of other sexual assault allegations unrelated to the case involving Andrea Constand, a former basketball coach at Temple University who accused Cosby of giving her pills in 2004 that left her unable to resist.
More than 50 women have leveled accusations at the 79-year-old Cosby, some stretching back decades. But the Pennsylvania case is the only criminal prosecution he has faced to date.
Cosby, whose career and wholesome image were shattered by the accusations, has said every sexual encounter was consensual.
During sworn depositions taken after Constand sued Cosby, the entertainer acknowledged obtaining prescription sedatives in the 1970s to give to young women.
Prosecutors said they should be allowed to use excerpts from Cosby's autobiography and statements he made in a 1991 television interview, in which he described the power of an aphrodisiac called "Spanish fly" to put women in the "mood."
But Cosby's lawyers said the deposition testimony had nothing to do with Constand and the "Spanish fly" comments were jokes, not evidence.
"It was comedy," McMonagle told O'Neill. "It was not an admission."
Meanwhile, McMonagle said he would undermine Constand's credibility by portraying her civil lawsuit as an attempt to get money.
But he asked O'Neill to bar the prosecution from mentioning the subsequent civil settlement, in which Cosby paid her an undisclosed sum in exchange for her agreement not to cooperate with future law enforcement efforts.
Prosecutors, however, said they should be allowed to bring up the deal to rebut the defense's attempts to impugn Constand's motives.
Jury selection will begin next month in Pittsburgh, hundreds of miles away. O'Neill previously agreed to empanel jurors from another county because of pretrial publicity. The jury will be in Norristown for the expected two weeks of trial.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool)