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NORRISTOWN, Pa., Dec 14 (Reuters) - Pennsylvania prosecutors and defense lawyers for Bill Cosby will resume a crucial legal battle on Wednesday, as a judge considers whether to allow more than a dozen female accusers to testify at his criminal trial next year.
Cosby, 79, is facing sexual assault allegations from about 50 women stretching back decades, though the Pennsylvania case, based on accusations from a former basketball coach at his alma mater, is the only criminal prosecution to result. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors are seeking permission from Judge Steven O'Neill in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas to call as witnesses 13 women who say they were sexually assaulted by Cosby in strikingly similar ways. The two-day hearing began on Tuesday.
State law typically bars prosecutors from introducing "prior bad acts" unrelated to the case in question. But a rare exception allows such evidence if it shows a clear pattern of behavior on the part of the defendant.
Cosby preyed on young women who welcomed his mentoring, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele told O'Neill, establishing a trusting relationship before using pills and wine to incapacitate them and then mounting his attacks.
Lawyers for Cosby, whose reputation as a family-friendly entertainer has suffered immeasurably from the allegations, are expected to question the reliability of the other accusers, as well as their motives. They have already noted repeatedly that 10 of the 13 potential witnesses are clients of celebrity civil rights attorney Gloria Allred.
If prosecutors win the argument, they would be free to paint Cosby as a serial predator at trial, with witnesses describing attacks that go back more than four decades.
If not, Cosby's defense lawyers would be able to focus on undermining just one account: that of Andrea Constand, the woman whose allegations led to the Pennsylvania charges.
Tuesday's hearing was noteworthy for several heated exchanges between Steele and Cosby's lead defense lawyer, Brian McMonagle, that required O'Neill to intervene more than once.
Steele argued that McMonagle was deliberately trying to publicize the names of the accusers in an effort to intimidate them. In response, McMonagle said most of the women had already identified themselves by speaking to reporters and filing lawsuits.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Tom Brown