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As Bill Cosby trial winds down, defense shifts strategy aiming to prove he was out of town

Bill Cosby arrives for his sexual assault trial, Friday, April 20, 2018, at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
Bill Cosby arrives for his sexual assault trial, Friday, April 20, 2018, at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
By Jeremy Roebuck and Laura Mccrystal Philadelphia Inquirer

NORRISTOWN, Pa. – Bill Cosby’s lawyers shifted strategies at his retrial Friday, hoping to convince jurors that it was impossible for his sexual encounter with accuser Andrea Constand to have occurred when she says it did.

Calling a series of assistants and tour managers to the witness stand, defense lawyer Becky S. James walked jurors through Cosby’s flight and travel records from January 2004 – the period in which Constand says Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at his Cheltenham home.

The paperwork – charting trips logged by Cosby’s personal pilot on his private plane and appointments tracked by an assistant at his talent agency – showed that the entertainer kept up a busy travel and touring schedule during the period, jetting between New York and his Massachusetts home and venues across the country.

In questioning the witnesses, James did little more on the trial’s 10th day Friday than to establish what the travel and appearance records were and to introduce them as exhibits. But Cosby’s 14-year-old appointment schedule is likely to play a significant role in his defense as the case rapidly draws to a close.

In court papers, James has laid out an elaborate, document-heavy argument that Constand’s alleged assault fell outside the time period in which prosecutors could legally charge Cosby with a crime.

Although Constand has repeatedly maintained in police statements, depositions, and testimony over the last 13 years that Cosby drugged and assaulted her at his Cheltenham mansion during the first two weeks of January 2004, his defense team says it has proof that Cosby wasn’t even in Montgomery County at the time.

Instead, the defense documents show that the entertainer kept up a brisk pace during that period jetting back and forth between New York, Florida, California and his Massachusetts home. He even taped an episode of “Sesame Street” at studios in New York City.

Constand also traveled frequently during this period in her job as an operations manager for Temple University’s women’s basketball team.

What’s more, the defense has argued, Constand placed several calls to Cosby’s New York residence in that two-week window, suggesting that she knew he was staying there at the time.

Cosby, in earlier testimony, has admitted he had a sexual liaison with Constand in Cheltenham in 2004 – one that he says was consensual. But his lawyers now argue that if it occurred at a different point in time, the comedian’s purported crimes fall outside the statute of limitations.

If jurors find that theory persuasive, they could decide to acquit Cosby – even if they believe he assaulted Constand.

Prosecutors were running right up against Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes when they filed their case against Cosby in late December 2015.

That defense argument is just one of the themes likely to be competing as James and co-counsel Tom Mesereau and Kathleen Bliss prepare their closing pitch to jurors, expected sometime next week.

Earlier in the trial, they also sought to paint Constand as a gold-digging opportunist who fabricated her assault claims in an attempt to extort the $3.4 million settlement she received from Cosby in 2006.

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