LOS ANGELES » One woman was a former Playboy playmate who says she met Bill Cosby in the Hollywood Hills. Another was a secretary at a Beverly Hills talent agency who says the actor invited her over to his home in the fancy part of town. A third, an aspiring comedy writer, says she was awestruck to see the inside of his bungalow on set at Universal Studios.
Of the dozens of women who have come forward accusing Bill Cosby of attacking them over the last five decades, many say the assaults took place in the Los Angeles area. During the peak of Cosby’s career, he was a familiar face at the Playboy Mansion and on the Hollywood celebrity party circuit.
But even as the public accusations against Cosby reached a fever pitch over the last year, Los Angeles authorities have struggled to build a criminal case against him.
Legal experts say those hurdles remain even after Cosby this week faced his first criminal charges, filed in Pennsylvania, on allegations of drugging and assaulting a woman there nearly 12 years ago.
The Los Angeles district attorney’s office is actively reviewing a single accusation against Cosby that dates back to 2008. Los Angeles Police Department detectives investigated the allegations in 2015 and submitted their findings to prosecutors in September.
But most allegations against Cosby are much older — some dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. The statute of limitations for adult sex cases in California is generally 10 years or less.
The biggest hurdle for prosecutors reviewing more than 50 women’s claims against Cosby is the years that passed between the alleged attacks and the accusers’ coming forward, many only recently. With no police reports or lawsuits alleging any sexual improprieties before 2005, lawyers for the comedian could raise questions about the accusers’ credibility and motives, experts say. Cosby has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said any sexual conduct was consensual.
“It is going to play into the defense’s hand — that there is a piling-on of women who may have had consensual contact with Cosby but are now coming forward to make certain allegations that they were assaulted,” said Alan Jackson, a former deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, now in private practice.
Cosby’s accusers, on the other hand, could argue that his status as a Hollywood legend made it difficult to go public with their accusations, Jackson said.
“All the victims think they’re standing alone — standing up against a juggernaut of a personality and a Hollywood powerhouse,” he said.
Statutes of limitations vary widely from state to state when it comes to sexual crimes, from as short as a year for misdemeanors in some states to no deadlines for rape in others. The charges of aggravated indecent exposure filed this week in Montgomery County, Pa., came barely a month before the end of the 12-year window prosecutors there had to charge Cosby in the alleged 2004 assault.
In California, if the alleged victim is a minor, there is leeway to stall the legal clock until he or she becomes an adult or belatedly remembers an incident.
The LAPD in late 2014 submitted to prosecutors for review the 40-year-old case of Judy Huth, who said she was 15 when she met Cosby at a San Marino park, where he was working on a film. She alleged that Cosby later took her to the Playboy Mansion and forced her hand down his pants.
L.A. prosecutors concluded that the 1974 claims were well outside legal limits.
In the Pennsylvania case, unlike many of the cases in L.A., prosecutors have the advantage that the incident was reported to police less than a year after Cosby’s alleged drugging and assaulting of Temple University employee Andrea Constand. When Constand moved home to Canada and showed a change of behavior in the months following the incident, her mother found out what had happened and reported the incident to authorities, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.
Even though prosecutors there ended up not filing charges in 2005, the investigation generated statements from Constand, her mother and Cosby while the incident was relatively fresh in their minds. Constand also filed a civil lawsuit soon thereafter, in which Cosby was extensively questioned by her attorneys about his sexual history and admitted that he had purchased Quaaludes with the intention of giving them to women he wanted to sleep with.
Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, said authorities on both sides of the country may have compared cases to see who has the better hand in pressing criminal charges.
“One would think they would confer … see who has the best case and move forward,” she said.
Still, Levenson said, L.A. prosecutors face a tough road.
“They’re probably relieved that some other jurisdiction is taking this on, because it’s not going to be an easy case,” she said. “I think California’s saying, ‘Well, good luck to them.’”
In the case being investigated in Los Angeles, model Chloe Goins contends she met Cosby at the Playboy Mansion in 2008, the year she turned 18. Goins has alleged in a civil lawsuit that she blacked out after receiving a drink from the star, and awoke to find her clothes removed and Cosby biting one of her toes.
Goins’ attorney, Spencer Kuvin, said Thursday that prosecutors interviewed his client in November.
Whether or not current or future investigations here result in charges, legal experts said they could play a crucial role in the Pennsylvania prosecution.
They said prosecutors there will probably ask the judge to allow jurors to hear evidence of the slew of women with accusations against Cosby that are nearly identical to Constand’s. The question of whether other allegations against Cosby should be allowed at trial is expected to be highly contentious.
“In a vacuum it looks like a ‘he said, she said’ situation, which is the worst possible outcome for prosecutors,” Jackson said. “It’s very, very difficult to win beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Last year, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his department would investigate all allegations even if they were beyond the statute of limitations because they might yield information about newer cases.
“We don’t turn people away because things are out of statute. You come to us, especially with a sexual allegation, we will work with you,” Beck said. “We address these things seriously, and it’s not just because it’s Mr. Cosby.”
Other sex crimes cases in L.A. have used “supporting witnesses,” including at the trial of a Pasadena track coach accused of molesting students and in the case of celebrity fashion designer Anand Jon Alexander.
In the Alexander case, six women whose cases did not result in criminal charges testified against him. The designer was convicted of sexually assaulting seven women.
©2016 Los Angeles Times