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Pennsylvania’s highest court questioned Tuesday whether Bill Cosby’s alleged history of intoxicating and sexually assaulting young women amounted to a signature crime pattern, given studies that show as many as half of all sexual assaults involve drugs or alcohol. Cosby, 83, hopes to overturn his 2018 sex assault conviction because the judge let prosecutors call five other accusers who said Cosby mistreated them the same way he did his victim, Andrea Constand. The defense said their testimony prejudiced the jury against the actor and should not have been allowed.

“That conduct you describe — the steps, the young women — there’s literature that says that’s common to 50% of these assaults — thousands of assaults — nationwide,” Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor said during oral arguments in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “So how can that be a common scheme?”

The prosecutor, in response, offered more precise details about the relationships, saying Cosby used his fame and fortune to mentor the women and then took advantage of it. And he sometimes befriended their mothers or families.

“There was a built-in level of trust because of his status in the entertainment industry and because he held himself out as a public moralist,” said Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Jappe, of suburban Philadelphia’s Montgomery County, where Constand says she was assaulted at Cosby’s estate in 2004.

“The signature was isolating and intoxicating young women for the purpose of sexually assaulting them,” Jappe said.

Cosby, 83, has served more than two years of his three- to 10-year prison sentence for drugging and molesting Constand, whom he met through the basketball program at his alma mater, Temple University.

Courts have long wrestled with decisions about when other accusers should be allowed to testify in criminal cases. It’s generally not allowed, but exceptions are allowed to show a signature crime pattern or to prove someone’s identity. The state’s high court appears eager to address the issue, and in doing so took on the first celebrity criminal case of the #MeToo era. The court typically takes several months to issue its opinion.

Judge Steven T. O’Neill had allowed just one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial in 2017, when the jury could not reach a verdict. The #MeToo movement took hold months later with media reports about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and other men accused of sexual misconduct.

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