Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby Arraigned On Sex Assault Charge

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS/AP) — Comedian Bill Cosby has been charged with Aggravated Indecent Criminal Assault in Montgomery County for an alleged sexual assault at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.

Cosby has been arraigned on a sex assault charge in Pennsylvania and will remain free on $1 million bail pending trial.

Cosby will be fingerprinted at a police station near the Elkins Park courtroom. He did not have to enter a plea, and his next court hearing is Jan. 14.

The case sets the stage for perhaps the biggest Hollywood celebrity trial of the mobile-all-the-time era and could send the 78-year-old Cosby to prison in the twilight of his life and barrier-breaking career.

In bringing the case, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman overruled her predecessor, who declined to charge Cosby in 2005 when Temple University employee Andrea Constand first told police that the comic drugged her and violated her by putting his hands down her pants at his mansion in suburban Philadelphia.

The TV star acknowledged under oath a decade ago that he had sexual contact with Constand but said it was consensual.

The charges were announced just days before the 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges was set to run out.

According to the criminal complaint, the victim thought of Bill Cosby as a mentor. At his Cheltenham home in mid-February, 2004, she tells investigators she told Cosby she was drained and hadn’t been sleeping.  She says he gave her pills, then urged her to drink wine. She described the feeling as being paralyzed as she says the comedian assaulted her.

Montgomery county District Attorney-elect Kevin Steele says, they’re filing the charges based on an investigation that started when a deposition from a civil case involving Cosby was unsealed.

“After examination of all the evidence, we are able to seek justice on behalf of the victim.”

He awaited arraignment in the afternoon on a charge of aggravated indecent assault, punishable by five to 10 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.

The victim’s attorney released the following statement on the charges:

‘On behalf of our client, Andrea Constand we wish to express our appreciation to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, the County Detectives and the Cheltenham Police Department for the consideration and courtesy they have shown Andrea during this difficult time. We have the utmost confidence in Mr. Steele, Ms. Feden and their team, who have impressed us with their professionalism. In that this matter is now being pursued in the criminal justice system, we will not comment further.’

Prosecutors reopened the case over the summer as damaging testimony was unsealed in Constand’s related civil lawsuit against Cosby and as dozens of other women came forward with similar accusations that made a mockery of his image as the wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable from TV’s “The Cosby Show.”

Many of those alleged assaults date back decades, and the statute of limitations for bringing charges has expired in nearly every case.

Constand, who is now 42 and works as a massage therapist in her native Canada, is ready to face Cosby in court, her attorney, Dolores Troiani, said this fall.

“She’s a very strong lady,” Troiani said. “She’ll do whatever they request of her.”

The charges add to the towering list of legal problems facing the actor, including defamation and sex-abuse lawsuits filed in Boston, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania.

Cosby in 1965 became the first black actor to land a leading role in a network drama, “I Spy,” and he went on to earn three straight Emmys. Over the next three decades, the Philadelphia-born comic created TV’s animated “Fat Albert” and the top-rated “Cosby Show,” the 1980s sitcom celebrated as groundbreaking television for its depiction of a warm and loving family headed by two black professionals — one a lawyer, the other a doctor.

He was a fatherly figure off camera as well, serving as a public moralist and public scold, urging young people to pull up their saggy pants and start acting responsibly.

Constand, who worked for the women’s basketball team at Temple, where Cosby was a trustee and proud alumnus, said she was assaulted after going to his home in January 2004 for some career advice.

Then-District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to charge Cosby, saying at the time that both the TV star and his accuser could be portrayed in “a less than flattering light.” This year, Castor said the allegations in Constand’s lawsuit were more serious than the account she gave police, and if that information had been known at the time, “we might have been able to make a case.”

Castor tried to make a comeback as district attorney in the November election but lost to Ferman’s top deputy.

After the criminal case went nowhere, Constand settled her lawsuit against Cosby in 2006 on confidential terms.

Her allegations and similar ones from other women in the years that followed did not receive wide attention but exploded into view in late 2014, first online, then in the wider media, after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked Cosby as a hypocrite and called him a rapist during a standup routine. That opened the floodgates on even more allegations.

Women mostly from the world of modeling, acting or other entertainment fields came forward and described being offered a drink by Cosby and waking up to find they had apparently been sexually assaulted. Cosby, through his representatives, accused some of the women of trying to extract money from him or get ahead in show business.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press persuaded a judge to unseal documents from the Constand lawsuit, and they showed the long-married Cosby acknowledging a string of affairs and sexual encounters.

Cosby testified that he obtained quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women he wanted to have sex with. He denied giving women drugs without their knowledge and said he had used the now-banned sedative “the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.’”

In the deposition, Cosby said he put his hands down Constand’s pants that night and fondled her, taking her silence as a green light. Constand maintains she was semi-conscious after he gave her pills he said would relax her.

“I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped,” Cosby testified.

He said Constand was not upset when she left that night. She went to police a year later.

Her lawyer has said Constand is gay and was dating a woman around the time she met Cosby in the early 2000s.

The AP generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they agree to have their names published, as Constand has done.

The Pennsylvania Office of Victim Advocate released the following statement on the charges:

‘Today’s announcement of criminal charges against Bill Cosby serve as true vindication and validation of over 40 brave women who have come forward with similar stories of sexual assault. I applaud the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office for their thoughtful and conscientious review of the facts in this case. I further commend them for not giving up on this victim when so many others had in the past. Sometimes justice moves slowly and often for victims in high profile sexual assault cases, it never comes. The victims who have watched their accuser walk above the law because of his status will hopefully feel some redemption in the face of all the speculation and condemnation they have endured over these years.’

Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Cosby no longer enjoys the celebrity appeal that might sway a jury.

“His reputation has already been tarnished, so I doubt that jurors would be inclined to believe him just because of his prior image,” she said in September. She said the judge in the case will have to decide whether to allow other accusers to testify or whether that would be too prejudicial.