Judge in Bill Cosby case sets trial on sex-assault charges for July
Bill Cosby has been ordered to stand trial on sexual assault charges after a hearing that hinged on a decade-old police report in which a woman said the comedian gave her three blue pills that put her in a stupor, unable to stop his advances. (May 2 AP
NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Aggravated sexual-assault charges against Bill Cosby will go to trial this summer, a judge ruled Tuesday.
"Based on the evidence, I am going to hold you on charges,” Judge Elizabeth McHugh ruled.
Cosby responded later with a statement criticizing prosecutors and his accuser, and vowing he would prevail at trial.
"Mr. Cosby is not guilty of any crime and not one single fact presented by (prosecutors) rebuts this truth," said the statement issued by Brian McMonagle, Cosby's attorney at Tuesday's preliminary hearing here. "Though the Court decided the government reached the low threshold required for today's preliminary hearing, we have no doubt this case ultimately will be resolved in Mr. Cosby's favor."
The trial will take place in Pennsylvania's Court of Common Pleas, in Montgomery County outside Philadelphia. The judge set July 20 for a formal arraignment but Cosby later waived that. The trial will start at a later date.
The judge wished Cosby good luck before adjourning.
The ruling followed a half-day preliminary hearing where prosecutors produced their evidence to back up their three charges of aggravated sexual assault they filed in December against Cosby in connection with a 2004 encounter at his nearby home with former Temple University employee Andrea Constand.
Constand's 2005 statement to police about the alleged crime was the focus of the initial hours of the hearing Tuesday to determine whether the case against him should move forward to trial.
Constand was not in court to testify, and was not seen arriving at the courthouse where hundreds of reporters and cameras have gathered for what could be a long day of testimony.
Prosecutors began their case by submitting Constand's statement to police made a year after their 2004 encounter.
She told detectives that Cosby gave her three pills that made her dizzy, blurry-eyed and nauseated and left her legs feeling "like jelly." She says Cosby touched her sexually, without her consent, while her body was "frozen."
"I told him, 'I can't even talk, Mr. Cosby.' I started to panic," she said in the statement.
In his statement after the ruling, McMonagle said Constand's statement admitted to multiple consensual sexual encounters with Cosby.
"After hearing the weak, inconsistent and incredible evidence presented, it is clear why the prosecution did not allow its witness to speak and be confronted by the person she has accused," McMonagle's statement said. "Instead, they chose to rely on an 11-year-old hearsay statement from that witness, riddled with numerous corrections and inconsistencies."
Former Montgomery County detective Katherine Hart read Constand's statement aloud and answered questions regarding the edits Constand made to her statement upon reviewing a typed copy.
Testimony at the hearing moved to Cosby's 2005 statement to detectives about the alleged crime. Cosby has maintained all along that his encounter with Constand was consensual.
When detectives asked Cosby whether he had sexual intercourse with Constand, he told police, “Never asleep or awake.” Cosby also told police that when he talked by phone to Constand's mother in Canada much later, he apologized to her for any pain he caused Andrea and the family.
Early Tuesday, the back-and-forth in the courtroom grew heated, with McMonagle attempting to raise questions about the contents of the statement and Constand's credibility, and prosecutors objecting to his line of questioning.
“This makes this entire hearing meaningless,” McMonagle argued, his voice rising in frustration, after a particular line of questioning. “I have a right to ask about this statement that they introduced.”
Neither Constand nor Cosby were compelled to be at the hearing but Cosby did show up for his first-ever criminal prelim proceeding, aimed at determining whether there is enough evidence to put him on trial for what Constand, a former Temple University employee, says he did to her a dozen years ago.
Each charge carries five to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Of the nearly 60 decades-old accusations of drugging and/or rape made against Cosby since 2014, only Constand's accusations have resulted in criminal charges.
Cosby, 78, was smiling when he walked into the courthouse and even waved. He looked less frail than he did at a February hearing, although he grasped the arm of bodyguard.
Prosecutors could have put Constand, 43 and now living in her native Canada, on the stand to testify; it would have been the first time she and Cosby have faced each other in a decade.
Philadelphia attorney McMongale moved early in the hearing to force Constand to take the stand rather than admit her statement, but was unsuccessful. Under a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, hearsay evidence, such as Constand’s statement to police, can be entered into court as the victim’s statement, rather than forcing them to appear in court.
McMonagle argued that the defense should have the right to question Constand, but Magistrate Judge Elizabeth McHugh sided with the state’s ruling.
Constand made the statement to police when she reported the alleged crime in 2005; she also has made more recent statements in interviews with police and prosecutors, which may be introduced at a later time.
Before the first break, McMonagle stood in the front of the judge pleading to ask more questions regarding Constand’s statement, arguing that because she was not on the stand, this was his only way to gain more information.
“If not, this is a travesty of justice,” McMonagle said. “I say that from my heart.”
Tuesday's hearing came after Cosby’s attorneys tried repeatedly and failed to get the charges dismissed, starting at a two-day session in February.
Constand tried to pursue criminal charges against Cosby in 2005 but the then-district attorney Bruce Castor decided there wasn't enough evidence. He also struck an immunity deal not to prosecute Cosby if he agreed to testify in a deposition for a civil suit filed by Constand in 2005 and settled in 2006.
At the February pre-trial hearing, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neil ruled that the immunity deal with Castor did not rule out Cosby’s deposition. O’Neil said the deposition was reason enough to re-open an investigation into Cosby.
The deposition, released in July 2015 after the Associated Press persuaded a judge to release portions of it, is among the evidence that current District Attorney Kevin Steele is using to pursue Cosby, which he had promised to do during his election campaign in 2015.
It’s expected Cosby’s attorneys will argue that the deposition should not be admitted into evidence, despite O’Neil’s ruling. Among other things, he acknowledges in the deposition that he obtained drugs to give to women he sought for sex.