Bill Cosby free on $1M bond in sexual assault case
Bill Cosby entered a not guilty plea to a sexual assault charge stemming from 2004. Dozens of women have accused Cosby of sexual assault, but this is the first time the 78-year-old comedian has been criminally charged.
ELKINS PARK, PA. — Get ready for the most sensational celebrity trial of the Twitter age: Bill Cosby was charged with criminal sexual assault — in a decade-old case — by prosecutors in a Philadelphia suburb Wednesday.
It marks the first time charges have been officially brought against the beleaguered comedian, who has been accused by upwards of 60 women of drugging and/or raping them in episodes dating back as far as the mid-1960s.
Assuming the case goes to trial in early 2016, it would be the most notorious since the late superstar Michael Jackson was tried and acquitted of child molestation charges in June 2005 — way before Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the rest of the social-media news shouters added to the clamor of celebrity media coverage in general.
Cosby, 78, arrived to be arraigned in front of a magistrate in Elkins Park, Pa., at around 2:35 p.m. ET, and was finished and out again within 10 minutes.
Wearing one of his trademark sweaters, Cosby was helped into and out of the courthouse by two people on either side. His lawyers have said recently he has severe eye problems and is nearly blind. He seemed to have trouble seeing the paperwork and his lawyers helped him hold a pen. But he laughed and chatted with his attorneys.
When the judge said, “Mr. Cosby, good luck to you, sir," he shouted: "Thank you!"
Cosby pleaded not guilty, posted $1 million bail (putting down 10% as called for under Pennsylvania law), and turned over his passport as a condition for being released on bail. He went next to the Cheltenham Police Department for booking and a mug shot, promptly released by the police.
Throughout, fleets of tweets poured onto Twitter from journalists who were there and observers watching it on TV and commenting.
The official charge against Cosby is second-degree aggravated indecent assault. Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele defined the act as "penetration" without the consent of his victim, former Temple University employee Andrea Constand. (During his press conference, Steele mistakenly said it was a first-degree charge.)
If convicted, Cosby could get five to 10 years in prison, and up to a $25,000 fine.
"Pills were provided. Wine was provided. The victim was frozen, paralyzed. A person in that condition is not able to give consent," Steele said.
"The evidence is strong and sufficient enough to proceed with the charges," Steele added. The decision by his boss, newly elected District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, reverses a decision by her predecessor who had ruled that there was not enough evidence to warrant an arrest.
Constand expressed gratitude via her legal team for the "consideration, courtesy and professionalism" of Steele's team. Then she said she would not comment further.
Cosby's legal-team spokeswoman, lawyer Monique Pressley, who accompanied him to his arraignment, said in a statement late Wednesday the charge was "no surprise" coming on the heels of "a hotly contested election for this county's DA during which this case was made the focal point.
"Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law," her statement said.
Constand accused Cosby in 2005, alleging he drugged and sexually assaulted her when she visited his then home in Montgomery County outside Philadelphia in 2004. But the then-county prosecutor declined to charge him, saying there was not enough evidence by the time she went to police.The case dates from 2004, and under Pennsylvania law, prosecutors have a 12-year deadline to bring charges in a sexual assault case. The statute of limitations is due to expire at the end of January.
So Constand sued him in civil court instead. That suit was settled a year later and the results were sealed, including a three-day deposition of Cosby. But this year, after dozens of women had come forward accusing Cosby of drugging and raping them in episodes dating back to the mid-1960s, a judge released part of the deposition, and more leaked later.
In the deposition, Cosby admitted under questioning that he obtained drugs, including Quaaludes, to give to women he sought for sex.
Lawyers for some of Cosby's accusers and advocates for victims of sexual assault praised the criminal case as a positive first step.
"Whether the accused is a high profile celebrity or a star athlete, we can no longer allow sexual assault to be swept under the rug," said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the women's rights organization, UltraViolet, in a statement.
George Kontos, who represents a Cosby accuser in Pittsburgh who is suing him in civil court, said he had heard charges against Cosby were "forthcoming" for some time.
"We will be following the events with great interest, as information and investigation concerning witnesses in the criminal matter could have impact in our civil case," Kontos said in a statement.
Attorney Joe Cammarata, who represents seven accusers who are suing Cosby in civil court, also issued a statement, saying the case rests on Cosby's "own words" in his Constand deposition. Cosby claimed that anything that happened with Constand was consensual.
"There is no consent when you have been drugged," Cammarata said. If Cosby is convicted, he said, that will also help his clients because Cosby has counter-sued them, claiming defamation. "It brings back to front and square the issue of his own behavior."
Since the accusations against Cosby reemerged in the fall of 2014, Cosby has denied all wrongdoing and up until Wednesday has never been charged with a crime.
Most of the accusations against him are too old to pursue in states with short statutes of limitation. But police in Los Angeles have been investigating more recent allegations by another accuser, Chloe Goins, who says Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 2008, when she was 18.
So far, no charges have been filed in that case but Goins has since filed a civil suit against Cosby, one of seven pending civil suits against him filed by some of his accusers.
"On behalf of our client we are happy to see that Mr. Cosby will hopefully be brought to justice and the criminal court system," said her lawyer, Spencer Kuvin, in a statement. "Chloe has always wanted to see Mr. Cosby face jail time for his actions."
View the official charging document (Warning: File may be slow to load due to interest in case)
Contributing:Sara Spencer, The News Journal