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Bill Cosby charged with sex assault; bail set at $1 million

In this Nov. 18, 2013, file photo, actor-comedian Bill Cosby poses for a portrait in New York. (Victoria Will / Invision)
In this Nov. 18, 2013, file photo, actor-comedian Bill Cosby poses for a portrait in New York. (Victoria Will / Invision)
Maryclaire Dale Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA – Montgomery County, Pa., prosecutors on Wednesday charged Bill Cosby with felony indecent assault, reviving a decade-old allegation that he drugged and sexually attacked a former Temple University employee.

The charge against the 78-year-old, a television celebrity once celebrated as “America’s Dad,” followed more than a year of claims by scores of women who said Cosby had sexually assaulted them – sometimes after drugging them – during a span of four decades.

Cosby has repeatedly denied assaulting anyone, including Andrea Constand – the woman at the center of the emerging criminal case.

The charge against him carries a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Amid a media throng, Cosby arrived in a black Chevy Suburban on Wednesday afternoon for an initial appearance before a magistrate district judge in Elkins Park. Looking frail, he was guided by defense lawyer Brian McMonagle into the small courtroom, where a judge informed him of the charge and set his bail at $1 million, of which Cosby must post 10 percent. Then he headed to Cheltenham Township police for booking.

Constand, now 42 and living in Toronto, first lodged her accusations against Cosby in 2005, when she told Cheltenham police that he drugged and assaulted her a year earlier while she was working as the operations manager for Temple University’s women’s basketball team.

Montgomery County authorities investigated her claims at the time but eventually decided not to pursue a case, citing a lack of evidence.

District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman reopened the investigation this summer in light of accounts from more than 50 women who have since come forward describing encounters with Cosby dating back decades similar to the one outlined by Constand. Nearly all of those allegations have proven too old to prosecute.

But under Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations for felony sex crimes, Montgomery County prosecutors had until January to file a case based on Constand’s claims.

“A prosecutor’s job is to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” said Kevin R. Steele, the first assistant who will succeed Ferman next week. “Upon examination of all the evidence, today we are able to seek justice on behalf of Mr. Cosby’s victim.”

Constand’s attorney, Dolores Troiani, said Wednesday that she and her client “have the utmost confidence” in Steele and his team.

“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,” Troiani said in a statement.

According to sources familiar with the probe, a team of Montgomery County investigators met with Constand in August in Toronto and have since interviewed several individuals who were close to her or Cosby at the time of the alleged assault.

The resulting case is built at least in part on statements Cosby made under oath during a 2005 deposition that were publicly released for the first time this summer. Constand’s lawyer has said her client has agreed to cooperate with the revived prosecution. As one of the comedian’s earliest public accusers, Constand’s story has already been picked apart in multiple venues – including civil suits, extensive media coverage, and even as an eleventh-hour campaign issue in this year’s race between the two men vying to replace Ferman when she leaves office to assume a role as an elected Common Pleas Court judge.

Steele was elected district attorney in November and will oversee the Cosby prosecution. Bruce L. Castor Jr. – the losing contender in that race and the former Montgomery County District Attorney who handled the 2005 Constand investigation – has repeatedly said that he chose not to pursue the case because he believed her claims would not stand up in court.

“The statement she gave police did not provide sufficient detail on which a criminal charge could be based,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in a September interview. “Her statement was consistent with a woman who had been drugged and couldn’t remember what happened to her.” In a civil suit she filed days after that decision, Constand laid out a detailed version of her claims. According to those filings, she told investigators she met Cosby – one of Temple’s most vocal boosters – through her association with the university’s basketball team and became a frequent visitor at his Cheltenham home, where he often offered her career advice over dinner.

She believed she had a “sincere friendship” with Cosby, police wrote in a criminal affidavit filed Wednesday.

During one of her visits to his home in January 2004, she complained of feeling “drained,” the affidavit said.

Cosby gave her three blue pills and told her they would “take the edge off,” she later told police. He also gave her wine and water, and minutes later she said she felt “like jelly,” “rubbery,” and “paralyzed.”

Constand told police she woke up at 4 a.m. the next morning with her sweater bunched up and her bra undone. She said she saw Cosby standing in a robe.

“Cosby gave her a muffin, walked to the front door, opened it, and said ‘Alright,’” the affidavit states.

Cosby later admitted to giving Cosntand pills. He told police they were Benadryl and he told Constand’s mother it was a prescription. In a four-day deposition in the civil lawsuit Constand filed against him, he said he had acquired Quaaludes with the intent of using them in sexual encounters with women but maintained that their encounter was consensual.

That deposition – in which Cosby offered detailed descriptions of his relationships with Constand and multiple other women – has now become a central component to the charges.

According to the transcript, Cosby described more advanced sexual activity than Constand could remember when she first reported her allegations to police.

In it, Cosby recalled a phone conversation with Constand’s mother some time after the alleged attack in which he said of his contact with Constand: “It was digital penetration.”

That statement forms the basis for the felony charge he is now facing with a 12-year statute of limitations. Castor recalled his office primarily looking at misdemeanor charges in 2005 because Constand recalled only that she had been groped.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

The criminal affidavit filed against Cosby on Wednesday includes Constand’s mother’s statements to police about that phone call and Cosby’s description of the sexual encounter.

The district attorney’s office reopened Cosby’s case just three days after a federal judge unsealed portions of the deposition transcript in July.

“Reopening this case was not a question,” Steele said Wednesday. “Rather, reopening this case was our duty as law enforcement officers.”

Cosby’s lawyers are likely to fight any effort to introduce the deposition transcript at a trial. They have argued in separate legal proceedings that it was improperly released this summer and remains subject to a confidentiality agreement the comedian signed with Constand in settling their civil suit.

“The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed,” Steele said Wednesday. “We made this determination that it was the right thing to do.”

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