Out of the torrent of allegations of sexual impropriety levelled against Bill Cosby by dozens of women, it was the accusation from a Toronto woman that sent the 78-year-old television star into a criminal court for the first time on Wednesday.
Cosby, charged with aggravated indecent assault in the case of 42-year-old Andrea Constand, was arraigned before a district court judge in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia. He did not have to enter a plea and will remain free on $1-million bail pending trial. His next court date is Jan. 14.
The offence is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
The actor, who developed the image of “America’s Dad” largely through his role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the popular 1980s’ TV series The Cosby Show, shook his head as reporters shouted questions at him before the hearing. His lawyers also declined to comment.
Constand, a Toronto massage therapist, first told police in 2005 that Cosby drugged her and put his hands down her pants at his mansion in suburban Philadelphia in early 2004, when she was working as a basketball manager at Temple University, a school with which Cosby has long been associated.
Prosecutors first declined to press charges against Cosby in 2005, but Montgomery County district attorney-elect Kevin Steele said Wednesday’s charge stems from “new evidence” uncovered earlier this year.
The case was reopened after The Associated Press persuaded a judge this summer to unseal testimony from Constand’s related lawsuit against Cosby, and as dozens of women came forward with similar allegations of sexual assault going back decades.
Cosby, through his representatives, has accused some of the women of trying to extract money from him or to get ahead in show business.
The 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges in Constand’s case was within days of expiring.
“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,” Constand’s lawyer, Dolores Troiani, said in a statement.
“We have the utmost confidence in Mr. Steele, (prosecutor) Ms. (Kristen) 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.”
Constand is ready to face Cosby in court, Troiani said this fall.
“She’s a very strong lady,” Troiani said. “She’ll do whatever they request of her.”
The Toronto Star generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they agree to have their names published, as Constand has done.
A graduate of Albert Campbell Collegiate in Scarborough, Constand has said little about Cosby in the last decade. She declined to comment Wednesday while out walking her dogs in downtown Toronto.
She told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2005 that she went to police because it was the right thing to do.
“What would you do? I did what I thought was right,” she said at the time.
Constand appeared on the front page of the Toronto Sun in July, telling the newspaper her interaction with Cosby “doesn’t define me.”
“I don’t want to talk about Cosby,” she told the newspaper. “It’s in the past. I have a whole other life and I am happy.”
Guided by his lawyers, Cosby walked slowly into the courtroom on Wednesday afternoon, using a cane and wearing a grey tweed hoodie sweater.
Timeline: Sex assault accusations against Bill Cosby
He seemed to have trouble seeing the paperwork and finding the place to sign, and his lawyers helped him hold the pen. But he seemed at ease, laughing and chatting with his attorneys.
When the judge said, “Good luck, Mr. Cosby,” he shouted: “Thank you!”
Constand considered Cosby a mentor and said he would invite her to his home and out to restaurants, and said she absolutely had no romantic interest in him, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in court Wednesday by investigators.
In his deposition for Constand’s lawsuit, which was settled on confidential terms in 2006, Cosby said he put his hands down Constand’s pants when she visited his home sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004 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.
In court documents, prosecutors said the drugs were the cold medicine Benadryl or some other, unidentified substance.
Cosby testified in the deposition 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.’ ”
He said Constand was not upset when she left his home that night. Her lawyer has said Constand is gay and was dating a woman around the time she met Cosby in the early 2000s.
Constand returned to her parents’ home in Ontario within three months of the incident, according to the affidavit from investigators.
She told her mother, Gianna, of the alleged sexual assault on Jan. 13, 2005, and the Constands soon reported it to Durham Regional Police, which forwarded the allegations to police in Philadelphia.
Gianna Constand called Cosby to confront him, according to the affidavit. When the two spoke, Cosby admitted to fondling and penetrating Constand.
“In the same call, Cosby apologized and offered to cover any expenses associated with therapy,” says the affidavit.
Women, mostly from the world of modelling, acting or other entertainment fields, have recently come forward and described being offered a drink by Cosby and waking up to find they had been allegedly sexually assaulted.
Complaint against Cosby
Criminal Complaint - William Cosby
In many of the cases, the statute of limitations to bring criminal charges has expired.
– With files from The Associated Press