On the eve of the statute of limitations running out on the claims of the first woman to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her, prosecutors in Pennsylvania charged the 78-year-old comedic icon with the alleged 2004 assault.
The comedian and actor was charged Wednesday in Montgomery County, Pa., with three counts of aggravated indecent assault for events that took place just shy of 12 years ago.
FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this article said that Bill Cosby grew up in West Philadelphia. He grew up in North Philadelphia.
Dist. Atty. Kevin Steele told reporters the charge stems from “new evidence” uncovered this year – including Cosby’s own statements in a civil lawsuit recently unsealed by a judge, in which he admitted having given drugs to women he wanted to have sex with.
The criminal charge comes after a dramatic year in which more than 40 women came forward with a torrent of similar accusations against the comedian, spanning four decades. Steele’s decision is a reversal of a decision by his predecessor in 2005 not to charge Cosby, who told police at the time that the sexual contact was consensual.
Cosby, walking unsteadily with a cane and looking frail, arrived for arraignment before District Court Judge Elizabeth McHugh in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia, shortly before 3 p.m. EST. Bail was set at $1 million, which was immediately posted.
The complaint identified Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, as the alleged victim in an incident at Cosby's home in Cheltenham Township, near Philadelphia, in January or February of 2004. Constand has publicly accused Cosby and filed a lawsuit against him, which was settled in 2006.
At the arraignment hearing, McHugh warned Cosby that as a condition of his bail, he should not contact the victim or her family.
“If that occurs, you could be arrested,” the judge said. Cosby responded that he understood.
Cosby, clad in a gray hooded sweatshirt and black velour sweatpants, was led away after the brief hearing to the township Police Department to be processed and fingerprinted.
Steele said in an earlier press conference announcing the charges that the alleged victim "has indicated that she is willing to cooperate with us going forward." Constand, 42, has since moved to Canada.
Her lawyer, Dolores Troiani, told reporters this past fall that she was eager and willing to cooperate with authorities in the matter.
"She's a very strong lady," Troiani said. "She'll do whatever they request of her."
Following news of the charge, attorney Gloria Allred, who represents 29 women who say they were abused by Cosby under similar circumstances, held a press conference saying she welcomed the prosecution even if it the statute of limitations had expired for most of her clients.
“Seeing him criminally charged and having to face a trial is the best Christmas present they have ever received,“ she said. "I'm very happy this day has finally come."
Allred said many of her clients were willing to testify in the Pennsylvania case if they are asked by prosecutors there.
The case in southeast Pennsylvania, which could send Cosby to prison for as many as 10 years if convicted, marks the first time criminal charges have been filed against him.
Cosby grew up in North Philadelphia and graduated from Temple. He later became an ardent booster of the school and a member of its board of trustees. As the allegations against him mounted, Cosby resigned from the board about a year ago.
Steele, who did not refer to Constand by name in his public remarks, said Cosby began a relationship with a member of the Temple basketball team and “established a relationship” with her.
The woman considered Cosby “a mentor and friend,” and rejected two sexual advances Cosby made toward her, the prosecutor said.
He said Cosby “then urged her to take pills he provided to her, and drink wine, the effect of which rendered her unable to move, respond to his advances and he committed aggravated indecent assault upon her.”
The charge is a first-degree felony, involving “digital penetration,” and alleges the woman was “substantially impaired” during the crime.
“She was frozen, paralyzed, unable to move,” Steele said of Constand.
Steele said “there are a number of things that are undisputed” regarding what occurred between Cosby and the woman in the 2004 case. “We got that from statements and depositions and from the victim,” he said.
“We have examined the evidence in this case. The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed at this point,” he said.
In the complaint, investigators alleged that Cosby repeatedly invited Constand to his home for dinner, took her to restaurants and introduced her to some of his friends, including some in the New York entertainment industry.
It says that because Cosby is 37 years older, she considered him a “mentor.”
She told police that she was attacked after Cosby invited her to his home to discuss her “future career plans.”
When she described being stressed and unable to sleep, he urged her to relax and take some pills, the complaint said, adding that he told her ”these will make you feel good .… The blue things will take the edge off.”
She said he assured her the pills were “herbal.” She took the pills, then drank some wine at his urging, according to the complaint.
She soon began feeling “rubbery, blurry and dizzy,” after which Cosby physically assaulted her and placed her hand on his genitals, prosecutors alleged in the complaint.
Constand said she awoke early the next morning to find herself partially undressed.
“Cosby gave her a muffin, walked to the front door, opened it and said, ‘Alright.’”
Cosby and his lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations that have been aired against him by a growing number of women. The comic filed a countersuit against seven of the women, accusing them of defamation.
Cosby said the women's allegations have seriously damaged his reputation as a longtime beloved American comedian and television star.
Three months after the alleged assault in 2004, Constand moved back to her parents’ home in Canada, according to the criminal complaint. When Constand's mother learned of what happened to her daughter, she confronted Cosby on the phone and contacted local law enforcement.
Cosby told the mother that he could not read the prescription label on the pill bottle because of an “eye condition,” but he conceded that he and Constand had had sexual contact, according to the complaint.
“Cosby apologized and offered to cover any expenses associated with therapy,” the complaint said. "Investigators recognize that individuals who are falsely accused of sexual assault generally do not unilaterally offer generous financial assistance, and apologies, to their accuser and their accuser's family."
Cosby's changing statements about what drugs he gave Constand also "demonstrates his consciousness of guilt," investigators wrote in the complaint.
In January 2005, Canadian police forwarded a report of their investigation to Pennsylvania authorities. Cosby was interviewed by police in Montgomery County, Pa., and he “admitted” that he had not told the victim the true nature of the pills, according to the complaint.
“In short, Cosby described the incident as a consensual sexual encounter,” the complaint said.
When asked directly if he and the alleged victim ever had sex, the complaint said that Cosby gave an "unusual answer: Never asleep or awake.”
MORE ON COSBY