Bill Cosby ordered to stand trial in 2004 sexual assault case
Bill Cosby, once synonymous with wholesome children’s dessert commercials and middle-class family values, sat rubbing his chin through hours of graphic testimony about drugs and sexual encounters Tuesday before a judge concluded there was sufficient evidence for him to stand trial on charges of sexual assault.
It marked a dramatic turn for the longtime comedy star, a crucial step in the only criminal case to spring from dozens of accusations that have upended his career and his legacy. If convicted on three sex crime counts, Cosby faces up to 10 years in prison.
“This case will move forward,” Judge Elizabeth A. McHugh told a crowded courtroom at the end of a 3½-hour hearing that focused in part on accuser Andrea Constand’s claim that Cosby invited her to his home in 2004 and gave her several pills that made her dizzy and almost unable to see before assaulting her.
Constand and Cosby had met at Temple University, where she was director of operations for the women’s basketball team and he was a prominent booster for the Philadelphia university whom she saw as a mentor. Cosby has contended that his encounters with Constand and other women were consensual.
But even as the now-hobbled, 78-year-old comedian was ordered to stand trial, Tuesday’s preliminary hearing illustrated the difficulty prosecutors could have in convicting him over an incident that happened more than a decade ago, with scant physical evidence.
“Stop this. Stop this,” defense attorney Brian McMonagle told the judge just before her ruling in the case. McMonagle attempted to undermine Constand’s credibility, cast doubt on foggy memories of police investigators, and underscore the dearth of physical evidence in the case.
He called out Constand for accepting tickets to one of Cosby’s performances sometime after the incident, even though she’d told police initially she’d had no contact with him afterward.
“Get me some tickets!” McMonagle shouted at one point, mimicking her request in a mocking tone.
McMonagle was so animated in his defense, and so eager to take apart the accuser’s story, that the judge at one point admonished him for grandstanding.
Prosecutors would have none of it.
“There’s only one person in this room who chose the path we’re on, and he’s sitting right there,” prosecutor Stewart Ryan said, pointing directly at Cosby, whose familiar sweaters and sweatpants were replaced by a dark suit and patterned tie.
Constand did not testify at Tuesday’s hearing, which had a much lower standard of proof than a jury trial and allowed so-called hearsay evidence. The Times does not generally identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted, unless they voluntarily reveal their identities, as Constand has done.
Cosby barely spoke during the hearing, only saying “thank you” to the judge twice after she advised him of his next hearing and wished him luck.
Prosecutors instead relied on statements from Constand and Cosby taken in 2005, months after an incident at Cosby’s home in suburban Philadelphia. Three police officers, one of them retired, read portions of the statements out loud during testimony and took questions on the details, some of which they no longer remembered.
Constand was 31 at the time of the alleged assault, which she first reported to police in 2005. She has since moved home to Canada but is expected to testify at trial, which will be scheduled during a hearing in July.
Cosby is defending lawsuits across the country. But in most cases, the criminal statute of limitations has expired. The Pennsylvania case, filed just before the deadline at the end of last year, is the sole criminal matter, with charges of aggravated indecent assault without consent, aggravated indecent assault while the victim was unconscious or unaware that penetration occurred, and aggravated indecent assault in which a suspect “impairs complainant.”
Defense attorneys have tried to have the charges thrown out, arguing that a deposition Cosby gave in a civil suit could not be used against him and that the prosecution is politically motivated.
Montgomery County Dist. Atty. Kevin Steele charged Cosby after defeating Bruce Castor, who as D.A. had declined to prosecute the case when it initially emerged. That decision became an issue in the election.
“Based upon what he did to the victim and giving her the substance he gave her, she was incapable of consent,” Steele said during Tuesday’s hearing. “What we’re dealing with is what happened on that night in his house.”
But the trial could include events beyond that night. In addition to letting Constand face Cosby in court, a judge could allow prosecutors to present testimony from other Cosby accusers to try to establish a pattern.
The allegations in the Constand case had already been aired in documents. Still, the public recitation of the details by attorneys and police officers, with Cosby forced to take them in from a defendant’s chair in a full courtroom, marked a rare and humiliating moment in Cosby’s downfall. He showed little emotion, rubbing his chin and head and occasionally looking down.
“These will make you feel good. The blue things will take the edge off,” Cosby allegedly told Constand on the evening of the January 2004 incident, handing her three pills and demanding she “down them,” according to court documents.
Cosby also offered her wine, she reported, insisting, “You can nurse it” when she tried to refuse it because she had not eaten all day.
After Constand’s vision blurred and her legs wobbled, she described coming in and out of consciousness.
“I started to panic,” she said, according to her statement. ”I got scared and thought I was having a bad reaction or something.”
That’s when, she reported, Cosby told her to lie down on the couch and began touching her.
Despite her condition, Constand told investigators that she was aware she was being fondled and digitally penetrated.
“I was unable to speak. I was like paralyzed,” she recounted. Though she did not tell Cosby to stop, prosecutors said that the drugs – the type of which have not been confirmed – rendered her unable to give consent.
Cosby’s own statement, also discussed during the hearing, confirmed some of those details. But he made sure to emphasize that no intercourse occurred.
Cosby said he told Constand’s mother that there was “no penile penetration,” according to the investigation.
“I never intended to have sexual intercourse,” he said, adding that they were kissing and petting while fully clothed. “I enjoyed it.”
Cosby told investigators that he “like[d] the petting and touching.”
When asked if they had intercourse, he replied cryptically, “never asleep or awake.”
The next morning, Cosby gave Constand a homemade fruit muffin and a cup of tea, according to testimony. Later, he settled a civil suit with her.
Follow Noah Bierman on Twitter
4:39 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details from the preliminary hearing.
1:18 p.m.: This article has been updated with information about the Times’ policy on identifying victims of sexual assault.
11:35 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with staff reports.
10:47 a.m.: This article has been updated with Cosby waiving arraignment.
10:15 a.m.: This article has been updated with details throughout.
10:05 a.m.: This article has been updated with Cosby being ordered to stand trial.
9 a.m.: This article has been updated with the cross-examination and additional information.
This article was originally posted at 6:44 a.m.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.