Bill Cosby arraigned; TV star's attorneys vow to fight 'unjustified' charge

Story highlights

  • Bill Cosby for the first time is charged criminally with sexual assault
  • Cosby's attorneys: "We intend to mount a vigorous defense"
  • "Prayers answered," another Cosby accuser tells CNN

Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (CNN)Hours after Bill Cosby set foot in a Pennsylvania courtroom to face sexual assault charges, the comedian's attorneys called the criminal case against him "unjustified" and vowed to fight it.

"The charge by the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office came as no surprise, filed 12 years after the alleged incident and coming on the heels of a hotly contested election for this county's DA during which this case was made the focal point," Cosby's attorneys said in a statement released after his arraignment Wednesday. "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."
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    Cosby, whose legacy as a comedian has been tarnished by multiple accusations of sexual assault, faces three felony charges of aggravated indecent assault in the case, which is tied to a 2004 accusation in Montgomery County.
    Looking frail in a gray sweater and carrying a cane, he walked arm and arm with attorneys into a courthouse there Wednesday and appeared to have difficulty seeing as he was guided to a courtroom seat.
    The judge set his bail at $1 million and ordered him to surrender his passport. Cosby did not enter a plea. Asked whether he understood the proceedings, Cosby responded, "yes," in a booming voice with a smile on his face.
    Following the brief arraignment, Cosby went to the police station in Cheltenham Township, where he was booked per protocol. Cosby posted bail and left the police station.
    The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office released a booking photo of Bill Cosby after Wednesday's proceedings.
    The TV legend is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand when she visited his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. A probable cause affidavit filed by investigators this week alleges that Cosby "sought to incapacitate" Constand by giving her a mix of pills and wine that sent her slipping in and out of consciousness and left her unable to consent to sexual activity.
    Constand was the first person to publicly allege sexual assault by Cosby. The charges filed Wednesday are the first criminal charges levied against him since the allegations arose. Cosby has steadfastly denied wrongdoing.
    In 2005, prosecutors declined to seek charges against Cosby in the case, citing insufficient evidence.
    Montgomery County prosecutor Kevin Steele, who was elected to his post last month, said Wednesday that prosecutors looked at all the evidence in the 2004 allegations and decided to charge Cosby "because it was the right thing to do."

    New evidence

    Officials reopened the criminal investigation into Cosby in Montgomery County after new evidence came to light, Steele said.
    That evidence, Steele said, came from court documents related to a civil suit that Constand filed against Cosby after prosecutors declined to seek charges against the comedian.
    Constand settled the civil case against Cosby in 2006.
    This past July, nine years after the civil case was settled, a judge decided to unseal Cosby's deposition in that case in response to a motion by the media.
    In it, Cosby admits he had sexual relationships with at least five women outside his marriage, gave prescription sedatives to women he wanted to have sex with and tried to hide affairs from his wife.
    When the deposition was released and "we learned about allegations from other victims under similar circumstances, reopening this case was not a question," Steele said. "Rather, reopening this case was our duty as law enforcement officers with a sworn obligation to uphold our constitutions and to uphold the law."
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    Prosecutors re-examined the original investigation in light of the new documents, reinterviewed some witnesses and decided to pursue the criminal charge.
    "The evidence shows Mr. Cosby established a relationship with the victim after meeting her through her work associated with Temple University's women's basketball program," Steele said.
    Constand considered Cosby a friend and mentor, but on two occasions rejected advances by Cosby, he said.
    "On the evening in question, Mr. Cosby urged her to take pills that he provided to her, and to drink wine, the effect of which rendered her unable to move or respond to his advances, and he committed aggravated indecent assault upon her," Steele said.
    Pennsylvania law has a 12-year statute of limitations for sexual assault cases, a window that closes early next year.
    Some unsealed documents from the civil suit revealed that Cosby has admitted to getting prescription Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with.
    Asked whether investigators believe Cosby used Quaaludes in the 2004 case for which he is being charged, Steele said that pills were provided.
    "There's inconsistencies on [what pills they were]. There was also wine provided," the prosecutor said. He said the woman has said she was "frozen, paralyzed, unable to move," so she was therefore unable to consent to sexual activity.

    'The best Christmas present'

    The 78-year-old Cosby has been dogged by allegations of sexual assault. At least 50 women have come forward to publicly accuse him of assaulting them over four decades, most saying he drugged them first.
    Formal accusations date back at least 10 years, when Constand went to police with her complaint. Cosby has maintained his innocence and filed lawsuits accusing his accusers of defamation.
    Wednesday's criminal charges quickly caught the attention of others who have accused the entertainer.
    "For many of my 29 clients, who allege they are victims of Bill Cosby, seeing him criminally charged and having to face a trial is the best Christmas present they've received," attorney Gloria Allred told reporters.
    Kaya Thompson, a former extra on "The Cosby Show" who is among his accusers, said she felt "shock and glee combined" when her father told her about the charges.
    "Prayers answered," she told CNN's Don Lemon.
    Now she's hoping the man she once saw as an icon will be honest.
    "I'd like him to own up. ... But this is now in the hands of a higher power," she said.
    "The women in general that have been assaulted and abused as they allege, they feel some sense of vindication that there might be a prosecution of Mr. Cosby and he might be brought to justice," said attorney Joseph Cammarata, who represents seven of the accusers.

    Allegations gain momentum

    Cosby's reputation as a comic, beloved TV dad, philanthropist and education advocate appeared unaffected by the allegations before public sentiment took a turn in late 2014.
    Comedian Hannibal Buress has been credited as the one who spotlighted the accusations. In October 2014, a video of a standup routine in which he called Cosby a "rapist" went viral, and soon after, women started coming forward with claims that they were drugged and assaulted by the TV legend.
    In interviews, Buress said his intention was not to "out" Cosby, but to make a joke about Cosby's alleged hypocrisy. Cosby created an image for himself as a crusader for high moral standards, Buress said in his routine, while facing accusations of rape.
    Cosby filed a countersuit this month against seven women who had sued him for defamation after he claimed their accusations of sexual assault were untrue. Cosby said the women's accusations hurt his reputation so much that plans for a new family comedy on NBC were derailed.
    Cosby also sued Beverly Johnson, a pioneering African-American supermodel who accused Cosby in 2014 of sexual misconduct that she says happened years ago; Johnson says the comedian drugged and tried to rape her at her New York home in the mid-1980s.