Comedian and social activist Bill Cosby, 78, will fight sexual assault charges in a Montgomery County court in Pennsylvania this month. According to his lawyers, Cosby is not guilty and the Montgomery County District Attorney's office is making the case a political football, using it as a focal point in the election for Montgomery County’s district attorney.
Cosby faces three felony charges of aggravated indecent assault in connection with a 2004 incident in Montgomery County. Charges were filed against him on December 30, and a preliminary hearing was set for January 14. He was released on $1 million bail after having turned in his passport.
Cosby's attorneys declared in a statement released after his arraignment,
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.
CNN reports on the charges against Cosby:
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 ... 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.
Prosecutors declined to seek charges against Cosby in 2005, stating there was insufficient evidence to make a case against the comedian. Last month, however, newly elected Montgomery County Prosecutor Kevin Steele revisited the 2004 allegations and decided to charge Cosby, saying “it was the right thing to do.”
Steele also noted that in reopening the case, prosecutors have found new evidence that came from court documents related to a civil suit filed by Constand. That suit was settled in 2006.
CNN reports that a judge decided in July to unseal Cosby’s deposition in that civil case following a motion by the media. In the deposition, Cosby admits to engaging in multiple sexual relationships outside of his marriage and using prescription sedatives on women with whom he wanted to engage in sexual relationships.
According to Constand, Cosby, who was her friend and mentor, had made various advances against her that she rejected, prior to the evening of the alleged "aggravated indecent assault."
Though Constand was the first person to make these charges against Cosby, she has by no means been the only one — a point cited by Steele as a compelling reason to reopen the case.
“We learned about allegations from other victims under similar circumstances,” Steele said. “Reopening this case was our duty as law enforcement officers with a sworn obligation to uphold our constitutions and to uphold the law.”
A staggering number of over 50 women have accused Cosby of assaulting them over the last 40 years, most claiming that he drugged them before assaulting them. His accusers include supermodels Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson, as well as former extra on The Cosby Show, Kaya Thompson.
Twenty-nine of Cosby’s accusers are being represented by civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, who asserted that her clients were “very happy” that charges have been filed against Cosby and that Constand will “have her day in court.” She explained,
That's so important because, for most of the many, many alleged victims that I represent, if not all, they are barred by that statute of limitations, by that arbitrary time limit set by law.
If in fact the prosecutor feels that some of the descriptions by my clients are the same or similar acts as are alleged in the charges against Mr. Cosby, many of my clients have already indicated that they will be prepared to testify in the criminal case if their testimony would be considered relevant and admissible.
Cosby has vehemently denied the accusations and filed defamation countersuits against seven of his accusers who sued him for defamation after he denied their claims against him. Last week, a federal magistrate in Massachusetts ruled that Cosby’s wife of 52 years must testify in a civil case against him. Mrs. Cosby argued that as Cosby’s business manager and long-time wife, the deposition would present an “undue burden,” but the judge rejected her argument.
As observed by CNN, despite allegations of sexual assault Bill Cosby’s reputation remained relatively untarnished until 2014, when comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby a “rapist” during an October standup routine. The video of that routine went viral, and prompted a number of women to come forward with claims against Cosby.
One fallout from this scandal was Cosby’s loss of honorary degrees from Boston University, Fordham University, Marquette University, and Brown University.
A statement from Boston University on the revocation of Cosby's honorary degree reads,
The board's decision was based on a determination, supported by Mr. Cosby's sworn deposition testimony, that his treatment of women has brought significant and lasting discredit upon himself and is inconsistent with the University's mission and values.
But despite the public backlash against Cosby, many remain loyal to the once beloved comedian. Dubbed “Billy Cosby Truthers” on The Daily Beast, his supporters have taken to Facebook with names such as “We Stand with Cosby” and “Billy Cosby is innocent until proven guilty.” Defenders believe that the accusers are people who are out to make money and that the media has been biased in its presentation of the accusations.
One such defender is Charles Wilford, Sr., a chef in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who stated that he cannot reconcile Bill Cosby the activist with the man the accusers allege him to be. “He tried to get black men and black women back on track the way Martin Luther King Jr. wanted them to get back on track,” Wilford said.
In 2009, for example Cosby was honored by the city of Philadelphia for his work encouraging academic achievement and calling for accountability from black parents.
According to the Daily Beast, the creator of the “We Stand with Cosby” Facebook page, who has asked to remain anonymous, indicated he is not so much a fan of Cosby as he is someone who believes that men tend to be victims of false accusations of sexual assault.
If Cosby is convicted, he faces up to 10 years in jail and would be required to register as a sex offender.
Photo of Bill Cosby: AP Images