NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS/AP) — Comedian Bill Cosby has been charged with Aggravated Indecent Criminal Assault in Montgomery County for an alleged sexual assault at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.
Cosby was arraigned on a sex assault charge and will remain free on $1 million bail pending trial.
Cosby had no comment on his way in and out of court as he was arraigned on a charge of aggravated indecent assault, punishable by five to 10 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine. He did not have to enter a plea and was allowed to remain free on $1 million bail for another hearing Jan. 14.
Guided by his lawyers, he walked slowly into the courtroom, using a cane and wearing a gray tweed hoodie sweater. 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!”
WATCH: Cosby Leaves Courthouse
The media – reporters and photographers – took up nearly a half block outside the small courthouse in Elkins Park, as the legendary comedian was led in by an aide and his well-known Philadelphia defense lawyer, Brian McMonagle for a brief arraignment.
A judge read the charge and set his preliminary hearing for January 14th. She set bail at $1 million, saying he would be released after posting 10 percent of it, surrendering his passport, and having absolutely no contact with the alleged victim.
He was then led out by his attorney and his aide, and helped into a waiting black SUV.
Neither Cosby nor his lawyers had anything to say to reporters as they shouted questions, and photographers used step ladders to get above the fray to record the moment.
Hours after the appearance, Cosby’s lawyers put out a statement saying they “intend to mount a vigorous defense against unjustified charges.”
“It’s a disappointing day. It’s sad for his legal team, for his family that he would be dragged through this. That this would be a political maneuver. That this would be the fulfillment of a campaign promise as opposed to something that is necessary for justice. We’re 12 years in. Twelve years after an alleged assault that was fully investigated,” said Cosby’s attorney Monique Pressley.
The case sets the stage for perhaps the biggest Hollywood celebrity trial of the mobile-all-the-time era and could send the 78-year-old Cosby to prison in the twilight of his life and barrier-breaking career.
In bringing the case, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman overruled her predecessor, who declined to charge Cosby in 2005 when Temple University employee Andrea Constand first told police that the comic drugged her and violated her by putting his hands down her pants at his mansion in suburban Philadelphia.
PHOTOS: Bill Cosby
The TV star acknowledged under oath a decade ago that he had sexual contact with Constand but said it was consensual.
The charges were announced just days before the 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges was set to run out.
According to the criminal complaint, the victim thought of Bill Cosby as a mentor. At his Cheltenham home in mid-February, 2004, she tells investigators she told Cosby she was drained and hadn’t been sleeping. She says he gave her pills, then urged her to drink wine. She described the feeling as being paralyzed as she says the comedian assaulted her.
Montgomery county District Attorney-elect Kevin Steele says, they’re filing the charges based on an investigation that started when a deposition from a civil case involving Cosby was unsealed.
“After examination of all the evidence, we are able to seek justice on behalf of the victim.”
WATCH: Cosby Arrives At Police Department
WATCH: Cosby Leaves Police Department
The alleged victim’s attorney released the following statement on the charges:
‘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. We have the utmost confidence in Mr. Steele, Ms. 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.’
Prosecutors reopened the case over the summer as damaging testimony was unsealed in Constand’s related civil lawsuit against Cosby and as dozens of other women came forward with similar accusations that made a mockery of his image as the wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable from TV’s “The Cosby Show.”
Many of those alleged assaults date back decades, and the statute of limitations for bringing charges has expired in nearly every case.
Constand, who is now 42 and works as a massage therapist in her native Canada, is ready to face Cosby in court, her attorney, Dolores Troiani, said this fall.
“She’s a very strong lady,” Troiani said. “She’ll do whatever they request of her.”
The charges add to the towering list of legal problems facing the actor, including defamation and sex-abuse lawsuits filed in Boston, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania.
Cosby in 1965 became the first black actor to land a leading role in a network drama, “I Spy,” and he went on to earn three straight Emmys. Over the next three decades, the Philadelphia-born comic created TV’s animated “Fat Albert” and the top-rated “Cosby Show,” the 1980s sitcom celebrated as groundbreaking television for its depiction of a warm and loving family headed by two black professionals — one a lawyer, the other a doctor.
He was a fatherly figure off camera as well, serving as a public moralist and public scold, urging young people to pull up their saggy pants and start acting responsibly.
Constand, who worked for the women’s basketball team at Temple, where Cosby was a trustee and proud alumnus, said she was assaulted after going to his home in January 2004 for some career advice.
Then-District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to charge Cosby, saying at the time that both the TV star and his accuser could be portrayed in “a less than flattering light.” This year, Castor said the allegations in Constand’s lawsuit were more serious than the account she gave police, and if that information had been known at the time, “we might have been able to make a case.”
Castor tried to make a comeback as district attorney in the November election but lost to Ferman’s top deputy.
After the criminal case went nowhere, Constand settled her lawsuit against Cosby in 2006 on confidential terms.
Her allegations and similar ones from other women in the years that followed did not receive wide attention but exploded into view in late 2014, first online, then in the wider media, after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked Cosby as a hypocrite and called him a rapist during a standup routine. That opened the floodgates on even more allegations.
Women mostly from the world of modeling, acting or other entertainment fields came forward and described being offered a drink by Cosby and waking up to find they had apparently been sexually assaulted. Cosby, through his representatives, accused some of the women of trying to extract money from him or get ahead in show business.
Earlier this year, The Associated Press persuaded a judge to unseal documents from the Constand lawsuit, and they showed the long-married Cosby acknowledging a string of affairs and sexual encounters.
Cosby testified 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.'”
In the deposition, Cosby said he put his hands down Constand’s pants that night 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.
“I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped,” Cosby testified.
He said Constand was not upset when she left that night. She went to police a year later.
Her lawyer has said Constand is gay and was dating a woman around the time she met Cosby in the early 2000s.
The AP generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they agree to have their names published, as Constand has done.
The Pennsylvania Office of Victim Advocate released the following statement on the charges:
‘Today’s announcement of criminal charges against Bill Cosby serve as true vindication and validation of over 40 brave women who have come forward with similar stories of sexual assault. I applaud the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office for their thoughtful and conscientious review of the facts in this case. I further commend them for not giving up on this victim when so many others had in the past. Sometimes justice moves slowly and often for victims in high profile sexual assault cases, it never comes. The victims who have watched their accuser walk above the law because of his status will hopefully feel some redemption in the face of all the speculation and condemnation they have endured over these years.’
Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Cosby no longer enjoys the celebrity appeal that might sway a jury.
“His reputation has already been tarnished, so I doubt that jurors would be inclined to believe him just because of his prior image,” she said in September. She said the judge in the case will have to decide whether to allow other accusers to testify or whether that would be too prejudicial.
KYW Newsradio’s Jim Melwert and Steve Tawa contributed to this report.
(TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)