GWEN IFILL: After dozens of allegations that stretch back decades, comedian Bill Cosby was charged today, for the first time, with sexual assault.
William Brangham has the story.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The legendary entertainer exited a black SUV outside a courthouse in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Cosby stands accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman named Andrea Constand back in 2004. Prosecutors back then didn’t seek charges, citing a lack of evidence. But, since then, scores of other women have accused Cosby of similar assaults, all of which he has steadfastly denied.
At a press conference earlier today, prosecutor Kevin Steele said Ms. Constand has rejected several earlier sexual advances from Cosby before the alleged attack.
KEVIN STEELE, District Attorney-Elect, Montgomery County: 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 to respond to his advances, and he committed aggravated indecent assault upon her.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For more on the case and the Cosby story, we are joined by Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press. She’s been covering Cosby’s legal battles in Pennsylvania.
So, Maryclaire Dale, you were in that tiny courtroom in Pennsylvania today. What was it like? What did you see?
MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press: Yes, I was.
It was a very brief hearing. It was an arraignment, in which a district justice, basically a magistrate, told Cosby what the charges were. He didn’t have the opportunity to enter a plea. In Pennsylvania, that’s typically done later.
Cosby seemed fairly relaxed, given the situation. He was smiling occasionally with his lawyer. He did seem a bit unsteady walking. He had some serious vision problems and needed help signing the court papers, the bail papers and such.
They had arranged — he — the bail was set at a million dollars and he has posted that and he is free tonight. But it was a brief hearing, again, quite a lot of media there, of course, although the charges were not announced until this morning at 10:00 a.m.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, help us understand how we got here. There have been so many allegations against Mr. Cosby over the years. This current complainant, Ms. Constand, had previously made a complaint back in 2004 against Cosby, but the then prosecutor said there wasn’t enough evidence to bring a case.
So how did we get to today?
MARYCLAIRE DALE: Right.
She was one of the first, if not the first accuser to go to the police, and it ended up with a decision by the then Montgomery County prosecutor that he didn’t have enough evidence to move forward to trial.
However, she then filed a civil lawsuit that was settled a year later in 2006, and the — Cosby had to give a deposition in that case. It was quite a lengthy deposition given over four days in 2005 and 2006, and, of course, it wasn’t known to the public what he said at the time.
But after that, after he gave his deposition, the case settled, and, this year, the Associated Press went to court and tried to unseal some of the sealed documents in the case. And we were successful in getting some filings that had parts of his deposition. And they included his acknowledgment that, in the ’70s, he had obtained quaaludes with the hope of giving them to women that he had hoped to seduce.
And that, in addition to a number of other women who had started to come forward, I think that encouraged even more women to come forward. And with that deposition, the prosecutors in Montgomery County today went and took another look at the case and decided today, with the announcement, that they did now have enough to build a case, a criminal case against Cosby.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, it was Cosby’s own words from 10 years ago that got him in the trouble today?
MARYCLAIRE DALE: That was in part.
They were running up against a 12-year statute of limitations on the filing of felony sexual assault cases. Certainly, they do believe that his acknowledgment that he has in the past obtained drugs to use with women, they said that was part of it.
Another part is, they now believe they can prove that the woman was impaired and could not give consent. In the deposition, Cosby says that he acknowledges that he had a sexual situation with this woman that night in his home near Philadelphia, but he says it was consensual.
But prosecutors now believe that, with this evidence and his statement in the deposition that he gave her three pills, he says they were Benadryl. The lawyer for Ms. Constand believes they were probably stronger. So, prosecutors feel sure that they can prove in court that she was too impaired that night by both wine and whatever pills he gave her to give any type of consent.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, the prosecutor is arguing that she was basically intoxicated at Mr. Cosby’s hand, it seems, and that she couldn’t say yes or no; she could not consent to sexual activity?
MARYCLAIRE DALE: Exactly.
In fact, in the affidavit, the 20-page police affidavit filed today in support of the charges, it says that she was — quote, unquote — “frozen” and semi-paralyzed, moving in and out of consciousness, and unable to shout or articulate her, you know, lack of consent, in fact.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Is it clear whether or not that deposition from 10 years ago can be used in this current case against Cosby?
MARYCLAIRE DALE: Well, certainly, that’s one of the many defense motions that we would expect to come during — before the trial plays out at the preliminary — at the pretrial stage.
I’m sure they will try to have that deposition, which was, again, from a civil lawsuit, you know, not — ruled inadmissible. Prosecutors, of course, will try to use it. They’re building their case somewhat upon his very own words.
The other thing that could be of interest is — in the trial is whether or not the subject allows any or many of the other accusers to come forward and tell their story as sort of similar-act evidence, evidence of Cosby’s M.O., for instance. There are times when that is permissible under Pennsylvania law. It can’t be — it has to be a fairly substantial relationship to the crime that is charged.
So, it will be up to the judge to determine whether the facts of other accusations or other cases are close enough to be used by prosecutors to show an alleged pattern of behavior. Certainly, that’s something the defense will try to throw out.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press, thank you very much.
MARYCLAIRE DALE: Thank you.