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December 30, 2015

$1 million bail for Cosby in arraignment on felony sex charge

The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office on Wednesday charged comedy legend Bill Cosby with aggravated indecent assault for an alleged incident in his Cheltenham Township home in 2004.

At his arraignment, he posted bail – 10 percent of $1 million – surrendered his passport, answered "yes" softly to all of the judge's questions and yelled "Thank you!" when District Justice Elizabeth McHugh concluded the arraignment by wishing him good luck.

Cosby, who has a home not far from the Elkins Park court, was dropped off from a Jeep. Police had blocked off the street, clogged with TV satellite trucks and a throng of journalists. Overhead, a news copter droned in place.

Walking gingerly, the 78-year-old comedy legend called out "Step!" and "Left!" as he made his way into the courtroom and to the defendant's table. He was aided by a woman who appeared to be a part of his defense team.

Cosby carried a thin cane, though he did not use it for support.

The Philadelphia native wore a hooded salt-and-pepper sweater, cargo sweat pants and duck boots as he made his way into the courtroom, packed with reporters. He sat next to his lawyer, Brian McMonagle of Philadelphia, a former prosecutor who is known as a top defense lawyer.

Cosby signed papers allowing him to post 10 percent of his $1 million bail, and then left the courtroom 20 minutes after arriving to be fingerprinted at the township police department and be released.

A preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 14 at 9:30 a.m. in the same courtroom, but the McHugh warned the date and time may change and probably the venue. It is likely the hearing will be moved to a county courtroom in Norristown, she said.

Cosby is charged with three second degree criminal counts stemming from a single incident, according to First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele.

One count is for a sexual assault without consent, another is for penetrating his alleged victim while she was unconscious and the third is for assaulting her while she was impaired.

The case involves Andrea Constand, 42, a former Temple University employee. She has told police the comedian drugged and violated her at his home in Montgomery County, near the Philadelphia border. The judge warned Cosby to have no contact with "the complainant"  of any sort.

A former basketball standout at the University of Arizona, Constand – Steele never used her name, but Constand has acknowledged she is the source of the complaint and she is named in court papers – worked with the basketball program at the university, Cosby's alma mater, for several years before returning to her native Canada.

Cosby was charged and arraigned Wednesday because the statute of limitations was set to soon run out. Steele takes over as county district attorney on January 4. 

According to a statement by Steele, Cosby offered the alleged victim wine and blue pills before the alleged January 15, 2004 assault, then "the victim became incapacitated and Cosby led her to a couch. "

Cosby next positioned himself behind her and "fondled the victim's breasts, put his hands inside her pants and penetrated her vagina with his fingers. Cosby also put her hand on his erect penis.

"The victim did not consent to any of these acts and reported that she was unable to move or speak and felt 'frozen' and 'paralyzed.'"

The victim has agreed to testify in the case, Steele said.

Neither Steele nor McMonagle took questions from journalists following the arraignment.

A statement from Constand's lawyer, Dolores Troiani, expressed the "utmost confidence" in Steele and his office.

"On behalf of our client, Andrea Constand, we wish to express our appreciation to the Montgomery County District Attorney, the county detectives and the Cheltenham Police Department for the consideration and courtesy they have shown Andrea during this difficult time," read the prepared statement.

The statement said there would be no further comment from Constand or her lawyers.

A Temple spokesman declined to comment on the charges.

Constand, who is lesbian, is the first public accuser of Cosby. 

She filed and settled a civil suit against Cosby in 2006. Terms of the settlement were never disclosed, but a damning deposition – Cosby admitted to giving her drugs – has become public. Cosby contended in the deposition that the sex was consensual.

Constand has said in her civil suit that she had she considered Cosby a friend and mentor, but she also claimed she had turned aside two sexual overtures prior to the alleged assault.

Cosby, who resigned from Temple's board of trustees last year due to the mounting allegations from more than 50 accusers, frequently attended campus events, which is how he got to know Constand.

Bruce Castor, a former district attorney in Montgomery County, had looked into the allegations against Cosby previously and declined to press charges.

Castor opposed Steele for district attorney in the November election. Castor's decision not to prosecute Cosby was considered a factor in the outcome of the election.