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Bill Cosby ordered to stand trial in 2004 sexual assault case

By Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau

There is enough evidence that Bill Cosby assaulted a woman just over a decade ago to bring a criminal case against him to trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Once a symbol of wholesome packaged food and family values, Cosby, now a hobbled 78-year-old, sat rubbing his chin through hours of graphic testimony about drugs and sexual encounters.

It marked a dramatic turn for the one-time icon, a major step in the only criminal case to spring from dozens of accusations that have ended his career and upended his legacy. If convicted on the three sex crime counts, Cosby could face 10 years in prison.

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But, even as Cosby was ordered to stand trial, Tuesday’s pretrial hearing illustrated the difficulty prosecutors could have in convicting him.

“Stop this. Stop this,” defense attorney Brian McMonagle told Judge Elizabeth McHugh just before she delivered her ruling.

McMonagle attempted to undermine the credibility of the alleged victim, Andrea Constand, cast doubt on the memories of others and underscore the lack of physical evidence. He pointed to Constand’s changing recollections about dates of the encounter, portions of her initial statement to police she was allowed to cross out and revise, and her contact with Cosby after the incident, which included requesting tickets to one of the comedian’s concerts.

She “met with the defendant, accepted an invitation, a dinner invitation with the defendant, spoke with him on the phone, went up and visited him in Canada at a concert — get me some tickets!” McMonagle said at one point.

McMonagle was so animated in his defense that the judge at one point admonished him for grandstanding.

Constand did not testify at Tuesday’s hearing. Prosecutors instead relied on witness statements from her and Cosby taken in 2005, months after the incident at Cosby’s home in suburban Philadelphia.

Prosecutors say Cosby assaulted Constand, then the director of operations for the Temple University women’s basketball team, who regarded Cosby as a mentor. Constand, 31 at the time, has since moved home to Canada but is expected to testify at trial, which will be scheduled during a hearing in July.

Cosby is facing lawsuits across the country from women who claim he assaulted them. But in most cases, the criminal statute of limitations has expired. The Pennsylvania case, filed just before the deadline to file charges at the end of last year, is the only criminal matter, with charges of aggravated indecent assault without consent, aggravated indecent assault while the victim was unconscious or unaware that penetration occurred, and aggravated indecent assault where “person impairs complainant.”

Defense attorneys have tried to have the charges thrown out, arguing that a deposition Cosby gave for a civil suit could not be used against him and that the prosecution is politically motivated. District Attorney Kevin Steele charged Cosby after defeating former D.A. Bruce Castor, who had declined to prosecute the case when it initially emerged. That decision became an issue in the election.

“The underlining theme of these, and each of those charges, [is] that, based upon what he did to the victim and giving her the substance he gave her, she’s incapable of consent,” Steele said during Tuesday’s hearing. “What we’re dealing with is what happened on that night in his house.”

The allegations had already been aired in court documents. Cosby settled a civil suit Constand filed against him.

Still, the public recitation of the details by attorneys and police officers, with Cosby forced to take them in from a defendant’s chair, marked a rare and humiliating moment in Cosby’s downfall.

“These pills will make you feel good. The blue things will take the edge off,” Cosby told Constand on the evening of the January 2004 incident, handing her three pills and demanding she “down them,” according to testimony.

After Constand’s vision blurred and her legs wobbled, she described drifting in and out of consciousness. That’s when Cosby began touching her, according to testimony.

Cosby gave her a homemade fruit muffin and a cup of tea the next morning.

Cosby told investigators that he “liked the petting and touching.”

When asked if they had intercourse, he replied cryptically, “never asleep or awake.”

(c)2016 Tribune Co.

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