Bill Cosby Loses Preliminary Hearing, Will Go to Trial

The embattled pop culture icon appeared in Montgomery County court on Tuesday.

Bill Cosby arrives at the Montgomery County Courthouse for a preliminary hearing, Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Norristown, Pa.

Bill Cosby arrives at the Montgomery County Courthouse for a preliminary hearing, Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Norristown, Pa.

Montgomery County Judge Elizabeth McHugh ruled on Tuesday afternoon that Bill Cosby will go to trial on charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand at his Elkins Park home. Although dozens have women have made similar allegations against Cosby, this is the only criminal proceeding against him.

Cosby, who is said to be legally blind, arrived for his preliminary hearing just before 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, was assisted by an aide through the courtroom and into his chair at the defense table. He was nearly motionless for the majority of the hearing.

The prosecuting attorneys, led by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, called two witnesses to the stand: Katharine Hart, who was one of two detectives present for Constand’s original in-person statement to police in January 2005, and Cheltenham Police Chief John Norris, who interviewed Cosby in New York City shortly after Constand came to police. Constand was not in the courtroom.

Prosecutors asked Hart to read from much of Constand’s statement, in which she told the detectives that she became dizzy and disoriented shortly after Cosby gave her some pills and wine. According to the statement that Hart read from, Constand said that Cosby helped her to a couch, where she went “in and out” of consciousness. She accused Cosby of touching her breasts and putting his fingers inside her vagina.

“Were you able to say no?” the detectives asked Constand, according to Hart’s testimony. “I was unable to speak,” replied Constand. “I was, like, paralyzed.” The detectives asked Constand if she had consented to the sexual acts, and she told them that she did not.

Norris testified that Cosby readily acknowledged that there was “petting and the touching of private parts” — Cosby’s words in the statement read by Norris — and that he confirmed that he touched Constand’s breasts and vagina. Cosby also told police that he provided pills to Constand, which he said were Benadryl.

Norris also read from the part of Cosby’s statement where he addressed phone conversations that he had with Constand and her mother after the incident. He told police that he apologized twice to the mom and Constand.

“I called Andrea back thinking, listen, I know Andrea talked about grad school, so why don’t we talk about what she wants to be,” Cosby told police, according to testimony. “We’ll pick up the tab but she must maintain a 3.0 GPA.”

Cosby’s animated defense attorney Brian McMonagle, a former prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, objected repeatedly to both testimonies, arguing that the accounts amounted to hearsay and that Constand herself should have been there.

McMonagle questioned inconsistencies between the statement Constand gave Hart and other statements she gave, and also raised the fact that Constand crossed out significant portions of the statement and made changes before she left the police station.

Under objections of the prosecution, McMonagle called to the stand Cheltenham police officer Richard Schaffer, who was present with Hart for the statement. Schaffer spoke with Constand on the phone prior to her statement, and he memorialized that conversation on paper. McMonagle asked about discrepancies between that conversation and Constand’s statement, at which point the prosecution objected, arguing that the defense was trying to attack Constand’s credibility, which isn’t at issue in this preliminary hearing. The judge sustained that objection.

In his closing, McMonagle pointed out that Cosby readily admitted to giving Constand Benadryl and having sexual relations with her and again hammered at Constand’s credibility and her absence from the hearing.

“Stop this!” McMonagle shouted twice. “It should have been stopped long ago … Why are we here? We’ve got no business here. Every citizen deserves more than someone walking into a courtroom saying 11 years ago somebody told me something … If you take all of her words and his words of clarity, there is no way we have a … crime, and everybody knows it, and now it’s time to say it.”

Steele’s retort was much more subdued.

“She was not capable of consenting,” Steele declared, after recounting both Constand’s and Cosby’s statements regarding the pills and wine. Then he repeated one question and answer from Constand’s statement to police: “‘Did you consent to any of these acts?’ ‘No I did not.'”

Judge McHugh took less than an hour to render her decision. Cosby is next due in court on July 20th, though the date of the trial has not been set.

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