On Monday, a judge ruled that the 2005 deposition of Bill Cosby — in which Cosby admits, on the record, to obtaining drugs with the intent of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with — can be used in the criminal case against him.
The deposition was taken as part of Andrea Constand’s civil case against Cosby in September 2005 and was released to the public in July 2015 by the Associated Press, which broke the most explosive revelation from the documents: Cosby said that he obtained Quaaludes “for young women that [he] wanted to have sex with.”
Within weeks, the New York Times acquired the full transcript, which offered up some major revelations: Cosby confessed to hiding his extramarital affairs from his wife; detailed his methodical tactics for pursuing and seducing young women; admitted that he paid to keep his affairs (or, as his accusers claim, his assaults) a secret; said he had seven prescriptions for Quaaludes; and insisted that he viewed his sexual encounter with Constand as consensual. Constand, a former Temple University administrator, claims that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at his mansion in Cheltenham, a Philadelphia suburb, in 2004.
The impact of the deposition on public perception of Cosby was immediate and massive. Cosby has always and continues to deny every sexual misconduct allegation against him; the deposition is the closest thing to an admission of wrongdoing.
One day after the AP published its story, Cosby was dropped by his agency, CAA, and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) backed a White House petition to revoke Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. And two days later — with only six months to go before the 12-year statute of limitations for aggravated indecent assault under Pennsylvania law ran out — the Constand investigation was reopened.
The following week, President Barack Obama spoke publicly about the Cosby allegations for the first time. He declined to comment on Cosby specifically but said, “If you give a woman or a man for that matter a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape. And I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”
By the end of the summer, the number of women publicly accusing Cosby of sexual misconduct rose to over 50. And, on December 30, Cosby was charged with sexual assault in the Constand case.
Cosby’s attorneys had argued that Cosby only answered the questions in 2005 so candidly because he believed that he would never be criminally prosecuted; that then-district attorney Bruce Castor had promised to never bring a criminal case against Cosby. According to an email Castor sent Risa Vetri Ferman, his successor, Castor made this promise so Cosby wouldn’t invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Castor, who declined to pursue criminal charges against Cosby back in 2005 because he found “insufficient credible and admissible evidence” on Constand’s behalf, felt the civil suit was Constand’s best chance at justice.
But the current district attorney, Kevin Steele, maintains that this agreement never existed, and that the immunity Cosby described could only be extended to witnesses (not, as Cosby was and is, defendants).
AP reporter Maryclaire Dale petitioned Judge Eduardo Robreno, who had presided over the Constand case from the beginning, to unseal the 2005 deposition for a decade. Dale re-upped her efforts in 2015 after dozens of new Cosby accusers came forward, and Robreno relented — in part because of Cosby’s own behavior. Robreno cited Cosby’s infamous “Pound Cake Speech” as proof that Cosby positioned himself was a “public moralist,” a status that diminished Cosby’s right to privacy:
“The stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct, is a matter as to which the AP — and by extension the public — has a significant interest.”
Cosby has spent much of the past year trying to derail Constand’s criminal case, and the 2005 deposition has been a focus of his efforts. His request to have the deposition thrown out was denied in February. He asked a federal appeals court to reseal court documents that included the deposition but the court rejected his request, arguing that Cosby’s appeal was moot because the contents of the documents were already widely publicized.
Judge Steven O’Neill has not yet decided if the testimony of 13 women who say Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them from 1964 to 2002 can be included as evidence in this criminal case. Steele is requesting O’Neill allow their testimony in under an evidence law that allows prosecutors to call witnesses about a defendant’s prior bad acts if it is similar enough to the ongoing trial. O’Neill may announce his decision at a hearing slated to start on December 13.
Constand’s is the only criminal case against Cosby. The trial is scheduled to begin on June 5, 2017. Cosby is charged with three counts of felony aggravated assault and is pleading not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.