Bill Cosby has been booked on a sexual assault charge, marking the start of criminal proceedings against the 78-year-old actor after more than 50 women accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting them.
Cosby entered no plea to the charge at his arraignment, where bail was set at US $1 million. He is expected to be released Wednesday afternoon after arranging for the payment of his bail money.
WATCH: Bill Cosby leaves police department after being booked on sexual assault charges
ORIGINAL STORY: NORRISTOWN, Pa. – Bill Cosby was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting an Ontario woman at his home 12 years ago — the first criminal charges brought against the comedian out of the torrent of allegations that destroyed his good-guy image as America’s Dad.
The case sets the stage for perhaps the biggest Hollywood celebrity trial of the mobile-all-the-time era and could send the 78-year-old Cosby to prison in the twilight of his life.
WATCH: Bill Cosby makes no comment as he departs Pennsylvania courthouse
The woman at the centre of the case is Andrea Constand, a Toronto massage therapist who was a Temple University employee in Pennsylvania at the time of the alleged assault.
She told police that Cosby drugged her and violated her by putting his hands down her pants at his mansion in suburban Philadelphia in 2004, but no charges were initially laid.
On Wednesday, Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent assault, punishable by five to 10 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.
WATCH ABOVE: Bill Cosby turned himself in to face arraignment on a sexual assault charge. Over the past few years, more than 50 women have alleged the comedian touched them inappropriately, and in some cases, drugged them and raped them. This is the first time Cosby has been charged. CBS’s Kenneth Craig reports.
Prosecutors accused him of plying Constand with pills and wine, then penetrating her with his fingers without her consent, while she was drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to resist or cry out.
She was “frozen, paralyzed, unable to move,” said Montgomery County District Attorney-elect Kevin Steele.
In court documents, prosecutors said the drugs were the cold medicine Benadryl or some other, unidentified substance.
Prosecutors also said there are probably other women who were similarly drugged and violated by Cosby. Steele urged them to come forward as well.
The charge was laid just days before the 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges was set to run out.
Cosby had acknowledged under oath a decade ago that he had sexual contact with Constand but said it was consensual. Calls to his attorneys were not immediately returned.
Read the full Bill Cosby criminal complaint below:
Prosecutors reopened the case over the summer as damaging testimony was unsealed in a related civil lawsuit by Constand against Cosby, and as dozens of other women came forward with similar accusations that made a mockery of his image as the wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable from TV’s “The Cosby Show.”
Many of those alleged assaults date back decades, and the statute of limitations for bringing charges has expired in nearly every case.
A lawyer for Constand said her now 42-year-old client welcomed the charges.
“She feels that they believe her, and, to any victim, that is foremost in your mind: Are people going to believe me,” said attorney DoloresTroiani.
A statement from Troiani’s office also expressed appreciation for the “the consideration and courtesy” the district attorney’s office and police had shown to Constand during a “difficult time.”
The charge adds to the towering list of legal problems facing Cosby, including defamation and sex-abuse lawsuits filed in Massachusetts, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania.
A key question if the case goes to trial is whether the judge will allow supporting testimony from other accusers to show similar “bad acts,” even though it is too late to bring charges in most if not all of those instances. The judge could decide such testimony would be unfair.
Cosby in 1965 became the first black actor to land a leading role in a network drama, “I Spy,” and he went on to earn three straight Emmys.
Over the next three decades, the Philadelphia-born comic created TV’s animated “Fat Albert” and the top-rated “Cosby Show,” the 1980s sitcom celebrated as groundbreaking television for its depiction of a warm and loving family headed by two black professionals – one a lawyer, the other a doctor.
WATCH: ‘It’s disappointing’: Philadelphia residents react to sexual assault charges against Bill Cosby
He was a fatherly figure off camera as well, serving as a public moralist and public scold, urging young people to pull up their saggy pants and start acting responsibly.
Constand, who worked for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, where Cosby was a trustee and proud alumnus, said she was assaulted after going to his home in January 2004 for some career advice.
Then-district attorney Bruce Castor declined to charge Cosby, saying at the time that both the TV star and his accuser could be portrayed in “a less than flattering light.” This year, Castor said the allegations in Constand’s lawsuit were more serious than the account she gave police.
WATCH: Bill Cosby arrives at his arraignment at a Pennsylvania courthouse
After the criminal case went nowhere, Constand settled her lawsuit against Cosby in 2006 on confidential terms.
Her allegations and similar ones from other women in the years that followed did not receive wide attention but exploded into view in late 2014, after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked Cosby as a hypocrite and called him a rapist during a standup routine. That opened the floodgates on even more allegations.
Earlier this year, The Associated Press persuaded a judge to unseal documents from the Constand lawsuit, and they showed the long-married Cosby acknowledging a string of affairs and sexual encounters.
Cosby testified that he obtained quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women he wanted to have sex with. He denied giving women drugs without their knowledge and said he had used the now-banned sedative “the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.”‘
WATCH: ‘I’m very happy this day has finally come’: attorney Gloria Allred on Bill Cosby’s arraignment
In his deposition, Cosby said he gave Constand three half-pills of Benadryl for stress, telling her only that they were her “friends.” He said he fondled Constand, taking her silence as a green light.
“I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped,” Cosby testified.
He said Constand was not upset when she left that night. She went to police a year later.
Prosecutors on Wednesday said Cosby used wine and drugs to render Constand incapable of resistance after “the much younger, athletic victim” blocked two previous sexual advances.
Her lawyer has said Constand is gay and was dating a woman around the time she met Cosby in the early 2000s.
Over the past month, Cosby has filed lawsuits against eight of his accusers — including model Beverly Johnson — claiming they have committed “malicious, opportunistic, and false and defamatory accusations of sexual misconduct” against him. He is seeking unspecified damages.
© 2015 The Canadian Press