Comedian Bill Cosby was charged on Wednesday with sexually assaulting a woman in 2004 after plying her with drugs and alcohol, marking the first criminal case against a once-beloved performer whose father-figure persona was already left tattered by dozens of misconduct allegations.
An arrest warrant was issued for Cosby, 78, as the charge was filed in Pennsylvania just before the statute of limitations deadline for a criminal prosecution was to expire in January. The charge stems from allegations brought by a woman who settled a civil case against Cosby for an undisclosed sum in 2006.
Cosby was expected to be arraigned at 2:30 p.m. ET (1930 GMT) before a magisterial district judge in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. His whereabouts following Steele's announcement were not immediately known.
"Today, after examination of all the evidence, we are able to seek justice on behalf of the victim," Kevin Steele, the newly elected district attorney for Montgomery County, told a news conference. Steele made a campaign issue of his intent to prosecute Cosby.
The accuser in the case, Andrea Constand, a former basketball team manager at Temple University in Philadelphia, Cosby's alma mater, is one of more than 50 women who have publicly accused the star of sexually assaulting them in incidents dating back decades.
Neither the entertainer nor his representatives could be reached immediately for comment. He and his lawyers, while acknowledging marital infidelity on Cosby's part, have consistently denied allegations of sexual misconduct.
Cosby, who personified the model American family man in his long-running hit television show, was charged with aggravated indecent assault, a second-degree felony carrying a maximum penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
PILLS AND WINE
According to an affidavit accompanying the charge, the victim was a guest at Cosby's home in Cheltenham near Philadelphia one evening in January 2004, when he gave her wine and urged her to take three blue pills, prosecutors said in a statement.
"Shortly thereafter, the victim became incapacitated, and Cosby led her to a couch. The victim lay down ... and Cosby positioned himself behind her. Cosby then fondled the victim's breasts, put his hands inside her pants, and penetrated her vagina with his fingers," prosecutors said.
"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,'" prosecutors said.
When questioned by police as to whether he had sex with Constand, Cosby, according to the charging documents, answered, "never asleep or awake."
Steele said the case was brought after new information came to light this year, adding that the victim was willing to cooperate.
Constand's lawyer, Dolores Troiani, issued a statement thanking the district attorney's office, adding, "In that this matter is now being pursued in the criminal justice system, we will not comment further."
"This is a very significant development," Gloria Allred, a lawyer who has represented 29 of the accusers, told CNN. Some of them have brought civil suits against Cosby.
The accusations have shocked Cosby's fans and crushed his reputation as an entertainer and father figure.
Many of them occurred decades ago and the statute of limitations for prosecuting them expired long ago.
A portion of a sworn deposition that Cosby gave in 2005-2006 in the civil suit brought by Constand was made public earlier this year. In it, Cosby acknowledged under questioning that he had obtained Quaaludes, a sedative that was a popular recreational drug in the 1970s, intending to give them to young women in order to have sex with them.
About his encounter with Constand, Cosby said under oath that it was consensual and that he gave her some Benadryl, an anti-allergy medication, to relax her.
Constand, who has sought in court to unseal the record of her civil case and settlement with Cosby, said in legal documents filed in July that she is a lesbian, despite his sworn assertions that their encounter was consensual and that he has a knack for reading women's cues.
"I think that I'm a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them," he said in the excerpt, published by The New York Times.
Cosby has stressed through his attorneys and in court filings that the deposition excerpts contained no testimony that he engaged in any non-consensual sex or gave Quaaludes to anyone without their knowledge or consent.
In October, Cosby gave a separate deposition in a California lawsuit brought by another woman who has accused him of sexually abusing her when she was 15.
Earlier this month, Cosby sued seven of his accusers, saying the women who said they were assaulted were lying and had defamed his "honorable legacy and reputation."
The actor is best known for playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the family patriarch in the TV sitcom "The Cosby Show," one of the country's highest-rated television shows in the 1980s.