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Judge orders US actor Bill Cosby to stand trial in sexual assault criminal case

Bill Cosby's accuser did not appear at the hearing, instead prosecutors read parts of her police statement into the record. More than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual abuse in civil suits.

A district court judge in Pennsylvania has ordered actor and comedian Bill Cosby to stand trial over allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman at his Philadelphia home in 2004.

More than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexually abusing them.

And while many of his accusers have filed civil suits, seeking financial damages and a sense of justice, today's ruling centers on the only criminal case against the actor. If convicted, the 78-year-old celebrity could face up to 10 years in prison.

District Court Judge Elizabeth McHugh ruled that

there was enough evidence for Cosby to stand trial,

after a three-hour preliminary hearing just outside of Philadelphia.

Watch video 01:15

Bill Cosby charged with sexual assault

The case was initially settled by a civil suit in 2006, after Andrea Constand, now 46, accused Cosby of drugging her and sexually abusing her when she was helpless to resist. Cosby says the sex was consensual.

The two met at Temple University in Philadelphia, where Constand was affiliated with the basketball program at the time. She now lives in Canada.

Cosby was a former student, and although he didn't graduate, he had long been an active supporter of the university, and served on the universities Board of Trustees. That is, until December 2014 when he resigned, as more and more women came forward with allegations of drug-induced sexual assault against the TV-star.

Cosby's lawyers cite civil suit

In court Tuesday, Cosby's lawyers argued that reopening the criminal case violated the agreement of the civil suit which stated that he would never be prosecuted.

But

prosecutors justified reopening the case,

saying that new evidence came to light last summer.

"We're here because we want to seek the truth. We want to service justice," District Attorney Kevin Steele told reporters. "We're going to move forward on the case and consequently look forward to getting a trial date"

The judge set an arraignment for July 20, at which time the entertainer could enter a plea. But Cosby waived his right to appear at that proceeding, putting the case on course for trial.

Cosby is free on $1 million bail he posted last December.

Cosby, whose long career stretches back to the 1960s is most famous for co-creating and starring in the television sitcom, The Cosby Show. In it he played the amiable Dr. Cliff Huxtable during the series' eight-year-run, which ended in 1992.

As today's hearing came to a close, Judge McHugh said, "Mr. Cosby, good luck to you, sir."

"Thank you," said the former TV star, who stood up briskly after the ruling.

bik/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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