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US actor and comedian Bill Cosby charged with sexual assault

The internationally known US actor/comedian Bill Cosby has been charged with aggravated indecent assault. Dozens of women have come forward in recent years accusing Cosby of drugging, and then sexually assaulting them.

Bill Cosby was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting a 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 Cosby, 78, to prison in the twilight of his life and barrier-breaking career.

In bringing the case, Montgomery County

District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman overruled her predecessor

, who declined to charge Cosby in 2005 when Temple University employee Andrea Constand first told police that the comic drugged her and violated her by putting his hands down her pants at his mansion in suburban Philadelphia.

Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent assault and was to be arraigned in the afternoon.

The TV star acknowledged under oath a decade ago that he had sexual contact with Constand but said it was consensual.

Statute of limitations

The charges were announced just days before the 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges was set to run out.

Actor Bill Cosby makes a frowning face as he listens to speeches at the opening of a Ben s Chili Bowl's Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia in 2014.

Bill Cosby at Restaurant opening in 2014

Prosecutors reopened the case over the summer as damaging testimony was unsealed in Constand's related civil lawsuit against Cosby and as dozens of other women came forward with similar accusations.

Many of those alleged assaults date back decades, and the statute of limitations for bringing charges has expired in nearly every case.

Constand, who is now 42 and works as a massage therapist in her native Canada, is ready to face Cosby in court, her attorney, Dolores Troiani, said this fall.

"She's a very strong lady," Troiani said. "She'll do whatever they request of her."

The charges add to the towering list of legal problems facing the actor

, including defamation and sex-abuse lawsuits filed in Boston, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania.

Broke racial barrier

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.

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.

bik/jil (AP, Reuters)

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