A Pennsylvania judge refused to dismiss a sexual assault case against Bill Cosby on Wednesday, setting the stage for the first criminal prosecution of the once-celebrated comedian, who has for years denied allegations of assault by dozens of women, Reuters reported.
The decision was a loss for the 78-year-old entertainer, who for decades was beloved by US television audiences for his family-friendly brand of humor.
Cosby’s attorneys had tried to convince Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court Judge Steven O’Neill that their client could not be prosecuted due to an agreement reached with a former Montgomery Country district attorney more than a decade ago. They never produced a written agreement to that effect.
“I hereby find no basis to grant the relief requested” by Cosby’s lawyers, O’Neill said at the end of a two-day hearing in suburban Philadelphia.
A Cosby spokesman said the decision would be appealed.
More than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexually assaulting them in attacks dating back to the 1960s, and several civil lawsuits have been filed against him though many of the incidents are too old to prosecute.
Prosecutors in Los Angeles County last month decided not to charge Cosby over two alleged cases of sexual assault dating to 1965 and 2008.
Cosby, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, sat still and silent through Wednesday’s court hearing and offered no visible reaction to O’Neill’s early evening decision.
He could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers left court without speaking to reporters.
The judge set a March 8 preliminary hearing for prosecutors to begin to discuss their evidence against Cosby.
Karen Polesir, a leader of the Philadelphia arm of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group that advocates for victims of sexual abuse, praised the judge’s decision.
“This is a significant step forward for victims of sexual violence,” she said. “We hope this victory will encourage other prosecutors and police to pursue older rape cases.”
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