Prosecutors in Montgomery County have charged Bill Cosby with felony counts in connection with an alleged sexual assault from more than a decade ago. It represents the first criminal charges the 78-year-old comedian has faced after dozens of women accused him of sexual misconduct.

The comedian was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Elkins Park on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

He walked slowly and unsteadily into the courtroom with a cane wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and black sweatpants, as television helicopters flew above and reporters yelled questions at him. He ignored all of them.

Judge Elizabeth McHugh asked him if he understood the charges in a tiny Cheltenham courtroom packed with reporters.

He said he did, and then gingerly walked out of the courtroom and into a black SUV. He then went to a local police station to be photographed and fingerprinted. He's released on bail, and he had to put up $100,000 in cash, which is 10 percent of his bail amount. 

Cosby, who will remain free on $1 million bail pending trial, did not have to enter a plea. His next court hearing is Jan. 14.

The charges were set in motion this summer after U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno unsealed documents from a civil suit filed against Cosby following a motion by attorneys for the Associated Press. The documents referenced a Cosby deposition in which he casually described his encounter with Andrea Constand.

Constand, who now lives in Canada and has agreed to be publicly named, said Cosby was a professional mentor to her. She was an employee of Temple University working for the women's basketball program.

One night in 2004, she said, when she visited Cosby at his home in Cheltenham Township, the comedian urged her to take three blue pills and to drink wine. That's when the assault happened, during which she felt "frozen" and paralyzed," according to prosecutors.

Cosby has said that a sexual encounter did occur, but that it was consensual.

Prosecutors on Wednesday, however, sided with Constand's version of events.

"The charges today are filed as a result of new information that came to light in July 2015. Statute of limitations in this type of case is 12 years," said Montgomery County District Attorney-elect Kevin Steele.

In other words, in the coming weeks, the statute of limitations on filing a charge against Cosby — aggravated indecent assault — will expire.

Constand's allegations and similar ones from other women in the years that followed did not receive wide attention at the time but exploded into view in late 2014, first online, then in the wider media, after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked the moralizing Cosby as a hypocrite and called him a rapist during a standup routine.

That opened the floodgates to even more allegations.

The women were mostly from the world of modeling, acting or other entertainment fields, and Cosby or his representatives denied any wrongdoing, accusing some of them of trying to extract money from him or get ahead in show business.

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, who makes his home mostly in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, testified that he obtained quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women "the same as a person would say, 'Have a drink.'" He denied giving women drugs without their knowledge.

In his deposition, Cosby said he gave Constand three half-pills of Benadryl for stress without telling her what they were. He said he groped 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.

The charges announced on Wednesday is being portrayed as a turnabout for the Montgomery County district attorney's office, which declined to file any criminal charges against Cosby in 2005 over the same incident. Bruce Castor, who lost the November election to be the county's top prosecutor, said his office didn't file charges in 2005 because of insufficient evidence.

After he failed to pursue charges, Castor was sued by Constand who claimed defamation, saying he chose to make her "collateral damage for his political ambitions."

But Castor has said that her statements to police diverge from her civil claims, calling the defamation allegation baseless.

Jennifer Storm of the Office of Victim Advocate of the Commonwealth said the announcement of charges against Cosby is "true vindication." 

"I further commend them for not giving up on this victim when so many others had in the past,"  Storm said. "Sometimes justice moves slowly, and, often for victims in high profile sexual assault cases, it never comes."

Attorney Monique Pressley who is representing Cosby said he will be vindicated.

"The charge by the Montgomery County District Attorney's office came as no surprise, filed 12 years after the alleged incident and coming on the heels of a hotly contested election for this county's DA during which this case was made the focal point," Pressley said in the statement. "Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.