NORRISTOWN, United States (AFP) - Disgraced US megastar Bill Cosby will stand trial June 5, 2017, for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman at his Philadelphia home more than a decade ago, a judge ruled on Tuesday (Sept 6).
The pioneering black comedian faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. He had returned to court on Tuesday in Pennsylvania as part of multiple attempts to avoid standing trial for the alleged 2004 assault.
But Judge Steven O'Neill set the June trial date regardless, and said proceedings could begin earlier if schedules permit.
Up to 13 other women may testify at the trial if Montgomery County prosecutor Kevin Steele gets his way, although Cosby's legal team will likely put up fierce resistance to any such attempt.
Dressed in a pinstripe jacket and gray pants, Cosby had appeared animated and engaged in conversation with his lawyers before Tuesday's hearing at Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, north-west of Philadelphia.
Cosby allegedly plied Andrea Constand with pills and wine, then sat her down on a couch, where the actor allegedly assaulted her in 2004. Constand, who worked for the Temple University basketball team, now lives in Canada.
Going to trial cements a brutal fall from grace for the once treasured father figure, apparent model citizen and award-winning comedian who smashed through racial barriers and delighted audiences with his gentle, self-deprecating humor.
Cosby's legal team said Tuesday their client was "not giving up the fight for his rights" and accused a lawyer representing other alleged sexual assault victims of waging a campaign built "on racial bias and prejudice."
"When the media repeats her accusations - with no evidence, no trial and no jury - we are moved backwards as a country and away from the America that our civil rights leaders sacrificed so much to create," they said.
More than 50 women have publicly painted Cosby as a serial sexual predator who plied victims with sedatives and alcohol to have sex and make them unable to resist his advances over four decades.
Those allegations have seen celebrity pals and millions more malign the legend who attained his greatest fame for his role as a lovable obstetrician and family man in the hit 1980s television sitcom The Cosby Show.
The vast majority of the alleged abuses happened too long ago to prosecute, making the Constand case the only criminal charge brought against Cosby.
The former star posted bail at U$1 million (S$1.3 million) in the case last December, but has yet to enter a plea.
If he pleads guilty, he could avoid the enormous publicity that will come with one of America's most famous entertainers going on trial.
Cosby has become a pariah since an avalanche of women accused him of feeding them pills and having sex with them. In the Constand case, Cosby has admitted giving her a pill but accuses her of lying about the assault.
The case was initially settled by a civil suit in 2006 but prosecutors reopened it by saying that new evidence came to light in July.
Cosby's most famous role was as Cliff Huxtable, the affable father of an upper middle class black family in New York, in The Cosby Show from 1984 to 1992.
It was one of the most popular TV series of all time and jettisoned the actor into a life of fame and millions, following a humble childhood during which he was raised by a maid and a US Navy cook.
Cosby served in the Navy himself and won an athletic scholarship to Temple, before moving into standup comedy. In addition to television, he wrote books and appeared in movies.
His wife Camille has stood by his side. The couple have five children. Their son Ennis was shot dead in 1997 while changing a flat tire in California.