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NEW: Bill Cosby thanks friends and fans in a tweet

Cosby was charged with sexual assault Wednesday

Cosby's attorneys: "We intend to mount a vigorous defense"

Elkins Park, Pennsylvania CNN  — 

Bill Cosby wore a deep grimace as he walked into a Pennsylvania courthouse to face felony charges of sexual assault.

It was a brief court session, and shortly thereafter he was booked, then posted bond and left a police station.

But for the women who have publicly accused him of drugging them, and some who say he raped or fondled them, Wednesday’s arraignment of the actor and comedian on three counts of aggravated indecent assault meant a lot.

“For many of my 29 clients, who allege they are victims of Bill Cosby, seeing him criminally charged and having to face a trial is the best Christmas present they’ve received,” attorney Gloria Allred said.

She believes other alleged victims may be called to testify against Cosby at the trial, but she said the judge would have to decide what testimony will be admissible.

No start date has been set for a trial. Cosby is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on January 14. If eventually convicted, he could face a maximum of 10 years in jail.

$1 million bail

Cosby's mug shot from Wednesday's arraignment

On Wednesday, Cosby, 78, carried a cane and supported himself on the arms of his attorneys as he entered the Montgomery County Courthouse. He appeared to have difficulty seeing as he was guided to his seat in the courtroom for the brief session.

But when asked if he understood the proceedings, he answered, “yes,” in a booming voice with a smile. Cosby entered no plea. He has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

The judge set bail at $1 million and ordered Cosby to surrender his passport. Afterward, Cosby went to the police station in Cheltenham Township where he was booked, per protocol. He then posted bail and left.

His attorneys vowed to fight the charges.

“Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law,” a statement from his lawyers said.

On Thursday, one of Cosby’s attorneys addressed questions about a potential plea agreement.

“My client is not guilty and there will be no consideration on our part of any sort of arrangement,” Monique Pressley told NBC’s “Today” show.

She said Cosby has been “accused unjustly” but is in “good spirits,” knowing that his legal team will defend him until he’s exonerated.

Cosby himself hasn’t spoken about the case since his court appearance.

“If every time Mr. Cosby opens up his mouth, he gets sued by another person with false allegations who’s looking to make some money, then it becomes risky to say anything at all,” Pressley told CNN Thursday, “so under the good advice of counsel, he’s letting me do the talking for him.”

In a tweet posted Thursday evening, Cosby thanked friends and fans but made no mention of the accusations against him.

At least 50 women

Under Pennsylvania law, the charges against Cosby mean that he is accused of penetrating someone with part of his body without that person’s consent.

That can include taking away that person’s ability to refuse the penetration by holding them down or drugging them or carrying out the sex act when the person is unconscious.

The charges stem from accusations made by former Temple University basketball coach Andrea Constand in 2004. A probable cause affidavit filed by investigators this week alleges that Cosby “sought to incapacitate” Constand by giving her a mix of pills and wine that sent her slipping in and out of consciousness and left her unable to consent to sexual activity.

She was the first of at least 50 women who have come forward to publicly accuse him of assaulting them over four decades, most saying he drugged them first. The rest came forward much later – in a legal sense, too late.

Statute of limitations

One reason Cosby was able to avoid prosecution for so long is that the allegations of rape and other sexual assaults went back many years, even decades, and the complaints exceeded statutes of limitations. The accusers could no longer pursue prosecution.

For Constand, time was running out, too. Pennsylvania law has a 12-year statute of limitations for sexual assault cases, a window that would have closed for her early next year.

In 2005, prosecutors declined to charge Cosby in the Constand case, citing a lack of evidence. But last month, a new district attorney – Kevin Steele – was elected, and he swiftly reopened the case.

Constand’s story

In this Aug. 1, 1987 photo, Andrea Constand poses for a photo in Toronto

Constand was a basketball coach at Philadelphia’s Temple University, and Cosby is an alumnus – a very active one, until the school distanced itself in the hail of accusations against the comedian.

In 2004, she visited him at his home in a Philadelphia suburb. He allegedly gave her a mix of pills and wine and “sought to incapacitate” Constand, a probable cause affidavit that investigators filed this week said.

She could hardly remain conscious, let alone consent to sex, she said.

Constand quickly spoke up. When prosecutors passed on a criminal case, she filed a civil lawsuit against Cosby. A lawyer deposed him, but Cosby settled with Constand in 2006; the case’s details were filed away, and years of relative quiet ensued.

Flood of accusations

Hannibal Buress' stand-up routine about Bill Cosby started a controversy.

Then, in October last year, comedian Hannibal Buress picked up on the old case and publicly hurled the label of “rapist” at Cosby.

Weeks later, alleged victims felt compelled to come forward. A trickle at first, they became a flood of accounts, many of them describing the same pattern – drugging, then sex acts without their consent.

Members of the media demanded to see the Constand civil case files, and a judge unsealed them. Details were salacious and spilled new evidence that fit many women’s accounts.

Documents revealed that Cosby admitted to giving prescription medications to women he wanted to sleep with. But he did not admit to sexual assault.

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Defamation lawsuits

There have been several civil suits filed over the accusations.

Cosby has said his accusers are lying. Seven of the women filed civil suits against Cosby, saying that his claim they allegedly lied has tarnished their reputations.

Cosby filed a defamation countersuit against them this month, saying their sexual assault accusations have hurt his reputation so much that they derailed plans for a new family comedy on NBC.

Cosby also sued Beverly Johnson, a pioneering African-American supermodel who accused Cosby in 2014 of sexual misconduct that she says happened years ago; Johnson says the comedian drugged and tried to rape her at her New York home in the mid-1980s.

‘Cosby Show’ co-star Joseph C. Phillips: ‘Of course Bill Cosby is guilty’

Fateful election

In the meantime, Montgomery County headed to the polls to vote for a new district attorney, and Kevin Steele turned the accusations against Cosby into part of his campaign platform. He unseated his predecessor and weeks later reconsidered criminally prosecuting Cosby.

Prosecutors re-examined the original investigation in light of the new documents, re-interviewed some witnesses and decided to pursue criminal charges.

“(When) we learned about allegations from other victims under similar circumstances, reopening this case was not a question,” Steele said.

Constand considered Cosby a friend and mentor, but on two occasions rejected his advances, Steele said.

“On the evening in question, Mr. Cosby urged her to take pills that he provided to her, and to drink wine, the effect of which rendered her unable to move or respond to his advances, and he committed aggravated indecent assault upon her,” prosecutor Steele said.

Cosby’s lawyers picked up on Steele’s recent victory at the polls.

“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,” they said.

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CNN’s Mariano Castillo, Catherine E. Shoichet, Kristina Sgueglia, Jason Hanna, Ralph Ellis and Joseph Netto contributed to this report.