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Even If Bill Cosby Escapes a Sexual Assault Conviction, He's Finished for Good

The final coffin nail in the legacy of a former icon.
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(Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

If Bill Cosby's legacy wasn't already sealed by the dozens of women coming forward to accuse him of rape, then it most certainly is today. It's really staggering when you think about it: One of the most influential and legendary comedic voices in modern times will now face criminal sexual assault charges. Up to this point, the case against Cosby has involved allegations, civil suits, hush money and what's become an overwhelming push to strip Cosby of his various accolades and his overall status as a beloved icon -- but now we move into entirely new territory. Cosby has just been arraigned. He's had to surrender his passport. He's been subjected to a humiliating perp walk and mug shot. He's now out on a million-dollar bond. And he'll ultimately be tried, with the goal of sending Cosby to prison -- maybe for the rest of his life.

But before anyone gets their hopes up that today's developments practically ensure, or even make it likely, that the state of Pennsylvania will convict Bill Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004, a reality check may be in order. As a rule, rape cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute and the more time that goes by after an attack the harder it is to get a conviction -- and the DA handling this case filed these charges just days before the statute of limitations would've made such a thing impossible. Add to that the fact that the defendant in this case is one of the most famous people in the world, a guy who's still considered royalty by a large percentage of the population despite the widely publicized allegations that led to this and someone who has access to practically unlimited money and legal resources, and you start to see what a flat-faced cliff climb the state has here. It's a tragic fact of our culture of personality, but rich and famous people can often get away with murder -- or, potentially in this case, rape.

But regardless of whether the case against Cosby ends in the image of him in an orange jumpsuit being bused off to prison somewhere, it can be argued that an unqualified good is being done by simply charging him. For years now, Cosby has used his vast wealth and influence to intimidate and silence his victims and, worse, to create new ones. He's gotten away with this for so long because he knew that he could both talk and buy his way out of any repercussions because, really, who are people going to believe when they don't want to believe America's Dad is an unrepentant serial rapist? Now, however, even though Andrea Constand's accusation is at the center of of this case, Cosby will face an entity he can't simply throw money at and be guaranteed the outcome he wants. The stakes are higher than they've ever been for him and even if he wins in court, it's essentially the final nail in his coffin. There will always be those who claim that a not-guilty verdict or a dismissal will conclusively prove Cosby isn't a rapist but -- come on.

Ever since Cosby's statements in a 2005 deposition in Constand's original civil suit were made publicearlier this year, there's been a growing drumbeat to arrest him. Even though he settled with Constand, the state could always have taken criminal action against him and of course now it finally has. In that deposition, Cosby admitted to having sex with women outside of his marriage and to sometimes giving them drugs; he said that he had sexual contact with Andrea Constand but that it was consensual, which is highly doubtful given that Constand is gay. Every word out of Cosby's mouth in that deposition oozed imperious narcissism and unapologetic condescension, which stood in such sharp contrast to the image he'd projected to the masses for years into decades. It was that lack of remorse or even acknowledgment that he'd done anything wrong or that any of it mattered that shattered most of the remaining bits of his public image. The mere existence of a criminal sexual assault trial for a 78-year-old man will be the thing that once and for all transitions his legacy from national treasure to national pariah.

One way or the other, regardless of the outcome, Bill Cosby is finished for good.