Bill Cosby, the first high-profile American celebrity to be convicted of sexual assault in the #MeToo era, should be locked up for as long as a decade and be required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life, prosecutors said Monday in the first day of a hearing that will determine how severely the disgraced actor and comedian should be punished.
Cosby, 81, was convicted in April of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former university basketball official, at his mansion near Philadelphia in 2004.
With each second-degree felony count carrying a penalty of up to 10 years, Cosby had initially faced up to 30 years in prison. But on Monday, Judge Steven O’Neill said the defense and prosecution had agreed to merge the three counts into one.
Constand, 45, is the only woman among more than 50 accusers whose complaint against Cosby has led to a criminal conviction. But a long line of women sat behind her Monday morning inside Montgomery County’s Court of Common Pleas, many of the dozens who have accused Cosby of sexually assaulting them too.
Some of the women, who testified as “prior bad act” witnesses during the trial, had hoped to speak during the hearing and persuade the judge presiding over the two-day sentencing hearing that Cosby is a serial predator and urge him to impose a substantial prison sentence.
But in the end prosecutors put only one female accuser, Constand, on the stand and she limited her remarks to one line:
“Your honor, I have testified. I have given you my victim impact statement,” she said. “The jury heard me, Mr. Cosby heard me and now all I am asking for is justice as the court sees fit.”
In a sense, the hearing could not have been more different from January’s sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the former USA gymnastics team doctor, when a parade of more than 150 women spent days giving wrenching testimony.
This month, prosecutors asked the judge to allow numerous women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault to tell their stories at the sentencing. The judge denied prosecutors’ request last week, stating he found no precedent in Pennsylvania law that would allow him to weigh uncharged conduct in his sentencing.
Many of Cosby’s accusers, some of whom had traveled to Pennsylvania from as far as Las Vegas and Los Angeles, waited patiently in the wood-paneled courtroom as the defense and prosecution sparred.
Cosby’s defense attorney, Joseph P. Green, argued the court should consider his client's age, his disability, his lack of prior convictions and a civil settlement with Constand as mitigating factors that warranted a lower sentence.
“Mr. Cosby is not dangerous,” he said. “An 81-year-old blind man who is not self-sufficient is not dangerous.”
Rather, he argued, Cosby would be especially vulnerable in jail.
“What does an 81-year-old man do in prison?” he asked. “How does he fight off the people who are trying to extort him?”
Prosecutor Kevin Steele mocked the idea that Cosby would be a target in prison, noting that numerous elderly inmates were incarcerated in the state’s correctional center and the facility was equipped for inmates with medical issues.
“You look at this person who specialized in drugging and incapacitating … and seemingly gets some kind of sexual arousal from rendering people unconscious. To say that he’s too old … to say that he should get a pass, because it’s taken this long to catch up to what he’s done, what they’re asking for is a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
Steele called for Cosby to spend five to 10 years in prison, pay a $25,000 fine, as well as prosecution court costs, arguing he used his position of power to victimize and has shown no remorse.
“The bottom line, your honor, is nobody is above the law,” Steele said. “Nobody.… Committing a drugging and sexual assault comes with a heavy price. And that price is your liberty.”
Cosby, dressed in a dark suit with a pale blue handkerchief in his breast pocket, appeared to listen intently throughout proceedings, sometimes stroking his chin with his left hand, other times smiling and chuckling to himself.
In addition to Constand, her mother, father and older sister took the stand to read victim impact statements detailing the emotional toll Cosby’s actions had inflicted on their family.
“He basically protected himself at the cost of ruining many lives,” said Constand's mother, Gianna. “I don't think Bill Cosby has ever cared or even considered the pain and suffering this mess has caused us.”
When Constand returned from Philadelphia to Toronto after the assault, she seemed depressed, vulnerable and slow to respond to questions, said her father, Andrew. Her sister, Diana Parsons, said the younger sister who growing up had always been confident, easygoing and energetic was suddenly nervous, timid and reclusive, full of excuses for not joining her on a hike or shopping expeditions.
“Many people ask me how Andrea is doing,” she told the court. “I always say fine, thank you. Immediately after I ask myself: I wonder how she really is doing? How can she handle being called a pathological liar?… How can she handle all the negativity in the media? How can she handle being called a gold digger?”
Before O’Neill imposes sentence on Tuesday, he must determine whether Cosby is a sexually violent predator, a label that would require him to register as a sex offender and submit to sex-offender counseling for the rest of his life.
Pennsylvania's sex-offender board has already examined Cosby and recommended he be classified as a sexually violent predator, but the judge has the final say.
Kristen Dudley, a psychologist who is a member of Pennsylvania’s Sexual Offenders Assessment Board, testified Monday that after reviewing trial testimony and police reports, she believed Cosby met the criteria of a sexually violent predator who was likely to engage in future sexually predatory acts.
Cosby, she said, used his “power and prestige” to meet and befriend women, developing trust in order to drug and sexually assault them for his “sexual gratification.”
Green, Cosby’s lawyer, pushed back during cross-examination, arguing that Cosby’s age made him highly unlikely to reoffend.
This week’s sentencing is the final chapter in the lengthy legal drama that has marked Cosby’s downfall from “America’s Dad” to convicted felon.
For nearly half a century, the iconic comic and actor presented himself as wholesome, fatherly and morally upstanding. On “The Cosby Show,” one of the nation’s most popular television sitcoms, which aired for eight seasons from 1984 until 1992, he played Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable, an affable upper-middle-class obstetrician and all-around good family man. The show was considered groundbreaking for its portrayal of a loving, upwardly mobile African American family.
Constand, a former basketball official at Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University, first reported an assault to police in 2005, but the Montgomery County district attorney at the time did not press charges. It was not until a decade later, when a series of women came forward, that the new district attorney, Steele, reopened the case — just a few months before the statute of limitations was set to expire.
Last year, the first trial ended with a hung jury after six days of deliberation.
During the retrial in April, the judge allowed the prosecution to offer testimony from five other women, including the model Janice Dickinson, about “prior bad acts.”
A jury of seven men and five women found Cosby guilty of assault with lack of consent, penetration while the victim was unconscious, and assault after impairing the victim with an intoxicant.
After posting $1-million bail, Cosby has spent the last five months confined to his home outside Philadelphia, fitted with a GPS monitor and limited to travel only to visit his attorneys or for medical reasons.
Outside the courthouse Monday, a large crowd of onlookers heckled and cheered as Cosby slowly exited the building with a slender wooden cane.
“I love you, Bill,” a man hollered as Cosby climbed into a black Ford Expedition and waved as the vehicle pulled away.
A woman pushing a stroller lifted her fist in the air and shouted “Free Bill Cosby”
“Me Too,” a female protester countered. “Justice has no deadline.”