NORRISTOWN, Pa. – The nearly four-year effort to jail Bill Cosby as a convicted sexual assailant reached the end of its first phase Monday as a two-day sentencing hearing began in Pennsylvania.
The 81-year-old comedian will learn his fate following his April conviction on three counts of aggravated felony sexual assault for drugging and molesting a former friend, Andrea Constand, at his home in Montgomery County outside Philadelphia in January 2004.
Judge Steven O’Neill could sentence Cosby to as much as 30 years in prison or send him home on probation.
USA TODAY is in the courtroom and will provide status updates throughout the two-day hearing:
Attorneys give closing arguments; sentencing hearing to resume Tuesday
Cosby’s attorney Joseph Green repeatedly blamed “the court of public opinion” for turning the judicial system against his client in his closing argument.
“Mr. Cosby is not dangerous,” Green argued. “Eighty-one-year-old blind men are not self-sufficient – they’re only dangerous to themselves.”
Green said that prison would create “excessive problems” for Cosby, who has no prior arrests or convictions — and had overcome numerous obstacles throughout his life because “he wanted to make something of himself.”
District Attorney Steele asked for the maximum sentence for Cosby, who “again and again, has shown no responsibility for his actions. No remorse,” he said. He drove home Cosby’s manipulation tactics as Constand’s college mentor, “using that position of power and betrayal of trust” to give her Quaaludes and rape her.
Steele asked for 5-10 years of prison, the maximum $25,000 fine, as well as requesting that he cover court costs.
“What they’re asking for is a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Steele said of the Cosby defense team. “To say that he couldn’t do this again to anybody? That runs in the face of what you have seen here and who this is.”
“Committing a drugging sexual assault comes with a heavy price and that price is your liberty,” Steele added.
The hearing will resume Tuesday.
Main accuser Andrea Constand seeks ‘justice as the court sees fit’
Constand, who appeared relaxed and confident on thee witness stand, testified for just two minutes Monday, saying she was seeking “justice as the court sees fit.” She submitted a lengthier victim-impact statement that wasn’t read in court.
However, Constand’s parents, Andrew and Gianna, and sister, Diane Parsons, all spoke at length about how her assault had taken an immense emotional toll on both the family and Constand.
Parsons recalled how her sister had returned from college “frail, timid, weak” and “reclusive.”
“He protected himself at the cost of ruining many lives,” Gianna explained, her voice cracking as she talked about how Cosby intimidated their family into not speaking out about Constand’s rape. “I do not believe in my heart that Bill Cosby has ever considered the pain he has caused (our family). He was correct when he told me, ‘I am a sick man.’
Court hears arguments over sexually violent offender status for Cosby
The main issue before the court Monday is whether Cosby will be deemed a sexually violent predator. A Pennsylvania state board has recommended that Cosby be classified as such, which would mandate community notification of his whereabouts and lifelong counseling.
Dr. Kristen Dudley, a psychologist who is a part of Pennsylvania’s Sexual Offenders Assessment Board, testified Monday, stating, “I completely agree that Mr. Cosby does meet the criteria of a sexually violent predator.”
Cosby’s accusers:: A complete list of the 60 Bill Cosby accusers
Dudley argued that Cosby used his friendship with Constand to develop trust in order to “take advantage of her,” bribing her with drugs and alcohol until she was rendered unconscious and sedated.
This represented the pattern, Dudley testified, of Cosby often befriending women, then betraying their trust by sedating them with drugs or alcohol and violating them for the “sole purpose of his sexual gratification.”
Dudley said Cosby declined to meet with her, but she made her determination after reviewing police reports and trial transcripts. She has conducted 70 assessments for the sex offender assessment board and said she has recommended a “sexually violent predator” designation in about 20 percent of cases.
The sexually violent predator designation, if deemed appropriate, will have no effect on the length of the sentence. Instead, the designation would require him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and undergo treatment in prison and after.
Cosby’s attorney Green argued that his client is blind, 81, and unlikely to re-offend – pointing out in cross-examination there have been no new cases of misconduct since 2004.
“It hasn’t happened in the past 14 years, how long should we expect (until it does again)?” Green asked Dudley.
Dudley responded that “just because it hasn’t happened as of yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.”
She added: “It is possible that he has already met someone who could be his next potential victim.”
During Dudley’s testimony, the man once known as “America’s Dad” looked on with an unemotional, even aloof, demeanor.
D.A. says other accusers will not give victim impact statements
None of the other accusers who testified at Bill Cosby’s sexual assault retrial this spring will take the stand at his sentencing hearing, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office. However, several of them were in the courtroom Monday.
Although O’Neill had ruled that the five women could give victim impact statements describing how Cosby’s alleged sexual abuse had affected their lives, District Attorney Steele announced Monday that they would not take the stand again.
It’s unclear whether his chief accuser, Constand, who is also in court, will testify.
Cosby, Constand arrive at courthouse
A grim-faced Cosby, 81, arrived in a black SUV, put on a dark suit jacket and entered the Montgomery County courthouse under overcast skies at 8:15 a.m. EDT, as a small handful of protesters shouted at him.
Constand entered the courthouse shortly after Cosby. Before the hearing, she tweeted a Bible verse: “Be wrathful, but do not sin; do not let the sun set while you are still angry; do not give the Devil an opportunity.”
Cosby entered the courtroom – filled with accusers including model Janice Dickinson – with an expressionless look on his face, eyes slightly down, and took his seat with his legal team.
More of your questions answered:
How much time might Cosby get?
He could get a total of up to 30 years in prison in a sentence to be handed down by O’Neill, who presided over Cosby’s second trial as well as his first one, which ended in a hung jury/mistrial in June 2017.
There is a complicated formula for calculating his sentence, based on such factors as prior record, which for Cosby is zero. The sentencing possibilities include a “standard” range, a “mitigated” range or an “aggravated” range for a person deemed to be still a threat.
There is no mandatory sentencing in Pennsylvania so the judge can decide within a range or beyond as long as he puts his reasoning on the record.
How long could Bill Cosby spend in prison? Possibly enough to make it a life sentence
Could he be in jail by Tuesday night?
Yes, Cosby could be sentenced and sent immediately to prison, in which case he would be handcuffed and taken into custody at the conclusion of the hearing. That is the aim of the prosecution team, led by Steele.
Or he could be sentenced and allowed to remain free while he is appealing, under similar conditions imposed after his conviction: house arrest with an ankle bracelet and limited to trips to see his doctors or his lawyers.
When can he appeal and on what grounds?
Cosby’s third team of lawyers, led by Philadelphia attorney Joseph Green, can begin the appeals process as soon as O’Neill hands down his sentence.
One strategy for appeal might be to argue that prosecutors violated Cosby’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. How? Steele and his team used a 2005-06 deposition he gave during Constand’s civil lawsuit more than a decade ago as the basis for charging him.
While under oath, Cosby said that he had given Quaaludes, a now-banned sedative, to women in the “same way a person would say, ‘Have a drink.’ ”
After the guilty verdict, Steele called that deposition, which had been unsealed by a federal judge in July 2015 at the request of The Associated Press, a “decisive point” that allowed his team to reopen the case.
They filed charges that December, just before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations on sex crimes was due to expire. It was also just weeks after Steele beat incumbent DA Bruce Castor, whom he attacked for failing to prosecute Cosby in 2005.
The deposition was later admitted into evidence in his trials and read to the jury.
“The fact that a federal court unsealed it doesn’t answer the question of whether it was proper to admit it in this case,” Matthew Stiegler, an appellate lawyer, told Philadelphia radio station WHYY after Cosby’s conviction. “I think this is likely an appealable issue.”
But it’s not a slam dunk: in 2016, Cosby’s first legal team tried to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that Steele violated what they said was a promise made by Castor not to prosecute him if he agreed to that deposition. They lost.
What do Bill and Camille Cosby have against the judge?
Cosby and his lawyers have repeatedly called on O’Neill to recuse himself on the grounds that he never disclosed a longstanding grudge against Castor when he was first assigned the case and therefore is biased and unethical.
Last week, in his latest ruling on this issue, O’Neill said it wasn’t news that he and Castor competed for district attorney 20 years ago, and Castor had appeared in his courtroom repeatedly for years.
“No ‘grudge,’ animus, bias or prejudice can be claimed because it simply does not exist,” O’Neill wrote.
On Sept. 17, Camille Cosby, the comedian’s wife of 54 years, filed an ethics complaint with the state judicial board and demanded an investigation into O’Neill’s alleged malfeasance.
However, her actions will not stop her husband’s sentencing.
Camille Cosby released her first official statement since her husband of 54 years, Bill Cosby, was found guilty of sexual assault one week ago. Veuer’s Chandra Lanier has the story.
Contributing: Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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