Bill Cosby faces the start of a sentencing hearing Monday at which a judge will decide how to punish the 81-year-old comedian who blazed the trail for other black entertainers and donated millions to black causes but preyed on at least one young woman and perhaps many more.
Cosby was the first celebrity to go to trial in the #MeToo era and could be the first to go to prison — perhaps for the rest of his days — after being convicted in April of drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
Cosby faces up to 10 years on each of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, though it is unlikely Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill would go as high as 30 years, according to Steven Chanenson, a law professor at Villlanova University and an expert on sentencing.
Judges can’t help being influenced a little by the “optics” of a case — that is, how it is going to look to the public, said Daniel Filler, dean of Drexel University’s Kline School of Law.
In this instance, “the judge is going to get flak,” he said. “The judge is going to get less flak if they see Bill Cosby walk out in cuffs.”
At the end of the potentially two-day hearing, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill could sentence Cosby to as many as 30 years in prison or send him home on probation. The state guidelines for someone like Cosby, with no prior convictions, call for about one to four years behind bars.
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“Obviously, the allegations are serious, and, except for his age and poor health, would normally warrant some jail time,” said Samuel Stretton, a veteran defence lawyer not connected to the case.
Cosby is legally blind and uses a cane, something his lawyers are certain to point out along with his achievements and philanthropy. Prosecutors hoped to call some of his other accusers to paint Cosby as a sexual predator deserving of prison.
Two of the other women accusing Cosby of sexual assault said Sunday they hope he will be sent to prison.
Lise-Lotte Lublin and Chelan Lasha, appearing at a Philadelphia news conference, also said they hoped they would be allowed to read victim impact statements before Cosby is sentenced.
“I really think it’s important that he spend some time behind bars,” said Lublin, who said Cosby assaulted her when she was 23 in 1989. “At some point, he should acknowledge what he’s done, and do the time for the crime.”
Whatever the sentence, Cosby is likely to be deemed a sexually violent predator and will have to undergo monthly counselling the rest of his life, in prison or out. Neighbours and schools will be warned he is living nearby.
In the years since Constand first went to police in 2005, more than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, though none of those claims have led to criminal charges.
Cosby, who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, became the first black actor to star in a prime-time TV show, “I Spy”, in 1965. He remained a Hollywood A-lister for much of the next half-century, hitting his peak in the 1980s with the top-rated “Cosby Show” as the warm, wisecracking dad, Dr. Cliff Huxtable.
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But behind the scenes, according to testimony, the married star sought out sexual encounters with young women, including actresses he offered to mentor, models seeking a part on his shows, and flight attendants he met in his travels. He also acknowledged obtaining quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women before sex.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, which Lublin, Lasha and Constand have done.
— With a file from Reuters