Over the past few years, more than 60 women have alleged that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them. In April this year, the actor and comedian once known as “America’s Dad” was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against Andrea Constand. The assaults occurred in 2004, when Constand was working for the Temple University women’s basketball team. Cosby has spent the months since the verdict under house arrest awaiting sentencing.
Today (Sept. 24) was the first of Cosby’s two-day sentencing hearing, held in Montgomery County Courthouse, Pennsylvania. Here’s what happened.
Cosby’s maximum possible jail time has dropped from 30 years to 10, after judge Steven O’Neill announced that all three counts of aggravated sexual assault had been merged into one. (Each had a separate possible maximum sentence of 10 years.) That’s because they all stemmed for the same event, O’Neill said. In addition to those 10 years, Cosby could be fined up to $25,000 plus court costs, and be forced to undergo a psychosexual evaluation. But Cosby’s lawyers are hoping that his advanced age—he turned 81 in July—and the fact that he is legally blind will convince the judge to issue a more lenient sentence. Pennsylvania guidelines for appropriate sentencing for these crimes indicate a possible prison time of between 22 and 36 months, plus or minus a year for any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.
A state board has recommended that Cosby be labelled as a sexually violent predator: In court today, Kristen Dudley, a state-appointed psychologist, described Cosby as dangerous, and suffering from a mental disorder. “The behaviors are beyond [a sexually violent predator’s] controls,” she said, “so they are urged to act on it. He is likely to reoffend.” Cosby’s lawyers have argued that the state’s sex-crime-designation laws are unconstitutional, and would unfairly amount to extra punishment. (Numerous courts, including the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, have previously described the laws as so vague as to be unconstitutional, and called for them to be revised.) O’Neill didn’t rule on whether or not Cosby would be designated a predator, but confirmed that such a ruling would be constitutional.
Constand and her family all took the stand. Constand called for “justice as the court sees it,” while statements from her family mostly concentrated on the effect the events had had on them. Her mother, Gianna, emotionally described “the drugging and sexual assault my daughter endured in 2004 by Bill Cosby” as one of her life’s most damaging moments, equaled only by her own father’s death. Constand’s father, Andrew, testified about the “sadness” that he said hangs “like a dark cloud” over the family, while her sister confirmed: “The impact of this event will never go away.”
The faces in the court room didn’t include Cosby’s wife, Camille, or his other family members. The actor was accompanied by his publicist Andrew Wyatt. But several of Cosby’s former accusers did attend today’s sentencing hearing, including the model Janice Dickinson, Lise-Lotte Lublin, Lili Bernard and Therese Serignese.
Tomorrow, prosecutors will continue arguing for a five-to-10-year prison sentence for Cosby, as well as a predator designation. His own legal team will keep pushing for house arrest, citing concerns around his health. “Mr. Cosby is not dangerous,” his defense attorney, Joseph P. Green, said today. “Eighty-one-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not a danger, unless perhaps to themselves.” The outcome is likely to be somewhere in between.