NORRISTOWN, Pa. — A prosecutor urged the judge in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case on Monday to sentence the disgraced entertainer to five to 10 years behind bars, while Cosby’s defense lawyer said incarceration would be an “excessive hardship” for the man once known as America’s Dad.
Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill is poised to impose the sentence sometime Tuesday after hearing one defense witness and then deciding whether Cosby should be declared a “sexually violent predator” — a designation that would subject him to a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.
Cosby, 81, was found guilty in April of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for molesting Andrea Constand, a former operations manager for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, where Cosby was an enthusiastic supporter and major donor.
He had been facing a maximum of 30 years in prison, but O’Neill announced in court on Monday that the prosecution and the defense had agreed that two of the three counts should be merged into one charge, leaving Cosby exposed to a maximum of 10 years in state prison.
Cosby is the first celebrity to be sentenced in the heated atmosphere of the #MeToo movement amid a growing cultural awareness of the impact of sexual abuse everywhere from Hollywood to Washington D.C., to the highest echelons of the media world to the Catholic Church.
Dozens of women have accused Cosby of sexual assault, but Constand’s allegation was the only one that became the subject of a criminal case. She was present in court on Monday, as were a number of the other women who have contended Cosby assaulted them.
Cosby has denied assaulting Constand and claims their sexual encounter was consensual. He is expected to appeal his conviction. He will have an opportunity to address O’Neill before the sentence is imposed.
While Constand’s father, mother, sister, and the chief prosecutor all gave detailed statements in court, Constand herself spoke just briefly. She made her point — and then walked silently back to her seat in the packed courtroom.
“The jury heard me. Mr. Cosby heard me. And now, all I am asking for is justice as the court sees fit,” said Constand.
State sentencing guidelines call for a range of between 22 and 36 months of confinement for Cosby, with leeway of up to 12 months upward or downward, depending on whether the judge finds aggravating or mitigating factors. O’Neill is not bound by the guidelines and could decide on virtually any sentence.
The key questions include whether any prison sentence would be so long that it would essentially mean that Cosby will spend the rest of his life behind bars, and whether he will have to begin serving any sentence immediately or be allowed to remain under house arrest pending the outcome of an appeal.
Constand had testified that the assault took place at Cosby’s home in Montgomery County, just outside of Philadelphia, in early 2004. She said Cosby gave her three pills she thought were an herbal relaxant and took them because she trusted him. Then, she said, she became incapacitated and felt his fingers inside of her, but “couldn’t fight him off.”
Asking the judge to impose the maximum sentence, District Attorney Kevin Steele said state prison was the appropriate place for Cosby, not house arrest at his suburban Philadelphia home or even in the county jail.
“What they’re asking for is a get-out-of-jail free card,” Steele said of the defense.
Steele said the state Department of Corrections has a prison just for older inmates, and that Cosby wouldn’t even be the oldest.
“The bottom line, your honor, is that nobody’s above the law — nobody,” said Steele.
Cosby appeared in court with a new team of defense lawyers, Joseph P. Green Jr. and appellate specialist Peter Goldberger, and as usual, walked into court on the arm of his publicist, Andrew Wyatt.
Green said the 81-year-old Cosby is legally blind, has no prior record, and could become an extortion victim in prison. “Incarceration would impose on him excessive hardship,” said Green.
The defense lawyer disputed efforts by prosecutors to persuade O’Neill to declare Cosby a sexually violent predator.
Such a designation would subject Cosby to registration as a sex offender and would require that he receive counseling. O’Neill is required to decide the issue before announcing a sentence.
Green rejected the prosecution’s contention that Cosby is dangerous.
“Mr. Cosby is not dangerous,” said Green. “Eighty-one-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not dangerous, except to perhaps themselves.”
Green said the entertainer grew up in North Philadelphia and endured hardships as a youth. He went into the Navy and then attended Temple on a scholarship and decided to become a teacher before he learned that he had a knack for making people laugh, the defense lawyer told the judge.
Green said mitigating factors include Cosby’s advanced age, his blindness, and the unlikely prospect of any recurrence of the conduct at issue in the case.
In an apparent reference to the #MeToo movement, Green reminded O’Neill that a court of law is much different than a court of public opinion where public relations and protests may dominate the public square.
“The court of public opinion is governed by its own rules,” said Green.