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Bill Cosby Sentenced To At Least 3 Years In State Prison

Bill Cosby arrives at a Norristown, Pa., court Monday. The first jury in the case deadlocked in 2017. A jury in the second trial convicted Cosby on all counts April 26, 2018.
Image credit: Brendan Smialowski

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Updated: September 25, 3:07 p.m. ET

Editor’s note: This story contains a graphic description of sexual assault.

A judge has sentenced Bill Cosby to three to 10 years in Pennsylvania state prison, five months after a jury found the entertainer guilty of aggravated indecent assault. Cosby will serve at least three years behind bars, after which he would become eligible for supervised release. But there is no guarantee he would be released at that point.

Cosby’s prison sentence completes the TV dad’s stunning fall from groundbreaking cultural icon to convicted sex offender. Cosby, 81, is the first celebrity to be sent to prison in the #MeToo era.

“Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy, young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others,” accuser Andrea Constand wrote in a five-page victim impact statement submitted to the court.

Now, “instead of looking back, I am looking forward to looking forward,” she said. “I want to get to the place where the person I was meant to be gets a second chance.”

In the courtroom, Constand sat flanked by her family and some of the about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct stretching back decades.

“The victims cannot be unraped,” Gianna Constand, Andrea Constand’s mother, told the court on Monday during the first day of the sentencing hearing. “All we can do is hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Cosby chose not to make a statement. He sat alone at the defense table, as his attorneys stressed his age and infirmity throughout the two-day hearing, pleading for a sentence of house arrest.

Cosby’s wife, Camille, who stridently criticized the judge in the days leading up to the hearing, was not present. Cosby declined to address the court on his own behalf.

When his punishment was read, Cosby appeared not to react. His attorney, Joseph Green, asked that his client be freed on bail while he appeals the case. Judge Steven O’Neill initially denied that request, before recessing briefly to consider the question.

Prosecutors requested the maximum sentence under the law of five to ten years in state prison, and a $25,000 fine. They also asked the court to require Cosby to cover the cost of his two trials, which added up to about $420,000.

Prior to the sentencing, Judge Steven O’Neill designated Cosby a sexually violent predator.

When this decision was read, one of his accusers, model Janice Dickinson, seated in the third row, made a celebratory gesture in the air and hugged the person next to her.

Cosby’s attorney requested bail pending appeal, which O’Neill denied.

Defense attorney Joseph Green argued Cosby is unlikely to reoffend based on his age.

“Eighty-one-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not dangerous, except maybe to themselves,” he said.

A household name

After becoming the first African-American actor to star in a lead role in the buddy-cop show I Spy in 1965, Cosby’s acting career made him a household name. Ever since, he has been a cultural fixture, starring in films and television shows and putting out comedy albums for decades. His body of work developed his legacy as “America’s Dad,” in particular his depiction of obstetrician Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, which ran for eight seasons until 1992.

Those contributions to American popular culture have now been eclipsed by his conviction as well as allegations of sexual misconduct leveled by dozens of accusers, largely women with aspiring entertainment careers, stretching back to the mid-1960s.

“In many respects, I think this was the precursor to the furor that ignited with the Harvey Weinstein allegations surfacing,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer, law professor at Northwestern University.

In 2005, Constand, who was 32 years old at the time, reported to police in her native Ontario that Cosby had given her three blue pills and fondled her while she was incapacitated. Canadian police referred the case to authorities in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County. Then-District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to press charges. Constand then pursued a civil lawsuit against the entertainer that was settled for about $3.4 million.

In 2015 and at the request of The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno unsealed deposition testimony Cosby gave during that civil case in which he described obtaining quaaludes to give women before sex. That revelation set off scores of other women to step forward and say Cosby drugged and molested or sexually assaulted them.

The document also renewed interest in the district attorney’s office to re-examine Constand’s criminal case.

Days before the statute of limitations was set to expire in December 2015, prosecutors summoned reporters to Montgomery County to make a startling announcement: Cosby was being charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault over a more-than-a-decade-old incident.

In the 2 1/2 years that followed, Cosby’s case went to trial twice in Norristown, Pa., not far from his estate where Constand says Cosby assaulted her.

The first jury deadlocked in 2017. A jury in the second trial convicted Cosby on all counts April 26, 2018.

Both times, Constand testified that during a visit to his house in 2004, Cosby gave her pills she believed were herbal supplements to help with stress she was having as she was considering a career change. When she took the pills, she was knocked unconscious. She told jurors that while on a couch in his home and in a haze, she felt him penetrating her with his fingers and using her hand to masturbate, as she was unable to fight back. “I was frozen,” she told the jury.

After six days of deliberation at the 2017 trial, jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in a mistrial. Prosecutors did not give up, though, deciding to put Cosby on trial a second time. In April 2018, Cosby faced a different jury and, in many ways, a whole new world.

For one, the #MeToo movement had been unleashed, toppling bad-behaving men whose abuse had previously been kept secret. And the judge allowed five women in addition to Constand to take the stand and confront the famous comedian to help illustrate Cosby’s pattern of predatory behavior. That was four more women than the judge permitted during the first trial. Legal experts say those women helped bolster the credibility of Constand.

When the women took the witness stand, a pattern emerged. The women told the court that Cosby sought them out and gained their trust before arranging for private meetings, often under the guise of career advice or script coaching, at which Cosby would drug them and then sexually prey on them.

Among the five women who took the stand in the second trial was model Janice Dickinson, who, along with the other accuser witnesses, Cosby’s lawyers attempted to paint as a fame-seeking liar who had fabricated stories to smear a famous person.

They also challenged accuser Janice Baker-Kinney‘s delayed accusation.

“You said words to the effect that, ‘For 30 years, I didn’t know I had been raped,’ ” said Cosby attorney Thomas Mesereau during cross-examination. “So, for 30 years, you didn’t think anyone had sexually assaulted you?”

“It still takes me everything within my being to say the words ‘I was raped,’ because I still carry the guilt,” responded Baker-Kinney.

Throughout the proceedings, Cosby’s legal team maintained the comedian’s innocence, arguing that the encounter with Constand was consensual. In the first trial, Cosby’s lawyers emphasized an alleged mutual romance between Cosby and Constand. With a retooled legal team in the second trial, Cosby’s lawyers had a new approach: attempting to portray Constand as a “con artist” who had long planned to concoct a false allegation against Cosby in order to secure a multi-million-dollar payout.

Copyright 2018 WHYY. To see more, visit WHYY.

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