NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Bill Cosby sat smirking, smiling and scowling Monday as an impassioned prosecutor urged a Pennsylvania judge to sentence the entertainment icon to a prison term of five to 10 years for his conviction on sexual assault charges.
“We ask this because of who he is behind the mask, behind the act that he perpetuated all these years and that he used — used — to victimize,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said. “The bottom line, your honor, is that nobody’s above the law. Nobody.”
Standing steps away from Cosby, Steele lambasted the comedian, saying he had shown “no remorse.”
Steele’s demand for a lengthy prison term — far beyond the sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania — was countered by Cosby’s defense team, which is asking for the entertainer to be sentenced to house arrest.
“Eighty-one-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not dangerous,” Cosby attorney Joseph Green said. Green decried “frenzied” media coverage of Cosby’s case and compared his client’s experience to an era when alleged criminals were stoned to death.
Cosby was convicted April 26 of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for the 2004 drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a Temple University women’s basketball official he was mentoring. Constand, a lanky former college and professional basketball player, testified in harrowing detail at the trial about losing control of her limbs after taking pills given to her by Cosby, who served on Temple’s board of trustees and was the public face of the university. The pills, Constand said, left her unable to stop him from violating her at his suburban Philadelphia estate.
Constand took the witness stand for less than two minutes Monday, asking the judge to consider her testimony at Cosby’s two-day hearing.
“All I am asking for is justice as the court sees fit,” she said.
The dueling sentencing requests punctuated the first day of Cosby’s penalty hearing, which is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning, when Judge Steven T. O’Neill is expected to deliver his decision. The defense and the prosecution have agreed that O’Neill can combine Cosby’s convictions on three counts of aggravated indecent assault into a single count for the purposes of his sentencing. Under Pennsylvania guidelines, that would mean a sentence of 10 months to four years, but judges also have discretion to go above or below the guidelines.
O’Neill will also have to rule on a prosecution request that Cosby be ordered to pay the maximum $25,000 fine for his conviction. And the judge is expected to announce a decision Tuesday on whether Cosby will be designated a sexually violent predator, which would require him to receive counseling and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. A prosecution expert witness testified Monday that Cosby has “uncontrollable urges” to sexually assault women. The defense irked O’Neill by not having its own expert witness available Monday, a misstep that forced the hearing into a second day.
Constand’s mother, sister and father also testified, reading statements that described how her personality changed and she became depressed when she returned to her native Canada after being assaulted by Cosby.
Constand’s mother, referencing a phone call she had with Cosby, said, “He was correct when he told me, ‘I am a sick man.’ ”
Constand was the only accuser whose case led to criminal charges against the comedian. More than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault or harassment, stretching back to the 1960s when he was launching his comedy career and became the first African American actor to star on a network television show with his role on the hit program “I Spy.”
In countless media interviews, the women — aspiring actresses and models, flight attendants, singers, and, in one instance, a doughnut-shop clerk — gave similar accounts of being dazzled by Cosby’s fame. Most said they never thought anyone would believe them, so they stayed quiet, privately harboring experiences that many said scarred them for life.
The courtroom had filled by the time Cosby appeared just after 9 a.m. He passed through the heavy wooden doors in a dark suit and spotted purple tie, his left hand clasping the arm of his publicist. Cosby, who is legally blind, used his right hand to sweep circles above the carpet ahead of him with a pencil-thin wooden cane that has been his constant companion since he was charged in 2015. On his slow walk, he passed within a few steps of Constand, who watched with a resolute look on her face, her chin held high. Gone was her signature pile of curly dark hair, replaced by light brown highlights and a shorter cut that gave a glimpse of a small tattoo on the back of her neck.
While Cosby waited for the judge to enter the courtroom, he chatted amiably with his attorneys. At one point, he tilted back in his leather armchair at the defense table and laughed loud enough to be heard by the hushed courtroom audience. But his demeanor shifted once testimony about whether he should be designated a sexually violent predator began. Sometimes, he leaned forward with a frown on his face.
Cosby tapped his cane lightly against the defense table and shook his head as a prosecution expert witness testified that she had determined he is a sexually violent “predator.” His jaw muscles worked back and forth as the expert opined that he has a “personality disorder” and a “mental abnormality” that make it likely he will commit more crimes.
Cosby heard his fate in a grand old courtroom with soaring ceilings and wood-paneled walls. More than a dozen of the women who have accused him of sexual misdeeds in the past half century but were not called as trial witnesses watched him beneath the light cast by eight brass chandeliers. Many of those women were willing to testify, hoping to add their voices to the reams of evidence that the judge would consider before pronouncing his sentence. But O’Neill refused to allow their testimony.
The court extended no special courtesies to the women, declining to reserve seats for them, so many arrived at the courthouse long before dawn to line up for a spot in the last few of the seven-deep rows of wooden benches inside the courtroom. Up front sat several women who testified at Cosby’s trial, including former super model Janice Dickinson, who said that the comedian drugged and sexually assaulted her at a Nevada hotel in 1982.
P.J. Masten, who worked as Playboy bunny coordinator, known as a “bunny mother,” has said she awoke naked, battered and bruised in 1979 after she believes Cosby slipped something into her drink.
“He needs to be humiliated behind bars for the horrific things he did to so many women,” Masten said.