By Graham Bowley and Jon Hurdle
NORRISTOWN, Pa. – Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison Tuesday for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home near here 14 years ago, completing the precipitous downfall to disgrace of a man from the heights of stardom and representing the first major conviction of the #MeToo era.
Cosby, 81, had been convicted in April of assaulting Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee at the time of the assault, who had looked upon him as a mentor but ended up being one of the dozens of women who have accused him of acts of predatory sexual abuse.
Nine of those women and Constand were in the Montgomery County Courthouse to witness the sentencing by Judge Steven T. O’Neill. Cosby’s wife, Camille, was not.
“It is time for justice, Mr. Cosby, this has all circled back to you,” O’Neill said. “The day has come. The time has come.”
Acknowledging the impact that the case has had on Cosby’s legacy, O’Neill added: “Fallen angels suffer most.”
Cosby is heading straight to prison as the judge denied him a request that he remain free on bail while he pursues an anticipated appeal. He showed no emotion as he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs by four sheriff’s deputies.
Prosecutors had asked for a maximum term of five to 10 years.
When the sentence was announced, Cosby sat quietly and made no reaction. Constand stared straight ahead. The other female accusers, seated more toward the back, did not celebrate. But some later expressed their happiness.
“This is fair and just,” said Janice Dickinson, the former model who had testified at the trial that Cosby had assaulted her at a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 1982. “I am victorious.”
Cosby’s journey to prison was a long one. After his arrest in December 2015, his first trial in 2017 ended with a hung jury after six days of deliberations.
But at the retrial here in April, in the same courthouse and before the same judge, a jury convicted Cosby on only the second day of deliberations on three counts of aggravated indecent assault. One key difference in the trials: During the retrial, O’Neill allowed five additional accusers to give their accounts of what they said was sexual abuse by Cosby. During the first trial, he had allowed only one additional accuser to join Constand in giving an account.
Cosby’s trial and conviction has played out at a time when the country is coming to terms with a culture of predatory sexual abuse by powerful men.
A large number of the women who accused Cosby of abusing them had expected a long prison sentence, one that offered a measure of comfort since their own claims were barred by the statute of limitations when they came forward in the past few years.
O’Neill, who also fined Cosby $25,000, referenced Constand’s victim impact statement, where she described the emotional pain the assault had left her in. “As she said, Mr. Cosby,” the judge said, “you took her beautiful healthy young spirit and you crushed it.”
O’Neill ruled earlier in the day that Cosby qualified as a “sexually violent predator” under Pennsylvania law.
His decision came after testimony by a psychologist for the defense, who said Cosby did not deserve that classification. The expert, Timothy Foley, said Cosby was no longer a threat to anyone and he contradicted a psychologist representing Pennsylvania’s Sexual Offenders Assessment Board who testified Monday, the first day of Cosby’s sentencing hearing. That psychologist had said Cosby had demonstrated a lifetime interest in sex with nonconsenting women, which indicated a mental abnormality.
The determination of whether a defendant is a sexually violent predator can be a factor in sentencing and in the conditions imposed both in prison and afterward.
“I found him to be extraordinarily low risk,” Foley said.
He came to his opinion, he said, after he met with Cosby for three hours on July 18 and also after reviewing some records. He said he had read none of the trial records or depositions in the case.
M. Stewart Ryan, a prosecutor, asked whether he was aware that Cosby had admitted to getting seven prescriptions of quaaludes to give to women for sex. Foley said he was not.
Foley also said he did not know that five other women had testified at trial that they had been assaulted by Cosby.
Cosby’s lawyer, Joseph P. Green, argued Monday that Cosby’s age and the fact he is legally blind meant he was no risk, especially since there have been no new allegations of sexual abuse leveled against him since 2004.
“How’s he going to meet these people?” Green said. “There is no reasonable prospect that an 81-year-old blind man is likely to reoffend.”
But the psychologist for the state panel, Kristen F. Dudley, said she did not believe the disorder had dissipated with age. “It is possible that he has already met someone who could be a future victim,” she said.
The final decision by O’Neill upheld the board’s finding. He said the state had met “a clear and convincing standard.”
Constand spoke in court Monday, along with her mother, father and sister. Constand told the judge: “The jury heard me, Mr. Cosby heard me and now all I am asking for is justice as the court sees fit.”
But Cosby told the judge Tuesday through his lawyer that he did not intend to speak before sentencing.
Cosby has denied all the accusations against him and most experts had said they did not anticipate he would express remorse because his team has already announced plans to appeal his conviction.
He did answer a few procedural questions, and asked a question as prosecutors led him through a list of his duties now that he will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. “If I went from a city to another city do I have to, even if it’s just overnight, I have to get in touch with the state police?” Cosby said. Ryan, the prosecutor, said he should consult his lawyer.
Cosby had originally faced a maximum 30-year prison term: 10 years for each of three counts of aggravated indecent assault he was convicted of.
But O’Neill chose Monday to merge the counts into one, as is allowed when they stem from the same event. In this case, they originated with an encounter in January 2004 when, Constand said, Cosby sexually assaulted her after giving her pills that made her drift in and out of consciousness.
O’Neill had to consider state guidelines that recommend, but do not mandate, appropriate sentence ranges. Those guidelines, which take into account any previous criminal record (Cosby had none), the seriousness of the offense, and mitigating and aggravating factors, suggest a range of about 10 months to four years, but O’Neill had great leeway, and prosecutors on Monday asked him to sentence Cosby to a maximum five-to-10-year term.
Kevin R. Steele, the Montgomery County District Attorney, said Monday that the judge should use the sentencing to send a wider message.
“The bottom line, your honor, is nobody’s above the law,” said Steele. “Others in a similar situation need to understand that.”
Cosby’s lawyer, Green, argued Tuesday for house arrest, suggesting that prison would be too harsh a sentence for a “blind octogenarian first offender.”
Cosby’s lawyers have said they will pursue an appeal that challenges the judge’s rulings.
Experts said one clear issue likely to be the basis for an appeal is O’Neill’s decision to allow the five additional women accusers to testify at the second trial. Their testimony, often graphic and affecting, bolstered that of Constand.
Testimony concerning prior alleged crimes is only allowed in Pennsylvania, as in other states, if, among other conditions, it demonstrates a signature pattern of abuse. But its inclusion is extremely rare, and O’Neill did not explain at the time why he allowed the five additional women to testify in the trial this year after allowing only one additional accuser to speak at Cosby’s first trial in 2017.
The judge defended that decision, explaining that he had based that ruling on a legal “doctrine of implausibility.” He said that so many women had come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual abuse that it had become implausible to find that it wasn’t true.
O’Neill said that, while he recognized that Cosby had serious issues on appeal, he could not agree to bail as the defense requested. “This is a serious crime,” he said. “This is a sexual assault crime. The evidence I have before me means he could well be a danger to the community.”
Cosby was scheduled to spend several days at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility before being transferred to a state prison known as SCI Phoenix, where officials will make a final determination on where he will serve his sentence.