Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison on Tuesday for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in a widely viewed trial that #MeToo advocates said doubled as a litmus test for the progress of the movement. Cosby was facing 30 years in prison.
Cosby was taken straight to prison following the sentencing, with Judge Steven O’Neill denying Cosby’s lawyer’s motion to allow him to remain free on bail pending an appeal.
Earlier in the day, O’Neill deemed Cosby a “sexually violent predator,” which will require Cosby to register his name on a sex-offender list and attend monthly counseling for the rest of his life. “It is time for justice. Mr. Cosby, this has all circled back to you. The time has come,” O’Neill said, per the Associated Press. Cosby declined the opportunity to address the court with a statement.
Cosby’s lawyers and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele had squared off over the sentence, with his lawyers arguing that his advanced age and ill health should keep him in house arrest in lieu of prison. “What does an 81-year-old man do in prison?” defense attorney Joseph Green asked, per the AP. “How does he fight off the people who are trying to extort him, or walk to the mess hall?” His lawyers say they will appeal the decision.
Steele countered that arguing “he’s too old to go to prison is a get-out-of-jail-free card.” “Despite bullying tactics, despite PR teams and other folks trying to change the optics, as one lawyer for the defense put it, the bottom line is that nobody’s above the law. Nobody,” Steele added.
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Cosby entered the Montgomery County courthouse Monday morning, with a small group of protestors shouting at him while he walked in, per USA Today. That day, Steele asked O’Neill to sentence the comedian to five to 10 years, with Kristen Dudley, a psychologist for the state of Pennsylvania, testifying that Cosby, per AP, “fit the criteria for a sexually violent predator.”
“Cosby’s sentencing should serve as a reminder to abusers everywhere that no one operates with impunity,” wrote Time’s Up organizers on Twitter. “We remain in solidarity with all of the brave women who came forward and hold them in our hearts today.”
In April, a jury ruled that Cosby was guilty of three counts of indecent aggravated assault against Andrea Constand in 2004: penetration with lack of consent, penetration while unconscious and penetration after administering an intoxicant. The jury, comprised of seven men and five women, needed two days to reach their decision.
Cosby was tried twice in less than a year after the first attempt resulted in a mistrial. In the second set of proceedings, Judge O’Neill allowed five other women to testify about their interactions with Cosby in addition to Constand; Cosby also enlisted a new lawyer, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. and new evidence was allowed in the courtroom related to a civil suit between Cosby and Constand.
Relying on testimony from Constand alongside alleged victims Janice Dickinson, Chelan Lasha, Heidi Thomas, Lise-Lotte Lublin and Janice Baker-Kinney, the prosecution attempted to demonstrate that Cosby had a pattern of meeting with women, drugging them and assaulting them. In her closing argument, prosecutor Kristen Feden told the jury, “[Cosby] is nothing like the image that he played on TV. In fact, he utilized that image and cloaked it around himself so that he could gain the trust, gain the confidences of these aspiring, unsuspecting women.”
Cosby’s lawyers’ defensive strategy included repeated attempts to discredit Constand. Mesereau Jr. described her as a “con artist” running a “pyramid scheme.” The defense team also tried to prove that Constand and Cosby had been romantically involved, cross-examining her about phone calls made to the comedian’s house in the weeks after the assault. In addition, Mesereau Jr. tried to present Cosby in a sympathetic light, describing his client as “lonely and troubled” following the death of his son.
The five other women who testified against Cosby faced an onslaught of questions from the defense team, who repeatedly asked that the women explain why they didn’t make their accusations public earlier and insinuated that the witnesses were attention-hungry. But the women did not back down: For example, when Thomas was pressed about her reason for coming forward with allegations against Cosby, she replied, “I want to see a serial rapist convicted.”
During the retrial, tensions spilled over outside of the courthouse. On the trial’s opening day, a topless protester jumped a barricade with the words “Cosby rapist” written on her body. She was arrested. A Cosby spokesman also got into a public spat with Gloria Allred, the attorney for multiple women who accused Cosby of sexual assault, on the courthouse steps.
“I am very happy that Mr. Cosby has been classified as a sexually violent predator and that he was sentenced to prison,” Allred said in a statement to Rolling Stone following the sentencing. “It has been a long journey to justice in the criminal justice ,but today he was finally made accountable. It is a great day for victims and I am very proud of all of my clients who had the courage to testify as prior bad act witnesses. They were very important in achieving this result. No person is above the law. Bill Cosby learned that lesson the hard way today.”
After the jury delivered a guilty verdict, tensions boiled over inside the courthouse as well. The judge set Cosby’s bail at $1 million, but Steele requested that bail be revoked to prevent Cosby from fleeing the U.S. on a private plane. Cosby interjected, speaking about himself in the third person, “He doesn’t have a plane, you asshole!” “I’m sick of him [Steele],” Cosby added.
Following the jury’s decision, Allred declared that “the #MeToo movement has arrived.” “It’s living in Montgomery County and throughout this nation,” she said in a press conference. She also offered some choice words for Cosby’s legal team. “You tried; you failed; the personal attacks did not work,” she said. “Bill Cosby, three words for you: guilty, guilty, guilty!”
Lili Bernard, one of the women who accused Cosby of sexual assault, spoke after Allred. “This is a victory not just for Andrea Constand – whom I consider to be a Joan of Arc in the war on rape – … and not just for the 62 of us publicly known Cosby survivors whom Gloria Allred has helped give a voice,” Bernard said. “It is a victory for womanhood and it is a victim for all sexual assault survivors, female and male.”
Cosby’s lawyer vowed to appeal the court’s decision at the time, and this month, his defense team has continued to attempt to cast doubt on the guilty verdict, according to The New York Times. They recently argued that Judge O’Neill should recuse himself from the sentencing on the grounds that he “failed to disclose a bitter feud with a key witness in the case.” Days later, Cosby’s wife, Camille O. Cosby, demanded that Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board look into O’Neill’s behavior. “My husband was improperly prosecuted in a trial presided over by an unethical judge,” she said, The Times reports.
Meanwhile, the prosecution filed a motion in the Court of Common Pleas asking the same judge to admit live testimony during the sentencing from other women who allege that Cosby molested or assaulted them. Steele argued that these women would “provide testimony relevant to the proper assessment of the defendant’s character, background, dangerousness to the community, and rehabilitative needs.”