The questions have been looming since Bill Cosby was convicted in April of three counts of assault: Will he go to prison, and, if so, for how long?
The answers will begin to emerge Monday, when the 81-year-old comedian appears in court in Pennsylvania for his sentencing. He could get up to 10 years in prison for each conviction, but prosecutors have indicated they are likely to ask for a lesser sentence. If he must serve time, he could be taken into custody immediately.
Cosby’s conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004 represented the first high-profile test of the #MeToo movement in a courtroom. The trial, on aggravated indecent assault charges,centered on testimony from Constand and also featured testimony from five “prior bad acts” witnesses who similarly said Cosby had drugged and assaulted them.
Cosby, the groundbreaking actor once known as “America’s Dad,” did not testify at the trial. But when prosecutors in Montgomery County asked the judge to revoke his bail because, they claimed, he has a private plane, Cosby stood up and yelled, “He doesn’t have a plane, you a**hole,” referring to himself.
The stunning outburst marked a stark contrast from Cosby’s relatively quiet public profile in recent years. He has remained out of prison for the past five months on $1 million bail, and his lawyers said they plan to appeal his convictions.
Defense attorneys are likely to point to Cosby’s age, declining health, history of philanthropic giving and the fact that this is his first criminal conviction as factors that show he should receive a short prison sentence — or none at all. In addition, Cosby could be allowed to remain out of prison until any legal appeal is resolved.
The decision is ultimately up to Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who oversaw Cosby’s 2018 retrial, as well as his mistrial a year earlier that ended in a hung jury.
O’Neill will also consider whether Cosby should be classified as a sexually violent predator. The distinction would subject Cosby to lifetime registration with state police, lifetime sex offender counseling and community notification. A state panel has said that should happen; his attorneys have argued the board’s process is unconstitutional.
Victims could testify at sentencing
The sentencing hearing, which could extend into Tuesday, could also feature testimony and victim impact statements from women, including Constand, who have accused Cosby of assault. Defense attorneys would be allowed to cross-examine witnesses, said Kate Delano, spokeswoman for the county prosecutor’s officer.
O’Neill last week denied prosecutors’ request to present “numerous” witnesses who would testify that Cosby sexually abused them in incidents that did not result in criminal charges, court records show.
Cosby also could address the court in an “allocution,” Delano said. Convicts typically use the opportunity, before a sentence is handed down, to beg for mercy.
No matter Cosby’s sentence, the guilty verdicts already have triggered an outpouring of emotion from his victims.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Lili Bernard, who has accused Cosby of assault, said after the verdict. “I feel like my faith in humanity is restored.”
Legal wrangling continues to the 11th hour
Monday’s sentencing comes as Cosby’s defense team, now led by attorney Joseph P. Green Jr., has accused O’Neill of bias and asked him to remove himself from the case — and to reverse an order that allowed the trial to happen in the first place.
At issue was a “nasty” personal conflict involving a prior district attorney, Bruce Castor, Cosby’s team argued. O’Neill last week denied the motion, calling it untimely and “wholly without merit,” court records show.
Camille Cosby, Bill Cosby’s wife, said in a statement that she had retained a former prosecutor to facilitate her efforts to “uncover the truth” regarding what she says is a feud between O’Neill and Castor.
Since the April verdicts, Cosby has not been permitted to leave his Pennsylvania home. If he wanted to leave the state for another home, he’d have to arrange it ahead of time and wear a GPS monitoring device, O’Neill ruled in April.