Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison Tuesday for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand. While more than 60 women have accused the comedian and actor of sexual assault or harassment stretching back to the 1960s, only Constand’s case led to criminal charges.
In his ruling, Judge Steven O’Neill said the evidence that Cosby planned the drugging and sexual assault of his victim was “overwhelming,” based on Cosby’s own words in a civil deposition.
Cosby was convicted April 26 of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for the 2004 drugging and sexual assault of Constand, a 31-year-old Temple women’s basketball official he was mentoring. Constand, a 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.
On Tuesday, after Cosby was officially designated a sexually violent predator, a young prosecutor ran through a series of restrictions that will be imposed on him for the rest of his life.
Cosby, who never testified during the case, answered “Yes” over and over. Yes, he understood that he would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Yes, he understood that he’d have to let the state know about any job he took or anytime he changed residences.
But a confused look crossed Cosby’s face when Assistant District Attorney Stewart Ryan asked Cosby whether he understood that he would need to notify the state about his travels.
“One question,” Cosby interjected, speaking slowly, emphatically enunciating each word in a booming voice that filled the room. “If I went from a city to another city, do I have to — even if it’s just overnight — I would have to advise the state police?”
The prosecutor said he would need to.
Another condition clearly concerned Cosby. He seemed to misunderstand a requirement that his victim be notified if he moved to another house.
“I have to notify?” Cosby said with a hint of disdain.
“Good, good,” he said.
More than a dozen women who accused Cosby of sexual assault or harassment crowded into the ornate courtroom Tuesday where Cosby finally had his comeuppance. Tamara Green, a model who says Cosby drugged and groped her around 1969 or 1970, drove alone cross-country in an RV from her home in the San Diego area. When her vehicle broke down in rural Tennessee, Green — now an attorney — left it there, hopping a plane to Pennsylvania. Linda Kirkpatrick, who says Cosby drugged her after a tennis tournament in 1981, stepped away from her Bundt cake bakery in Costa Mesa, Calif., to witness a historic moment.
Many of the women lined up in the predawn hours to get a seat in the courtroom had been willing to testify; Judge O’Neill decided against allowing their testimony. Still, just being in the courtroom felt, for some, like therapy. They have come to call each other “sister survivors.”
“Justice for one is justice for all,” said Therese Serignese, now a Florida nurse who says Cosby assaulted her after giving her a quaalude in the mid-1970s, and later was involved in an on-again-off-again relationship with the comedian.
Green and Serignese are among several plaintiffs in an ongoing defamation lawsuit against Cosby, which was filed by D.C.-based attorney Joe Cammarata, who once represented Paula Jones in a sex-fueled case involving then-President Bill Clinton. The lawsuit says Cosby defamed the women by saying they were lying about their sexual assault allegations.
“Today we celebrate the rule of law,” said Cammarata, who attended the sentencing. “The jury spoke through its verdict that abhorrent sexual behavior is not to be tolerated in a civilized society.”
Even before Tuesday’s decision, Cosby was living in a prison of his own making, a shadowy world of serial infidelity and deception. By his own admission, Cosby — who says he did not drink — acquired quaaludes, a powerful sedative, to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex. He also admitted to using his vast wealth to silence women who might have exposed his secret life. It was a real-life existence dramatically out of step with the wholesome image he projected on television as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” a megahit program that broke new cultural ground with its depiction of an upper-middle-class African American family.
Constand’s case traces back to the 2005 when she made her allegation public, asking prosecutors in Montgomery County, Pa., where Cosby’s Elkins Park mansion is located, to investigate. She later sued Cosby after authorities refused to bring charges. She settled that lawsuit for more than $3.8 million. It wasn’t until nine years later that Cosby’s sexual conduct swelled into a full-blown national scandal after a comedian, Hannibal Buress, told an audience in Philadelphia to conduct an Internet search for the words “Cosby and rape.” His remarks, captured by chance by a Philadelphia Magazine reporter, went viral, and dozens of women came forward to tell their stories of alleged assaults.
The jurors who convicted Cosby in April heard testimony from six women who say Cosby drugged and assaulted them: Constand and five women, known as “prior bad act witnesses” who prosecutors brought to the witness stand to establish a pattern of behavior. Two of those women — Lise-Lotte Lublin and Chelan Lasha — appeared at a news conference on Sunday, the day before the sentencing hearing began, to urge the judge to sentence Cosby to prison time.
Cosby’s wife of more than 50 years, Camille, had a waged an eleventh-hour campaign to undercut Judge O’Neill in the days before the trial. The week before the sentencing, she announced that she had hired a former prosecutor to investigate her allegations that O’Neill held a grudge against the former district attorney, Bruce Castor, who had declined to charge Cosby.