Despite heartfelt pleas in victims impact statements and sharp words from lawyers on both sides, Bill Cosby will see the inside of a prison cell for the 2004 rape of Andrea Constand for likely less than three years, the judge in the Cosby criminal case told a Pennsylvania courtroom Monday.
“All I am asking for is justice as the court sees it,” a confident Constand said Monday in a short stint on the stand, looking directly at Judge Steven O’Neill. Referring the court and the nearby Cosby to her detailed testimony in both the original 2017 mistrial and the retrial this spring, the former Temple University employee was followed on the stand by her mother, also a witness in the two trials.
In April, Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault. With each count carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years, the 81-year-old actor could have been hit with a three-decade sentence behind bars. He is currently under house arrest and out on $1 million bail.
But no matter what the Constand family wants, with the lawyers’ arguments on both sides and Cosby’s inevitable appeal looming, that 30-year lockup just isn’t going to happen.
On Day 1 of the sentencing hearing for Cosby with a vital defense witness still to come tomorrow, O’Neill revealed that the often-clashing Montgomery County District Attorney’s office and the defendant’s lawyer had agreed to a deal of sorts.
“Counts two and three have been merged into count one,” O’Neill said this afternoon in suburban Norristown, PA. Looking at the state guidelines, their wiggle room and the fact that the actor has no prior history, he declared that once A-lister Cosby was looking at a total jail time of 22 to 36 months in final sentencing.
The District Attorney’s office said that while it was part of the deal merging the counts, they sought to go to “the high end.” That would translate into five to 10 years in prison for Cosby, a $25,000 fine, court costs and a psychosexual evaluation – now unlikely from what O’Neill said earlier in the day.
Explaining his thinking in this #MeToo and Time’s Up era and aiming to hand down a sentence on Tuesday, a tempered O’Neill told the court he had examined the pre-sentence investigation, sentencing guidelines and victims’ impact statements, the commonwealth and defense sentencing memo, with letters from doctors and other notables in the latter.
In a sometimes shaky voice before the packed courtroom, Constand’s mother Gianna later emotionally described “the drugging and sexual assault my daughter endured in 2004 by Bill Cosby” as an erosive horror in her life, only equaled by the death of her father.
“I deal with my trauma on a daily basis,” she added of the toxic and destructive effect of the event, and the legal, psychological and physical fallout for her family even with a $3.8 million civil case settlement reached with Cosby around 2006.
Andrew Constand also took the stand to deliver his own victim’s impact statement, saying he was the “proudest man in the world” because of his daughter. The elder Constand detailed the “sadness” that hangs “like a dark cloud” over him and his family to this day. In a near completely silent courtroom as Cosby looked on, Constand took a moment in the relatively short statement to thank those who have supported and “believed” his daughter.
“The impact of this event will never go away,” Constand’s sister added on the stand about Andrea being “drugged and sexually assaulted,” and the attacks in the media and by Cosby’s defense lawyers.
With a suddenly delayed defense witness in the matter of the state’s recommendation that Cosby be designated a sexually violent predator, the victim statements have a limited scope beyond emotion. Also, O’Neill has said he believes he can’t rule on a sentence until the predator issue is resolved, which pushes everything until Tuesday morning at the earliest when Dr. Timothy Foley appears to be available to discuss the state’s recommendation of registering Cosby under that designation.
In the meantime, with no indication Cosby will be saying anything himself, the defense and the prosecution presented their different closing arguments for the delayed sentencing.
“Public opinion can swallow whole the rule of law,” defense leader Joseph Green said in a measured tone, summarizing the bulk of the revolving door of attorneys’ long-held argument that Cosby is being somewhat stitched up for indiscretions. “In a high-profile case where there are lots of advocates, there can be challenges,” the lawyer added, emphasizing Cosby’s poor beginnings and battles against discrimination in his climb to success.
In many ways the same as arguments previous Cosby lawyers have made in past trial performances, this was the relatively recently hired Green’s first swing at that bat. “Eighty-one year old blind men are not dangerous,” he softly stressed, seeking to swat away the sexually violent predator designation in favor of continued house arrest or similar sentencing — in fact if not name — for his client.
Returning again and again to the “court of public opinion,” Green also tried to talk away a personal attack that a “frustrated” Cosby made verbally towards D.A. Kevin Steele over the case, a jab noted in the prosecution’s sentencing filings.
Tellingly, the defense lawyer did not mention the defense’s repeated and so far failed attempts to get O’Neill to take himself off the case. Nor did Green note how the absent Camille Cosby filed a “misconduct” compliant with the state’s judicial board against O’Neill and put out a flurry of press releases ahead of the sentencing hearing.
“He seemingly doesn’t think he has done anything wrong,” Steele said today in his own remarks regarding Cosby, who sat no more than 20 feet away. “No remorse,” the increasingly worked up Steele bluntly stated, with his voice rising. “We know who this guy is — certainly not the act he played on TV,” Steele added of the man once commonly referred to as “America’s Dad.”
Dismissing any notion that the actor’s age and health should exempt him for state prison, Steele slammed the “victim shaming” he said Cosby’s various lawyers and representatives aimed for in and out of court. “Nobody’s above the law,” he concluded.
In the past few years, more than 60 women have come forward to claim Cosby drugged and/or assaulted them over the past five decades in similar circumstances to what Constand described in her case. There are several civil cases ongoing against Cosby, but because Pennsylvania has a much longer statute of limitations on sex crimes than most states, he pulled into court on criminal charges in late 2015 just before time ran out on the Constand case.
Despite admitting in depositions more than a decade ago to giving Benadryl pills to Constand on the night of the apparent assault in his Philadelphia-area mansion more than a decade ago, Cosby has unsuccessfully insisted through various investigations and two trials that the encounter with the ex-Temple basketball team employee was consensual.
Cosby, Constand, the lawyers and O’Neill are expected back in court at 9 AM ET Tuesday for a the sexually violent predator ruling and eventually final sentencing.