Bill Cosby arrived at a suburban Philadelphia courthouse Monday for the start of a sentencing hearing that will determine how the 81-year-old comedian will be punished for drugging and sexually assaulting a Canadian woman more than 14 years ago.

Cosby was the first celebrity to go to trial in the #MeToo era and could be the first to go to prison — perhaps for the rest of his days — after being convicted in April of drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

Cosby, looking grim, walked into the courthouse on the arm of his longtime spokesman as protesters shouted at him. Constand arrived a short time later.

Judges can’t help but be influenced a little by the “optics” of a case — that it, how it will look to the public, said Daniel Filler, dean of Drexel University’s Kline School of Law.

In this instance, “the judge is going to get flak,” he said. “The judge is going to get less flak if they see Bill Cosby walk out in cuffs.”

At the end of the potentially two-day hearing, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill could sentence Cosby to as many as 30 years in prison or send him home on probation. The state guidelines for someone like Cosby, with no prior convictions, call for about one to four years behind bars.

“Obviously, the allegations are serious, and, except for his age and poor health, would normally warrant some jail time,” said Samuel Stretton, a veteran defence lawyer not connected to the case.

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Cosby is legally blind and uses a cane, something his lawyers are certain to point out along with his achievements and philanthropy. Prosecutors hoped to call some of his other accusers to paint Cosby as a sexual predator deserving of prison.

Whatever the sentence, Cosby is likely to be deemed a sexually violent predator and have to undergo monthly counselling the rest of his life, in prison or out. Neighbours and schools will be warned he is living nearby.

Dozens of accusers

Originally from the Toronto area, Constand played basketball at the University of Arizona and in a pro league in Europe before taking on a coaching job at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater. She now works as a massage therapist in Toronto. 

In the years since Constand first went to police in 2005, more than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, though none of those claims has led to criminal charges.

In the years since Canadian Andrea Constand first went to police in 2005, more than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, though none of those claims netted any criminal charges. (Dominick Reuter/Pool Photo via AP)

Two of those women, Lise-Lotte Lublin and Chelan Lasha, said Sunday at a Philadelphia news conference that they want prison for him and hope they get to make impact statements at the sentencing.

“I really think it’s important that he spend some time behind bars,” said Lublin. She said Cosby assaulted her when she was 23 in 1989. “At some point, he should acknowledge what he’s done, and do the time for the crime.”

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On Monday morning, just a few hours before the sentencing hearing was to begin, Constand tweeted Ephesians 4:26, a Bible verse about letting go of anger: “Be wrathful, but do not sin; do not let the sun set while you are still angry; do not give the Devil an opportunity.”

Cosby, who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, became the first black actor to star in a prime-time TV show, I Spy, in 1965. He remained a Hollywood A-lister for much of the next half-century, hitting his peak in the 1980s with the top-rated Cosby Show as the warm, wisecracking dad, Dr. Cliff Huxtable.

But behind the scenes, according to testimony, the married star sought out sexual encounters with young women, including actresses he offered to mentor, models seeking a part on his shows, and flight attendants he met in his travels. He also acknowledged obtaining quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women before sex.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, which Lublin, Lasha and Constand have done.

CBC | World News

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