NORRISTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA—Can an 81-year-old blind man who walks with a cane be classified as a sexually violent predator? Can a man who has been convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman, and credibly accused by five other women under oath of doing the same to them, be classified as anything else? Does he belong under house arrest, or should he spend a decade in a state penitentiary?
In April, Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. The jury found him guilty on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a felony under Pennsylvania law, for which he could technically serve as many as 30 years in prison.
On Monday, the first day of Cosby’s sentencing hearing, Cosby’s defense attorney Joseph Greene asked that Judge Steven T. O’Neill sentence Cosby to house arrest—which is what Cosby’s been under since his conviction five months ago. District Attorney Kevin Steele asked that Cosby spent five to ten years in incarcerated in a state penitentiary, pay a $25,000 fine (the maximum under the law), cover the prosecution and court costs, and — should he ever be up for parole — submit to a psychosexual evaluation.
In a victim impact statement that was just one sentence long, Constand—the only woman, of the more than 60 who have accused Cosby of sexual violence, to see her allegations result in a criminal trial—requested only this: “All I am asking for is justice as the court sees fit.”
As this day approached, Cosby’s team launched ever-more desperate attempts to delay and distract. The latest tactic, deployed by Camille Cosby, was to accuse Judge Steven T. O’Neill of being biased and corrupt. This is an interesting strategy as it pertains to the man who holds her husband’s fate in his hands like a fragile, baby bird. But perhaps Camille, who was not in attendance, is having a hard time believing that her husband could really be a person who drugged and sexually assaulted someone—and actually get caught. And tried. And convicted. And, possibly, imprisoned.
It’s an extraordinary outcome, by statistics alone. Two out of three sexual assaults are never even reported to the police. This demoralizing data point has been making the rounds all weekend, as the trending hashtag #WhyIDidntReport blazes across Twitter. The justification-as-rallying-cry is a response to President Donald Trump, an alleged sexual predator, defending SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, an accused attempted rapist, by tweeting (as is his preferred method of communication) that if Kavanaugh really did what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford says he did, Ford would have gone straight to the authorities and her “loving parents.”
“To say that he should get a pass because it’s taken this long to catch up to what he’s done? That that somehow gives him – what they’re asking for is a Get Out Of Jail free card.”
Speaking of loving parents: Though Cosby has dozens of accusers, many of whom were in the courtroom Monday, there was no Larry Nassar-style cavalcade of victim testimony. Judge O’Neill permitted only Constand and her family members to issue their statements in court.
Constand was followed by her mother, Gianna, who described how Cosby “used every powerful tool at his disposal to destroy our reputations, our physical and mental state of mind,” to protect his own status and keep his crime a secret from the world. “I have lost the ability to trust or share my feelings with anyone,” she testified. “I do not believe in my heart that Bill Cosby has ever cared or even considered the pain and suffering this mess has caused us, or the family as a unit. He was correct when he told me, ‘I am a sick man.’”
Her father, Andrew, went next, detailing how his daughter’s once bright, joyful demeanor was shattered by her assault. She became “depressed” and “detached,” he said. “After finding out about what my daughter suffered at the hands of Bill Cosby, I myself went through a similar transformation.” When he returned to his seat, Andrea reached over to rub the spot between his shoulder blades.
Diana, Andrea’s older sister, went last. Like her father, she remembered Andrea’s disposition as a child—she was someone with “an unbelievable zest for life”—and how Cosby’s violence turned her sister into someone “frail, timid, nervous, weak, [and] reclusive.”
When others asked after Andrea’s well-being, Diana would say, “She’s doing fine,” all the while, “I wonder how she really is doing. How can she handle being called a pathological liar? How did she handle being called a con artist? How did she handle being called a drug addict? How did she handle all the negativity about her in the media? How did she handle being called a racist individual? How did she handle being called a gold-digger? Hearing that she pulled off her plan? How did she handle the extreme pressures and the constant bullying of the defense lawyers?… How will she ever trust again?”
As Greene argued for the most lenient sentence available for Cosby, he tried to draw a distinction between the court of public opinion—a direct descendant, he said, of mob rule and village stonings—and the court of law, which he hoped would not “be affected by all that noise.”
In Greene’s telling, Cosby is a child of segregation and a veteran, someone who used his comedy to connect people of all races through “universal life experiences.” Today, “Mr. Cosby is not dangerous. 81-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not dangerous, except, perhaps, to themselves.”
“Mr. Cosby is not dangerous. 81-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not dangerous, except, perhaps, to themselves.”
Steele, whose voice often rose to a yell, reminded Judge O’Neill of Cosby’s “deviance”—the elaborate grooming and planning that went into his assault. “You look at this person who specialized in drugging, incapacitating, and then sexually assaulting… and seemingly gets some kind of sexual arousal from gaining the trust and rendering people unconscious. To say that he’s too old to do that? To say that he should get a pass because it’s taken this long to catch up to what he’s done? That that somehow gives him – what they’re asking for is a Get Out Of Jail free card.”
Throughout Steele’s argument, Cosby stroked his chin with his thumb and his forefinger. Sometimes a wide, cartoonish smile seemed to slice his face in two.
“To say that he couldn’t do this again to anybody? Your honor, that runs in the face of what we have seen here and who this is,” Steele shouted. “This is a guy that, given the opportunity, I have no doubt he could do it again. And what he did to Andrea? He’s too old to drug somebody and stick his hand in her? Too old to do that? I ask the court to reconsider that long and hard.”
A harsh sentence, Steele said, would also serve as a deterrent, proving to would-be sex offenders “that despite wealth, despite bullying tactics, despite PR teams and other folks trying to change the optics, the bottom line is that nobody is above the law.”
Early Monday morning, Judge O’Neill heard from Dr. Kristen Dudley, a psychologist and member of the state Sexual Offenders Assessment Board, the official who—based on “boxes” of documents, including trial transcripts from 2017 and 2018 and all the relevant police reports—determined Cosby met the criteria to be classified as a sexually violent predator.
That information, specifically the testimony of the five women who told the jury that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted them, “create a picture of a person, Mr. Cosby, who befriends women and, during the course of the friendship, was able to ply them with drugs and/or alcohol, to sedate them” and assault them, Dudley said.
“How do we know his future victim hasn’t already been met?”
Constand and Cosby, “had multiple conversations about her life, her career, her ambitions,” Dudley said. “These actions, and drugging and sexually assaulting her, were for the sole purpose of his sexual gratification.”
According to Dudley, Cosby’s behavior is consistent with a diagnosis of “a specified paraphilic disorder with non-consenting women,” which is recognized by the DSM. “He’s been engaged in this behavior for over 30 years,” she said.
Greene pressed Dudley on the likelihood that Cosby would reoffend in the future.
“As an esteemed member of the community, using his power and prestige, he is able to meet people and befriend them,” Dudley said. “And it is during the course of the friendship that the sexual offending occurs… Because of the paraphilia, I believe it is likely to reoccur.”
“Do you acknowledge that he is terminally blind?” Greene asked.
“Yes,” Dudley said.
“How’s he going to go meet these people?”
“People who are blind… are able to meet people,” Douglas said. Then, in what seemed like a pointed choice of words, considering, she went on: “It does not render them unconscious.”
As Dudley could not think of any allegations made against Cosby in the past 14 years — that is, since the assault of Constand — Greene asked, does it really seem more likely that Cosby will meet a victim in the future that it was in the past?
Douglas’ reply: “How do we know his future victim hasn’t already been met?”