He could go to prison and die there. For now, he waits in a mansion.
In April, Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He was released on $1 million bail and has been awaiting his sentencing under house arrest at his home in Cheltenham, Pa.
Judge Steven T. O’Neill permitted this comfort as he did not believe Cosby was a flight risk, and on this matter it appears O’Neill was correct: Cosby hasn’t tried to make a run for it. Instead he has stayed put in the same home where, in 2004, he gave Constand three pills, “friends to help you relax,” and then, once Constand was “dizzy, blurry-eyed, and sick to her stomach,” assaulted her. He lives at the scene of his crime with a GPS monitor around his ankle.
His first criminal trial, held in June 2017, ended in a mistrial; the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on any of the three counts with which Cosby was charged. But at the retrial in April, a jury of Cosby’s peers found the man who’d once claimed the honorific “America’s Dad” guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault: penetration with lack of consent, penetration of the victim while she was unconscious, and penetration after administering an intoxicant. A felony under Pennsylvania law.
On Monday, Cosby will return once more to the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., where he will finally be sentenced for his crimes.
Probation, prison, or something in between?
Cosby could get as little as probation or as much as 30 years behind bars.
Each count for which he was convicted carries a maximum sentence of ten years, and it is theoretically possible for Judge O’Neill to make Cosby serve them consecutively. Prosecutors have said that they will fight for the maximum sentence, which would all but ensure that Cosby, who is 81 years old, will live out the remainder of his life an incarcerated man.
But a more likely outcome is that Cosby would serve time for each of these counts concurrently, as they all stem from the same assault. Although 60 women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual violence, Constand is, to date, the only one whose allegations have resulted in criminal charges. For all the other women, the statute of limitations has expired. (Knowing what they do now about how brief statutes of limitations are for sexual assault and rape, some of these women have fought, successfully, to extend or abolish the statutes of limitations in their home states.)
According to a New York Times review of state sentencing data in 121 cases over the last five years in which the most serious conviction was from one of the three counts in the Cosby case, “a vast majority of the offenders” received sentences fewer than 10 years, “with a median sentence of two to five.” However:
There were several cases in which judges gave maximum sentences of 20 years or more to offenders who had been convicted on multiple counts of aggravated indecent assault, or a single count in tandem with other, lesser crimes.
In some of those cases, the judge eschewed a common practice of making multiple sentences concurrent and instead ruled that they be served consecutively. In another case, the person qualified for a more severe sentence because he was viewed as a repeat offender under Pennsylvania’s sex offender laws.
As NBC reports, Cosby will enter the state prison system if he serves just one day more than two years. Should he receive a sentence of two years or less, “he’d likely go to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in nearby Eagleville, a 2,080-bed site that also has a medical unit.” And it’s possible that Cosby could be sentenced to less than a year and be permitted to serve that time as he’s spent the past five months: under house arrest.
The judge is biased, the women are a distraction, and other arguments Cosby’s team will likely use to appeal the guilty verdict.
Cosby’s legal team tried to force Judge O’Neill to recuse himself, claiming he is “biased” because his wife, a therapist, works with sexual assault survivors. Those efforts have failed, repeatedly.
Just last week, Camille Cosby filed a state ethics complaint against O’Neill, arguing that O’Neill was biased against her husband because he had a “longstanding grudge” with Bruce Castor, a former district attorney and a witness in the case who Cosby referred to as O’Neill’s “rival.” Judge O’Neill rejected Camille Cosby’s complaint, calling it “wholly without merit” and saying it came too late.
O’Neill was the judge at both Cosby’s first criminal trial in 2017, which ended in a mistrial when the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the three counts, and at the retrial this spring.
Cosby’s legal team has filed multiple motions indicating they will “challenge the judge’s rulings and his personal integrity on appeal,” as the Times reports. Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, said Cosby will ask to remain free on bail while he pursues his appeal.
What Cosby’s team could challenge, aside from O’Neill’s character, is the judge’s decision to allow five of Cosby’s accusers to testify during the trial.
The use of these accusers, known as “prior bad acts” witnesses, is rare and controversial — the logic being that a defendant should only have to answer for the specific crime with which they’ve been charged, not any other alleged criminal activity in their past. But in the Cosby case, the prosecution argued, successfully, that these additional accusers proved that Cosby’s assault of Constand was not a one-off but fit a pattern of behavior. Cosby’s modus operandi, now as well known to the public as the theme song to The Cosby Show: the promise of professional mentorship, a pill or a drugged drink, an assault of an impaired or unconscious victim.
At the first trial, O’Neill allowed only one of these women, Kelly Johnson, to take the stand. At the retrial, prosecutors asked that 19 women get to testify. O’Neill allowed five, with the added caveat that the five must be selected from the eight most recent allegations, which date back to 1982. So the jury heard from Heidi Thomas, Chelan Lasha, Lise-Lotte Lublin, Janice Baker-Kinney, and Janice Dickinson. Andrea Constand will be the only one of Cosby’s survivors who will be allowed to speak at Cosby’s sentencing next week.
O’Neill did not provide any explanation for the change. But it seems worth noting here that the first trial was held in July 2017 and the retrial was held in April 2018. In between the two, the Harvey Weinstein story broke and the #MeToo movement exploded.
Cosby’s team could, and may very well, argue that Cosby didn’t get a fair trial; that the five women bolstered Constand’s case and that, without them, Constand’s accusations weren’t strong enough to land a conviction. They’ll also surely point to Cosby’s age and health (according his attorneys, he’s legally blind) as reasons for leniency in sentencing.
This is a breaking news story and has been updated as more information became available.